Netbook Madness: A WisCon Panel Recap

There’s no better time for a tech face-off than when a group of sci-fi fans have assembled. From low-tech writers to hackers who have hooked their cortexes directly into their processors, the geek spectrum is wide and well-prepared with the latest that the computer world has to offer. To that end, last weekend’s WisCon 33 hosted a Netbook Show and Tell designed to talk over the joy and the heartbreak of owning some of the world’s cutest computers.

The four panelists brought a range of computers with them: an Asus EEE 901, an MSI Wind, an Acer Aspire One, and a Samsung NC-10. Other computers represented in the audience included an HP Mini 1000, a Dell Mini 9, and a Lenovo IdeaPad Mumblemumble. Operating systems were discussed (Linux users outnumbered other OS users by approximately six million to two), case colors were debated (pink is decidedly unpopular). How did this free-for-all shake down? A layperson’s notes below.

Acer Aspire One: [Full disclosure: this one’s mine.] 8.9″ (or 10″) of plug-and-play goodness for the geek who wants to skip the fancy stuff and get on YouTube already. Comes with Windows XP or Linux, an enormous hard drive, and a battery that lasts, um, three hours. Buy a third-party battery with decent life and lower your blood pressure ten points.

Asus EEE PC: The original netbook. The solid-state drive option on the 900 series makes it virtually unbreakable; the cramped keyboard makes it a pain. Spring for the 10-inch with a roomier keyboard. This model is made for Linux; the word “kernel” was mentioned. People murmured appreciatively.

Dell Mini: Despite the Della lady-marketing fiasco, the hardware configuration on this model makes it ideal for Hackintoshing. Again, it’s got a solid-state drive, so if you enjoy dropping your computer repeatedly on the floor, this is the netbook for you.

HP Mini 1000: This machine comes with XP and is another plug-and-play option for those who don’t have time to handle a Linux learning curve or who need to use it for work on the go—with a 10″ screen, it’s easy on the eyes. This model also has the absolutely awesome Vivienne Tam edition, which is expensive but so gorgeous that people sighed when it was mentioned.

Lenovo IdeaPad: Comes with XP out of the box, but supports Linux better than a mom in a Lifetime movie. The 10″ screen is bright, and the keyboard resilient. Worst battery of the bunch, sadly, with an average 2-hour life. Quickly, to a third-party retailer!

MSI Wind: The panelist had gone from Windows to Hackintosh to Linux on his, so it’s a fair guess that the MSI Wind is a hardy little thing. It also seems to be an audience member recounted how she had hammered the motherboard to make room for a non-standard wifi card. (This method is not recommended for anyone who flinched when they read that sentence.)

Samsung NC-10: Smooth mousepad and keyboard, matte 10″ screen, eight-hour battery—Samsung came late to the netbook party, but they’re making every minute count. Bonus for those who are wary of interruption: its looks are all-business, which keeps unwanted coffee-house cooing at a minimum when you’re trying to get work done. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is the current king of the market. Nobody tell my Acer.

(For a full breakdown of the most popular next-gen netbooks, each one with a palatial 10″ screen, check out K.T. Bradford’s Face-off at Laptop Magazine.)

How about it? Is there a netbook picture pinned to your office wall for you to sigh over? Is there a model you’d pay to take out to a field and Office Space into smithereens? Wave your pimped-out netbooks and be counted!


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