Buying Cheap Netbooks – An In-Depth Guide

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: there are so many netbooks in the market today that’s it’s often impossible to figure out what netbook is right for you. If you’re looking for something just to have around the house so you don’t have to boot up your desktop or laptop every time you want to look something up on the netbook, your choice in netbook may be completely different from someone who needs a netbook for work purposes and can’t be bothered to lug a huge laptop to and from the office every day.

If you find yourself struggling to understand all of the features within a netbook and unsure which are the best netbooks on the market today, be sure to keep on reading so that you can make an informed decision when it comes time to buy.

Netbook Processors

Up until a few months ago, there were only a few standard processors in the netbook world. The Intel Atom processor dominated the shelves for the longest time and despite its many different editions, it functioned almost exactly the same way each time. It ran at a pretty noteworthy 1.6GHz and became the go to chip for new netbooks hitting the market. The problem with this particular processor though was that it didn’t support high definition video playback or DDR3 RAM. The demand for more speed in a smaller package caused developers to rethink their practices and come out with a faster dual core chip that currently blows all of the older chips out of the water.

The Intel Atom dual core processor operates at 1.5GHz, but allows for much better multitasking and high definition playback than its predecessors. The only problem with this particular processor is the drain it has on netbook batteries. At the time of writing, no company has figured out a way to have both a great processor and great battery life (something netbooks have prided themselves on since the beginning).

So, if you’re wanting a lot of speed but don’t care about how long the battery lasts, a dual core processor is definitely the way to go. Though, if you’re going to be spending a lot of time away from a wall outlet and want to ensure that you can squeeze as much time out of the battery as possible, going with the older single core processor is probably your best bet. Moving on…

Battery Life

The battery life across netbooks is very different. In most cases, netbooks generally get anywhere between 7 and 9 hours of battery life off of a single charge. Due to some flack companies were getting because of consumers complaining that their battery claims were unrealistic, companies began stating actual battery life times, so if you’re looking on a product page on say Amazon, chances are the battery life stated by the company in the technical specs section is actually what you can expect to achieve.

With dual core netbooks you can expect about 4 hours of battery life until a third party company can come up with a battery extender or external battery to attach to the netbook to increase its battery life. Anything less than 4 hours is a scam and anything more than 4 hours is a job well done on the part of the company.


If there’s one area that netbook manufacturers really dropped the ball on it’s the RAM. By default, all netbooks with the Intel Atom single core processor came with 1GB of RAM. For a few years it’s been the industry standard and for a while, no one ever really thought it would change. While 1GB of DDR2 RAM in an older netbook may be enough to run Windows XP or a flavor of Linux that netbook manufacturers installed, it just isn’t enough for serious multitasking. If you end up buying an older style netbook with only 1GB of DDR2 RAM, you’re more than likely going to want to upgrade it to 2GB right away. RAM is relatively inexpensive and can be purchased anywhere online that sells computer parts. Chances are you can get a discount for purchasing it with your computer.

With the advent of dual core Intel Atom technologies came the desire for faster and better RAM to be installed in netbooks. While the trend is still to only install 1GB at a time, at least with dual core processors in a netbook you can expect the RAM to be DDR3 as opposed to DDR2. In short, DDR3 runs faster than DDR2 and allows for better task completion and memory capabilities. The installation of DDR3 RAM allows the Windows 7 operating system to run smoothly on netbooks. Although, as stated above, you’ll probably want to install an additional 1GB stick of RAM if you expect your machine to run Windows 7 as smoothly as you’ve come to expect on your home computer.

Screen Size

This section is going to be relatively short as there aren’t many difference in screen size between netbooks these days. The standard 10.1” screen size was established when netbooks first hit the market and has stayed that way ever since. It’s easy to understand why users would want a higher resolution monitor, but considering the battery life issue in some machines and the desire to keep netbooks as small as possible, 10.1” is about as large as they’re going to get at least in the near future. If you want a bigger screen, you’re going to need an external monitor.

What Computers to Look At

Well, now that we’ve covered what makes many of the netbooks different, it’s time to start considering some of the options available these days. With a mixture of both old and new netbooks below, we hope that you find something that fits your needs and falls within your price range. Considering this is a cheap netbook guide, we’ve tried to only list netbooks that we feel are cheap and worthwhile in the quality department as well.

Toshiba NB505: The Toshiba NB505 tops almost all of the netbook bestsellers lists around is definitely something to keep in your list of potential netbooks. Overlooking the already fantastic sub-$300 price tag, the NB505 is definitely the perfect blend of both looks and performance. It may not have the best features on the block within the plastic shell, but that’s what makes it so fantastic to use. You get a 1.6GHz processor and 1GB of RAM. And as was stated earlier, that’s nothing out of the ordinary for netbook manufacturers to include.

What does make it really nice to use though is the 1.4 inch size of the computer and the approximately 2.5 pound weight that this thing sports. But considering all of that, why is this computer as popular as it is? Well, unlike other computers that try to flash all of these great “bonuses” and “extras” in the face of competition, the NB505 tries to just be a machine that’s usable. It’s sleek to look at and very inexpensive.

For the basic power you’re getting, it’s definitely a great buy for anyone just looking to have a netbook to carry around with them to jot down ideas or do some basic work without having to break out the full sized laptop or desktop to get work done.

  • Intel Atom processor N455 1.66 GHz, 512KB L2 Cache
  • Configured with 1GB DDR2 (works at 667MHz, max 2GB)
  • 250GB (5400 RPM) Serial ATA hard disk drive
  • 10.1? diagonal widescreen TruBrite display at 1024 x 600 native resolution (WSVGA) with a 16:9 aspect ratio and LED backlite
  • Genuine Windows 7 Starter 32-bit with a 6 cell/48Wh Lithium Ion battery pack; Battery Life (measured by MobileMark 2007): 8 hours, 21 minutes

Dell Inspiron Mini: The Dell Inspiron Mini is a very special netbook in that it isn’t famous for its specifications sheet. What I really love abou the Inspiron Mini is not the standard 1.6GHz processor that’s inside or the 1GB of RAM that it comes with. No, instead I love the Inspiron Mini because of what it’s capable of with a little hard work and some ingenuity.

This particular Dell has been popular in hacking circles because of its ability to turn into a miniature MacBook with the press of a few keystrokes. Hackers figured out that the hardware inside of the Dell was very similar to that used in Macbooks and other Apple products and figured out a way to install MacOSX onto this non-Apple machine.

While it isn’t entirely legal, many users have purchased the Dell to perform that exact operation. And even if it weren’t capable of being turned into a Mac, the specifications are standard enough and the price cheap enough that it should be a great buy no matter your reason for purchasing it.

  • Intel Atom N455 Processor (1.66GHz, 512KB Cache)
  • 1GB DDR3 Memory at 667MHz (1x1GB)
  • 250GB Hard Drive; Wireless-N Mini-Card
  • 10.1″ Widescreen Display; Intel GMA 3150 Graphics
  • Genuine Windows 7 Starter; 6-Cell Lithium Ion Battery

Asus 1215N: This next machine is our attempt to start talking about dual core processors and upgraded netbooks that are out there these days. Considering that dual core processors only made their way to desktops a few years ago, it’s a wonder that the processors have been reduced in size so much that they now fit into something this tiny. Without spending a fortune, you can get what was very recently a fully functional desktop computer in a package smaller than your last college textbook.

The 1215N spares no expenses when it comes to features. It comes with 1080P video playback, as well as an HDMI out port that allows you to connect your PC to a TV or external monitor for gaming or watching high definition content. And with a 500 gigabyte hard drive to store all of the extra content you’ll be downloading and playing, the 1215N is truly going to be a force to be reckoned with in the next few months when competitors try and outperform or design this Asus.

Oh, and did we mention that it has a 7 hour battery life? That’s 3 hours longer than the standard 4 hour battery life usually found in netbooks with a dual core processor.

  • 1.5 GHz Intel Atom Dual Core Processor
  • Full HD 1080P video playback
  • Windows 7 Home Premium
  • 12.1” HD LED-backlit display
  • NVIDIA ION graphics card
  • NVIDIA Optimus technology for energy efficient graphics and battery life

Asus EEE PC 1001: For those that know anything about netbooks, this particular computer probably doesn’t need much of an introduction. The EEE PC has been around since the netbook revolution started and is making its stand to be one of the most well known brands and netbooks to ever exist.

For those hesitant to purchase a machine from a brand that they may not have ever heard of, know this: Asus has been making computer parts for years and years and chances are, every computer you’ve ever owned has had at least one Asus part within it. After releasing the first ever netbook the world had ever seen, Asus began to become a household name with computer users and has since cemented itself in history as the manufacturer of the EEE PC, one of the best selling netbooks of all time.

It isn’t anything spectacular to look at now, but with the standard specifications of a 1.6GHz processor and 1GB of RAM, it’s definitely the industry standard for other netbooks coming out. Plus, the cheaper price tag makes it a great buy for a first time netbook buyer unsure of what it is they need in a new computer.

  • Intel Atom N455 (1.66GHz)
  • 1 GB DDR3 SODIMM memory, Max Capacity 2 GB
  • 250GB SATA Hard Drive (5400RPM); No optical drive
  • 10.1-Inch Matte 1024X600 WSVGA LED Display; 802.11 b/g/n; 0.3MP Webcam; 2-in-1 Card Reader MMC/SD(SDHC)
  • Up to 4 Hours of Battery Life; Windows 7 Starter Operating System

Short List?

We may get some feedback from users about how short this list is and why it doesn’t have any more than 4 computers above. The 4 computers we chose are, in our opinion, the best on the market at the moment. We could inundate you with options that would ultimately make your decision just as hard as if you were to open up the Top 10 on Amazon or on a similar site.

By reducing your choices and only showing you the best, cheapest netbooks available at the moment, we hope to better inform your decision by giving you the best facts we can about a select few computers rather than a myriad of netbooks that may be irrelevant to you. As always, feel free to comment or ask questions below and we’ll do our best to help you out!

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