02:04 PM

Netbooks For Road Warriors On A Budget

These laptop replacements from Asus, Acer, Dell, MSI, and Sony are budget-friendly and road-ready. Bonus: We've rounded up some gear to enhance their basic mobile functions.

Dell's Inspiron Mini 9 Netbook comes with Linux or can be upgraded to Windows XP.
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Netbooks are hot sellers. For years we've been charged exorbitant amounts of money for laptops with far less computing power than similarly priced desktop computers, so the idea that you can pay less for something that does less -- especially in the currently less than stellar economy -- has put the spotlight on netbooks.

There's also the novelty factor. We in computing just love new and different things. That may explain why new editions of netbooks seem to show up faster than baby bunnies at a rabbit farm.

But netbook reality can bite. Netbook keyboards are typically cramped to the point of actual discomfort after prolonged use. They would seem to be ideal for the spindly fingers of E.T. but lacking in comfort for the average ham-fisted human being.

Their screens are small -- often in the 8-to-11-inch size that prompts continual squinting at the tiny characters on the display panel. They have a reputation for using slow processors, small amounts of memory, and just enough hard disk space to be usable but not necessarily useful.

But from way out in left field there's a new generation of netbooks about to poke their small screens into your life. They have upgraded CPUs that are clocked slightly faster than their predecessors, more memory, and hard drives with larger capacities. Best of all, low-power operation and better battery tech have given rise to run times between 9 and 10 hours for some -- or so the claims go.

As we continue to replace desktop computers with portables, that $1,000+ you sunk into your baby (and much more if it's a gaming portable) is at risk if it's damaged or destroyed while traveling. (Let's not even mention how heavy they are.) A netbook, on the other hand, is practically a disposable item -- even in this economy.

You can get one scratched up, dropped, stolen, or lost and be out of pocket by only a fraction of the amount your "home portable" would cost to replace or repair. And because they typically weigh in around four pounds, at most, you can stuff one in your bag or briefcase and not end up with a backache at the end of the day.

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