5 Tips for Buying a Windows 7 Netbook

Rene Haas is the General Manager of Notebooks at NVIDIA

Netbooks sales which have been on a hot streak for a while — are about to get super-heated this fall with the release of Windows 7. With the critics hailing Windows 7 as fast, stable, and easier to use, consumers will be quick to embrace it. This is the first time people can buy a netbook with a new operating system.

If you’ve been watching all this and waiting for Windows 7 before jumping in the water, we have some advice for you.

1)     Not all netbooks are created equal.

Until recently, almost every netbook had an Atom CPU and lousy graphics. Atom was OK for Windows XP, but the poor graphics was a deal-breaker, because it meant people couldn’t run some of their favorite applications (or they ran so slowly that it wasn’t worth their time). It got so bad, some people called for the death of integrated graphics.

But with the introduction of Windows 7 and NVIDIA ION, the picture has changed dramatically. ION netbooks like the HP Mini 311 have virtually all of the capabilities of full-sized notebooks.

2)     Windows 7 uses two processors.

Windows 7 will introduce a key change in how applications are processed. Instead of running your programs solely on the CPU, Windows 7 will offload some computing tasks to the graphics processor. Doing this can speed up applications 5-10 times over the CPU alone.HP_Mini_ION_art

One immediate benefit is that Windows 7 netbooks will provide native video acceleration in Windows Media Player if the system detects a graphics processor. Video transcoding will also be accelerated natively under Windows 7. This video shows video transcoding running almost 10 times faster on a netbook with an ION processor.

3)     Get the big picture with HDMI.

In a recent poll, Liliputing.com asked its readers if HD video is important to them. More than two-thirds of respondents said yes (about half of whom said yes if the netbook has a 720p or higher display). As more content today is being produced in HD, it just makes sense that your computer would have the ability to run it. The problem is most netbooks today are still hampered by Intel integrated graphics, which in most cases can’t  handle SD video full-screen, let alone HD video (and apparently won’t support it anytime soon). Because so few netbooks can handle HD video, very few offer HDMI.

ION changes all that. The Lenovo S12 with ION, Samsung N510, and HP Mini 311 all have HDMI, so you can use them to output HD video on an external display like an HDTV. This broadens the repertoire of the once-lowly netbook, turning it into a potent, portable media center. These systems also have full 24-bit 8-channel, lossless codec support, so you can enjoy full 7.1 audio through your home entertainment system via HDMI.

4)     Internet video

Today, more people watch internet video than breathe. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration but it’s almost true. You, your mom, and probably your pet have watched internet video at some point.

Watching streaming video on a netbook today is painful. Again, the non ION based netbooks simply don’t have the processing power to handle it. The problem is that Flash-based video today is run on the CPU, which on a netbook isn’t the fastest. NVIDIA and Adobe are working on a new version of Flash that will use NVIDIA graphics processors to speed up streaming video. When the new Flash Player 10.1 is released early next year, netbooks with graphics processors (like ION) will be able to handle 720p HD video with ease.

See streaming HD video running smoothly on the HP Mini 311.

5)     Games

We all know gaming has been a sore spot for netbooks, so it was good to see CNET declare that netbook gaming has finally arrived with ION-based systems like the HP Mini 311. Of course, no one should expect a netbook to compete with a more powerful gaming system, but ION netbooks do introduce the capability to play more recent games like SPORE, Battlefield Heroes, World of Warcraft, the Sims, and many others.


Over the past couple of years, netbooks developed a reputation for being small, weak, and incapable of running today’s more demanding applications. That’s why the moniker netbook” was created in the first place. Thankfully, that is no longer the case, but you have to know what to look for. Today’s netbooks have larger screens, larger keyboards, and better capabilities than ever. Not only do they blur the line between netbook and notebook, they provide new capabilities that never existed like HD video, accelerated media conversion, faster overall performance under Windows 7, and gaming capabilities.

Today’s ION-powered netbooks feature long battery life (more than 5 hours), attractive pricing (the HP Mini starts at under $400), and will soon be able to handle HD video streaming live off the Internet. An ION netbook with Windows 7 will meet the needs of typical PC users, students, and business travelers who want a light, versatile PC to take on the road.

Check pricing and specs for the Lenovo Ideapad S12 with ION, Samsung N510, and HP Mini 311.

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