Few laptops have received as much attention as Apple's MacBook Air. This 3-pound beauty measures just 3/4-inch thick. The only thing that isn't svelte about this ultraportable laptop is the price tag.
The MacBook Air starts at $1,800. That's out of many people's reach. Competing laptops like Lenovo's ThinkPad X300 are even more expensive. Street prices for the ThinkPad X300 start at around $2,600.
Fortunately, there are low-cost alternatives. Manufacturers have been cashing in with these budget ultraportables. Budget machines can't match the MacBook Air or Lenovo's features. But with prices starting at $300, budget ultraportables are difficult not to like.
Let's look at two cheapies:
Asus' Eee PC kicked off the budget ultraportable craze last fall. There are several versions of the Eee PC, priced between $300 and $500.
The Eee has a diminutive display. At 7 inches, it is about half that of the MacBook Air or Lenovo X300. The Eee weighs in at 2 pounds.
Asus offers the Eee with 2-, 4- and 8-gigabyte solid-state drives.
Like the MacBook Air and X300, the Eee PC has built-in wireless. But the Eee beats the MacBook Air when it comes to ports. There's an Ethernet port, three USB ports and an SD card reader. The MacBook Air has no Ethernet port or card reader. There's one USB port.
The Eee matches the X300 when it comes to ports. However, the X300 has a DVD burner instead of a card reader
The Eee only has 512 megabytes of RAM. On the 8GB version, this is upped to 1 gigabyte. In most cases, RAM can be upgraded to two gigabytes. Asus offers two processors. The 2-gigabyte model has an 800 MHz Intel Celeron. Other models feature a 900 MHz Celeron. These certainly can't compete with the MacBook Air or X300's Core 2 Duo processor.
There is a major sticking point with the Eee. The standard operating system is Linux. With Linux, you're bound to encounter problems with software and gadgets. But Asus recently began offering Windows XP on the Eee. Go with Windows instead of Linux. The operating system will be more familiar, and you'll avoid compatibility issues.
Have you ever heard of Everex? Probably not, even though it's been in business for 25 years. Everex offers one configuration of its recently released CloudBook. It costs $400.
Like the Eee, the CloudBook has a 7-inch display and weighs 2 pounds. However, there is a 30-gigabyte hard drive.
The CloudBook has 512 megabytes of RAM, expandable to 1 gigabyte. You'll find Wi-Fi and an Ethernet port. There are also two USB ports and a built-in webcam. The CloudBook's card reader accepts both SD and Memory Stick cards. The CloudBook uses a 1.2GHz VIA processor. Like the Eee, the CloudBook runs Linux. Fortunately, Windows XP can be installed on it.
More on the horizon
More companies want to cash in with affordable ultraportables. So look for new models to hit shelves this spring. Asus will launch Eee models featuring more storage and bigger screens.
Acer, which owns Gateway, is reportedly finalizing an ultraportable to compete with the Eee. It will have a 9-inch display and a price starting around $350. Elitegroup Computer Systems has also announced plans for low-cost ultraportables. The Simply Smart laptops will have several configurations. The top-end model will have a 10-inch screen and a cellular card.
Even Intel wants a piece of the action. Photos of a budget ultraportable developed by Intel have surfaced. Details are sketchy at best, but it should hit the shelves soon.