Four new mini-laptops -- which is smallest, lightest, best?

We pit mini-notebooks from Acer, Asus, HP and Sylvania against each other. Who's the final winner?

The  Netbook uses gOS, an offshoot of Ubuntu 8.04 Linux. Sylvania doesn't sell the system with Windows XP, but the company says it can be loaded on the system.

The Netbook uses gOS, an offshoot of Ubuntu 8.04 Linux. Sylvania doesn't sell the system with Windows XP, but the company says it can be loaded on the system.

Like a diamond, a digital media player or a rare coin, the latest mini-notebooks are good things in small packages. By squeezing a lot of computing power into a very mobile package at a hard-to-beat price, they are turning the established mobile pecking order on its head.

Until recently, the smallest and lightest notebooks commanded the highest price tags. Take, for example, Lenovo's ThinkPad X300 and Apple's MacBook Air -- they each weigh about 3 pounds, sell for between US$2,500 and $3,000 and are the envy of travelers the world over.

That's changing quickly as a new generation of small laptops -- variously called mini-notebooks, ultrasmall laptops, subnotebooks, ultraportables, netbooks and probably something else tomorrow -- that weigh less than 3 pounds and often cost less than US$500 come to market. According to the market analysts at IDC, 500,000 of these inexpensive mini-notebooks were sold last year. This is forecast to rise quickly to 9 million units by 2012. At that point, mini-notebooks could make up as much as 5% of notebook sales and add up to about a US$3 billion market.

To see what all the excitement is about, I got my hands on four of the latest minis available: the Sylvania G Netbook, the HP 2133 Mini-Note PC, the Acer Aspire and the Asus Eee PC 1000. They range in price from US$330 to US$700.

With these systems what you get is as important as what you have to do without. Although they all have webcams, Wi-Fi connectivity and the ability to work with most files, they're a step behind today's mainstream systems. None have CD or DVD drives, and many of the screens are too small to use without squinting. The keyboards will prove to be challenging for most grown-ups, and all the systems have either small hard drives or even smaller amounts of flash memory to store programs, data and files.

But for many, the real showstopper is the lack of a familiar operating system, like Windows or Mac OS X. While Windows is an option on most models, Linux is the operating system of choice because of its low cost and modest hardware requirements.

In other words, if you're a Windows user, you'll likely have to do without some of your favorite programs. However, take heart: There are thousands of free or low-cost Linux programs available that in many cases are easier to use and more responsive than their Windows or Mac counterparts. I soon became accustomed to the software and was using these petite portables to e-mail and nose around the Web, view and edit images, write stories and use spreadsheets. In the final analysis, I barely missed Windows and OS X.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags ultraportable laptops

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Brian Nadel

Computerworld
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?