Tips for Getting Started with Your New Netbook Computer

I have a pretty strong feeling that just like last year, low cost, tiny, and efficient netbooks are going to be a popular gift.  In fact, you might even have given one, or unwrapped one, yourself!  Having used a netbook for almost a year now (a Dell Inspiron Mini, which I love) I'd like to share some helpful tips to get you started and get the most from your netbook.

Netbook Performance Tweaks (Windows)

There are several things you can do to improve your netbook's performance, assuming the one you purchased has Windows on it.

Use Windows XP or 7

Windows XP and Windows 7 are known to be netbook-friendly, although Windows XP is generally the preferred operating system (and what you'll find pre-installed on most netbooks by default.)  If your netbook shipped with Vista, find a way to upgrade or downgrade, as Vista is generally a "resource hog" and will probably deliver sub-par performance.

[Upgrade to Windows 7]

Install Extra RAM

Most netbooks will support up to 2 gigabytes of RAM, also referred to as "memory," but often only ship with 1 gigabyte or sometimes even less.  For most netbooks, installing RAM is very simple and can be done by even a computer novice, as well as being one of the biggest things you can do to improve its performance.  The RAM you need will vary by model, so check your documentation.

Change Appearance Settings

Both Windows XP and Windows 7 contain various options to customize how your computer's OS looks and feels.  Netbooks are generally of lower performance spec than full size laptops, so dialing down the glitz and glam can really speed up your machine.  You'll find the settings in your Control Panel, under System => Advanced.  You should select the "choose what's best for my computer" option.  Yes, Windows will then look less pretty, but it will run faster.

Remove Garbage Programs

Most manufacturers will install a bunch of riff raff programs that you really don't need or want on your netbook.  I purchased an Acer Aspire One for my better half, which had DVD playing software installed on it.  The Acer Aspire One does not have a DVD drive, thus making it pretty useless.  You might also see a bunch of photo management software, "free promotion" offers, and the like.

Go to your Control Panel and uninstall these unnecessary programs to free up valuable hard drive space and system resources.

Increase Virtual Memory

This is a lesser known tip that can help boost the performance of Windows.  The virtual memory file takes up space on your hard drive, and if its size is optimized, it can be a great help.  You can find this setting through your Control Panel => System => Advanced Settings under the "Performance Options."  Windows will most likely have defaulted to a system managed size for this virtual memory file, and that is often smaller than the optimum size.  Increase the size to what the system recommends, if you have the space on the hard drive.

Windows 7 has an additional feature dubbed "ReadyBoost," which can utilize SD cards or other forms of flash memory as virtual memory drives.  You can usually enable this automatically when you insert a flash card that is supported.

Netbook Software Recommendations (Windows)

There are several "do's" and "don'ts" regarding software on your netbook.  Here's some tidbits to get started.

Software DO's:

  • Keep as much data in the cloud as possible to keep hard drive space free, if you're comfortable with that.  For example, use Google Docs or Zoho Office instead of installing an application., to free up hard drive space.
  • Install a program such as CCleaner to remove registry errors and clean up old cache and installation files.  This will keep your Windows computer running smoothly.
  • Use the included Disk Defragmenter or a third party defrag program (such as Defraggler) to defragment your hard drive - which will help speed up your PC.
  • Use Google Chrome as your web browser - it's one of the fastest browsers available for netbooks running Windows.
  • Install some sort of anti-virus and anti-spyware program, such as AVG.  You might want to turn automatic virus scanning off during hours you are using the netbook, as it will slow the system down significantly. 

Software DON'Ts:

  • Install tons of programs you don't need.  This is especially bad for netbooks and will degrade the performance of Windows over time, even with a registry cleaner. 
  • Use Internet Explorer.  This is applicable to any Windows machine.  Use Google Chrome if you can, or Mozilla Firefox as an alternative.
  • Allow too many programs to start on launch.  This can really slow down your machine.  If a program prompts you to run on startup, always select no.  That way, you can launch it only when needed.

Experiment with Linux As An Alternative OS For Your Netbook

You may never have heard of Linux, but it's getting a lot more popular these days.  For your average laptop, Windows is pretty much the standard, with Mac OS X gaining in market share.  Linux is a powerful family of alternative operating systems with a focus on "open source" software, and most flavors (also known as distros) are often free to download and use.

Linux developers have been creating several options for non-geeks to use Linux OS on netbooks, and there are several advantages of doing so - mainly since Linux takes up less space and is often speedier on netbooks. 

There's no drawback to giving any of them a shot, since your computer can easily be restored to the Windows OS via the install CD or restore partition (see your netbook's manual for details on how to do this.)  Just make sure you back up any data you have already saved on the netbook, since in most cases, Linux will overwrite the contents of the drive.  You can install some of them, such as Jolicloud, alongside Windows as well.  If you find out that it doesn't bring you the features you want, is too advanced, or if you just don't  like it - go ahead and put Windows back on!

Jolicloud

Jolicloud is a Linux OS based on the popular Ubuntu distribution (or "distro.") It's designed to be super fun to use, with several full-featured applications able to download for free.  Jolicloud stands out as a very friendly and simple option that is incredibly easy to install as well.  It's currently in "pre-beta" and can be downloaded here.

Ubuntu Netbook Remix

Ubuntu Netbook Remix is similar to Jolicloud and is one of the earliest Linux flavors available for netbooks.  It's a "remixed," or optimized, version of the ultra popular Ubuntu Linux.

Intel Moblin OS

At this point, Intel's Moblin OS is more of a project than a final product, and has a long way to go before it is complete.  However, the project release of Moblin, v2.1, is quite functional and fast on my Dell Mini.  You can download the ISO here, and find installation instructions here.  This is a more advanced and less complete option, but if you're a big geek like me, you might enjoy giving it a whirl.

Conclusions

Overall, getting a new netbook is an exciting thing.  The portability and ease of use make them a great addition to any computer lover's arsenal.  Overall, as long as you limit the programs you install, perform the right optimizations, and use the right programs to do the job, using a netbook can be a pleasurable experience.  Please post to this article or on our forums with any questions about your new toy, and enjoy!

Comments

If you arenÂ’t a user whoÂ’s historically and emotionally tied to Windows, installing a light version of Linux is one of the best things you can do for your new netbook. I listened to a very interesting tutorial found by search on mp3 according to which an installation of gOS or Ubuntu 8.04.1 can dramatically increase performance by relying more on the cloud than a regular laptop machine. Hope you'll find it as useful as I did, cause from my own experience I can say that it IS helpful)

 
 

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