Netbooks... are they good enough for programming?

I’m looking for a portable and cheap solution to get through University. I’m taking programming classes and was wondering if netbooks are powerful enough to do just that. It’d be nice to be able to do some video editing on them as well but I realize that is not realistic.

Will a netbook suffice for getting school/programming work done or will I be so frustrated that I should just invest in a laptop? FYI, I have a very capable desktop computer at home that I use but lately I am barely home and I find myself in situations where a portable computer would help a ton.

I’ve been looking at the ASUS 1201N (so I can play some old games on the go). Any suggestsions?

I know it’s tough spending money while at the University, I would suggest splurging on a good full size laptop. I don’t have much personal programming experience (except VBasic, woot), but I believe a netbook would be a little weak for the job. Not to mention the small screen and keyboard are a pain for doing any sort of real work on them. You could probably get a used laptop that’s nicer and cheaper than a new netbook.

Programming on a tiny keyboard sounds like a nightmare.

Video editing probably won’t be feasible (at least without external storage) from a capacity and drive throughput perspective - even before CPU speed (Which will become relevant) comes into play.

For programming, they’re certainly powerful enough to learn on, strictly speaking. More screen size/resolution will make your life easier for reading code, faster drive/CPU will make your programs compile faster, and obviously the programs you write will be able to do more if your machine is faster. But it might work for learning.

I mean, remember, people have been programming since the beginning of computing. That netbook is more powerful than most desktops from >10 years ago.

Laptops will win out in every category over a netbook except price and portability. You will probably NOT want to do it on a netbook that is so small that it has a tiny keyboard and tiny (<12/13") display though.

The Atoms and whatever equivalent processors that come equipped in netbooks are seriously lacking in power, multitasking will not work in your favor. At the price of the seriously underpowered 12" “netbooks” you can get a full function dual core laptop.

The small screen and resolution is also grossly inadequate for looking at lines of text or code.

I do not recommend getting a netbook for programming. I agree with the others that the screens are too small, and the resolution will make it very difficult and cluttered to program with.

Ejdge, a netbook in the range of 400 dollars or so is capable of running all common IDEs and programming platforms. However, as they’ve already told you the keyboard is small and may annoy you. And secondly the screen or more correctly the available work area is indeed annoying. I have an ASUS 1000H (10 inch screen) which I have used for programming. My experience from the device as is (no external monitor, keyboard, only usb mouse):

Pros: Mobility, quick field testing, reference (programming ebooks etc), very handy for small algorithm development / testing (my main interest)
Cons: Small work area (Interface development is really painful), tiresome when developing / writing snipets of more than 200 - 300 lines. Keyboard is fine for me, although it’s a matter of preference really.

I had some problems with Visual Studio 2008 refusing to install, which was solved by installing through a disk image.

Personally I would go for something with a bigger screen, probably an HP Pavilion TM2-1010EA for its versatility or sth with a 13 -15 inch screen.

As for games, I don’t know if sb posted it already but in any case: Guilty Gear XX, Melty Blood, both run very well on the afforementioned netbook. Blazblue CS (the arcade hacked release) did not run. PCSX2 (PS2 emulator) is running also and I confirm Melty Blood Actress Again as playable. GG Accent Core Plus was unplayable however.

Hope this helped.

As far as processing power goes, any small netbook will work just fine, so don’t even sweat about that. The biggest thing you need to make sure of is that the keyboard is comfortable for you to use for long session. The second biggest thing is whether or not the screen size is comfortable for you to work with for a while. Make sure to test in your usual IDE. Most IDE’s seem to take up a bunch of screen real estate that’d be better used in the main editing window.
Almost all of the netbooks you will find have the ability to plug in a monitor and USB keyboard and/or mouse, so if you expect most of your coding to take place at home or in a lab where you can hook up a monitor and keyboard, then these considerations go away. That’s the situation I’m in, so I went with the netbook. If I need to do programming on it, I can, but most of the times when I’m doing a serious marathon coding session, I hook it up to a good size monitor and full keyboard. I highly recommend going this route because I feel nothing but pity for all of the students I see carrying around 20 pounds of laptop and charging equipment because of a heavy computer with no battery life.

EDIT: The one I have is a Samsung NC-10. I went with it because the keyboard is significantly larger that most of the netbooks out there, specifically because of coding. The only time I hook it up to a keyboard or monitor is when I’m locked into huge IDE’s like the Xilinx tools, but that only represents maybe 2% of the work I do on it. For linux or my PIC programming, it works great as is.

most people probably already said what needs to be said but i still want to chime in :D.

it depends on the type or programming. simple ones that aren’t computational heavy such as ur normal everyday c++ class would be more than sufficient. but if u r writing codes like for matlab trying to solve numeric solutions such as in a fluid mechanics class. it could slow down a bit but should eventually give u the result. of course, i doubt any undergrad class is going to require u solving any crazy second order nonlinear differntial… haha

Here’re my thoughts on using a netbook for programming.

  • if you can deal with the screen size and the keyboard doesn’t feel too small a netbook is great for writing code
  • the netbook’s processing power may be low for running computationally intensive code. however, if you’re compiling/running code via cloud computing or on a server bank, you won’t have to worry about your processing power, just the network connection.
  • graphics intensive computer usage will seriously suffer on a netbook. photoshop or other raster graphical programs and even some vector programs can run into issues. if you’re going to be doing CAD/CAM, a netbook simply will not work. i would also guess that any form of 3D graphics program for CG design would also have issues.
  • most netbooks do not have the RAM and processing power required for large video editing projects. external hard drives and the 100+ GB hard drives that now come in netbooks make space less of an issue, but they simply are not built for the large computational requirements that video processing requires. netbooks don’t even do HDMI output as far as i know, there’s a reason.

So, if you want something ultra portable, don’t mind the size of the screen or keyboard, and are running the code on an external processor (cloud computing or server bank) a netbook is fine. If you’re talking about any kind of image or video editing, they simply aren’t meant for that kind of use. Netbooks trade computational power for portability. If portability is not the main goal, I’d go for a 14" laptop. For a modest price and size increase you can get drastically more performance.

I code in RPG IV and use my netbook for whenever I am away from my office. It’s great to VPN in and do what I need to do. The keyboard was annoying at first but I got used to it, as for the screen I just keep the resolution low for my session and things look alright. I used to carry around a huge ass laptop but this is much easier. 3G USB from Verizon and the netbook fit into my bag easy and are not heavy at all so and that portability outweighs most of the cons.