Can a Netbook Do Business?

This story is going to piss just about everyone off, from the not so gentle readers among you to the makers of netbook and notebook PCs. You see, I have this fascination with netbooks as cool, lightweight, inexpensive business PCs. I’ve already written about this idea. So, why write more? Well, in this article I compare a solid netbook with a solid business notebook. The netbook is ASUS’ 1008HA Eee PC, which is also known in some circles as the “Seashell”. I wrote briefly about the Seashell a while back. The notebook is HP’s EliteBook 2530p.

The data table on the next page compares the two mobile PCs on a number of features and measures. Before turning you loose on the table, allow me to make and clarify some points. These points, if nothing else, might keep you from wasting energy getting pissed off about the contents of the table. Also, aside from the table, the rest of this page is all there is. I've rolled the introduction and conclusion into a nice single page ball. So, please seriously consider reading on.

The EliteBook 2530p defines the small business notebook genre. It is extremely well made and rugged for a portable PC. Like an airplane it has an aluminum skin wrapped around a magnesium frame, as opposed to the plastic frames and outer skins found on most netbooks. It’s also filled with strong security features and a much faster Core 2 Duo processor, instead of the old netbook standbys, the Atom N270 or N280 or VIA equivalent. The 2530p’s graphics processor is more powerful than the 1008HA Eee PC. It also has more memory and lots of networking capability, including broadband with support for the new Gobi network-technology agnostic standard. And, the 2530p can be had with a real 3 year business computer warranty, which shows HP's confidence in the components the EliteBook is built from.

The 1008HA has a couple of unique design features or flaws, depending on what you plan to do with it. In order to achieve a sleek, really thin seashell-like design, ASUS chose to pretty much seal the netbook so that end-user access to the computer's innards is pretty near impossible, at least without clear instructions for opening the case or breaking something. Though, it might be comforting to know that inquiring minds are less likely to fiddle with internal components, IT staff aren't going to be happy being unable to easily add another gig of memory or replace broken disk drives. I didn't have the nerve to try to open the case beyond removing the four exposed screws. The case still didn't open at that point and I could see a number of case and motherboard parts that were stymying my efforts to get inside.

Another feature or flaw of the ASUS' case design has to do with the flimsy plastic doors that cover the I/O ports. They are going to break off as many users struggle to open them wide enough to shove USB cables or devices into the slots. I have a rather thick Corsair 32 GB USB flash memory device. It wouldn't fit into the narrow space left after the door was open. I don't expect it would fit in even if I removed the door. I had to use a USB extender cable to connect the Corsair device to the 1008HA.

At the time of this writing, our test EliteBook's price was about 3.7 times as much as the ASUS 1008HA. So, can business computing shops save some bucks and still provide their users with a decent mobile computer that lets them get their work done? The answer is yes, with a number of strong caveats. The HP performed 2.3 times faster in PassMark’s summary rating.  Its battery also lasted 135 minutes, as opposed to the 1008HA’s 225 minutes under Battery Eater Pro 2005. More on testing below. Speed has its costs, still with its larger keyboard and larger higher resolution display, I would have no problem handing the EliteBook to any business user for any reasonable end user application.

The 1008HA should be fine for users who can live with slower performance and a smaller, lower resolution display. I have successfully used OpenOffice, Firefox, Thunderbird and Google Docs on a number of netbooks. For me, Microsoft Office is too slow on an Atom-based PC. In the final analysis, this iteration of the Eee PC and most other current netbooks should be happiest running Google’s newly announced Chrome web-based operating system or Phoenix Technologies’ similar HyperSpace OS for laptops and notebooks. The 1008HA is somewhat underpowered for net-based applications such as Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite, where Microsoft urges the use of local copies of some Office applications. However, I expect that Microsoft’s even more newly announced web-based Office suite will be right at home on netbooks.

Finally, a note about testing: Rather than running tons of “real world” tests, I decided to focus on PassMark’s Performance Test 7.0 benchmarking software and, for battery life, on Battery Eater 2005 Pro 2.70. Performance test runs a set of CPU, graphics, disk drive and memory tests, producing a result for each test, along with a summary performance measure. I present only the summary Performance Test measure here. Battery Eater Pro 2.70 doesn’t play gently with mobile computers. Rather it pushes them hard to assure that their batteries are exhausted as quickly as possible. A full-screen graphic image of a rotating battery is displayed throughout the test, and the disk drive and CPU are also exercised extensively.

So, the battery life you see with Battery Eater Pro is not what you can expect in the “real world”. While you might not see the manufacturer’s claimed life when doing tasks on these two mobile PCs, you’ll get a lot closer to that measure than you will to the Battery Eater Pro results. The program puts the same stress on all batteries. So, you can look at Battery Eater Pro numbers as indicative of the relative life you can expect from any set of tested batteries.

During Performance Test 7.0 benchmarking each notebook was AC powered, with SpeedStep enabled for the CPU. For the Battery Eater Pro tests, the following settings were in effect:

  • Power Settings: Standby off, Display set to not turn off, turn off hard disk drive after 10 minutes
  • No screen saver
  • No USB devices connected
  • Display brightness set to mid-point
  • WiFi On
  • Bluetooth Off
  • Battery Eater Settings: 1024x768 32-bits, Full Screen

Another feature or flaw of the ASUS' case design has to do with the flimsy plastic doors that cover the I/O ports. They are going to break off as many users struggle to open them wide enough to shove USB cables or devices into the slots. I have a rather thick Corsair 32 GB USB flash memory device. It wouldn't fit into the narrow space left after the door was open. I don't expect it would fit in even if I removed the door. I had to use a USB extender cable to connect the Corsair device to the 1008HA.

Here's the special $1,599 pricing for the HP EliteBook 2530p configured exactly as the one reviewed here. Other configurations are listed below.


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  • burnley14
    This seems like a very incomplete comparison. Is there any way to show comparative results for a few programs? I see that the HP has about double the performance number, but what does that mean for actual applications?
  • barryegerber
    You make a good and interesting point. I've stopped running endless "real world" tests on PCs, because, in my experience, such PassMark's Performance Test, based on focused components tests, generally run pretty close to the results you get from tests such as FutureMark's PCMark or 3DMark. Also, remember that Tom's Guide is oriented toward a less technical audience, looking to get a quick take on consumer electronics products, even at the business computing level.

    I think what is important about the findings in this review is that the future of all workstation-based computing is very likely to be significantly different from what we have know in the past. Think more cloud, more nearly thin client. Sure, there will always be a place for smarter workstations, but, in my opinion, that is going to become a smaller and smaller piece of the pie.

    I can't resist the following. My newest desktop is an HP Pavillion with a Core i7 920, 12 GB of memory, an ADM-ATI 4850 graphics card, 1 TB HDD and another 1.5 TB of removable HP Media Drive space, and a Blu-ray burner and DVD player. So, I've not bought into the low-end, cloud computing model yet.

    Further comments on the HP Pavilion: First, this is the first desktop I have every had that I didn't build myself. Second, this PC costs me $2,100. No it was not a freebie from HP. Third, I'm using Casper 5.0 to make a regular image back up the 1 TB drive's boot/applications/data and Factory_Image partitions.

    Now for the other side of the story. I have my own personally purchased ASUS Eee and find in useful in a number of situations. But, between the desktop, ASUS Eee, a Toshiba laptop (again personally purchased) and my Apple iPhone 3Gs (upgraded from the original iPhone in June, upgrade and monthly fees paid by me), I find myself doing most of my mobile computing, including accessing the HP Pavilion, on, drum roll .... the iPhone. The world is definitely changing.

    Enough said.
  • computabug
    Barry, you're wrong. We're not going to get pissed off now, because you told us that we were gonna get pissed off, but once you told us tat you were expecting for us to give angry negative feedback, there was psychology play going on in our heads where you sounded very empathetic (or was the term sympathetic?), so we were prepared to restrain ourselves from being pissed off and actually enjoyed your article (or at least found it interesting).
  • barryegerber
    computabug, I am speechless. :o)
  • sbusch
    I have a 5 year-old Thinkpad T40P with 1.5 GB RAM and a 1400x1050 display. I'd like to think I'm still better off than with a netbook. Regardless of performance, I just can't handle a low rez. display
  • socrates047
    i think barry is a chaty kathy, because half of your stuff is just speculating on the future of computers how is it relevant. Why are you talking about your HP
  • quote:Why are you talking about your HP.....
    cuz this is a paid infomercial....lol
  • tdwebste
    Who cares about windows? Which is better for Linux?
  • I have Asus 1000HE Eee PC - was easy to add another gig of memory, and no flimsy plastic doors on the IO ports. I think casual users would be fairly happy with the performance until it comes to watching online video (youtube, nba.com, etc) - where it skips lots of frames.
  • vider
    sekI have Asus 1000HE Eee PC - was easy to add another gig of memory, and no flimsy plastic doors on the IO ports. I think casual users would be fairly happy with the performance until it comes to watching online video (youtube, nba.com, etc) - where it skips lots of frames.


    That is one of the major draw backs on a netbook, SLUGGISH performance when it comes to simple things as watching streamed video. An ultra light notebook that dates from 3-4 years ago would beat any netbook today. Toshiba Protégé R200 or Dell Latitude X1 anyone?
  • mman74
    In answer to the question, I think a Netbook CAN do business. I only wish our IT department realises that so I don't have to lug around my heavy Thinkpad with cables and accessories whenever I travel.
    Think about it. Most jobs, it’s just checking and responding to emails. Also every company I know runs ERP systems that are entirely web-based. You can login from anywhere including public access machines (though that is not advised). The days of heavy-duty client-server apps are truly gone. We have legacy client-server apps – but we run that through a Citrix XenApp/Metaframe environment and so can you.
    Unless you are working in places like a design-house, the CAD field or some very specialized industry, then Netbooks do “do business” and very well at that. Most importantly businessmen TRAVEL and I am sick to death of lugging a heavy notebook around all the paraphernalia
  • Well,I do have to say out of all the netbooks that perhaps this netbook is a first where you find a hard time connecting a USB device.
    Also,a lot of netbooks are easy to upgrade to 2GB DDR2 ram.
  • Can a Netbook Do Business? what a silly question, it's totally mental to believe the really productive people use designed-for-business notebooks? it depends with what are you dealing, the most amazing and great designed-for-business laptop for sure you cannot do business with it if you are for example an architect and you want to render plots like two minutes high definition video with 5 millions polygons to show your work to your customer but for sure you can use this notebook just to show to your customer the rendered video but you can do the same and with a $160 netbook, I have got dozen of the same kind examples, netbook are great if want to use your company's online platform to manipulate data to communicate with your partners by email or by videoconferencing, tek people do not want to caring 3kgs while the can caring less than 1kg and with a double life battery, you do not need expensive designed-for-business notebooks to right a latter or a presentation or even to build a website in other word even if you are high level executive you can use your netbook to buy or sell $2b in fx market . ages ago I use to work productively only with my calculator and my 1TB disk use to cost $30000 ten years ago and I bought is just $80 and it's completely useless... I wish to had my calculator back