Business netbooks: IT revolution or contradiction in terms?

InfoWorld sifts the wheat from the chaff in the current crop of enterprise-oriented netbooks

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Unfortunately, the company only partially succeeded. Yes, the N10Jc projected the image of a serious PC, right down to the faux chrome accents and the understated silver-on-black color scheme. However, I quickly discovered that the corporate makeover is only skin deep. For example, my test unit's case featured way too much cheap, hard plastic, and its screen hinges seemed flimsy compared to the HP Mini 2140. I found the quirky keyboard layout quite frustrating -- due to an undersized right Shift key competing with the up arrow and a redundant second Function key -- and the overall tactile experience, though better than that of the Acer Aspire One, was nonetheless disappointing when contrasted with the near-perfect HP configuration.

Factor in the unit's overall poor performance and I'd be reluctant to justify choosing the N10Jc over an HP or Acer, especially when you consider the price premium Asus is attaching to this "corporate netbook." A basic unit with 1GB of RAM and a 160GB disk will run you a cool $649, while my pimped-out test unit, with the bigger disk and additional RAM, weighs in at a budget-busting $799 -- well outside of the traditional netbook price range. In fact, you can find a variety of true notebooks, with screens 15 inches or larger and integrated optical drives, for less money. This includes several models from Asus, such as the attractive M51 series.

[ Looking for maximum horsepower in a portable package? See "Road warrior power trip" and "Speedy mobile workstations: Dell, HP, and Lenovo." ]

Of course, none of these traditional notebooks is as ultraportable as the three-pound N10Jc, which measures a modest 10.8 by 8.26 by 1.46 inches. And few could likely compete with the N10Jc's 6.5 hours of battery life on a six-cell (48 watt) charge during OfficeBench rundown testing, though this advantage drops to 5.25 hours with the Nvidia adapter enabled. However, these traditional notebooks won't choke on H.264-encoded video -- which any machine in this price range should be able to process. Simply put, Asus is charging a premium without adding significant performance or value, and that's a formula I can't endorse.

HP Mini 2140

The HP Mini 2140 is the company's flagship offering in the business netbook segment. An update of the pioneering Mini 2133, the 2140 swaps the older model's underpowered Via C7-M CPU for the ubiquitous Intel Atom N270 running at 1.6GHz, while retaining its predecessor's overall form factor and excellent keyboard.

In fact, its keyboard really sets the HP Mini 2140 apart from the crowd. At 92 percent of full-size, the Mini's keyboard provides by far the best tactile experience of any netbook I've tested. Key spacing is surprisingly generous, with a comfortable layout and good all-around travel. Add to this the full-size Shift and Enter keys, plus HP's patented Dura Keys finish for resisting wear, and you have a configuration that is comfortable to type on for extended periods (for example, writing a 3,000-word article on netbooks).

The Mini 2140 is also one of the sleekest netbooks I've had the pleasure of using. Its modest dimensions -- 1.1 by 10.3 by 6.5 inches -- make the unit eminently portable, while its brushed-aluminum finish brings to mind a business chic reminiscent of another Test Center favorite, the Dell Precision M6400 mobile workstation. Like the much larger Dell Precision, the mini's metallic finish is cool to the touch and extremely comfortable to carry -- major factors in a device that's designed to be toted around all day.

Unfortunately, the sleek ergonomics don't extend to the 2140's track pad, which is far too short for prolonged use. This, coupled with the awkwardly placed, side-mounted buttons, mars what otherwise might be a near-perfect layout of a netbook keyboard deck.

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