Netbook Computers & Multimedia Stroage Devices

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Although I am more disciplined now, than in the past, about the number of images I take on a given shoot, I can still fill up several Compact Flash (CF) cards pretty quickly. Carrying a large inventory of CF cards just does not seem to be a viable solution to me. I need(ed) a device to quickly store images from several 4GB CF cards, let me view and organize the contents, and offload them to my primary image editing system later.

Early last spring I bought an Epson P-3000, one of a number of multimedia image backup and viewing devices currently available for storing images from digital cameras. These devices are useful, convenient, very portable (since it fits easily in a pocket), and much better than the LCDs on the back of any digital SLR. I hit the wall with it pretty quickly. Creating slide shows (at least with this particular viewer) and performing other tasks I expected a unit like this to be able to do was too time consuming (read tedious). It became just an image warehouse. Still, I would not underestimate the usefulness of these devices, let’s call them Multimedia Storage Devices (MSVs), to some. They do have a legitimate place in a photographer’s kit if the need dictates. Their versatility is enhanced by the fact that they're small and easy to use‚ and much more convenient to carry than most notebook computers.

Then late last summer I came across a display of small notebook computers at a local big box store and was instantly taken with them though I was also a bit skeptical. Netbook has become the common term for them. The price was attractive. The relatively large hard drive was appealing. The small screen was very impressive. The whole package was about twice the size of my P-3000 but I knew immediately that it would fit in with my photo gear easily. I did some research for a few days and settled on the Acer Aspire One. I am not sure what impact the netbook will have on MSVs but they are having a huge impact on the notebook computer industry. We will discuss MSVs and netbooks here. Both are capable of providing a photographer with generous storage and high resolution viewing capabilities. It’s their differences that separate them and make one more attractive than the other to some of us. We’ll begin with MSVs.

Multimedia storage viewer (MSV) is one of the names for compact, handheld image viewers that have built-in, high-capacity hard drives and certain audio and video functions. They have been around for a few years now, and the latest of the many available are bigger and better than ever. Most photographers use them as a place to dump image files before reformatting a memory card while in the field, especially on extended shoots. The reliability of the latest models has improved to such a high level that, with reasonable care, they can deliver something close to true fail-safe performance. MSVs are popular accessories because they can do so much. These units provide a large, bright LCD screen to review images, so it’s possible to zoom in to check sharpness or delete poor shots as necessary. Photographers use them to organize and store image files while on the road, create albums and slideshows, and to share images with clients on the spot. Many now offer a variety of multimedia functions, including the ability to record directly from any video source. And, of course, they provide a handy way to enjoy movies and music while on the road; some even have built-in speakers.

Common Features. MSVs are most commonly found at retail and photography outlets where they can be purchased as accessories like lenses, bags, and straps. They vary more widely in size, shape, and feature set than netbooks. Street prices range from about $200 to about $799. Standard specifications seem to be:
• Screen resolution 640x480 high color
• RAW and JPG support
• Hard Drive storage (some are massive)
• Custom slide shows
• Multimedia card and USB input
• Audio and video input and output
• Headphone jack
Features Missing. Missing from MSVs that may be important to some advanced amateur and professional photographers.
• Limited (or no) interaction with the on-board OS
• Hard drive interchangeability
Differentiation. Differences among makes and models are few but might be important to some.
• Physical formats vary widely and, like computers, size might matter or it might not, especially the screen.
• Battery life/power varies by manufacturer and model. The availability of high capacity batteries is not as prevalent as with notebook computers.

Multimedia Storage Devices T Consider
Cowon A2, $199
Cowon A3, $279
Epson P-3000 $379-449
Epson P-6000 $599
Epson P-7000 $799
Hyperdrive Space $99-139
Hyperdrive Colorspace $199-699
Verbatim SmartDisk $123+
Vosonic VP5500 $179+
Vosonic VP5700 $295+
Vosonic VP8360 $450+
Vosonic VP8860 $300+
Vosonic VP8870 $395+

There is also a variety of used and out of production models available too.

A netbook is a small inexpensive laptop (notebook) computer intended for wireless communications and internet access. By design they are not fully configured portable computers, especially compared to more robust laptops and desktops. They are not, however, crippled, despite what some may have you believe. Widely accepted as a notebook with a screen (display) size of ten (10) inches or smaller, the first true netbook release can probably be rightly claimed by ASUS when they brought the Eee PC 701 to market.

Common Features. Netboooks most commonly found at retail outlets and discounters are likely to be from Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, and Samsung. Online there are dozens of brands, many of which are re-branded versions of major manufacturers. Despite a huge proliferation of Netbook models, these specifications seem to be standard:
• Screen resolution 1024x600
• Intel Atom CPU running at 1.6-GHz
• Wi-Fi B and G
• Ethernet at 100Mbps
• A slot for a flash RAM memory card (some have 2 but none have CF slots)
• External VGA output jack
• Integrated graphics
• Two or three USB ports
• Built-in camera
• Headphone and microphone jacks
Features Missing. What's missing from netbooks compared to most notebooks is interesting.
• No optical drive (CDs and DVDs)
• No Bluetooth
• No PC/Express Card
• Ethernet is not “gigabit”
• WiFi A and N are not available
• 3G support (some have room but have not implemented)
Differentiation. Differences among Netbook makes and models have more variability than MSVs but, might be important to some.
• Storage medium, some have spinning platter hard disks, other come with solid-state disks (SSDs). Acer and ASUS offer both. Frequently the Linux based Netbooks employ SSDs whereas the Windows XP models use a standard hard disk. The reasons for this include: Windows XP needs more storage space, SSDs are more expensive and Windows itself is more expensive than Linux. Another reason has to do with the speed of SSDs--the cheap models are very slow at writing, especially at random writes. There is a huge variation in SSDs, and I don't know if XP performs reasonably well on SSDs. You can buy an SSD that's faster than a spinning platter disk in all respects (including random reads and writes), but you may not want to pay the premium it would take to get it.
• Battery life/power, with low-end models having 3-cell batteries and higher-end models having 6 cells, is another difference. 9-cell batteries are being produced by third party makers.
• Screen surface - most netbooks seem to have glossy screens. An antiglare coating would be nice.

Some Netbook Computers To Consider
7-inch Systems
ASUS Eee PC 4G $275-350
ASUS Eee PC 4G Surf $275-350
ASUS Eee PC 2G Surf Unknown
CTL IL1 $250
Everex Cloudbook $400
Sylvania G Netbook $249
9-inch Systems
Acer Aspire One $250-399
ASUS Eee PC 900 $299-399
ASUS Eee PC 901 $299-399
ASUS Eee PC 904HA $299-399
ASUS Eee PC 900HD $299-399
ASUS Eee PC 900HA $299-399
Dell Inspiron Mini 9 $499
Sylvania G Netbook Meso $399
10-inch Systems
Archos 10 $399
ASUS Eee PC 1000 $299-399
ASUS Eee PC 1000H $299-399
ASUS Eee PC 1000HA $299-399
ASUS Eee PC 1002HA $299-399
ASUS Eee PC 1000HE $299-399
MSI Wind $329-419
Acer Aspire One NA
HP 2140 Mini-Note $450-550
HP Mini 1000 $379-450
ASUS Eee PC S101 $550-699
ASUS N10J $650-989
Averatec Buddy $399
Lenovo IdeaPad S10 $450
Samsung NC10 $499
Sylvania G MAGNI Elite $349

It is my contention that netbooks offer all the convenience of the very popular MSVs, like the Epson P-3000, and more. Some considerations:
• How are you going to use your device? This may be the most important thing to determine. In addition to supporting photography in the field, you may want the built-in multi-purpose functionality of web surfing, email, and productivity applications. All netbooks can do this well and many of us want to do a lot of the same things we do on other computers too.
• How much screen do you need? Multimedia viewers aimed at photographers generally have 4” screens. Netbooks come with three different size screens, 7”, 8.9”, and 10” (usually 10.1 or 10.2) and is an important consideration. None of these netbooks can compete with image viewers for portability. However, if you’ve already decided that a netbook is a better solution for you then get the biggest screen you’re comfortable carrying around if you intend to be highly mobile.
• How small of a keyboard will you (can you) tolerate? Netbook keyboards are scaled to fit the width of the device and can have a tremendous impact on your ability to comfortably type for extended periods. 7-inch systems are very narrow and are not for touch typists. Still, they provide a nice small form factor as long as your keyboard needs are modest. The bigger systems (ones with 10 inch screens) are usually 90 percent the size of a full one, and the key spacing of most of these is fine for normal typing. Watch for non-standard key placement which can take some getting used to. MSVs do not have keyboards in the classic sense, and input other than images is limited.
• Do you require extended battery life? Netbooks usually ship with either a standard or extended batteries, which are usually 3-cell or 6-cell batteries respectively. Battery life can be as short as 2 hours or less with the standard batteries, so get the extended battery if at all possible. These can typically provide 4 hours of mobile juice which is a lot better than the 3-cells. Remember that the bigger the battery the heavier the netbook will be as you carry it around. An extra half pound of weight doesn’t seem like very much but when you add that to an already packed gear bag it can get awfully heavy by the end of a long day. Of course, your battery will last for more of that long day too. I use a 9-cell that gives me 8.5-9 hours reliably. Increased battery life for the small portable viewing devices are also sometime lacking and third party batteries often add increased life.
• Windows, Linux, or OS X? The first netbooks shipped with the Linux operating system. Customer demand forced a more familiar OS with Windows XP being the most popular. Syncing with iPods, iPhones, etc. makes XP the most attractive option for most. Hobbyists and Mac fans have been able to adapt netbooks to the Apple OS X operating system. MSV operating systems are embedded and do not allow modification.
 
Joined
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Hi Mike,

Very good and helpful analysis. I had completely overlooked the netbooks as an alternative to the multimedia storage devices. Given the prices, I'll probably get one now that I have a reason. :smile:
 
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Iowa
Nice write-up Mike.

I've recently bought 2 Acer Aspire 1s, one each fo my wife and brother. These are fantastic, plus the prices just keep dropping. I bought the 120gb XP version for my brother at the beginning of January for $350 and the 160gb XP version for the wife just a few weeks after that for $320.

These are extremely capable machines. The Wifi radio is particularly powerful, I get pretty strong signals off my network where my Lenovo 13" barely connects.

Netbooks are undoubtedly going to hurt proprietary storage devises. Other than a slight size and weight factor disadvantage, the netbook really fills the bill for traveling with images.

A note about batteries. I opted for the 3 cell version on both lappys I picked up. Why? The whole point of these things is weight and size. The 6 cells avaible for most of these are both heavier and larger (stick out the back). Most of the time these will be used for browsing, email and in this case image uploads for storage. Personally I'm interested in extended video viewing sessions or great amounts of work at the expense of size/weight. For those times when you expect to be working on the machine for 2.5+ hours, plug it in.
 
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A Few More Words

-- Battery life varies on netbooks and there is a plethora of 6-cell and 9-cell batteries from third party makers. There are even a few 12-cell units being advertised. I use a 9-cell on my Acer Aspire One.

-- Prices are falling because of the new models and new Intel processor

-- Upgrade the memory of whichever netbook you buy unless it comes fully configured.

-- Remove the junk, games, unwanted apps, and general bloatware that comes with most systems.

-- Open Office is a good sub for MS Office on these small systems and is compatible ... and free!

-- Hard drive models likely support photographers better than the SSD versions simply because of the larger internal storage space.

-- To Date, no model by any manufacturer, has an onboard PC Card/ExpressCard 54 slot

-- AVG, Avast, & Kaspersky are first rate virus and adware programs and they are FREE.

-- The best buys currently on the market IMO:
1) Acer Aspire One (AAO 150) - 9"
2) Samsung NC10 - 10"
3) ASUS Eee PC 904Hx or 1000Hx Series - 9" or 10"
4) MSI Wind - 10"
 
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Thanks for your analysis. I've been hearing about them, but haven't done much research yet. The XP operating system is a big plus for me!
 
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Sure, one has the option of going with Linux or XP operating system for the netbook, but what about the day that Microsoft will not promote XP and make us go with Vista or Windows 7 (or is it 8?).. Vista takes up more memory than XP does, from what I understand and how or will future netbooks be equipped to deal with that??
 
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Sure, one has the option of going with Linux or XP operating system for the netbook, but what about the day that Microsoft will not promote XP and make us go with Vista or Windows 7 (or is it 8?).. Vista takes up more memory than XP does, from what I understand and how or will future netbooks be equipped to deal with that??


I think the next gen of these netbooks will be setup to run Win7. I have Win7 Beta on a test rig (1.2gz 768mb ram) and it runs like XP. Compared to when I had Vista beta on it, 7 is twice as fast, doesnt lag, lets me have more than 2 browser windows open (vista ran slower than 12kb dialup with more than 2 open) and just is damn near dead on out the box.

XP was supposed to be gone this past June, but since none of these netbooks can really handle vista, MS kept XP out mainly for them.
 
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Just for kicks, I bought a Asus Eee PC. 900A model. 1 gb and 4 gb ssd (solid state disk). Has the Atom processor and is not that bad for web surfing. Can boot the OS from a 1 gb SD card or usb stick as well. 8.9" 1024x600 screen, weighs a little over 2 pounds. It has three usb 2 ports and one SD card slot.

I dumped the Linux that came on it and put on Ubuntu Linux tailored for the Eee PC (Easy Peasy by name if you want to google it).

Whole thing was $199.

I am not sure what to do with it yet, but there must be some photography use.
 
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Sure, one has the option of going with Linux or XP operating system for the netbook, but what about the day that Microsoft will not promote XP and make us go with Vista or Windows 7 (or is it 8?).. Vista takes up more memory than XP does, from what I understand and how or will future netbooks be equipped to deal with that??

As was mentioned above, I also have Windows 7 running on an Acer Aspire. Absolute killer little machine. I was quite surprised when it came up with Aero glass interface ... I figured it would be restricted to the basic UI. I have had no real issues with the Acer at all. And "7" is just plain fast on this machine ... faster than the original factory XP Home.

Cheers!!

Ken
 
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Joined
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Sure, one has the option of going with Linux or XP operating system for the netbook, but what about the day that Microsoft will not promote XP and make us go with Vista or Windows 7 (or is it 8?).. Vista takes up more memory than XP does, from what I understand and how or will future netbooks be equipped to deal with that??

I wouldn't worry about XP support. If you think you'll want to use XP for the next few years then it can be tailored (reduced). There is even a TinyXP and a Ron's TinyXP out there. They are reduced footprint versions of XP you can use without fear as they have been well vetted and do not violate MS licensing. Windows 7 has a lot of promise for netbooks and Vista can be tailored for a netbook too though I'm not sure I care to do it. Win 7 will be fine. Just be sure that, if you get a netbook, you create a recovery DVD. Some makers supply them, some have a recovery partition on the hard drive and you make your own DVD, and some do both.
 
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Thanks, Mike! Too much trouble for me...... I'll just wait to see if Apple officially brings out a netbook.

Apple sales are in freefall except for some of the MacBook models. Steve jobs says Apple "can't make a netbook for $500 that wouldn't be a piece of junk". Wutacrock!

Apple senior management and investors are encouraging netbooks because of the potential 40% return. Acer and ASUS have sold millions and Mac lovers are converting some into very nice mini-Macs ... or maybe what the mini-Mac was meant to be!
 
Some people on MacRumors think that there may be "something new and exciting" presented on March 24th; Apple has just released new models of the iMac, Mac Mini and Mac Pro, with a bit of a gentle speed bump to the 15" MacBook Pro, so what's left? "Something new and exciting" could be the announcement of Snow Leopard, the newest version of the OS, OR it could be -- yes, it could possibly be -- a netbook or an overgrown iPhone/iPod Touch (a sort of tablet, as it were) or something else altogether. Guess we'll find out in a few weeks!

The Mac Mini, being a "headless" machine, can't really qualify as a netbook per se, as one also has to provide a monitor, keyboard and mouse with it, unlike a notebook or netbook. The closest thing to a netbook that Apple is offering right now is the sleek, elegant 13.3" MacBook Air, now in rev B. I love my MBA but certainly wouldn't mind having something even smaller in dimension!
 
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My wife just got the Acer Aspire One from Costco. What a sweet little rig! She has the 160G HDD. I haven't gotten permission to use it in the field, yet, but it fulfills all the requirements I'd thought about for a field storage/viewing unit. And at the right size and price.
 
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As I mentioned in another thread.. I too purchased the Acer the day it came out and love it.. in fact, I'm using it right now in the field to type this message! Perfect little system!

I would guess that even if MAC came out with a netbook style laptop, it would still cost like $900 or so... ala Sony.

Acer/Asus had the right idea and really did a great job with netbooks... for the average joe, it is totally the right type of laptop to get. I run everything on mine.. including CS3 - granted, it aint gonna break any speed records.. but it will get the job done!
 
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I just checked NewEgg.com, and there is a price drop now..same with Amazon.com

The price drops on Sammy NC10's must have to do with making room for NC20 and the new Q1 (not sure of new model name)

Now, if money could grow on trees....
 

Growltiger

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I had the opportunity to have a good session with a new Asus eee PC 900. Linux, not XP. I found it remarkably good and astonishingly cheap.

I only noticed two bad things about it.

1. The screen only gives a colour depth of 16 instead of 256, which means photos don't display all that well.

2. Asus left out part of Linux which configures various settings such as the display of dates. Fine if you are from the USA, but what about Europe! So you can only get MM/DD/YY in the file manager. In theory you can download chunks of repository and reconfigure it but you need to be a superior Linux geek.
 

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