What’s the Difference Between a Laptop and Netbook?

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With the multitude of mobile electronic devices available today, terms like laptop, notebook, netbook, and tablet may become confusing to some users. While most consumers would recognize the value of a portable computer such as a laptop or netbook, they may be uncertain about the differences between the two. In this guide, buyers interested in purchasing a laptop or netbook will learn about the differences in size, portability, input options, hardware, and pricing between the two types of machines.

Size and Portability

The first notable difference between netbooks and laptops relates to their size. Generally, a laptop’s size is referred to in terms of its screen size, which is measured diagonally from corner to corner of the actual screen, not including the exterior casing. Smaller laptops may have a 14-inch screen, whereas the largest laptops boast screen sizes of 18.4 inches, with some even extending to 20 inches. The larger screen sizes are primarily reserved for massive, powerful laptops with high-end graphics capabilities that are generally used by gamers. Laptops can also be heavy, with the average laptop weighing around four to six pounds and some gaming laptops weighing as much as 10 pounds. When buyers first pick up their machine, the weight may not seem significant. However, if users will need to carry the laptop in a shoulder bag or in a hand-held laptop case for any length of time, they will soon realize how heavy those four to six pounds can become.

Netbooks like the Asus Eee PC, the HP Mini 1000, or the Acer Aspire One have much smaller screens. A netbook’s screen is usually seven to 10 inches in diameter, while the typical weight of a netbook is two or three pounds. The added lightness is due in part to the smaller hard drive and other components used in netbooks. Netbooks are also much thinner than most laptops, with the exception of the ultra-thin MacBook Air laptop. Its slim design enables users to stow the netbook easily in a large purse or to carry it in a backpack. Individuals who suffer from shoulder, back, or neck problems may have trouble toting a heavy laptop with them for work. These users will likely find a netbook more conducive to their everyday comfort and will find that it is capable of performing most work-related tasks.


Input Options

Laptops and netbooks offer a variety of input options, both for user controls and for input such as files and programs. Both feature a keyboard, USB ports, and a touchpad that can be used instead of a mouse. However, laptops include some features that netbooks do not.


Since they are designed for portability, most laptops have keyboards that are smaller than standard-size versions. The slightly smaller keyboard is not a problem for most users, who adjust easily to the slightly cramped format. Netbooks, however, are even smaller than laptops, and thus feature a much more compact keyboard. For limited use, this may serve users well. For long periods of typing, users may find that the cramped position into which their hands are forced causes pain in their wrists and fingers. Left untreated, such pain can develop into a condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome. Users who plan to type for long periods of time may wish to consider a larger netbook or a laptop.

Optical Drive

Laptops feature an optical disc drive, which means that they can play CDs or DVDs. Netbooks, due to their small size and limited hardware, have no CD/DVD drive. This limits users to whatever they can download from the Internet or upload via USB flash drive. Since many pieces of software come on CDs, the lack of an optical drive may be a problem for some users. External optical drives may be an alternative for netbook owners, however. These drives can be plugged in via USB port, but since the USB ports on a netbook are limited, users may find themselves using all of their available ports to run the external optical drive. If netbook owners are considering booting up their machine via optical drive, they should be aware that most laptops do not have the ability to boot up from a USB drive.

USB Ports

Both laptops and netbooks feature USB and Ethernet ports, although these ports are limited compared to the number available on a typical desktop computer. With the increasing capacity and speed of USB flash drives (also referred to as thumb drives or flash drives) and the variety of software available for direct download from the Web, netbook users may not even miss having an optical drive. They can use their regular desktop PC to transfer programs, media, and other information to the netbook as needed.


The hardware in a laptop is much more powerful than that found in a typical netbook. The key pieces of hardware for which this difference is most noticeable are the hard drive, the processor, and the battery.

Hard Drive

The laptop or netbook’s hard drive contains its operating systems and all of the user’s software, programs, and files. A hard drive contains layers of rotating, circular platters made of glass or aluminum and covered with a sensitive magnetic coating. The hard drive reads the data from these platters. A speck of dirt or dust on one of the platters can be enough to cause serious damage or data loss to the hard drive. Users should also be aware that laptop and netbook hard drives are sensitive to impact. Laptops and netbooks should be stored in durable cases with cushioned compartments, and users should avoid dropping them or even setting them down with too much force.

Many laptops include plenty of hard drive space, sometimes up to 250GB. Netbooks, on the other hand, sometimes come with as little as 16GB of hard drive space. Netbook owners will need to curb their data usage to make the most of the space that they have on the netbook’s limited hard drive. They can also invest in some microSD cards to supplement their storage space.


Laptops have much higher processing power than netbooks do. Some laptops contain dual-core or even quad-core processors, resulting in a significant jump in processing power. Buyers may be unpleasantly surprised by the technical specifications listed for the CPU (central processing unit) on a netbook, but they should remember that with lower processing power comes longer battery life. Netbooks are not designed for heavy-duty graphics. They are much more useful for simple word processing, emails, Web surfing, preparing presentations, creating spreadsheets, and similar tasks.


The reduced size of the netbook means that it cannot contain a large battery. Its battery life is limited, ranging from two to six hours of battery with average use. The smaller the netbook, the shorter its battery life is likely to be.

Although laptops commonly have larger batteries, they also run hardware that is more powerful and run more programs and processes, so their average battery life may not be much longer than that of a netbook. Many laptops average three to four hours, with some newer models boasting up to ten hours. Since so many factors affect battery life, buyers should check reviews of the laptops or netbooks that they are considering to find out what other users have discovered about the actual battery life of their machines.


While some low-end laptops are relatively inexpensive, they usually cannot compare with the bargain prices on netbooks. Laptops contain more digital storage space, bigger and better hardware, and bigger screens, and each of those amenities costs the manufacturer money, which translates into a higher price tag for buyers. Since netbooks are designed to serve basic functions and do not need to impress with their graphics or hardware, manufacturers can use simple designs, small screens, and hardware with minimal requirements for a streamlined, low-cost machine.

Buying a Laptop or Netbook on eBay

Many brick and mortar stores sell a limited selection of netbooks and laptops, and you will likely be able to find a wider selection in stores that specialize in electronics. However, websites like eBay often offer the widest selection of laptops and netbooks of any retailer.

To start your search, begin on eBay’s main page by selecting the Electronics category. Next, click laptop or "netbook" will also yield thousands of results. Choosing from sellers who offer return policies or free shipping can also save you additional money.

Be sure to save your search so that eBay can let you know whenever sellers post new listings for laptops or netbooks. As you review the listings, you may have questions about the specifications or other details associated with the item. These can be posed to the seller via the Ask a Question link in the listing or through the Contact Member link in the seller’s profile. Remember to check each seller’s feedback rating, since that score is an indication of how satisfied previous customers have been with their purchases.


Before purchasing a laptop or netbook, buyers should do some research to get a clear picture of the differences between these two types of portable computers. With a firm grasp of the size, input options, portability, pricing, and hardware differences between netbooks and laptops, buyers will be better equipped to make their decision. Once they have chosen the style of device that will suit their lifestyle and needs, they can visit eBay for a swift and satisfactory shopping experience.

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