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Save Business Expenses with Netbooks

Here's how to figure out if you can save money with netbooks.

By Zack Stern


Why Do You Need New Systems?

Can you use netbooks for business? The answer depends on your specific needs, but there's a good chance you can with current hardware. And more powerful, upcoming hardware is even more likely to work. Don't rely on netbooks beyond their light-use design. If you're replacing aging desktop PCs, netbooks will likely run at similar speeds without any perceived upgrade over the old hardware. A smaller case is nice but probably nets a result of wasted money.

Consider netbooks more if you're replacing old laptops. Speed gains will still be modest at best, but the little laptops could cost a lot less than more powerful systems.

Netbooks can best supplement your current laptop stable instead of putting old systems out to pasture. If you've added a few new employees--even temporary staff--the cheap laptops could help you ride out the tightening economy.

How Will You Use the New PCs?
The current crop of netbooks handles a few tasks well and is abysmal at others. Be sure that your needs fall in the former group.

Consider a netbook for basic productivity tasks. Even Office applications are on the threshold of straining the systems--but I think most hardware is just fast enough. Better--and lighter--uses include web browsing and email. And if your office uses online tools in a browser, the netbooks will likely work well.
Avoid netbooks for more taxing, media applications. Forget any regular graphics- or audio-creation software. Forget video editing. Even media playback can be a chore on these laptops.

Pick a Netbook and Extras
If you're going to buy a netbook, first choose between Windows XP and Linux. Linux can offer lighter system needs and therefore streamlined performance. However the hurdle of adjusting to a new OS and rethinking your software might be too big.

Netbook hardware specs are generally similar between different brands. Most of all, check out the screen and keyboard sizes. I type poorly on netbooks with 9-inch screens because the smaller form-factor shrinks the keyboard too much. See how you handle the smaller keyboards. And check out screen resolution. You're not likely to get a lot, but get one with a resolution of 1,024x600 or greater--the typical size.

Load up on RAM; shoot for 2GB. It'll help bolster an otherwise sluggish system. And get at least 16GB of disk storage. Anything less can be too cramped next to system and application files.

You'll need peripherals for heavy netbook use. Definitely add a full-size keyboard if you'll be typing in an office, hotel, or other longer-term location. And dig up an old monitor--or add a cheap new one--for more constant in-office use.

Upcoming netbooks could act a lot more like full laptops, although there aren't any specific release plans yet. But if you need new hardware now, the current crop can fit into a small business if you know what to expect.

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