Words Ian Burley And Mike Lowe

H^i During the past year the Netbook has [¿^ been the personal computing sensation. These dwarf notebook computers are of obvious attraction to photographers because of their camera bag friendly size, low weight and relatively low cost. But there are drawbacks too. Is a Netbook really the photographer's latest friend?

When I was asked to write this article, I cast my mind back to about a month before the 2002 Photokina show (Europe's largest biannual photo show). My 1998-spec 4kg leviathan of a 14in laptop had just found a new owner and I was determined to travel light from then on. I opted for a Sony VAIO C1MHP, better known as the Sony Picture Book. It had an amazing 8.9in 1280x600 screen and weighed just 1 kg. Then 18 months later Sony dropped the Picture Book, but little did the company know that, just three years on, it would be the inspiration for the Netbook.

So what is a Netbook? Basically, a Netbook is a very small and light notebook PC. Typically, they have tiny screens with a diagonal size of around 8-9 inches, though some are smaller and others are larger. They weigh around a kilo, usually don't have an internal DVD drive, and quite a few don't even have a hard drive, instead depending on faster and less power-hungry solid state memory, or SSDs. As the name suggests, Netbooks are usually quite reliant on the power of the Internet, working best with online applications rather than big programs running locally. You can even get Netbooks for next to nothing up front, with some being marketed like mobile phones, with contracts, especially models with built-in 3G mobile data capability.

Computing power and storage are not high priorities with Netbooks; it's all about keeping the size down for easy transportation. Given their diminutive size, heat dissipation and battery life become a real challenge. By using less powerful and more economical processors - such as Intel's Atom, currently rated as the best all-round Netbook CPU - designers can keep the Netbook design small, light and cool; in turn meaning longer battery life from smaller batteries. Netbooks, inevitably, are being marketed as 'green' environment-assisting alternatives to conventional power-hungry laptops.

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