Netbook is a generic name given to a category of small, lightweight, legacy-free, and inexpensive laptop computers that were introduced in 2007. Netbooks compete in the same market segment as mobiles and Chromebooks (a variation on the portable network computer).
HP 2133 Mini-Note PC netbook
(front view, compared to a pencil)
At their inception in late 2007 as smaller notebooks optimized for low weight and low cost—netbooks omitted certain features (e.g., the optical drive), featured smaller screens and keyboards, and offered reduced computing power when compared to a full-sized laptop. Over the course of their evolution, netbooks have ranged in size from below 5" screen diagonal to 12". A typical weight is 1 kg (2.2 pounds). Often significantly less expensive than other laptops, by mid-2009, netbooks began to be offered by some wireless data carriers to their users "free of charge", with an extended service contract purchase.
In the short period since their appearance, netbooks grew in size and features, and converged with smaller, lighter laptops and subnotebooks. By August 2009, when comparing a Dell netbook to a Dell notebook, CNET called netbooks "nothing more than smaller, cheaper notebooks", noting, "the specs are so similar that the average shopper would likely be confused as to why one is better than the other", and "the only conclusion is that there really is no distinction between the devices". In an attempt to prevent cannibalizing the more lucrative laptops in their lineup, manufacturers imposed several constraints on netbooks; however this would soon push netbooks into a niche where they had few distinctive advantages over traditional laptops or tablet computers (see below).
By 2011, the increasing popularity of tablet computers (particularly the iPad)—a different form factor, but with improved computing capabilities and lower production cost—had led to a decline in netbook sales. At the high end of the performance spectrum, ultrabooks, ultra-light portables with a traditional keyboard and display have been revolutionized by the 11.6-inch MacBook Air, which made fewer performance sacrifices albeit at considerably higher production cost. Capitalizing on the success of the MacBook Air, and in response to it, Intel promoted Ultrabook as a new high-mobility standard, which has been hailed by some analysts as succeeding where netbooks failed. As a result of these two developments, netbooks of 2011 had kept price as their only strong point, losing in the design, ease-of-use and portability department to tablets (and tablets with removable keyboards) and to Ultrabook laptops in the features and performance field.
Many major netbook producing companies stopped producing them by the end of 2012. Many netbook products were replaced on the market by Chromebooks, a variation on the network computer concept in the form of a netbook. HP re-entered the non-Chromebook netbook market with the Stream 11 in 2014.
The origins of the netbook can be traced to the highly popular Toshiba range of Libretto sub-notebooks. The 6" Libretto 20 dates back to early 1996 and weighed only 840g. Apple also had a line of PowerBook Duos that were ultra-portable Macintosh laptops in the mid 90s. More recently, Psion's now-discontinued netBook line, the OLPC XO-1 (initially called US$100 laptop) and the Palm Foleo were all small, portable, network-enabled computers. The generic use of the term "netbook", however, began in 2007 when Asus unveiled the Asus Eee PC. Originally designed for emerging markets, the 23 cm × 17 cm (9.1 in × 6.7 in) device weighed about 0.9 kg (2 lb) and featured a 7 in (18 cm) display, a keyboard approximately 85% the size of a normal keyboard, a solid-state drive and a custom version of Linux with a simplified user interface geared towards netbook use. Following the Eee PC, Everex launched its Linux-based CloudBook; Windows XP and Windows Vista models were also introduced and MSI released the Wind—others soon followed suit.
The OLPC project followed the same market goals laid down by the eMate 300 eight years earlier. Known for its innovation in producing a durable, cost- and power-efficient netbook for developing countries, it is regarded as one of the major factors that led more top computer hardware manufacturers to begin creating low-cost netbooks for the consumer market. When the first Asus Eee PC sold over 300,000 units in four months, companies such as Dell and Acer took note and began producing their own inexpensive netbooks. And while the OLPC XO-1 targets a different audience than do the other manufacturers' netbooks, it appears that OLPC is now facing competition. Developing countries now have a large choice of vendors, from which they can choose which low-cost netbook they prefer.
By late 2008, netbooks had begun to take market share away from notebooks. In contrast to earlier, largely failed attempts to establish mini computers as a new class of mainstream personal computing devices built around comparatively expensive platforms requiring proprietary software applications or imposing severe usability limitations, the recent success of netbooks can also be attributed to the fact that PC technology has now matured enough to allow truly cost optimized implementations with enough performance to suit the needs of a majority of PC users. This is illustrated by the fact that typical system performance of a netbook is on the level of a mainstream PC in 2001, at around one quarter of the cost. While this performance level suffices for most of the user needs, it caused an increased interest in resource-efficient applications such as Google's Chrome, and forced Microsoft to extend availability of Windows XP to secure market share. It is estimated that almost thirty times more netbooks were sold in 2008 (11.4 million, 70% of which were in Europe) than in 2007 (400,000). This trend is reinforced by the rise of web-based applications as well as mobile networking and, according to Wired Magazine, netbooks are evolving into "super-portable laptops for professionals". The ongoing recession is also helping with the growing sales of netbooks.
In Australia, the New South Wales Department of Education and Training, in partnership with Lenovo, provided Year 9 (high school) students in government high schools with Lenovo S10e netbooks in 2009, Lenovo Mini 10 netbooks in 2010, Lenovo Edge 11 netbooks in 2011 and a modified Lenovo X130e netbook in 2012, each preloaded with software including Microsoft Office and Adobe Systems' Creative Suite 4. These were provided under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's Digital Education Revolution, or DER. The netbooks ran Windows 7 Enterprise. These netbooks were secured with Computrace Lojack for laptops that the police can use to track the device if it is lost or stolen. The NSW DET retains ownership of these netbooks until the student graduates from Year 12, when the student can keep it. The Government of Trinidad and Tobago—Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bisseser—is also providing HP laptops to form 1 Students (11-year-olds) with the same police trackable software as above.
Greece provided all 13-year-old students (middle school, or gymnasium, freshmen) and their teachers with netbooks in 2009 through the "Digital Classroom Initiative". Students were given one unique coupon each, with which they redeemed the netbook of their choice, up to a €450 price ceiling, in participating shops throughout the country. These netbooks came bundled with localised versions of either Windows XP (or higher) or open source (e.g. Linux) operating systems, wired and wireless networking functionality, antivirus protection, preactivated parental controls, and an educational software package.
Microsoft and Intel have tried to "cement" netbooks in the low end of the market to protect mainstream notebook PC sales, because they get lower margins on low-cost models. The companies have limited the specifications of netbooks, but despite this original equipment manufacturers have announced higher-end netbooks models as of March 2009.
Ending in 2008 the report was that the typical netbook featured a 1.4 kg (3 lb) weight, a 9 in (23 cm) screen, wireless Internet connectivity, Linux or Windows XP, an Intel Atom processor, and a cost of less than $400 US. A mid-2009 newspaper article said that a typical netbook is 1.2 kg (2.6 lb), $300 US, and has a 10 in (25 cm) screen, 1 GB of random-access memory, a 160 GB hard disk drive, and a wireless transceiver for both home and a mobile network. Buyers drove the netbook market towards larger screens, which grew from 7 in (18 cm) in the original Asus Eee PC 700 to 12 in (30.5 cm) models in the summer of 2009.
Having peaked at about 20% of the portable computer market, netbooks started to slightly lose market share (within the category) in early 2010, coinciding with the appearance and success of the iPad. Technology commentator Ross Rubin argued two and a half years later in Engadget that "Netbooks never got any respect. While Steve Jobs rebuked the netbook at the iPad's introduction, the iPad owes a bit of debt to the little laptops. The netbook demonstrated the potential of an inexpensive, portable second computing device, with a screen size of about 10 inches, intended primarily for media consumption and light productivity." Although some manufacturers directly blamed competition from the iPad, some analysts pointed out that larger, fully fledged laptops had entered the price range of netbooks at about the same time.
The 11.6-inch MacBook Air, introduced in late 2010, compared favorably to many netbooks in terms of processing power but also ergonomics, at 2.3 pounds being lighter than some 10-inch netbooks, owing in part to the integration of the flash storage chips on the main logic board. It was described as a superlative netbook (or at least as what a netbook should be) by several technology commentators, even though Apple has never referred to it as such, sometimes describing it—in the words of Steve Jobs—as "the third kind of notebook." The entry level model had a MSRP of $999, costing significantly more than the average netbook, as much as three or four times more.
In 2011 tablet sales overtook netbooks for the first time, and in 2012 netbook sales fell by 25 percent, year-on-year. The sustained decline since 2010 had been most pronounced in the United States and in Western Europe, while Latin America was still showing some modest growth. In December 2011, Dell announced that it was exiting the netbook market. In May 2012, Toshiba announced it was doing the same, at least in the United States. An August 2012 article by John C. Dvorak in PC Magazine claimed that the term "netbook" is "nearly gone from the lexicon already", having been superseded in the market place largely by the more powerful (and MacBook Air inspired) Ultrabook—described as "a netbook on steroids"—and to a lesser extent by tablets. In September 2012 Asus, Acer and MSI announced that they will stop manufacturing 10-inch netbooks. Simultaneously Asus announced they would stop developing all Eee PC products, instead focusing on their mixed tablet-netbook Transformer line.
With the introduction of Chromebooks, major manufacturers produced the new laptops for the same segment of the market that netbooks serviced. Chromebooks, a variation on the network computer concept, in the form of a netbook, require internet connections for full functionality. Chromebooks became top selling laptops in 2014. The threat of Google Chrome OS based Chromebooks prompted Microsoft to revive and revamp netbooks with Windows 8.1 with Bing. HP re-entered the non-Chromebook netbook market with the Stream 11 in 2014.
In 1996 Psion started applying for trademarks for a line of netBook products that was later released in 1999. International trademarks were issued (including and ) but the models failed to gain popularity and are now discontinued (except for providing accessories, maintenance and support to existing users). Similar marks were recently rejected by the USPTO citing a "likelihood of confusion" under section 2(d).
Despite expert analysis that the mark is "probably generic", Psion Teklogix issued cease and desist letters on 23 December 2008. This was heavily criticised, prompting the formation of the "Save the Netbooks" grassroots campaign which worked to reverse the Google AdWords ban, cancel the trademark and encourage continued generic use of the term. While preparing a "Petition for Cancellation" of they revealed that Dell had submitted one day before on the basis of abandonment, genericness and fraud. They later revealed Psion's counter-suit against Intel, filed on 27 February 2009.
It was also revealed around the same time that Intel had also sued Psion Teklogix (US & Canada) and Psion (UK) in the Federal Court on similar grounds. In addition to seeking cancellation of the trademark, Intel sought an order enjoining Psion from asserting any trademark rights in the term "netbook", a declarative judgment regarding their use of the term, attorneys' fees, costs and disbursements and "such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper".
On June 2, 2009, Psion announced that the suit had been settled out of court. Psion's statement said that the company was withdrawing all of its trademark registrations for the term "Netbook" and that Psion agreed to "waive all its rights against third parties in respect of past, current or future use" of the term.
Netbooks typically have less powerful hardware than larger laptop computers and do not include an optical disc drive that larger laptops often have. Some netbooks do not even have a conventional hard drive. Such netbooks use solid-state storage devices instead, as these require less power, are faster, lighter, and generally more shock-resistant, but with much less storage capacity (such as 32, 64, or 128 GB compared to the 100 GB to 2 TB mechanical hard drives typical of many notebooks/laptop computers).
All netbooks on the market today support Wi-Fi wireless networking and many can be used on mobile telephone networks with data capability (for example, 3G). Mobile data plans are supplied under contract in the same way as mobile telephones. Some also include ethernet and/or modem ports, for broadband or dial-up Internet access, respectively.
It remains to be seen whether Intel's new silvermont architecture, released in 2013, will revive sales as new chips will offer far greater power using the same wattage.
Most netbooks, such as those from Asus, BenQ, Dell, Toshiba, Acer use the Intel Atom notebook processor (typically the N270 1.6 GHz but also available is the N280 at 1.66 GHz, replaced by the N450 series with graphics and memory controller integrated on the chip in early 2010 and running at 1.66 GHz), but the x86-compatible VIA Technologies C7 processor is also powering netbooks from many different manufacturers like HP and Samsung. VIA has also designed the Nano, a new x86-64-compatible architecture targeting lower priced, mobile applications like netbooks. Currently, one netbook uses the Nano; the Samsung NC20. Some very low cost netbooks use a system-on-a-chip Vortex86 processor meant for embedded systems, just to be "Windows compatible", but with very low performance. In 2011, AMD launched Fusion netbook processors which are included in Asus Eee PC 1015T and many others.
Although not officially sanctioned by AMD for this role, a 1.2 GHz Athlon 64 model L110 processor, dissipating 13 W, was used by at least one company—Gateway—to power an 11.6-inch portable (1366x768 screen resolution), described as a netbook by the press. Launched in mid-2009 at $399 in the United States, the LT31 met with reviewers' approval for its performance, being generally recognized as faster than contemporary Atom-based products in the same price range, while having a considerably shorter battery life and still falling short of Intel's Core 2 ULV product line powering more expensive small-factor offerings.
The 11.6 inch MacBook Air debuted in late 2010 with a 1.4 GHz Core 2 Duo processor (a 10 W part) and a 1366x768 display resolution for its entry level model priced at $999 (with 1.6 GHz available as upgrade), which put it "much closer to a fully modern laptop than the small-but-crippled netbooks". One reviewer described it as the "Mercedes Benz of netbooks".
The September 2011 PC Magazine buyer's guide for netbooks observed that other "oversized netbooks" with 11.6 inch screens had appeared on the market, including the HP Pavilion dm1z (MSRP $449) and Lenovo ThinkPad X100e (MSRP $550), both using the AMD Fusion E-350 processor (an 18 W part, although this includes the GPU), which was described as "faster than any given Atom processor".
By definition netbooks accommodate processors with little processing power. For comparison a common dual-core Core 2 Duo T5600 at 1.83 GHz with 2 MB L2 cache used in low-end laptops has a PassMark score of about 1000 points. The following table shows benchmarks for most common netbook CPUs:
|AMD||Athlon Neo MV-40||1||1.6||512||15||||391|
|AMD||AMD Fusion C-50||2||1||1024||9||||452|
|AMD||AMD Fusion C-60||2||1.0/1.3 turbo||1024||9||||559|
ARM Holdings designs and licenses microprocessor technology with relatively low power requirements and low cost which would constitute an ideal basis for netbooks. In particular, the recent ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore series of processor cores have been touted by ARM as an alternative platform to x86 for netbooks. In June 2009, Nvidia announced a dozen mobile Internet devices running ARM-based Tegra SoC's, some of which will be netbooks.
Some ARM-based products were advertised as smartbooks, particularly by Qualcomm. Smartbooks promised to deliver features including always on, all-day battery life, 3G connectivity and GPS (all typically found in smartphones) in a laptop-style body with a screen size of 5 to 10 inches and a QWERTY keyboard. These systems do not run traditional x86 versions of Microsoft Windows, rather custom Linux operating systems (such as Google's Android or Chrome OS). In the end, few such products were ever shipped to market under this branding, like the HP-Compaq Airlife, the Toshiba AC100 (sold as Dynabook AZ in Japan) and the Efika MX. Some of the devices, like the AC100, have been hampered by being sold with a phone-oriented operating system like Android. By the end of 2010, Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs admitted that tablet computers such as the iPad already occupied the niche of the smartbook, so the name was dropped.
Some netbooks use MIPS architecture-compatible processors. These include the Skytone Alpha-400, based on an Ingenic system on chip, and the EMTEC Gdium netbook, which uses the 64-bit Loongson processor capable of 400 million instructions per second. While these systems are relatively inexpensive, the processing power of current MIPS implementations usually compares unfavorably with those of x86-implementations as found in current netbooks.
Microsoft announced on April 8, 2008 that, despite the impending end of retail availability for the operating system that June, it would continue to license low-cost copies of Windows XP Home Edition to OEMs through October 2010 (one year after the release of Windows 7) for what it defined as "ultra low-cost personal computers"—a definition carrying restrictions on screen size and processing power. The move served primarily to counter the use of low-cost Linux distributions on netbooks and create a new market segment for Windows devices, whilst ensuring that the devices did not cannibalize the sales of higher-end PCs running Windows Vista. In 2009, over 90% (96% claimed by Microsoft as of February 2009) of netbooks in the United States were estimated to ship with Windows XP.
For Windows 7, Microsoft introduced a new stripped-down edition intended for netbooks known as "Starter", exclusively for OEMs. In comparison to Home Premium, Starter has reduced multimedia functionality, does not allow users to change their desktop wallpaper or theme, disables the "Aero Glass" theme, and does not have support for multiple monitors.
For Windows 8, in a ploy to counter Chrome OS-based netbooks and low-end Android tablets, Microsoft began to offer no-cost Windows licenses to OEMs for devices with screens smaller than 9 inches in size. Additionally, Microsoft began to offer low-cost licenses for a variant of the operating system set up to use Microsoft's Bing search engine by default.
Google's Android software platform, designed for mobile telephone handsets, has been demonstrated on an ASUS Eee PC and its version of the Linux operating system contains policies for mobile internet devices including the original Asus Eee PC 701. ASUS has allocated engineers to develop an Android-based netbook. In May 2009 a contractor of Dell announced it is porting Adobe Flash Lite to Android for Dell netbooks. Acer announced Android netbooks to be available in Q3/2009. In July 2009, a new project, Android-x86, was created to provide an open source solution for Android on the x86 platform, especially for netbooks.
Google has since 2011, marketed a netbook-specific platform known as Chrome OS. Google has made efforts to provide access to the Android ecosystem within Chrome OS, including the 2016 introduction of Google Play Store and a compatibility layer for Android applications to the platform.
Netbooks have sparked the development of several Linux variants or completely new distributions, which are optimized for small screen use and the limited processing power of the Atom or ARM processors which typically power netbooks. Examples include Ubuntu Netbook Edition, EasyPeasy, Joli OS and MeeGo, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, and Darwin. Both Joli OS and MeeGo purport to be "social oriented" or social networking operating systems rather than traditional "office work production" operating systems.
Since 2010, major netbook manufacturers no longer install or support Linux in the United States. The reason for this change of stance is unclear, although it coincides with the availability of a 'netbook' version of Windows XP, and a later Windows 7 Starter and a strong marketing push for the adoption of this OS in the netbook market. However, companies targeting niche markets, such as System76 and ZaReason, continue to pre-install Linux on the devices they sell.
The Cloud operating system attempts to capitalize on the minimalist aspect of netbooks. The user interface is limited to a browser application only.
Mac OS X has been demonstrated running on various netbooks as a result of the OSx86 project, although this is in violation of the operating system's end-user license agreement. Apple has complained to sites hosting information on how to install OS X onto non-Apple hardware (including Wired and YouTube) who have reacted and removed content in response. One article nicknamed a netbook running OS X a "Hackintosh." The Macbook Air can be considered an expensive netbook.
Special "children's" editions of netbooks have been released under Disney branding; their low cost (less at risk), lack of DVD player (less to break) and smaller keyboards (closer to children's hand sizes) are viewed as significant advantages for that target market. The principal objection to netbooks in this context is the lack of good video performance for streaming online video in current netbooks and a lack of speed with even simple games. Adults browsing for text content are less dependent on video content than small children who cannot read.
Netbooks are a growing trend in education for several reasons. The need to prepare children for 21st-century lifestyles, combined with hundreds of new educational tools that can be found online, and a growing emphasis on student centered learning are three of the biggest contributing factors to the rising use of netbook technology in schools. Dell was one of the first to mass-produce a ruggedised netbook for the education sector, by having a rubber outlay, touchscreen and network activity light to show the teacher the netbook is online.
Netbooks offer several distinct advantages in educational settings. First, their compact size and weight make for an easy fit in student work areas. Similarly, the small size make netbooks easier to transport than heavier, larger sized traditional laptops. In addition, prices ranging from $200–$600 mean the affordability of netbooks can be a relief to school budget makers. Despite the small size and price, netbooks are fully capable of accomplishing most school-related tasks, including word processing, presentations, access to the Internet, multimedia playback, and photo management.
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