Back in 2009, my wife picked up a Compaq Mini 110c for me. While that 10.1” netbook with its low-power and underpowered Intel Atom CPU is about as trendy as a pet rock these days, I still use the thing like crazy.
Why? It’s a lot easier to lug around than my 17” laptop and is pretty darned convenient. I don’t always need the power of my big ol’ laptop with its four-core CPU and 8 gigabytes of RAM, so the Compaq is great for traveling, surfing on the Internet and a heck of a lot of other things.
Anyone looking for a cheap, portable computer could do a lot worse than a Mini 110c (or just about any netbook, for that matter). Those are so out of favor that it’s not hard to pick one up on eBay for about $100, but you’ll need to do a little work to make it the truly useful machine it can be.
Here we go:
* Dump Windows. Most netbooks came with Windows XP or Windows 7 Starter. They both suck for netbooks because those underpowered netbooks simply struggle with Windows when it comes to handling complex tasks.
A lightweight Linux distro is a much better choice for a netbook. I’m a fan of Linux Mint with the Xfce desktop, but your mileage may vary. A couple of the many great things about Linux is that the distros are free, so you can try out as many as you like until you find one that suits you.
* Max out that RAM. My Compaq came standard with 1 gigabyte of ram, but will support up to 2 gigabytes. I spent about $40 on that upgrade and the speed boost was well worth it.
* Get a six-cell battery. My Compaq came with a three-cell battery that was quite small and only lasted about three hours with regular use. Doubling up to a six-cell battery cost about $20. That’s another worthwhile investment.
So, you can spend around $100 for a netbook, drop another $60 or so for some upgrades, spend some time learning Linux and you’ll have yourself a great, general purpose computer.
Having said all of that, let me put in a plug or two for the Compaq/HP Mini 110 series. The track pads are weird (buttons on the sides of the track pad rather than on the bottom as God intended), but the keyboards are great. Also, I’ve worked on a few netbooks over the years for friends and have learned one thing – the Mini 110 is easier than most to actually open and work on when things go wrong. That’s worth a lot for those of us who value a cheap computer that is easy to fix with cheap parts.
Oh, one more thing – forget about the models with a 16 gigabyte solid state drive. Go for the 160 gigabyte standard hard drive. You’ll be glad you did.