Netbooks – a term coined by ASUS in 2007 – have been multiplying like rabbits and can now be found everywhere. The platform is so popular that even Zotac is making one of their own, complete with the stock-standard Intel Atom N270 CPU and, given their partnership with Nvidia, the Ion platform bundled as well. For those new to the PC market, these tiny machines offer reasonable value for money and great portability, albeit at the cost of a DVD drive. So, if you are in the market for this sort of thing, what should you be looking at?

Undoubtedly, the first one to scrutinize would be the MSI Wind. Ever since ASUS’s launch of the Eee PC, the Wind has stolen the show with its 8.9” screen and large six-cell battery, enabling it to last up to six hours without charge. It’s available in a wide variety of colours hitherto unseen on anything else but a Dell Inspiron laptop, and it even comes with a 160GB hard drive and optional embedded 3G card for fast, portable Internet access. The Wind retail price starts at roughly R5500, soaring up to an astounding R8000.

hp_mini2140If the Wind doesn’t tickle your fancy, perhaps you’d like to try out the LG X110. Retailing for under R7500, it sports a 120GB hard drive, 10.1” screen and embedded 3G. Its only downfall is the puny three-cell battery, which is where LG decided to cut down on the price.

The Atom doesn’t have total market share – VIA’s UCLV chip needs some limelight as well. Currently only available on an HP Mini-note at 1.6Ghz, it comes bundled with a 160GB hard drive, 2GB RAM, a small 8.9” LCD (the HP’s rather high resolution at this size doesn’t really flow with me – I like big screens) and an S3 Unichrome Pro 9 graphics adapter.

I can attest to the fact that the S3 graphics on this thing can play Need for Speed Underground 2 at medium settings, and if given a push will probably run Half-Life 2 as well. The Mini-note also comes with Vista, a bold (or perhaps stupid) move on HP’s part in an attempt to brag about their model’s performance.

asus-epc-097_lOne could also settle for an ASUS Eee PC, the original that stole the show. It comes bundled with Linux, a solid state drive available in various sizes, and tries to last up to six hours on a three-cell battery. You can still find these on shelves going for a touch under R3000, which reeks of value for money.

But is it all worth it? Not to me. Nvidia’s Ion platform is being released this year and offers superb performance and passable gaming ability on devices smaller than school textbooks. With the entry of the Ion, and no doubt the inevitable entry of ATI into the fray, buying a netbook now would be silly considering the performance that the next generation will offer to consumers. Buy one now if you must, but I recommend holding out for better things.