Tiny Laptops



Wind The latest craze among us geeks are the ill-named Nettops; – ill named because they’ve quickly exceeded the implicit assumption that they are best used for surfing the net and not much else. 

These micro-laptops are now typically under 3 pounds, have keyboards that are around 80-85% the size of a full keyboard and screens in the 8.5 – 11" range. They also cost a pittance.

The first one I saw was the Dell Mini 9. Boy was it sweet. Scott Hanselman fell in love with his, and wrote this great review

He’s very convincing. In fact, I bought my MSI WIND about 18 seconds after reading his post. 

— A digression —

I’ve mentioned before that at Citibank[1] I worked for a guy named Larry Weiss, who used to describe consumers of electronics as falling into quintiles [5 reactions of technology, though not groups of equal size].  He’d often draw a pyramid like this:


The first quintile is, well,  most of you, and certainly me. Is it new? Interesting? Geeky? I’ll buy it. Hock my kid if I have to.  We’re buying Nettops now. And adding extra RAM.

2nd quintile will buy it if there is a clear benefit and some experience that shows it works.  Actually, 2nd quintile may be buying now too, things are speeding up since Larry formulated this in the 80’s.

Third quintile buys when the technology meets a "felt-need" – they are the bulk of your target audience when you are making mass-market technology (at the time we were talking ATMs and home banking). 

Fourth quintile needs to see a huge benefit, lots of experience, and feel very warm and fuzzy. Those folks are thinking about high speed internet about now.

Fifth quintile: forget it. Pull the trigger, kill me, I’m not using it.


Admitting that I’m in the first Quintile and thus bought this before I knew it made perfect sense, I will say that I had some justification: even my small laptop doesn’t really fit on the try on jets these days (seats are getting smaller and I’m getting bigger), batteries on most laptops give up too fast to get much work done, and I just signed up to do two books: the reincarnation of the Silverlight book that wasn’t (more on that soon) and a book I’ve wanted to write for a very long time.

The Yowza! effect

But here’s what I’ve discovered, this is another in a line of what I call "Yowza!" devices.  A Yowza! device (and the exclamation mark is part of the term, though if you’re in the first quintile, you know that mark by the name "bang") is a device that you buy thinking "I’m a first quintile compulsive person who can’t help but buy this and I sure hope it does something useful" and then, somewhat to your surprise, you discover that it is not only useful, but it is essential. Within an amazingly short time,  not only can’t you live without it, but you feel a  sacred and moral obligation to tell everyone you know about it.

Here are some Yowza! devices:

  • The VCR
  • Cordless Telephones
  • The Cell Phone
  • The DVR
  • The GPS

Commodity Pricing

While I know that Scott gets great usage out of his Dell 9, the progress in the past few months has been staggering. Here are the basic specs on the computer I bought. But before you read the specs, keep in mind that I spent,  delivered the next day to my door, $400.92.


  • Intel Atom 1.6 GHz Processor
  • 512 KB L2 Cache
  • 1GB RAM + (for $12) a second GB [2]
  • 160 GB 5400 SATA Drive, Windows XP installed
  • 6 Cell Battery
  • 1.3 MP Web Cam
  • Wireless card with 11 b/g/n
  • 10/100 Ethernet
  • Bluetooth
  • Mic, Speakers, Soundblaster
  • 4 in 1 card-reader
  • Weight with battery: 2.8 lbs

    This is a serious laptop. And, there are lots of others as good (and some would say better). And more are coming every day. 

    (I’m told that Windows 7, Silverlight and the rest of Microsoft’s software runs like a top on these machines, and that is good news indeed).

    If I Were Apple, I’d Be Very Worried

      My daughter is incredibly lucky that we bought her Macbook when we did, because I’d be hard pressed to justify spending over three times as much. Her computer is aMacBook2 lot better, but I’m not convinced it’s $1,000 better.

    Much more important, and more dangerous for Apple, a lot of parents and a lot of school districts will be asking themselves the same question. Especially if they’re buying them by the classroom. Especially when you consider that there is very little software you can’t run on XP SP3 with 2 gig of RAM and 160 MB of drive.

    Generally speaking, I’ll be putting product reviews on my Reviews page, but this was too relevant to our world to hide in the back. 

    I’m reasonably convinced that these tiny computers are not just a passing phase or an interesting side show, but the harbinger of a trend that will be fed by the confluence of diminished economics and increased bandwidth.

    More soon.



    1 This was back when Citibank was the biggest bank in the world, and solvent, and innovative. After I left, things seemed to….

    2 In the late 1980s I worked for PBS and the cost of RAM was $1,000 / megabyte. Thus, 1 gigabyte would have been $1,280,000.00. It is now $12. That is a savings of 5 orders of magnitude in about 20 years. Amazing.

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution By license.

    About Jesse Liberty

    Jesse Liberty has three decades of experience writing and delivering software projects and is the author of 2 dozen books and a couple dozen Pluralsight & LinkedIn Learning courses. He was a Senior Technical Evangelist for Microsoft, a Distinguished Software Engineer for AT&T, a VP for Information Services for Citibank and a Software Architect for PBS. He is a Xamarin Certified Mobile Developer and a Xamarin MVP and a Microsoft MVP.
    This entry was posted in z Silverlight Archives. Bookmark the permalink.