Lately the idea of getting a netbook has been a bit of an obsession of mine…

I’ve always liked small laptops – to me it’s more useful to have a little bit of computer that’s very mobile rather than a lot of computer that’s less mobile. So this whole “netbook” thing started by the EEE PC – super-portable computers that are actually cheap as well, is really exciting. Combined with the fact that my 12″ Apple Powerbook has become tiresome (due largely to the need to keep upgrading the OS to be able to use new software, and the fact that running Linux software on the thing is a bit of a hassle, due to poor integration of the X server) it’s hard not to be drawn in.

All the current netbooks have basically the same specs, so there’s usually not much of a decision there. The main deciding factors are size, weight, cost, and upgrade options. Some of the netbooks have an open PCI-E slot inside, though sometimes there’s not a connector for it, and sometimes only the USB signals are provided…

One of my favorites of the pack has generally been the EEE 901. Of the 9″ netbooks the 901 is among the smallest and best. Its SSD-based and available with Linux installed (which mostly just means no Windows key, which makes me happy…) It also includes a 6-cell battery standard: inclusion of inadequate batteries is one of the worst offenses of netbook designers, and the 901 is one of the models that gets it right.

However, one thing that bothers me with the 901 is there’s no accommodations for adding new peripherals, other than via USB. The only available PCI-E slot is used by the wireless card. The 3G slot is USB-only. So adding eSATA or Firewire isn’t likely to be a practical possibility… I could probably go the whole lifetime of the netbook without being particularly bothered by lack of eSATA or Firewire – but I’m interested in stop-motion animation so the Firewire could be very useful for interfacing with a video camera, and either eSATA or USB 3.0 will be important for the next generation of external hard drives and external optical drives – there are real limitations to what can be done with a netbook but I see no reason why USB 2.0 should be the best external interface it can provide.

So, being sick of trying to figure out if a particular netbook had an internal mini-PCI-e slot or not, and whether that slot was capable of true PCI-e or just USB (for a 3G card) I decided to look at netbooks with Expresscard slots. (Expresscard is the modern version of the old PCMCIA slot – it’s basically a single-channel PCI-express slot.) With Expresscard I could add these features I want now, or be prepared to add the ones I might want later…

There’s really just a handful of options available with Expresscard: the HP Mini 2140 is one of the better small offerings (though it’s quite expensive for a netbook) – while the Asus N10 is on the larger end of the scale, but also offers a much better graphics chipset (one of the few so far to offer the NVidia 9400M in a netbook – but it’s also quite expensive for a netbook.) The best reasonably priced option so far seems to be the Lenovo Ideapad S10 – but it comes with a 3-cell battery, and the 6-cell battery is only available as a $90 add-on, which would put the total cost of the machine up to (or above) the $400 mark.

The S10 seems the best option right now – Inclusion of the Expresscard slot is pretty compelling to me, personally, and may even make it worth the cost to get the optional 6-cell battery.

Post a Comment