Update: According to a new report on DigiTimes.com, Asustek (parent company of the Asus brand) has "experienced drop in consolidated revenues, mainly due to dropping Eee PC shipments," and "only shipped about 350,000 Eee PCs in April."
It's hard to believe that before 2007, a low-cost laptop was one that came in under $1,000. But that was before the Netbook revolution kicked off, inspired by the Intel Classmate and the One Laptop Per Child XO, and spearheaded initially by Asus and its original Eee PC (which had a 7-inch display and ran Linux). From that point on, every PC maker was forced (some more reluctantly than others) to embrace this new subgenre, and Netbooks were everywhere.
Until, like all fads, the Netbook burned out. Part of the reason was clearly Apple's iPad, which became the new go-to entry-level computing device for people who either didn't need or want a full PC, or just wanted a reasonably priced travel device for e-mail and Web surfing. The iPad itself has kicked off a gold rush of sorts, with the same companies that pushed countless me-too Netbooks onto store shelves now doing the same with touch-screen slates (perhaps we'll look back on this a year or two from now as the Tablet Bubble).
But the real reason Netbooks have fallen by the wayside is that they failed to evolve. After the first couple of generations, Netbooks settled into a comfortable niche of a 10.1-inch display, 1GB to 2GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, and Windows (first XP, then Windows 7 Starter or Home Premium). You could get this basic combo for as little as $299, but some companies would charge more for upgrades such as nicer designs, rugged bodies, 3G antennas, or occasionally a higher-resolution display. But performance-wise, you'd usually be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a $299 Netbook and a $450 one.
The most recent Netbooks have almost all moved to the latest version of Intel's Atom processor, the dual-core N550, but in both our benchmark tests and anecdotal use, it hasn't been a huge step past the older models with the single-core Atom N450, adding to the feeling that today's Netbooks weren't much of an upgrade over the ones from a year or two ago.
In the meantime, larger laptops have made huge leaps, especially with Intel's second-generation Core i-series platform, which has boosted performance and battery life across the board. And 11-inch ultraportables with AMD's Fusion E-350 CPU have created a new market for laptops that provide relatively good performance and battery life, often for less than $500 (these systems arguably evolved from the handful of larger 11-inch Netbooks we'd seen over the years).
To be sure, many PC makers still have a Netbook or two in their lines, and even offer occasional updates and upgrades, but they're not being pushed like they used to. Sony, for example, has dropped Netbooks entirely from its Vaio line. Netbooks have definitely fallen off a cliff, but the question is, just how far? … Read more