Australian netbook buying guide

We walk you through what to look for when you're buying a netbook and give you an overview of the many mini-notebooks that have passed through our Test Centre

Expansion slots: Only a couple of netbooks have built-in expansion slots: Lenovo's IdeaPad S10 has an ExpressCard/34 slot, for example, and HP's Mini 2140 has an ExpressCard/54 slot. An ExpressCard slot is handy if you want to install a mobile data card for Internet access or a digital TV tuner, for example. However, USB devices exist that can be used for the same tasks. There's no need to buy a netbook with an ExpressCard slot unless you already have devices that require it.

Graphics: Netbooks don't have dedicated graphics processors; instead they have integrated graphics adapters, which use the CPU and the main system memory in order to perform many of their functions. This means that you can't use netbooks for sophisticated 3D graphics processing. As a result, netbooks can't run many games (unless they are quite old and don't require complex 3D graphics). The most common integrated graphics card in netbooks is the Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 (GMA 950). Some netbooks use the Intel GMA 500 integrated graphics card, which has more advanced video processing capabilities than the GMA 950. It is often used in netbooks that have a digital TV tuner.

Memory card slots: Like most regular sized notebooks, all netbooks have an SD card slot that can be used to quickly download images from a digital camera.

Networking: All netbooks have built-in wireless networking, as well as an Ethernet port. The wireless networking speed is usually up to 802.11g, but some netbooks support fast 802.11n Wi-Fi. The Ethernet speed is usually 10/100, but some high-end netbooks feature Gigabit Ethernet. If you will only be using a netbook to browse the Internet, then 802.11g and 10/100 Ethernet are fast enough. Opt for the faster networking speeds if you will be using the netbook to serve data to a media streamer, for example.

Optical drive: Due to their size, netbooks don't have space for an integrated optical drive. If you want to install programs off a CD or play DVD movies you will need an external DVD burner that plugs in to a USB port.

RAM: The first netbook that ASUS shipped had 512MB of RAM, but the majority of netbooks now have 1GB installed. They can usually be upgraded (sometimes with difficulty) to 2GB. They use DDR2 SDRAM SO-DIMM modules and some netbooks have two SO-DIMM slots while others have one slot and some built-in RAM.

Resolution: The first Eee PC, with its 7in screen, had a resolution of 800x480. Common resolutions today are 1024x576 (for netbooks with a 16:9 aspect ratio) and 1024x600 (for netbooks with a 16:10 aspect ratio). The resolution of 8.9in netbooks and 10.2in netbooks is the same — 1024x600. Netbooks with a 10.1in screen typically have a resolution of 1024x576. While it's a small difference, go for a model with the higher resolution if you can, as it will be more comfortable when browsing Web pages. Dell's Mini 10 and Sony's VAIO W series VPCW115XG (P/T/W) netbooks have a high definition screen with a desktop resolution of 1366x768, which is currently the highest resolution on the market for a netbook.

Screen size: The current crop of netbooks have 10.1in or 10.2in screens, but there is also an 11.6in model available from BenQ. The first netbook — the ASUS Eee PC 701 4G — had a 7in screen, and later models featured 8.9in screens.

Storage: Netbooks are available either with solid-state storage or conventional (spinning) hard drives. Solid-state drives have no moving parts, so they are less prone to losing data than spinning hard drives if you drop your netbook. However, the solid-state devices found in netbooks are not as fast as 5400rpm spinning hard drives. They also don't offer anywhere near as much storage as conventional hard drives. Other advantages of solid-state drives are that they are slightly lighter, they run cooler and they consume fractionally less electricity. Choose a solid-state drive if you want a netbook that will run almost silently and without vibration and you don't care about storage capacity. Choose a netbook with a conventional spinning hard drive if you want a large storage capacity (conventional drives in netbooks currently go up to 160GB). Some netbooks come with both a hard drive and a solid-state drive. In such a configuration the operating system is installed on the solid-state drive and the hard drive is used to store programs and data.

USB ports: Netbooks can have up to three USB 2.0 ports, although some models ship with only two. Toshiba (in its NB100 and NB200 netbooks) has the most advanced USB ports on the market: they can be used to charge devices, such as the iPhone or an MP3 player, even when the netbook is switched off.

Video out: Most netbooks come with a D-Sub (VGA) port which you can use to plug in an external monitor.

Warranty: Most netbooks on the market have a 12-month warranty; the only netbook with a 24-month warranty is Fujitsu's M2010.

Webcam: All netbooks ship with a built-in webcam that can be used for Skype and recording YouTube videos.

Weight: The weight of a netbook will be 1-1.6kg, depending on its screen size, battery type and other specifications.

On page 3: every netbook we've ever tested.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags notebooksnetbooks

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Elias Plastiras
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?