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Harshbarger: Netbook computers in limelight

In the limelight this Christmas season are the new netbook computers. These small, lightweight laptops are very attractive if you are willing to forfeit some of the speed and storage space of the larger laptops. It is an interesting alternative that is less expensive and yet powerful enough to handle e-mail, Internet and word processing.

When shopping for a netbook, make note of the type of hard drive it has. A solid state hard drive will be a fraction of the size of a standard hard drive (4 to 16GB), and has room for the operating system, included applications and little else. Most netbooks use an operating system that needs less space than Vista or Windows 7, such as Windows XP or Linux. If you need additional space, most netbooks will come equipped with a SD Card slot. SD Cards are standard memory cards common in today’s cameras and other portable devices, and come in sizes up to 32GB. You can use the SD Card to store your music, pictures, and more on the netbook.

Many netbooks come equipped with a laptop-sized hard drive, 160 GB or more. That leaves plenty of room for data files, even some photos and music. Programs may also be installed, as you would on normal laptops or desktops.

Processors used in a netbook are generally not as powerful as in larger new laptops. The Intel Atom Processor, usually 1.6 or 1.3 GHz, provides good speed, but not great speed. There may be a little longer wait time while surfing the Web, and there may be lag if several windows are open and working simultaneously.

The average price for a netbook is $350, with a range from $200 to $500 depending on features and reliability of the brand. Brands we like include Acer, Asus, Lenovo, HP, Dell, Toshiba, with Toshiba being probably the higher end. Acer and Asus are the more economical brands.

For those who are getting accustomed to surfing the Web and typing on “smart phones,” the netbook will seem roomy. For the rest of us who use desktop keyboards and normal sized laptops, our fingers may not like the change. The keyboard is perhaps two-thirds as large as a normal sized laptop.

The screen is typically 10 inches on the diagonal, also two-thirds the size of a normal laptop. Still, the convenience of a compact and lightweight computer may prevail over the size issue. As the laptop technology advances, netbooks may provide a look at what’s to come.

Patty Harshbarger, the owner of Computer Renaissance in Bradenton, can be reached at