Netbook Experiment Report #1

the netbook experimentIn case you hadn't read my article from Friday, I’m conducting a little experiment this week – I’m seeing what it’s like to use a “netbook“ computer (a Dell Latitude 2100, to be specific) as my primary machine for the whole week. I’m trying this out as a response to Jeff “Coding Horror” Atwood’s article, in which he rebuts my argument that the computers we typically classify as “netbooks”, occupy a neither-here-nor-there, worst-of-both-worlds middle ground between smartphones and laptop computers.

As I promised in that earlier article, I’d report on my experiences. This is the first of a number of such reports that I plan to file throughout the week.

Jeff Atwood Replies

Jeff saw my article and replied in Global Nerdy, warning me that I’d be disappointed with my particular netbook’s performance due to its Intel Atom processor:

I can guarantee you’ll be unhappy with the Atom CPU. It’s OK for light web browsing, but that’s it. That’s all. No mas.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, that Intel shows zero interest in making the next-gen Atom faster. Pineview is much better power wise but nil improvement in performance.

The good news is that the CULV Pentiums — like the dual core model in the Acer Aspire 4100 I wrote about — are about 2x faster than the Atom and surprisingly power efficient. Totally acceptable for medium duty laptop stuff.

The key to being satisfied with a netbook is to get out of the Intel Atom ghetto that Intel wants to keep them in…

Visual Studio Express 2010: Too Slow

visual studio 2010 icon As a Developer Evangelist for Microsoft, one of the tools I use most often is Visual Studio, the integrated development environment that’s typically used for developing applications for Microsoft-based platforms, from the desktop to web applications hosted on Windows Server, to mobile apps for Windows Phone and Zune to console apps for the Xbox 360. I currently run both Visual Studio 2008 and Beta 2 of Visual Studio 2010.

Visual Studio 2010 (along with the free Express versions) is the first version of Visual Studio to be built using WPF – Windows Presentation Foundation – the relatively new graphics framework for Windows desktop applications, which makes it easier to give apps the sort of modern appearance that users have come to expect these days. Visual C# Express 2010 and Visual Web Developer 2010 are based on the full version of Visual Studio 2010, and the combination of WPF and the fact that they’re beta 2 and not yet fully optimized proved to be too much for the netbook. I spent a lot of time waiting as they loaded, created new projects, switched views and built apps – more time than I thought was reasonable. I’ve since uninstalled them.

Visual Studio Express 2008: Works Just Fine

visual studio 2008 icon On the other hand, Visual C# Express 2008 and Visual Web Developer 2008 work just fine. I’m having no trouble building apps in ASP.NET MVC, Silverlight or XNA and experiencing no slow-downs. It remains to be seen if the final versions of Visual Studio 2010 with their final optimizations will run without the slowdowns.

I’ll post more updates as I have more experiences!

[This article also appears in Global Nerdy.]

Comments (10)

  1. Keith J. Farmer says:

    Yeah, nice idea, but VS betas are often like that even on target systems, so this isn’t really a good metric.  If the RC build is optimized, it’d be good to revisit.

  2. Joey deVilla says:

    Keith: That’s the just "Mythbusters" fan in me, trying to take an experiment and push it a little.

  3. Alot of netbooks are still sold with Windows XP (certainly none have Enterprise pre-installed).  Most of the netbooks in the wild have XP installed.  You’ve got the benefit of having one of the best versions of Windows 7 pre-installed on your netbook.  XP came out before WPF; it would be interesting to see if a netbook with XP has noticeable performance differences compared to Windows 7 w.r.t. to Visual Studio 2010 (CTP, Beta, RC, or RTM).

  4. BTW, the last two notebooks I bought, I contemplated betting netbooks. One notebook was basically just for browsing and email.  At the time, I found a brand-new notebook (faster CPU, more RAM, faster and bigger hard-drive, larger display) for less than most higher-end netbooks.  The second was, in fact, for using Visual Studio 2010 primarily.  I found that I could get a much better computer if I bought a notebook (and could get Windows 7 non-neutered).

    I’ve found low-end notebooks to be a much better value than a netbook.

  5. Colin says:

    I think to give the thing a boost (inc. a retry of VS2010), you should consider an SSD drive.

    I used this at TechDays when faced with the need to demo 9 VS projects.  I was going to put them all in one solution, but with an Intel X25-M drive I could load projects in 2 to 3 seconds.  This may change your perception of the netbook considerably, albeit with a higher price tag.

  6. An SSD would definitely give a netbook more value.

  7. Sean Kearney says:

    Ahhh but still even with a higher price tag you COULD have a much lighter, more convenient to work with device.  

    With the smaller footprint, and the right combination of hardware the netbooks are a huge winner.

    I like using the bigger laptop for the display but opening a 17" Display on the Go Train at Rush hour gets funny looks.  

    … And just a few unhappy elbows. I’d hate to see what happens if I tried using something that large on an Air Canada Air Bus.

    *thump* ** THUMP ** bump bump *** WHACK ***

    A little Netbook gets nary a glance in those situations and still might get your work done 🙂

  8. Sully Syed says:

    For some added functionality, you could throw a third-party card into your netbook if it’s got room for it:

    BCM70012 – AVC/VC-1/MPEG PCI Express® HD Decoder Chipset for Netbooks/Nettops

    Got mine off – gives my HP Mini 1000-series netbook the extra kick it needs to play 1080p videos without a stutter (can’t multitask, though).

  9. Ryan Covert says:

    No surprise on the VS 2010 findings.  VS 2010 Beta 2 isn’t very fast even on my E6700 @ 3.17 GHz (compared to VS 2008 SP1, of course).  A fast SSD may improve compile times, but the overall sluggish performance of the Atom processor can’t be overcome in regards to WPF.  Albeit, an nVidia-based netbook might have a better chance there.

    The netbook is like my fruit phone: I can do anything with this phone, including logging into remote servers to maintain them and even writing code if necessary — but do I really want to?  It’s still more efficient to use a faster system for the type of work a software developer encounters on a regular basis.  I imagine most software developers are like me whereby they have more than a dozen (sometimes two dozen) windows open when they’re right in the thick of a long work session.  It’ll be a while before a netbook can keep up with my workflow, I imagine.

  10. Roque Mocan says:

    Has anyone tried the Netbooks with ION chip set? As VS 2010 is based on WPF, maybe the graphics chipset helps?

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