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back to article 2012: The year that netbooks DIED

Netbooks – those compact, underpowered, inexpensive notebook PCs once hailed as the future of mobile computing – are set to disappear from retailer shelves in 2013, as the last remaining manufacturers of the devices prepare to exit the market. According to Taiwanese tech news site DigiTimes, Acer and Asus are the only two …

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I bought my Dell Mini 10v (from which I'm posting now, actually) for one reason: taking notes in my university courses. I didn't need a lot of horsepower, just something lightweight that had a long battery life. An Ultrabook would be a bit spendy for what I needed even if it existed at the time. Android tablets were all but nonexistant, and I also needed a physical keyboard. I do however now own an Asus TF300T for media consumption and for when I need to spend a long term on battery.

Do I regret buying my netbook? Not at all - I certainly got my money's worth out of it, and I still use it from time to time, primarily as a testbed for various Linux distributions and configurations. VMs are great, but nothing beats actual hardware for real life testing environments.

I knew the netbook form factor's days were limited when the first models launched, but I must admit I am a little sad to see them die off completely.

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Meh

Bought my wife a £179 Asus notebook, works for her, keeps her off the main computer, she can email, Skype, Facebook, Google etc.

Why pay £1000 for the same functionality?

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Linux

@jd I use my Sony netbook to hardware test Windows 8 when I found the hot corners a passion on avm without full screen running. Running Lubuntu as the alternate os, but has also run xp, x/ubuntu and open suse. great little machine for not overly complicated tasks and downloading from iplayer, basic camera work with Shotwell, gimp, ufraw. If I need instant web access i've got a tablet, but for some tasks a keyboard is just better

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Pint

Re: sad to see them die

"puts Linux or Android on them"

I'd question your experience with said hardware and OS's. What makes me say that? well

Linux - When Netbooks were first introduced most came pre-installed with Ubuntu (or another Linux variant). But there was no appetite for it, so when M$ eventually introduced Windows 7 Starter, nearly ever manufacturer dropped the Linux and moved to Windows.

Android - Is a touch screen OS, 99.99% of Apps are designed to be used this way. So to make any success of this Netbooks would need to come with Touchscreen which massively increase production costs.

Chrome OS - While you never mentioned this, its probably a better fit for Netbook hardware, the actual Chrome Books cost about the same as Net books, yet there very little demand for them.

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Facepalm

Re: sad to see them die

Linux - When Netbooks were first introduced most came pre-installed with Ubuntu (or another Linux variant). But there was no appetite for it, so when M$ eventually introduced Windows 7 Starter, nearly ever manufacturer dropped the Linux and moved to Windows.

When netbooks were first introduced they came with Linux to keep the price down -- these were £200 PCs -- because the cost of a Windows licence would have made them too expensive for their limited functionality. The distros were poorly chosen, and didn't show Linux in the best light ... so people put (usually pirated) copies of Windows XP onto them instead. Windows was the obvious choice, once the factory-installed Linux had been found wanting, because it was familiar. I put Ubuntu onto my original Asus EEE PC 701 and it was more than adequate for that hardware.

This prompted Microsoft to offer XP Home licences very cheaply to netbook OEMs, and later to bring out the restricted (2GB RAM max) "Starter" version of Windows 7. This meant that the OS licence cost was a much smaller proportion of the unit cost, and Windows became a more realistic option.

Many netbooks were (in theory) still available with either Linux of Windows, but the Linux version was usually no cheaper than the Windows one (some manufacturers sold Linux models with more flash storage than the Windows model, but at the same price ... so I guess the equal pricing may have been an MS licensing term). Retailers never had the Linux models in stock, believing (perhaps with some justification) that the buying public would buy what they were familiar with, especially if there was no cost differential, and doubtless also afraid that if they pushed Linux they might have to learn to support it.

Linux would have been more successful earlier on if the manufacturers had chosen a more polished distro, but it was never really given a chance to blossom.

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Meh

Re: sad to see them die

And no f*cks were given....

I got a relative of mine a $400 netbook, it performed worse than the iPhone of that same year and had a white line across the screen. While my $480 laptop which only weighed slightly more still runs crysis well and has the advantage of not needing to carry 4 peripherals to make it useable.

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Linux

Re: sad to see them die

"When Netbooks were first introduced most came pre-installed with Ubuntu"

If only!

No, they came with Xandros, and it was set up in such a way that after about a month it would fill its system partition and start failing software updates. Also the desktop was very, very limited, you couldn' edit the menu structure, it was difficult to install more stuff etc etc. And it sometimes killed ipods if you plugged them in (for instance to charge).

Various *buntu, debian and mint distros popped up pretty quick, thankfully, and my eeepc 901 has been an awesome miniature debian/GNOME2 laptop for the last several years, though it does struggle at times. Yesterday I replaced it with a chromebook, which (AFAICT) is basically the same as a netbook, only with chrome OS and a slightly larger form factor. Soon, it too shall run debian!

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Happy

Re: they came with Linux to keep the price down

Dajames, some of your recollections are fairly accurate. But what actually happened to force Windows on the market was people bringing back 'broken' netbooks to the shop in droves: My Windows is broken, there's no Start button' etc.

Microsoft spotted an opportunity to get into the market (thankfully - my netbooks have all been wonderfully useful as a result) by offering licenses at heavily discounted rates to OEMs. Around $25 per seat as opposed to ~$50, iirc.

MS weren't some corporate monster killing the lively indie netbook scene - they pretty much saved its arse - the EeePC (Linux editon) and its ilk were failing and thwere was no alternative. Many of us felt it was a huge shame and a massive missed opportunity. And then PC World et al started offering the first XP netbooks with microscopic HDs, which rapidly expanded to massive proportions.

Obviously their time has come now, and I've just succumbed to a shiny iThing Mini, which I adore. But there is still a market for tiny form-factor, CD-less, x86-powered keyboarded devices. Just please God, without Win8.

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@Blitterbug

Funny you mention that where I worked at the time someone bought a Eee with ubuntu on it came in the next morning asking that Wheres the start menu question.

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Linux

Re: sad to see them die

Yes, Xandros was a big mistake. But what killed the two in my family was the keyboards loosing keys or just stopping to react properly.

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Linux

Re: sad to see them die

When netbooks were first introduced, they included hardware on which XP would not run.

Subsequent XP netbooks were more powerfully equipped. Linux netbooks often weren't upgraded.

So any preferences there aren't purely about the operating system.

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Linux

Re: they came with Linux to keep the price down

> But what actually happened to force Windows on the market was people bringing back 'broken' netbooks to the shop in droves

This is just FUD that was never really substantiated by anyone including the alleged source.

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Linux

Re: they came with Linux to keep the price down

This is of course only history but when you say "they came with Linux to keep the price down" it is more, I think, about keeping profits up. Xandros was the first and biggest failure, disgusting even for hard core linux lovers.

The reason for Xandros must have had something to do with money. But the real problem is and has been that it is so difficult to have, in your store, people willing and experienced both in Windows and, what ever like, linux.

I have met some, but generally, it is just easier and simpler to sell Windows.

Apple, should I say Jobs, understood this, years ago. So there are those Apple only shops. And if you cannot grasp this then have a beer on me.

Linux on the desktop is not in these pipes, no matter how better, secure, faster, you name it, it is not available for the father mother, teenager who wants to bye a computer.

Servers, supercomputers, embedded devices, yes, linux is strong and stronger, but the clientele is different.

Does it really matter, I have used linux on the desktop for more than ten years, and I feel happy about all the energy around it. A very interesting and rewarding adventure, full of fan and some tears, never boring.

The desktop is very occupied bye Windows and increasingly by Apple. That is just a fact, and has nothing to do about who is better or worse. Linux will grow in markets and devices where (as to day) the word linux is not important. There will probably never be a channel, to the vast population, for linux on the desktop.

If I am wrong, I have nothing against it.

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Stop

Re: sad to see them die

"but if someone puts Linux or Android on them, then they will sell, as they will be faster"

Faster? On linux? In a terminal, maybe. But in a desktop setup? Not in my experience. I love linux, but all my computers run nicer with windows. Not sure if this is because the windows drivers are better, the OS, the window manager, but windows wins on the desktop.

Then there's battery use. I have yet to see linux run near as long on a laptop as windows. Again, this might be due to better drivers, but whatever kernel settings or userspace settings I tried, linux eats up the battery much faster.

Now you might say they could develop better drivers. But who's going to invest millions of dollars into development, when we all know how the last linux on netbook experiment ended.

Maybe 2013 will be the year of the linux laptop. But I'm sorry, as of now the linux desktop is not ready for the masses. It works well for development with something like xmonad (which is how I use it), but not as a replacement for windows or osx.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: sad to see them die

With it's better memory management and scheduuling, you should have tried the 'betamax' of unix -- i.e. FreeBSD, (although unlike betamax, linux won't kill bsd!)

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Stop

Re: @Blitterbug @Kevin 6

"Funny you mention that where I worked at the time someone bought a Eee with ubuntu on it came in the next morning asking that Wheres the start menu question."

Then they're gonna be very confused if they "upgrade" to Windows 8 or use a Mac, iOS or Android.

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Similar to OP

Similar story to the OP. I bought a netbook for my lady for similar reasons. Battery life, portability, small size, keyboard, etc. It's still lighter, smaller and longer life than a high end ultra-book, and it cost only $200. What's the downside? It does everything asked of it and more without having to spend a stupid amount of money.

I think a big part of what killed netbooks was the Atom. The netbook I bought her was based on AMD's fusion, and it can even do basic gaming tasks in reasonably modern games. More CPU and GPU grunt than any Atom, same battery life. Also had a 1280x720 screen. Aspire One 522 for anyone who is curious. If more netbooks were speced out this way I bet they'd still be around.

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I bought my Dell Mini 10v (from which I'm posting now, actually) for one reason: taking notes in my university courses.

Indeed. I would have purchased a netbook for the same reason, except that I also needed to do software development for some of my academic work, and I wanted a more powerful machine for faster builds. (This is purely a convenience - I've done plenty of programming on machines where even a partial build was an excuse to go get coffee, and we'd schedule the full builds for lunchtime or after-hours.) Many of my classmates had netbooks.

I suppose the tablet + stand + keyboard makes an adequate substitute for the netbook for this sort of use case, but it's not the direction I'd have preferred, if I were looking for something just for classroom note-taking and the like.

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Linux

Re: they came with Linux to keep the price down

Blitterbug,

Yep spot on!

Love the way you've been voted down so much though.. must be 1 or 2 linux-tards who can't handle the truth! :)

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Re: sad to see them die

@Eadon - you've got that the wrong way round. Initially they were Linux only and the market rejected them. It was only when they came preloaded with Windows did they sell in huge numbers.

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FAIL

Re: they came with Linux to keep the price down

@Eadon - talk about don't let the facts get in the way of your prejudice. The higher return rates of Linux based netbooks are well documented. See this article for example;

http://blog.laptopmag.com/ubuntu-confirms-linux-netbook-returns-higher-than-anticpated

"In reality windows notebooks were returned in larger numbers due to their being slow."

Care to back that up with any facts?

If you mean in terms of absolute numbers rather than return rates, well that wouldn't be all that suprising given that the vast majority of netbooks sold came with Windows.

I recently had the misfortune to try and sort out one of the early Acer 7 inch screen netbooks that came with Linux and a tiny SSD. What a dog slow machine!! Fortunately, my netbook is one of the later Samsung 10" NC10 with good ole Windows XP on it. I've used it for all sorts of tasks over the last three years - Its even got a full version of Visual Studio on it which runs tolerably well. Its still going strong and is really handy to sling in a bag for when a real Keyboard and a good selection of ports are needed.

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Re: they came with Linux to keep the price down

>> "In reality windows notebooks were returned in larger numbers due to their being slow."

> Care to back that up with any facts?

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/08/12/dell_reality_linux_windows_netbooks/

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Re: sad to see them die

Umm thats mostly what I said!

You mentioned about a more polished Distro - well they don't come more polished for "Newbies" than Ubuntu. So if that failed, then while I love Linux (I'm a sys admin! Penguin power and all that) I'm afraid to say, Linux just does not cut the mustard for your average entry level user.

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Re: sad to see them die

I have two netbooks they both dual boot Linux Mint and Windows 7, upped memory to 2gb,.

My son put Mint on his netbook.

Mint runs very well, more responsive then Windows 7, I have the Windows 7 for Netflix,

Netbooks are great when travelling.

Most people take to Mint straight away, For surfing the net, e-mail and videos it is are great. I have a tablet but prefer having a real keyboard and netbooks are cheaper.

I used mine when touring the UK on a motorcycle, the size was a great advantage.

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Ultrabooks with "premium specs"

Can anybody name one?

Before you go crazy, please note that anything that includes a vertical resolution that was considered commonplace in the late 1980's does not count.

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Paris Hilton

Re: Ultrabooks with "premium specs"

I agree that common 1980s vertical resolutions should not be considered premium. So why did you provide a link to a page with a picture of a monitor from the 1990s, where said page does not even include information on the maximum supported, let alone commonly used, resolution of said monitor?

Given that the common vertical resolutions for the late 1980s were all under 500 lines, I doubt any ultrabooks will fail to exceed that standard -- I don't think I've seen one with less that 768 vertical lines.

I'd love to see evidence of a system in common usage from the late 1980s with a standard vertical resolution of, say, 768 lines. But I lived through those times, so I highly doubt you'll find one.

Wikipedia claims that the common PC resolution from 1990 to 1996 was 640x480, but even they admit that they have no source for that. The best data I could find, from W3Schools shows 800x600 holding the resolution crown up until 2003.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ultrabooks with "premium specs"

Macbook Air.

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If they do

It was a model from 1990 and it was the first one I found doing a web search for "NEC Multisync 3" which I recall from the time being a must-have monitor from those times. Yes I lived through it too. By 2003 I had a 19 inch monitor with 1280 vertical resolution and I was by no means an early adopter.

Although while I am prepared to accept that the off-the-top-of-my-head recollection may be out by a year or two it does not alter the point of my comment at all.

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Re: Ultrabooks with "premium specs"

As I'm sure you are aware, the Macbook Air is not an ultrabook, "ultrabook" being intel marketing speak which is intended to be used by PC OEMs who want to make bad copies of the macbook air.

I deliberately didn't preclude the macbook air from qualifying because I wanted to see if some numbnut would throw that up as an example.

Congratulations, YOU are that numbnut.

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Re: Ultrabooks with "premium specs"

Macbook Air.

That's not a computer. That's a diamond-encrusted masturbatory device.

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Holmes

Re: Ultrabooks with "premium specs"

I like the small 10"&11" inch form-factor so I'm always looking for one that fits my needs. I can tell you that 99% of the time I ignored a "Netbook" release it was because it didn't have a minimum vertical resolution of 768. Most only went to 600 some stopped at 480, and that is worthless nowadays. I have a Sony Vaio W10 and I love its size, hate its CPU and its non-standard Shift keys and a lack of a Break key. Its screen is perfect for most things at 1366x768 (they are also not for sale anymore). I'm currently wanting for the ASUS Taichi 21-DH51 to be released, 1.7GHZ i5, 4GB RAM, 128SSD and two 1920x 080 screens, all in a 11.6" form-factor. It is the best of all possible worlds for me, fast CPU, small, normal mouse, normalish keyboard, and a second touchscreen that lets it be used as a tablet (I just have to find a nice Linux distro that can run its hardware as I hate Win8 and 7 with a burning passion). Sony has a nice VAIO DUO 11 in a sliding form-factor, but it uses a J-mouse so that's not option. If you're looking for decently powered Ultrabooks Samsung has some nice models, but their 11" model has bizarre rubber covers over every port so I'll never buy one. If Asus ever decides they want to sell me a Taichi, I think it will last me for quite a while, but for some reason they keep pushing the release date back and back. I guess they don't like money.

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Anonymous Coward

Diamonds?

Mahatma Coat, There are no diamonds on a MacBook Air. The rest of your post is accurate though.

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Re: Ultrabooks with "premium specs"

@Steve Knox

My Sun 3 in mid '80s had a 1152x900 monitor on it.

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Re: Ultrabooks with "premium specs"

Sony Z: http://www.sony-asia.com/product/vpcz128gg

Nothing comes near it.

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Thumb Down

Re: If they do

What monitors supported, and what the average video card could chuck out at a decent refresh rate, are two different things.

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Happy

Re: Ultrabooks with "premium specs"

Re: the Sony Z

I got one this summer and it's an amazing little machine. Full HD with a 13" screen (but so pin sharp that readability is not compromised), quad core Ivy Bridge i7 and an SSD that I have never seen anything else get near to in terms of performance (esp on a consumer machine).

Add to that it's size (MacBook Air, albeit not curved at the edges) weight (makes the air look heavy), ports galore (GB Ethernet, VGA for projectors at work, HDMI for the living room and 2* USB 3) and 6 hour battery life I don't think that you can ask for more! And that is without the PMD for the extra graphics power, BluRay and ability to drive three monitors.

My only gripe would be that I couldn't load it with more than 8GB (I would have liked 16...)

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Re: Ultrabooks with "premium specs"

@Stacy - how can anyone downvote your post?

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Linux

Re: Ultrabooks with "premium specs"

"I can tell you that 99% of the time I ignored a "Netbook" release it was because it didn't have a minimum vertical resolution of 768."

If the resolution was too small for your needs then you needed a laptop or equivalent not a netbook.

I got one of the first Asus 701s, It is small, limited and the resolution of 800×480 is maybe not the best one can find, but for my needs is acceptable. I use mine when I am away from home and just need to check my e-mails and so on. As it is so small it's ideal to just slip into my flight bag and lets me watch a film or read an e-book from a USB stick during the flight.

It's "horses for courses" and obviously a netbook is not what you needed.

As for the Linux versus MS Windows I think that it was a big mistake to stop loading Linux on to these little machines, but then the mighty MS dollar has a lot of power in the world of the OEM.

Mine still has Linux on it which one of the reasons I bought it in the first place. Crunchbang at the moment but I may change to something else if I find anything better.

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Happy

Re: Ultrabooks with "premium specs"

@HipoosRule

Because they have nothing better to do?

Honestly, there's far worse things in life to worry about though, it is quite literally the least of my concerns :)

I suppose it was partly an opinion and people are allowed to disagree...

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Re: Ultrabooks with "premium specs"

@nemafoad

"If the resolution was too small for your needs then you needed a laptop or equivalent not a netbook."

I call bullshit on that, in the day and age where Google is shipping 10" tablets with 2560x1600 screens.

Screen resolution has been the single most awfully limiting factor on laptops for the past decade, with only a tiny handful of notable exceptions:

IBM ThinkPad T60 15" 2048x1536

MacBook Pro Retina 13" 2560x1600 / 15" 2880x1800

That's about it. Decent 1920x1200 15.4" used to be reasonably available, but even they seem to have become a lot less common in favour of the bigger, lower res 15.6" 1920x1080 screens with a 10% reduction in pixel count. Most disappointing. So much so that I am finding myself looking into getting a 10" tablet with an external keyboard/mouse to use as a laptop with reasonably decent resolution.

Linus made a most excellent point about this in the following post:

https://plus.google.com/+LinusTorvalds/posts/ByVPmsSeSEG

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Re: Ultrabooks with "premium specs"

I call bullshit on your bullshit - specifically the "is shipping" part, given that you're comparing modern-day laptops with five-year-old 701s - and your quote from Linus is just a reiteration of that

Oranges, apples, etc...

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Re: Ultrabooks with "premium specs"

Just spotted that the T60 is also 5 years old...

...and about 8 times more expensive than the 701 from the reviews i could find from that time

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Re: If they do

@GoatJam: 2003 is 15 years past the date range you expressed in your original "point".

My point is that from the late 80s (your date range) through at least the mid 90s, the most common vertical resolutions were significantly less than what ultrabooks offer, and that even into the 2000s, over half of the systems out there were still at 800x600 or less.

I will agree that by 2000, 768 lines was a common vertical resolution, and so it would be reasonable to expect a premium device to have more lines if a) vertical resolution above 768 lines was still a primary factor, and b) there were no other significant premium factors.

But the premium factors for an ultrabook are, in an order somewhat resembling the apparent priority of the market:

1) portability (i.e, thinness and lightness)

2) long battery life

3) performance (incorporating both processor and storage performance)

4) display resolution

So while you may not consider an ultrabook with 768 lines of vertical resolution "premium", enough people* involved in the market do. As for ultrabooks with greater than 768 lines, try (in order of quick web search):

Acer S7 1080p

Dell XPS 12 Ultrabook

ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A

* and by "enough people", I mean at least the vendors. Definitely their marketing departments, at least.

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Re: Ultrabooks with "premium specs"

Dell Latitude had optional hi-res screens. The standard screen was 1024x768 but if you were important you got the better screen. Something like 1280x1024 if I remember. This was models like the D600 and even earlier. IBM Thinkpads were also available with high resolution screens. It's only been the last few years that it's been hard to find a laptop with a nice screen.

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Holmes

Re: Ultrabooks with "premium specs"

I've got my first PC a bit late, in 1995, so it indeed could only properly work in 800x600 in its windows 3.11, and choosing the maximal supported resolution of 1024x768 slowed it to a crawl. That said, professional machines could easily handle 1280x1024 even then.

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Re: Ultrabooks with "premium specs"

@Mahatma Coat - I still have my version 1 Air four+ years later and, in spite of being beaten to death by others in the house, it still runs fine. People might scoff at the engineering, but it's been dropped onto concrete/tile more than once while open and running, but other than the sound card occaisionally getting twitchy, it's fine. I'll definitely replace it with another one, and this time keep others from using it ...

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Re: If they do

@Steve Konx:

My first Pentium 60MHz in 1994 had a monitor capable of 1280x1024 (but it was a cheap and nasty 15" lump that was a bit too blurry at more than 1024x768). I certainly wouldn't have considered using anything with a lower res than that back then. 18 years of Moore's law later, we have a situation where most laptops (netbooks being even worse) still have the same vertical resolution. Not exactly a sterling example of progress.

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