Netbooks, low-cost laptops originally designed for sale in countries with emerging economies, are becoming more popular in developed economies with consumers and business users who tend to use their own computers for work. Although these computers were initially offered with Linux, Windows XP has become an increasingly popular operating system option for netbooks, particularly given the conventional wisdom that they are not powerful enough to run Windows Vista. So what about using Windows 7 on a netbook? After using the beta on a netbook for a few weeks, it appears that Windows 7 is a workable OS for this class of computers.
Microsoft executives, such as Robbie Bach, speaking at the International CTIA Wireless Conference in Las Vegas in April 2009, are going out of their way to demonstrate Windows 7 running on netbooks. Bach was promoting Windows 7 on netbooks at the conference because many netbooks, such as the high-end HP Mini 1000 Vivienne Tam edition, include built-in support for 3G networks. This promotion of the low-cost computers as a platform for Windows 7 raises the question: just how good is the experience of running Windows 7 on a netbook?
Finding an industry standard netbook definition is difficult, so we use a very simple definition: a netbook is a small lightweight laptop computer retailing for US$500 or less. Like ultralight laptops, netbooks may have a small form factor and long battery life, but ultralight laptops are often more powerful, include more high-end hardware components, and use more durable materials, and therefore command a premium price.
Other netbook definitions call out particular processors and most netbooks do use Intel's Atom processor, which is a small, low-power processor. Screen size is a second defining characteristic in which most netbooks have a 7- or 10-inch screen. They will typically have between 512MB and 2GB of RAM, and hard disk storage varies from less than 10GB of solid state storage to a 120GB hard drive. To keep the size and costs down, netbooks typically do not include a CD or DVD drive.
The Netbook Windows 7 Test
I wanted to perform a very simple and admittedly non-scientific analysis of a netbook and Windows 7. I went into a local office supply store and walked out with an Acer Aspire One that cost less than US$300-well within my definition of a netbook. The model I purchased has an Intel Atom N270 (1.60 GHz) processor with 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive. It came with Windows XP Home edition preinstalled, so I simply connected the netbook to a USB DVD drive, adjusted the boot order to boot from the DVD, and restarted the netbook from the Windows 7 Home Premium Beta One media. Installation proceeded without problem, and in approximately the same time it took to install Windows 7 on a full-sized laptop, I had a netbook running Windows 7.