One word: performance. If you’re a gamer, a designer or a movie lover, you’ll need a full-fledged laptop. Even low-end models like the $550 Gateway MD have large screens and feature fast processors and lots of memory that let you easily run multiple programs or powerful apps like Photoshop. To get fast enough graphics for Blu-ray movies or games, though, your starting price will go up.
Netbooks have slower processors and less RAM, so they take a long time to convert and play video clips, and stutter when you try to do multiple things at once. On the other hand, typical $300 netbooks weigh less than three pounds and sport a 10-inch display, so they’re perfect for Web surfing, e-mail and word processing on the go. Plus, models like the Acer Aspire One D250 come with batteries that can last 6.5 hours, twice as long as a notebook.
Still can’t decide? Check out the new class of affordable ultraportable notebooks, such as the Acer Aspire Timeline 3810T. These light machines, starting at $600, come with Intel’s ultra-low-voltage processors, which provide a bit more oomph than netbooks yet can deliver up to eight hours of run time—making them, in many ways, the best buy of all.