ASK NBB #3: Netbooks Of The Future


Today on ASK NBB we’ve got a fascinating question on the table from Johann L.

QUESTION:

Hi,

In the world of hi-tech toys, everything goes really fast and when you
follow the evolution of some devices, you get to foresee what’s coming
next in the industry. I know this because I’ve been following the
evolution of digital photography for a while now, but when it comes to
netbooks, I don’t know much.

So here is my question: Based on what we have seen so far in the world
of netbooks, what is coming next? I’m looking forward to buy a
netbook, probably in late 2009 or early 2010 (I don’t need it now) and
I’m really hoping for faster cpu, OLED display, more ram, etc.. for
the next gens..

So, are we going to get faster netbooks soon? and if so, how much
faster than the current atom 1.6ghz cpu is it going to be?

Thank you for your answer.

-Johann 

ANSWER

There are two ways in which I think I can answer your question, and they’re based on some theories I have about the future of netbooks.

1. Netbooks will get faster and better once manufacturers aim their machines towards operating systems other than XP.

More often than not in the recent past, consumers have been faced with choices between netbooks that generally seemed exactly the same – aside from having different brands, they all seemed to run a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom CPU, 1 GB of RAM, a 160 GB HDD and Windows XP. Old school netbooks like the MSI Wind U120H and Acer Aspire One all tend to use that formula, a trend repeated in recent weeks by manufacturers like Packard Bell. So why all the repetition?

That was an enigma until a few recent reports revealed that Microsoft, in an attempt to defend its profit margins, made manufacturers agree to just put Windows XP on netbooks that ran less than (you guessed it) 1 GB of RAM and less than 160 GB of disk space. In an effort to placate Microsoft and be able to use XP, the vast majority of manufacturers dumbed down their netbooks.

From this I think we can draw a solid conclusion – netbooks are going to get snappier as soon as OEMs drop Windows XP in favor of newer operating systems. Unencumbered by Microsoft’s regulations, manufacturers will have the incentive to beef up their netbooks’ hard drives and RAM.

This transition period has already begun. Google’s Android OS has everybody fussing about it, and while the first few netbooks released on that platform haven’t been quite earth-shattering, the OS is cheap and offers room for manufacturers to spend money in other areas.

Linux is cranking out new netbook OS alternatives as well in the wake of Microsoft’s decision to not make a netbook-specific Windows 7. Moblin 2.0, Eeebuntu and Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.04 are all expanding the possibilities of what netbooks will be able to offer consumers, with one particularly notable development being the 2 second quick-boot made possible by Moblin. If that’s not futuristic, I don’t know what is!

While a few weeks ago I would have included Windows 7 in a list of upcoming netbook operating systems set to redefine the category, some hints by Microsoft are saying the corporation plans to cripple the OS when it’s put on netbooks unless consumers pay a hefty fee. Acer and Intel both share my doubts that there will be an incentive for manufacturers to power up their machines.

However, none of this analysis may be relevant, because a lot of analysts are concluding one thing…

2. … the future of netbooks is already here!

It may be cheesy to say so, but a number of cases in recent weeks have shown that manufacturers are being exceptionally innovative with the restrictions they’ve been forced to work with.

Sharp, for example, is delivering a netbook with an LED touchpad that comes with all kinds of entertainment programs and a stylus reminiscient of the Nintendo DS gaming system. You mentioned better displays – the Sony Vaio P has an 8-inch, 1600 x 768 pixel OLED screen. Sure, it costs over $900, but you get what you pay for.

The MSI Wind U110 Eco netbook has dual drives – an HDD and an SSD – and the U115 Hybrid has been made to run for over 25 hours on a single battery charge by one consumer. Most current netbooks generally run for 3-5 hours, nowhere near that range. You can find a useful netbook battery comparison here.

The NVIDIA Ion chip is going to add HD video and some gaming capability to netbooks, and when the Qualcomm Snapdragon is released later this year the CPU game is going to be changed as well. I can’t give a specific number for where I think CPU speed is going to be, but I think over the next few years it’s very possible that we’ll be seeing laptop-grade speed.

I could go on for ages with examples, but the main point is that even as manufacturers are restricted by XP, they’re finding more and more ways to improve netbook graphics, battery life, processing power, and speed. I doubt that netbooks will ever get too powerful compared to their notebook counterparts; however, as manufacturers find cheaper ways to produce components, netbooks will be able to improve while remaining in the budget range.

So there you have it. Once netbook manufacturers are weaned off of XP and find reason to deliver machines that run newer operating systems, netbooks will improve. But before that happens, we’re still going to see some innovation, and as long as netbook stays around long enough to get some momentum, we’re going to see some very cool things in the near future.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Interested in getting your own question answered on ASK NBB? Here’s how! Be sure to check out our first ASK NBB for some info on buying a new netbook, or ASK NBB #2 for some commentary on 3G netbooks.

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