Little laptops

Firstly, I’ll have to admit that whilst some people collect stamps, coins, or other more conventional items, I have a habit of collecting, playing with, and then reselling, laptop computers. I only started owning more than one laptop when I bought an IBM Thinkpad T40 to replace my ageing Dell Latitude CPi A400XT back in March in 2006. It is weird, and, I guess costly to some, but I have only ever bought one new and unused laptop in the past 25 or so months (out of almost a dozen different ones).

It was an Asus EEE PC. Released last year, it has sold hundreds of thousands of units by virtue of its claim to provide a usable laptop experience in a very small package (known in tech speak as an ultraportable). SInce then, the ultraportable craze has spawned plenty of imitators, all trying to appeal to the savvy business user who needs something that is small, yet allows them to travel and still be able to do work on business trips. A year ago, the smallest laptops were around 10 to 11 inches from diagonal corner to corner of the LCD, and could cost several thousand dollars. The EEE PC in its current incarnation costs less than $500 in Australia.

The Horey and Son blog over at News Limited has taken a brief moment or 2 to look at the ultraportable craze, and both parties (plus the comments that follow) are not conclusively in agreement over their value. The consensus seems to be that they are handy because of their smaller size, but the smaller dimensions, lower resolution LCDs, and lack of key features (such as an integrated optical drive) are a slight compromise that the user has to take into account.There’s no doubt though that the devices have found their niche.

I personally think that they’re perfectly acceptable, but not as great value as some may wish to claim. Take the EEE for example – a standard model like the one that I had comes with 512MB RAM, a 4GB solid state drive (that cannot be upgraded) and a small 7″ 800 x 480 LCD (the screen real estate is less than 1/5 of that which I find on my T42p laptop that I am typing this on – a 1600 x 1200 15″ LCD). Even with a SD card inserted in the SD slot, it doesn’t provide much space for your operating system and enough programs to do your work. That, and it runs on a weak 900mHz Celeron CPU (although the forthcoming 9″ model should have more power). I ended up selling my one 2 weeks after I bought it, upgrading the RAM from 512MB to 2GB and buying a 8GB SDHC card, and recouped all my investment (proving that people were happy enough to pay market value for something that had been slightly used).

So what do I have now? The T42p remains on my desk, and I bought a second hand Dell Inspiron 700m, a 12.1″ widescreen laptop that doesn’t weigh too much, isn’t too outdated in terms of modern technology, and is easy to use. For a little bit more money I could have still had a little thing that really doesn’t match up in the power statistics. I’ll always think of the EEE, and the subsequent incarnations that it inspired, as items with some slight novelty. They’re by no means bad enough to drive somebody nuts with their odd quirks and squirms, but people who buy it for the cute factor will probably find that they should have investigated a bit more and, dare I say it, try the second hand refurbished market. I’ve done it for over 2 years and have never had an issue.

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