Netbooks are small, portable and inexpensive computing devices that are typically suitable for surfing the Internet or composing basic documents. Most netbooks come with a 10.1-inch display, although it is possible to find some with 11- or 12-inch screens. While some netbooks are nearly as competent as full-size laptops, many have fairly limited capabilities.
Netbook performance is dictated by price and processor speed. Advanced models with the AMD E- or E2-Series Fusion dual-core chipsets can do almost anything an entry-level laptop can -- including photo editing, high-definition video streaming and basic 3D game playing -- and more powerful second-generation Fusion processors have been introduced. However, few netbooks carry Fusion processors. Some netbooks in this class use a 1 GHz AMD Fusion Dual Core C-60 processor instead; though a step down in power from the company's E-series processors, the AMD C-series processor outperforms other netbook processors, including those in the Intel Atom family. The big advance in AMD's Fusion technology is its superior graphics capabilities, and that is readily apparent in reviews of netbooks that use these processors.
In the middle are notebooks with dual-core Intel Atom processors. These processors make multitasking possible, but they don't offer a huge boost in performance over single-core Atom CPUs. Some experts do see a slight speed improvement, but nothing that the average user would notice day-to-day. Netbooks with Intel N2600 Atom Cedar Trail dual-core processors are starting to become available, but once again, they offer little day-to-day performance gain over netbooks with basic Atom processors. One exception is Cedar Trail's ability to play 1080p HD video -- but that's something that netbooks with AMD's Fusion APUs and C-series processors also do well.
The cheapest netbooks use a single-core Intel Atom processor. Combined with minimal hardware (1 GB of RAM, small hard drives, etc.) that leads to pretty paltry performance. However, if all you want to do is read email, surf the web and compose documents, it might be all that you need. Expect video streams to stutter, however.
Experts recommend keeping the following factors in mind when shopping for a netbook: