Sunday, 16 November 2008

Travelling Light

As you may have noticed from this blog I do travel quite a bit, both with work and for fun. In fact I've since this blog started I've had trips to Bled, The Reeds Hotel, Marrakech, St. Andrews, Bordeaux and a long honeymoon in Scotland. On all these trips I've taken my laptop with me. In fact here is a photo of it sunning itself by the pool in Marrakech. Now it's not huge or particularly heavy but it can still be quite awkward to cart around, especially when flying. If I'm flying then the laptop bag becomes my one piece of cabin luggage and so I can manage a few books as well as the laptop but everything else has to go in my suitcase. So even if I'm away for only a day or so I have to have the added hassle of checking in luggage and hopping that it makes it to the same destination at the same time as me. Well I now have a solution to this problem -- take a netbook instead of a laptop.

Netbooks are designed to be exceedingly portable. They are small and lightweight and leave lots of room in a bag for other luggage. While there may have been small lightweight laptops for a while, netbooks are relatively new. The first was the Eee from Asus, but there are now quite a few different models, and I've bought the Mini 9 from Dell -- thanks to everyone who gave me money for my birthday as this is what I bought!

Lets start by looking at it next to my normal laptop. As you can see it really is small. In fact the spec sheet from Dell tells us that it is just 9.13" (232mm) wide, 1.25" (31.7mm) high and 6.77" (172mm) deep and weighs just 2.28 lbs. (1.035 kg) -- in other words it is about the size of a large hardback novel and weighs very little.

Now the netbook isn't as fast as a laptop or desktop machine. For example, the CPU is a dual core Intel Atom clocked at 1.6GHz whereas my laptop contains a 3Ghz dual core processor. But in reality you often don't want to do lots of heavy processing while away but you do want to be able to check e-mail or give presentations and for that a netbook is ideal. It maybe that netbooks could be built with faster processors but they are currently limited due to licensing deals with Microsoft. Microsoft want to sell licenses for Windows Vista while their customers clearly prefer Windows XP. They have relented a little and allowed OEMs to continue to sell XP with systems that are not powerful enough to run Vista. So the netbook manufacturers are deliberately not putting more than 1Gb of RAM in the netbooks so they can sell them with either XP or a flavour of Linux. Fortunately the Dell is very easy to upgrade (2 screws remove the base giving access to the memory, hard drive and wireless networking card) and so while it arrived on Thursday with only 1Gb of RAM by Thursday evening it was running quite happily with 2Gb (I bought this 2Gb memory module if anyone is interested in doing the same).

I've been looking at buying a netbook for a while but found it difficult to choose between the different models available. I eventually bought the Mini 9 from Dell as it doesn't have any moving parts and so should hopefully withstand being bounced around a bit while travelling. This means it doesn't have a fan so doesn't get noisy but more interestingly it has a solid state hard drive (SSD).

If you are salivating over the pictures and description then a word of advice -- even if you want to run Linux on the Mini 9 spend the extra £30 and get the Windows XP version. The reason for this is that you get a 16Gb hard drive instead of an 8Gb one which given the current price of SSDs is a bargain.

I'm sure there will be more postings about the netbook as I find more interesting things to say about it, but already it has proven useful as I'm writing this sat in the Marton Arms Hotel, Thornton-in-Lonsdale without having dragged my large laptop bag along with me!

My Rating: 5 StarsA fantastic netbook that is going to make traveling so much more enjoyable than when taking a full sized laptop.

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