When desktop and tower systems were the primary consumer computers, deciding which one to buy usually came down to a compromise between features and price. With portable computers, power and portability also become factors. Both are unquestionably desirable, but making a portable computer more powerful usually increases its size and weight, and can shorten battery life. Size, weight and power are usually how laptop and netbook computers are differentiated.
Laptops vary widely in their size, price and features, but in general they're a fully capable computer that happens to be portable. Mainstream laptops such as the HP Pavilion series and Toshiba Satellites have keyboards with full-sized keys, and screens with sizes usually ranging between 13 and 17 inches. Their compact, low-power hard drives offer large storage capacity, and many models can accept a second hard drive for additional storage. Overall, a laptop is a machine that can serve as your everyday computer. Their prices vary widely, depending on features and power.
If you compare a laptop to your family car, a netbook might be more like a motor scooter. Netbooks are computers designed for extreme portability, often at the expense of performance. They're physically very small and light, powered by low-consumption processors such as the Intel Atom series. These offer less computing power than mainstream chips, and netbooks aren't intended to serve as a user's main computer. As the name suggests, their primary purposes are Web browsing, email and recreational online use. In general, they're among the lower-cost portable computers.
Like most computer purchases, deciding between a netbook and a laptop comes down to your wants and needs. If you're in the market for a machine that will handle business software, games, graphics and home entertainment effortlessly, you should probably be shopping for a laptop. Their full-sized keyboards are better-suited for extended use, and their expandability gives you room to grow. If you're looking for a complement to your main computer, and touch-screen devices don't appeal to you, a netbook can be an alternative for keeping in touch while you're on the road.
When netbooks arrived on the market in 2007, they were the best available alternative for ultra lightweight, portable computing. Competition is fiercer now. High-end smartphones provide Web browsing and email capability, which is all some users need. Tablet computers, such as the iPad and its Android competitors, compare well with netbooks. Netbooks have the advantage of a physical keyboard, but touch-screen tablets can be superior as entertainment devices. Ultrabooks are a higher-end alternative. They combine the power and features of a high-end laptop into a tiny, netbook-like package, making a costly but potent alternative to more conventional computers.
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