How Netbooks Work

Typical Netbook Specifications

Netbooks vary a bit depending on the manufacturer you select, but these devices share a lot of similarities. Your eyes will immediately note visible traits that separate netbooks from their laptop brethren.

Most obviously, netbooks are downright tiny compared to laptops loaded with modern components. Netbook video displays are typically only around 10 inches diagonally (about 25.4 centimeters), with a resolution of 1,024 x 600. The keyboards are small, too, at about 80 to 90 percent of the size a regular QWERTY keyboard.

Netbooks' internal components are less powerful than those in regular laptops. Many as of the time of this writing come equipped with Intel's 1.6GHz Atom processor, a low-voltage CPU specifically designed for portable devices, which offers its users solid performance in a smaller form factor.

Internet capabilities are of paramount importance for netbooks. That's why these devices come standard with components that allow both wireless 802.11b or 802.11g and wired Ethernet connections.

Hard drives are one component that varies widely between netbooks, in both capacity and design. Some netbooks are nicely equipped with 160GB hard drives, while others have less than half of that storage space. And manufacturers sometimes substitute solid-state flash memory drives for traditional spinning-platter drives. Although solid-state drives are very compact and aren't as prone to mechanical failure or breakage due to rough handling, they're generally more expensive and may noticeably slow down the computer depending on the software you use.

Most netbooks also come standard with USB ports, microphone and headphone jacks, 1 to 2 GB of RAM and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. VGA output for larger external displays is also common.

Yet netbooks are also defined by features they lack. Perhaps most noticeably, netbooks aren't equipped with optical drives for CD and DVD media. Because these disc drives are on the bulky side, this is primarily a space-saving move on the part of manufacturers. Netbooks also lack dedicated graphics cards that accelerate video performance. Instead, they use less-powerful graphics chips integrated into the motherboard.

And somewhat ironically, although most netbooks have fast Internet connectivity capability via Ethernet and wireless Internet features, there are models that lack telephone jacks and modems for landline Web access. For some users, that's a factor that may affect their purchasing decision.

One of the best things about netbook specs is that in spite of all of these features, they're not at all hefty in your briefcase. These well-equipped machines rarely top 3 pounds (1.4 kilograms).