I own four computers. Call me a hoarder all you like, but I use all of them on a daily basis. I have two laptops for school and two LAMP servers in my room at home which I use for working on a network application. Having two laptops for daily use may seem excessive, but each machine serves a different purpose.
One of my laptops is a big, bulky, and powerful gaming laptop. The other is a netbook with about as much processing power as a faculty standard calculator. While these two machines are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of power and size, they both serve different needs.
I usually use my heavy-duty laptop when I’m at home. The powerful hardware provided by “the beast,” can run computationally intensive applications, such as Windows. The Dell XPS M1730 features two 200GB hard drives, 4GB of RAM, a dual-core Intel processor, and an Nvidia GeForce 8700M GT graphics card. In other words, it’s one of the most powerful laptops out there. The 17-inch display is great for watching movies and even better for managing multiple windows. The spacious hard drives allow for three installed operating systems. They don’t call this model a desktop-replacement laptop for nothing. At a whopping 11 pounds, it’s quite a burden to carry around, but when I’m coding a project or working on an assignment, the extra power and screen space is a really useful feature. However, the box consumes 240 watts, meaning it gets hot. Very hot. It has recorded fan output temperatures in excess of 70 degrees Celsius. Such power comes at an expense: the nine-cell battery provides a pitiful hour of battery life.
My other machine is as close as it can be to the opposite of the XPS. Netbooks are often described as small, portable, inexpensive laptops, and the HP Mini 210 is exactly that. At 3.5 pounds, the laptop isn’t bothersome to schlep around. The 8-hour battery life is great for long days in class, at the library, and in class again. In standard operating conditions, the netbook uses just under 10 watts, considerably less than your typical lightbulb. However, the biggest limitation when using this machine is the 10.1-inch screen; when it comes to screen space, size definitely does matter. Additionally, the Intel Atom processor common in this line of laptops is about as powerful as a refrigerator, and I wouldn’t dare run anything requiring any considerable amount of memory on the machine. This is made worse by that fact that many of these machines use a shared graphics and applications memory, which means that a quarter of your physical memory is stolen by graphics operations. In fact, when I first got it, on startup, Windows was using over 90 per cent of the machine’s physical memory. I wouldn’t want to do anything more complicated than take notes, or type up an assignment on the port-o-box.
I typically use my netbook when I’m on the go, taking notes, checking e-mail, and most importantly, harvesting FarmVille crops. However, at the end of the day, I cross-synchronize to my heavy-duty laptop to get some serious work done. The beast is useful if you need the power to run intensive applications from WoW to MATLAB, but portability was likely the last thing the hardware engineers considered when designing the rig. Long battery life and light weight make the netbook great for people on the go, but be wary of intensive operations like image or video editing. Using a netbook as a sole computer isn’t something I would soon try, but it makes an excellent replacement for a main machine at home.