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Sub-$200 Mobile Computers: Performance or Portability?

Just like in previous years stores offer ultra-cheap personal computers as "doorbusters". Those systems are not meant to perform really well, but may still be a nice purchase if the only requirement from them is to work well within the house, support Web browsing and productivity applications.

This year the cheapest personal computers possible will be available from Best Buy and Radio Shack:

Acer Aspire One AOD255 for $179 at Radio Shack: Intel Atom N450 1.60GHz processor, Intel integrated graphics core, 1GB of memory, 160GB hard drive, 10.1" screen with 1024*600 resolution, Windows 7 Starter operating system.

Toshiba Satellite C655D-S5089 for $189 at Best Buy: AMD V-series 2.30GHz processor, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4250 integrated graphics core, 3GB DDR2 memory, 320GB hard disk drive, double-layer DVD±RW/CD-RW optical drive, 15.6" screen with 1366*768 resolution, Windows 7 Home Premium operating system.

It is completely clear that the laptop from Toshiba is a fully-fledged machine for office applications that was not designed for a road warrior. The Acer offering from Radio Shack does not offer any really interesting features, but it is just a traditional light netboook.

Both Best Buy and Radio Shack offer nearly 50% discount from normal prices and both deals seem to be very interesting. Unfortunately, neither of the systems is truly innovative. 

Performance and other qualities of ultra low-cost personal computers are getting better very slowly as manufacturers' primary concern is to maintain cost and stay profitable, not to make considerable improvements. Thanks to emergence of platforms like AMD Brazos (Ontario, Zacate APUs) as well as Intel Oak Trail (Lincroft SoC), small netbooks will become a little smaller and will inevitably gain performance and features next year. The problem is that it will take the new netbooks several quarters to actually drop to below $200 price-point. That said, it is not possible to expect to get a well-balanced personal computer powered by new chips at a low price till Black Friday 2011. In the meantime, netbooks will continue to cost $400+.

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