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Ultra-low volt, netbooks – what makes sense for businesses?

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Providing the right tools to an increasingly mobile workforce is a growing challenge for businesses of all sizes. As the need for always-on connectivity grows, so does the number of technology solutions: netbooks, PDAs, new ultra-light laptops powered by ultra-low volt CPUs and full-power conventional laptops. But, when faced with all these options, how does a small business know which product is right for them?

To figure it all out, I recently sat down with Sam Burd, Dell’s global vice president of Small and Medium Business Product Group. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation.

Q: Sam, let’s start with netbooks. What is Dell’s Point of View and Strategy on netbooks for business use?

SAM: For our business customers the most common usage of netbooks is in environments defined by a specific task, like the K-12 classrooms or inventory look-ups by sales teams.  Netbooks can also good companion devices to a primary PC for task-based applications that don’t require high performance or when the user only needs to work in 30-60 minute time-periods.  For these types of situations, we offer best-in-class designs like the Latitude 2100, specifically designed for K-12 education customers. For customers that rely on their devices for a broader set of activities like video conferencing, PowerPoint presentations, or creating rich content using photos or video, we recommend a laptop for a better experience and greater productivity.

Q: If a small business were to buy a netbook, how does it compare to a laptop?

SAM: Netbooks offer a compelling price point in the mobile space, but this comes with some tradeoffs.

For example:

  • Most netbooks are designed for 7-10” screens, rather than 12” – 17” seen in laptops. 
  • In order to achieve a lower price and less heat, performance concessions are made with netbook processors (i.e. Intel ATOM or equivalent).
  • Netbooks do not always offer a full-size keyboard and touchpad (those used on current notebooks) due to the small size of the system. 
  • Often, key peripherals such as optical drive, a smartcard reader (for enhanced security options), full suite of software or enhanced manageability are not included.

Most customers interested in netbooks are after a lower price, increased mobility and quick access to the Web.  But, if you are looking for a mobile system with more power, there are alternatives with new thin and light laptops.

Q: Tell me more about the new thin and light laptops – this is a fairly new category, right?

SAM: You’re right. For customers who prioritize portability and value but need more from their system than a netbook can offer, this is a great option. Intel’s ultra-light processors offer significantly better performance than netbooks while enabling cost efficient laptops that are highly mobile. To the customer, this means a laptop with a great price point and an extremely lightweight and thin design that is perfect for mobile employees who don’t have the time to sacrifice power for portability.

Dell has done a grounds-up product design using ultra-light processors that delivers on all these promises for customers. This is great for many of today’s small business road warriors, but if you do a lot of multi-media content creation, use an optical drive, or discrete graphics then going with a more conventional laptop would be a better solution for you.

Q: What if you are a power user, looking for the latest and greatest?

SAM: Our Precision products are Dell's highest-performing and most scalable systems, specifically designed for graphics-intensive professionals in engineering, product design, animation and digital imaging. Precision work stations come in either portable mobile or fixed work station formats. We just launched the Precision M6500 mobile work station, the world’s most powerful mobile workstation, last week. But, the workstation isn’t really a logical option for the mobile business user.

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