Tech Tips - 101 Things You Can Do with a Netbook

It amazes me the number of folks who continue to suggest that netbooks are underpowered, useless and cheap toys compared to more expensive slates. And this viewpoint reaches peak when folks see a slate docked with a fancy clamshell-style keyboard/case combination, entertaining the idea that it can even replace a notebook! Yet quite the contrary is the truth. Today's best netbooks are in fact as good as any notebook flashing a Core 2 Duo sticker, and can handle pretty much any everyday task you throw at it, even including casual gaming.

Using my own 10" HP 210 Mini netbook as a baseline, I've gone ahead and compiled a list of 101 things that you can do today with a netbook. These examples go beyond just software that you can run and peripherals you can attach, but extend to ways in which you can get the most out of your sub-$400 investment.

Granted, much of what you see here is possible thanks to the Atom N570 processor with 2GB RAM running Windows 7. An AMD Brazos or Nile system would also be comparable. If your less-than-spectacular experience with netbooks in the past has been with a N455-based unit or older with just a gigabyte of memory, I highly advise you to look around and check out what's new on the netbook market.

With that out of the way, and in no particular order, let's move on to our list:
  1. Install any x86 operating system (Windows 7, OS X, Linux)
  2. Boot any x86 operating system when using a multiple-boot partition
  3. Enjoy the full MS Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Access, Outlook, OneNote)
  4. Run and install other MS software (Works, Visio, Project, MapPoint)
  5. Upgrade your internal hard drive to a roomy and speedy 600GB SSD
  6. Use any web browser (IE, Firefox, Chrome) with full plug-in functionality (Flash, Java)
  7. Plug in any USB printer/scanner for printing and scanning
  8. Plug in your USB thumb drive to move/browse files
  9. Plug in your external USB hard drive to move/browse hundreds of really big files
  10. Effortlessly stream prerecorded content from Hulu and Netflix
  11. Enjoy live sports streaming from
  12. Watch 720p HD movies on-the-go with a 1366x768 display
  13. Attach a wireless trackball for ultimate ergonomic comfort
  14. Plug in two slim optical drives for disc copying and burning two discs at once
  15. Listen to Dolby Advanced Audio with a customizable 10-band EQ
  16. Get 8-hours of real-world run time on a single charge
  17. Easily swap your battery for a second and continue working without looking for an outlet
  18. Effortlessly play back any HD video codec with a Broadcom Crystal HD Video Accelerator
  19. Easily and simply upgrade to Windows 8 next year and keep your netbook future-proof
  20. Install and run Cool Edit Pro
  21. Use MS Streets and Trips with GPS for navigation without an active data connection
  22. Plug in a full-size SD card from your camera for transferring images
  23. Control and access your Windows PC at work/home using Remote Desktop Connection
  24. Connect with your home TV using HDMI/VGA for viewing movies
  25. Connect with your conference room projector for presentations
  26. Connect to a second monitor and do your work at resolutions beyond 1366x768
  27. Transcode and encode short videos using any number of software tools
  28. Touch up photos easily using Paint or Office Picture Manager
  29. Install and run Civilization III, MS Train Simulator, and over a dozen other 3D titles
  30. Web chat with a choice of webcam applications (Skype, Windows Messenger)
  31. Attach an external RAID enclosure for massive 20+TB storage
  32. Use Windows Home Server to back up and connect with all the other computers in your home
  33. Install and run proprietary x86 business software applications you use at work
  34. Attach a wireless backlit keyboard for typing at night
  35. Plug in a USB sound card for HD line-in audio recording
  36. Rip your DVD movies to hard drive and watch on-the-go
  37. Connect with your HTPC and watch live/prerecorded local/cable TV anywhere
  38. Use your netbook as a BIOS display for your motherboard when overclocking under Windows (Asus ROG Connect)
  39. Plug in a flexible USB fan to keep you cool while you work
  40. Clone any system hard drive using cloning software and a USB drive adapter/dock
  41. Play FarmVille
  42. Transfer files to/from smartphones wirelessly using Bluetooth
  43. Print photos and documents on-the-go with a mobile Bluetooth printer
  44. Enjoy the full twitter and facebook experience without compromise
  45. Access and create blog posts with photos and video
  46. Play back virtually any audio/video file format
  47. Connect to a secured wired network over Ethernet
  48. Edit, author and upload videos to YouTube
  49. Connect with external audio equipment for DJ applications
  50. Edit, author and burn camcorder video to DVD
  51. Open any email attachment including embedded links
  52. Mount and run software ISO image files
  53. Avoid cloud storage and data connection costs by saving your files locally
  54. Download drivers and troubleshoot when your main rig won't boot
  55. Expand connectivity by plugging in a USB hub
  56. Access and configure your router's security/wireless settings
  57. Tie in to your home automation system for hvac/lighting/sprinklers
  58. Connect with wifi cameras
  59. Stream audio over Bluetooth in your car
  60. Charge devices on-the-go that need juice from a USB port
  61. Push firmware updates over USB to various portable devices
  62. View two web pages side-by-side
  63. Stream audio/video while working on documents
  64. Multitask with multiple windows/tabs open
  65. Customize the operating system and desktop exactly as you like
  66. Easily remove manufacturer-installed bloatware
  67. Tether a satellite phone
  68. Attach a privacy filter to your display
  69. Install CompuTrace LoJack
  70. Enjoy the added performance of half-height 5.25-inch external USB burners
  71. Record from a USB turntable
  72. Connect powerful 2.1 speakers
  73. Plug in a USB tape drive to retrieve archived data
  74. Rip and play music CD's
  75. Watch and rip Blu-ray content
  76. Plug in a USB 4G modem
  77. Manage and customize WMC plug-ins for a media server
  78. Interface in the field with equipment requiring PC USB/RJ-45 connectivity
  79. Run encryption software
  80. Plug in USB drives with encrypted/hidden data
  81. Connect directly to a DSL/cable modem
  82. Activate a new iPad or iPhone using iTunes
  83. Back up your smartphone PIM data
  84. File your taxes online for free
  85. Install and run Google Earth
  86. Install and test SDK software
  87. Compile and run HTML code
  88. Run your accounting software
  89. Create CD and DVD ISO images
  90. Create a website
  91. Perform remote server/database administration
  92. Create a bootable USB flash drive for OS recovery
  93. Run portfolio management software for buying/selling stock
  94. View financial statements and pay balances
  95. Book your flight/accommodation and print your boarding pass
  96. Register and submit complex online forms
  97. Install and run Adobe Acrobat X
  98. Access any kind of premium subscription web content
  99. Cook and flash custom smartphone ROM images
  100. Create Flash content
  101. Intercept wireless IP traffic with packet-sniffing software
There will of course be many more things other netbook users do that I have not covered here. You're probably wondering at this point if I have done all of the above. The answer is almost! I spend a heavy amount of my time using Firefox and MS Office, with the bulk of my work related to audio and video. There's no need for me to emphasize the unparalleled mobility a light and compact 10" netbook provides, but other than the SLI graphics and quad-core performance of my 17" notebook, I'm finding there's very little I actually CANNOT do. In my experience, a netbook makes for the perfect companion device to any high-end notebook or desktop workstation, even if you only end up doing a small portion of what I have shown here.

And if all this is possible with just a N570 Atom, it raises the question of how much MORE impressive in performance upcoming ultrabooks will be sporting a ULV Sandy Bridge under the hood. Intel's Cedar Trial, the 32nm successor to the current Atom processor models, is also just around the corner.


As harsh as this may sound, I can only surmise those experts who proclaim that pairing an iPad 2 with a keyboard magically provides a notebook "replacement" as being totally clueless and ignorant. What exactly IS their definition of work then? They most certainly don't have the faintest idea of everything they are missing out on, as this comprehensive list clearly shows. Maybe it is the inflated ego screaming a statement to show off their tech style? Or is it they simply enjoy paying a premium and doing very little? It's very easy for those insensitive to price to drop $650 for a slate+keyboard combo, yet end up with a device that is nothing more than a glorified word-processor - happy typing to you!

The truth is that for hundreds of dollars less you can get a netbook that will run circles around any slate when it comes to productivity and entertainment, and do stuff that is just impossible to do with a slate. Yet this bang-for-the-buck argument gets ignored every single time by slate reviewers when discussing their latest over-hyped luxury toy.

Would it be valid to suggest that netbook users are more sensitive to price while slate users are not? Judging on MSRP alone, perhaps. PC enthusiasts will always look at what's best bang for the buck and have an uncanny ability to wring maximum performance out of their gear. But the overwhelming evidence shows that even irrespective of price, modern netbooks remain far more capable devices. The sacrifice slate users make in losing so much functionality and features far outweigh any advantages of gaining a fancy touch-UI. For lack of a better term, slates scream form over function - it looks hot, but it's not.

You cannot, in all fairness, replace a netbook with a slate+keyboard, and there's certainly no way a more powerful/capable notebook would fall for that argument either. Not unless you've been using a notebook for the most mundane of tasks, which would only suggest you don't really do any serious work at all, and should not be making such false statements or recommendations in the first place. As I've said once before, I have tried hard to find that killer application where slates beat netbooks, and it just doesn't exist.



  1. I have enjoyed reading your articles. It is well written. It looks like you spend a large amount of time and effort in writing the post. I am appreciating your effort. .

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  2. realy great man! slates are no where near netbook..may be in future.asus 1025ce! can any body show me a slate equal to this????????????

  3. Whatever I can do with my large laptop and desktops, I can do elegantly, with my netbook. Sure I can carry around a keyboard for my slate. But I don't want peripherals. I want simple. Elegant. Practical. And...small enough to carry around in a compact bag.

    Another thing: for people like myself, who write and write alot, tablets can't come close.

    But then again, most of the folks I know who rave about tablets, use them for entertainment purposes, and really don't need keyboards, as they fly from site to site.

  4. Thank you. This will be immensely useful every time I'm asked why I bought a netbook instead of an iPad.
    But they just won't get it anyway, I bet. It's all about the FUSS.