When the first low-cost "computing appliances" arrived in 2007 as solutions to the non-profit OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) initiative, few realized a new class of computer was emerging. As frequent travelers to Asian shows and markets, many of the AnandTech staff had embraced the idea of the small full-featured notebooks that were all the rage in Asia but which were almost nonexistent in the US.

For some reason those same small notebooks that were so popular in Asia just weren't available in the US market.  The notebooks available in the US were the heavy "full-featured" 14-17" models that were barely portable. Just lug one of those beasts through a few airport security lines and the small light and elegant Asian notebooks for writing, web-surfing and spreadsheets start to look like a great idea. Of course in typical notebook fashion the smaller the notebook the more it generally cost at that time. That was a hard pill to swallow, but the charms of the smaller notebook were hard to resist if you could afford the price of admission.

The first OLPC notebooks in 2007 were a different breed than the small full-featured notebooks that were so popular in Asia.  The OLPC units were also small, even downright tiny, but they were much more limited in capabilities than most were willing to accept. Of course they weren't designed to even be sold in the general computer market. The $200 subcompact Intel Classmate PC was targeted at a third-world user who could finally afford a real computer or who was the recipient of one bought by an international agency as an education grant. The early models looked like toys but they were real computers aimed at education and children in the developing world.

They were called subnotebooks at first, but the idea was one that was hard to resist for many potential users outside the developing world. Provide just the computing power a user needed to do research on the web, write, manipulate spreadsheets, and do general educational computer use, and make it available at a very low price. Computing power had grown so fast in recent years, and costs had dropped so dramatically, that a pretty powerful computer could be built with a very low cost CPU and clever engineering. ASUS saw the potential and introduced the Eee PC late in 2007 to the American (and later worldwide) market. The Eee PC changed everything about the market.

The original ASUS Eee PC was a massive hit in the US and it became popular throughout the world. It was tiny, weighing just 2 lbs, with a 7" screen, built-in WiFi and regular network ports, with standard ports and an integrated webcam for a price of less than $300. The ASUS Eee proved there was a market for a small, light, less powerful, low-cost laptop and the netbook was born. ASUS has produced many evolutionary Eee netbooks since and it seems every major notebook manufacturer has since jumped on the netbook bandwagon. Two of the last PC holdouts were Dell, who finally jumped on the bandwagon with their Inspiron Mini 9 and Mini 12 models, and Sony, who recently introduced the VAIO W "mini notebook".

Evolution of the Netbook
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  • fuberwil - Tuesday, September 15, 2009 - link

    I think this is just showing the evolution of the netbooks. A relatively recent device that now has everyone clamoring for one due to the size and portability of it. I think MSI is onto something especially with the option of the 9cell battery which can offer up to 10 hours of work time (from what i've read). Partner that with a low price tag with amazing specs then you have the new best friend of every student and businessman. Yea i think they all have their shortcomings such as the mouse track or the keyboard but like any good electronical device give it some time then it will meet consumers needs on almost every level.
  • Hrel - Thursday, August 6, 2009 - link

    A device like that would NEVER be worth more than 200 bucks to me, and I'd feel a little rotten about paying anything more than 100. Not to mention it's not really much more portable than a laptop. Laptops just need better battery life so we don't have to chug around with the ac adapter, If my laptop got 12 hours of battery life I'd take EVERYWHERE!!!
  • afkrotch - Thursday, July 30, 2009 - link

    I can't see how anyone can recommend these pieces of crap. I've owned an Asus EeePC Seashell and I would never recommend these to anyone I know. I don't care about battery life, size, or weight. The pieces of crap run so freaking slow. On a straight up HTML page, it flies, but once you get into something that's heavy in java, php, etc is lags. It lags when you scroll, move to a new page, etc.

    For simple websurfing, it fails. If all you plan on doing is typing up on notepad, ya. Go ahead. Have Office 2k7? Play with lag. It lags when I type.

    FYI, I cleaned off the XP Home they had on there and installed a clean copy of XP Pro. I thought it would help with the lagging, but needless to say. It didn't.
  • MamiyaOtaru - Monday, July 20, 2009 - link

    stop making glossy bodied netbooks. They look like trash as soon as someone touches them. Also never make glossy screened netbooks. I want to see what I'm working on, not my reflection. WOn't buy any eee past the original 900 because of this.
  • kawatwo - Sunday, July 19, 2009 - link

    Futisu and Sony both have 2 Ghz atoms overseas now in the P and the u820. It shouldn' be long before they make there way here. Also, it costs a little more but people always forget Asus own N10J mmodel with the gforce 9300m which makes it a pretty well rounded machine. A 2 Ghz N10 would be pretty remarkable I would think.

    I'm waiting for the 2 Ghz U820 though as I travel by motorcycle whenever possible.
  • AstroGuardian - Sunday, July 19, 2009 - link

    Hmmm.. 2Hhz? Like 5% more horsepower? Not feeling like waiting for it lol.

    I think the netbook future will be pushing the limits to portable CPUs and GPUs. Nowdays netbook CPUs are useless except for bare computer needs. Right?
  • Wesleyrpg - Saturday, July 18, 2009 - link

    hey guys, i know the MSI Wind 123 already has an impressive battery life, but how would it perform with an Intel SSD and would there be any better battery life?
  • richwenzel - Saturday, July 18, 2009 - link

    The lenovo s12 and the samsung nc20 both have the new via nano. I believe asus has a netbook and possibly dell as well with the nano.

    the nano supposedly can do blue ray. It would have been nice to see the differences between the two.

    the nc20 is a bit pricier, at $500-$550 or so, but the lenovo can be had for around $400.

    there is another company call top crown, www.tct.hk that looks they have some interesting developments with the nano
  • piasabird - Saturday, July 18, 2009 - link

    What is the appeal of a miniature laptop which is slow and underpowered? Better yet, just build a small nettop with a real processor. One thing I tend to wonder is why these Atom motherboards are so inexpensive, yet the via Mini-ITX motherboards are so expensive. Maybe it is just mass production fueled by the want of people for a smaller computer. Myself, I think you could just as easily hook it up to an external HD widescreen monitor. This would give such a device more appeal.

    You could just make a phone that could plug into a monitor. Why carry around a big nettop? I think it is just as possible.
  • SilthDraeth - Friday, July 17, 2009 - link

    My brother bought an EEE specifically to run some DJing software on it, so he didn't have to lug around his Macbook. Unfortunately it couldn't handle it. He then couldn't sell it on Ebay, only scammers tried to buy it.

    Not blaming the netbook, and he had the money to throw away, and still makes use of it. But something with a bit more horsepower than a slight processor clock speed increase would be very welcome.

    Looks like we may have to wait a bit longer though.

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