The market right now is absolutely flooded with netbooks. They are hot sellers, after all. Have sales of them peaked yet? Unknown. They are the absolute cheapest fully functional laptop computer you can buy. Dell is selling their popular "mini" model starting at $279. Yes, $279. One would have never imagined even just a few short years ago that you buy a new, meaning not refurb, laptop so cheap.
There is a bit of confusion when it comes to understanding the CPU used in a netbook however. Some people look at them and say, "The fastest CPU is a 1.66GHz? SLOW!" No, not slow, just different.
Generally speaking, netbook CPUs start at 1.3GHz and top out at 1.66, however what’s more important to pay attention to is the generation of the chip. There are a ton of them:
To make this a whole lot easier, the three most popular CPU generations in netbooks currently are the N270, N280 and N450. These are all Intel Atom CPUs.
It’s most likely true that if you own a netbook now, it’s a 270 or 280.
Here are the differences between the three:
Runs at 1.6GHz and has a 533 MHz front side bus.
Runs at 1.66GHz and has a 667 MHz front side bus.
Next-generation CPU with hyperthreading and promotes longer battery life along with better speed.
Does this mean a higher version number for the N means a better CPU?
Yes, it does.
What makes the 280 better than the 270 isn’t the .6 GHz clock speed improvement but rather the FSB. Going from 533 to 667 makes for a noticeable speed increase in general operation.
The N450 should be faster than the N280, but what’s more important with that CPU is that you’ll get even better battery life compared to the already outstanding life you can achieve using the 270/280.
Does the price vary significantly from CPU to CPU?
Surprisingly, no. The MSI Wind U135 for example uses the 450 and sells for $279, but bear in mind that link points to a model that does not have the 6-cell battery (when you buy a netbook, always get the 6-cell, you won’t regret it).
At this stage of the game, if you’re netbook hunting, going for a model with the N450 is a good bet.
Or if you want to wait until netbooks can do 64-bit computing, you won’t have to wait long. Watch for the Intel Atom CPUs that have a "Dxxx" designation. The D4xx will be single core and the D5xx dual core.
Bear in mind the D series Atoms will still be rated at 1.66GHz, so once again it’s not about the clock speed. D’s will have 512k to 1MB L2 cache and DDR2-800 support. And that will make a whole lot of difference in overall speed.