Ion Netbooks vs. Budget Ultraportable

We all know that netbooks are small, underpowered, and inexpensive laptops, good for stowing in a backpack and using while running around town all day. The best ones feature excellent design and long battery life. However, netbook performance only starts to matter if the machine is too slow for the very basic tasks the machine was designed to do, like Web browsing and word processing.

But why shouldn’t a netbook be able to do more? Ultimately, what every mobile user wants is a  10” or 12” netbook that is as powerful as today’s expensive 17” laptops or even desktops. But in attempting to drive down prices as low as possible, netbook manufacturers haven’t made better-performing, tiny form-factor machines a priority.

A few manufacturers have catered to a group of consumers looking for high-performance and small form-factor machines. These small machines are called ultraportables and they typically feature the same performance as standard laptops do because they run the same hardware. Factor in reasonable battery life and these tiny computers come with huge price tags. However, a new technology is emerging that is supposed to bridge the gap between these two extremes.

Nvidia is determined to reconcile the underpowered netbook and the overpriced ultraportable with Ion-based graphics. Ion is a chipset that uses the traditional netbook Atom CPU to run netbooks far more efficiently and powerfully than Intel chipsets can. Ion has a built-in graphics processor for netbooks, allowing the graphics processing unit (GPU)-enabled applications to run faster. Such applications are increasing in number every day—you can find them on most PCs. Even Windows 7 takes advantage of the GPU.

Other publications have already shown how Ion-based netbooks outperform other netbooks, but we don’t see these underpowered computers as the future of low-cost, small-form factor computing. If writing about computers for years has taught us anything, it is that prices will always go down but performance will always go up.

It makes more sense to compare the first Ion-based netbooks to a similarly priced ultraportable. So that’s what we’ve done.  We’ve pitted the HP Mini 311 and Lenovo Ideapad S12—both Ion-based—against the Gateway EC1437u budget ultraportable, which has an Intel GS45 graphics chipset. The outcome of this matchup should give us insight about which platform holds more promise for the future and whether ION really does bridge the netbook-to-ultraportable gap.

Previously, the difference between a netbook and ultraportable was performance and price. In this test, we determine if that line has blurred.

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  • ashrafpasha
    I agree... with the last line.
    2
  • jabliese
    How in the world do you justify calling the Gateway machine an Atom in the title?
    2
  • lvlouro
    jablieseHow in the world do you justify calling the Gateway machine an Atom in the title?

    Agree!!!

    Totally misleading title
    0
  • zzz_b
    Agree about the title.
    My question is why not compare the Core 2 Duo with the SU7300 from Acer, also 11.6", and $599???
    After all, you were looking for price comparison!!!
    0
  • jamezrp
    Original title all fixed up. Slight mixup, sorry about that.

    zzz_b, we chose the Gateway because originally we intended to test an Acer netbook, but the good folks asked about their new line of ultraportables. I'm not sure which model you mean, since their website doesn't list any 11.6" laptop with the SU7300, but we would have stuck with the Gateway because it's cheaper.

    Indeed, we were looking for comparable machines, but more in parts and performance than price. Price is clearly a factor, but in comparing an ultraportable to a netbook, it's more important to know which performs well.
    0
  • kyeana
    For taking notes in class and web browsing, i think your standard atom netbook without ion is perfect.

    Netbook + Arch Linux + LXDE = plenty fast enough
    0
  • maniac5999
    This review is interesting, but everyone knows that the 4500 is juk, and Atom is overkill for netbooks. I really wish that you could have also looked at one of AMD's offerings. Right now the 13" HP DM3 should be easy to get your hands on, and the Wind U230 and Lenovo X100e are both the same size as these guys, and should be out within the week.
    0
  • maniac5999
    This review is interesting, but everyone knows that the 4500 is juk, and Atom is overkill for netbooks. I really wish that you could have also looked at one of AMD's offerings. Right now the 13" HP DM3 should be easy to get your hands on, and the Wind U230 and Lenovo X100e are both the same size as these guys, and should be out within the week.
    -2
  • zzz_b
    jamezrp - the model is the Aspire 1810T with 11.6" display, Core 2Duo SU7300, GMA4500, 4GB RAM, 320 GB HD, 802.11a/b/g/n, bluetooth, about 7h battery life. All this for $599.
    Just a comment, the Lenovo is more expensive than this one.
    0
  • jabliese
    Much better title, thank you.
    0
  • Anonymous
    Given that the Gateway machine is dual-core, vs. the single-core HP and Lenovo offerings, I do not think anyone is really surprised that the Gateway ultraportable comes out on top in cpu benchmarks.

    What I would like to see is a direct comparison between a dual-core Ion netbook, such as the Asus Eee PC 1201N, and a dual-core (SU4100) with GMA 4500MHD netbook/ultraportable such as the Acer Aspire 1810TZ-4484.

    With a current price difference of only $10.00 on ncix, I believe the competition will be a lot tighter, the only clear advantage for the SU4100-based machine being battery life.

    In my mind, such a comparison would be much more beneficial to those looking for a relatively small, lightweight machine (around 12") that would have more power/usability/longevity attached to it and still cost under/around $600.00 (Canadian).

    I will keep my fingers crossed and hope for an update/review to surface (^_^).
    3
  • rootheday
    4500 is junk for what purpose? its power efficient, drives HDMI/DP displays, handles HD media fine, runs aero. Yes, its slower than ION chipset for 3D - is that the compelling usage model for these systems?

    Of course, it won't be long before we will see Arrandale based CULV systems showing up which will meet or beat ION in 3D and media while offering even more CPU muscle than the Gateway reviewed here with the same or better battery life...
    0
  • radguy
    In september I picked up an 11.6 inch acer aspire 1410-8804 for $449. SU3500 is only 1 core at 1.4ghz but it runs so much better than an atom. I had one of the first msi wind which was nice but this thing is so much better.

    In this area the gma4500 is lousy but better than the 950 and the atom is horrid so the culv is decent. I would pick culv over ion anyday in this device market.

    But my question is if my acer $389 today (vista mine had free upgrade to win 7 - and don't run vista on culv) why can't I get culv + nvidia 9400m ($50-100) on an 11.6-12.1 device for under $500? I figure it would cut batt life by 20-30% but 6cell 5600mAh batt would still get like 4-5 hours I would think and only add 20-30 dollars to the cost.
    0
  • braxton
    I sat in a jury room waiting to be pulled for a possible jury. 20% of the room, overwhelmingly female, had their netbooks out and love them!

    I call netbooks purse computers. Not to be sexist, but it is the killer app. It fits charged in a purse. I see the same for the Apple tablet and HP slate.
    0