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Tech Throwdown: Netbooks vs. Laptops

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- If befuddled consumers can't decide between a netbook and a low-priced laptop this holiday season, manufacturers certainly aren't helping matters.

When the season's top netbook, the 12-inch Acer Aspire Timeline, has dimensions, memory (3 gigabytes) and pricing (around $600) that's similar to a 14-inch Toshiba Satellite dual-core laptop, it's little wonder that buyers are having an increasingly difficult time telling the two apart. In fact, according to a NPD Group report issued earlier this year, almost 60% of consumers who bought a netbook instead of a notebook thought they would have the same capabilities. Roughly the same percentage was satisfied with its netbooks, compared to 70% of those who planned on buying a netbook all along.

"The notion of the netbook was that it was small, cheap and light, but because of profit margins, they started to creep into the 12-inch category without beefing up the internal components," says Jeff Fox, technology editor at Consumer Reports.

>>Photo Gallery: 10 Best Cheap Netbooks

Netbooks were once featherweight, Linux-equipped toys with puny Atom processors and sub-$300 price tags. Even as bigger manufacturers like Hewlett-Packard (HPQ - Get Report) and Samsung Electronics entered the market and Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows operating systems became prevalent, netbooks still remained small, affordable and long on battery life.

Samsung's N120, for example, has Windows XP, but it's only 10 inches wide, costs as little as $320 and maintains a charge for six hours. Toshiba's Satellite U505 is small and only has 1 gigabyte of memory, but its $400 price tag nets consumers Windows 7 and 9.5 hours of battery time. Though the battery on Acer's Timeline holds a charge for 10 hours, and its Pentium processor offers 3 gigabytes of memory, its size and $550 price tag delete its benefits.

"You want a small netbook that's a little underpowered, which is the tradeoff for price and size and weight," Fox says. "If you're getting up around $500, there's little value in getting an oversized netbook if you're losing the advantages of a netbook. It's the worst of both worlds."

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