Getting the most out of the little guy: Tips for netbook users
May 31, 2009, 12:19 GMT
Ahrensburg, Germany - The display is small and the computing power is closer to that of an outdated PC. Yet because they are ideally suited for mobile use - whether on the sofa or on the train - netbooks are currently topping the electronics bestseller charts.
Even so, working with the low-priced mini-laptops is different than working with desktop computers or standard laptops. Most users start wondering how to tickle more performance out of the machines almost as soon as they start working with them in earnest. Fortunately, there are a few tricks for juicing up the netbook - without having to upgrade the hardware at all.
Many of the devices are equipped with three-cell batteries that typically allow for up to three hours of unplugged use. Six-cell batteries allow for double that battery life. Yet even that span isn't enough for really long train rides, making energy conservation a must: 'To achieve the absolute longest battery life, you can manually adjust the display brightness to reflect the ambient lighting,' explains Robert Perenz, product manager for netbooks at hardware maker Acer.
Many models provide this function through a specific key combination like 'Ctrl+F5.' Lowering the brightness by just one or two levels is often enough to provide a noticeable bump to the battery life. That's because the factory default for brightness is often the maximum level, which isn't really required at all in practical situations. After only a brief period, you won't notice that the brightness has been reduced at all.
Another key trick: turn off the WLAN when it's not needed. Pressing 'Ctrl+F11' will do just that instantly on most netbooks. Reactivating the wireless connection is just as quick. The same holds true for Bluetooth. Both wireless functions represent more than just an energy suck: they also provide a potential portal for hacker attacks.
In principle it's also easy to lower the processor's energy demands. Yet that comes at a cost to performance. 'This doesn't make a lot of sense for netbooks, which are already coming to the table short on performance,' says Fabian Schusdziara from Dusseldorf-based PC Praxis magazine.
Somewhat older netbooks in particular often have too little storage. In such cases Schusdziara recommends so-called portable apps: applications that can be started from USB sticks or a hard drive without any prior installation. 'That keeps the registry nice and clean,' Schusdziara says.
Many pieces of software intended for a PC can be optimised for netbooks, including Firefox. The 'Littlefox for Firefox' add-on automatically reconfigures the internet browser to utilise as much space on the display as possible. Want to make a small screen look bigger? It helps if one-third of the screen isn't covered with ads when surfing the internet - another Firefox add-on called 'Adblock' provides major assistance in that regard.
Christoph Prevezanos, author of 'Das Netbook-Buch,' recommends that users start with a bit of spring cleaning, namely by removing unneeded programs.
To prevent unnecessary burdens to the storage space, as well as to cut down on wireless data fees, it's helpful to access e-mail accounts using IMAP. Unlike the common POP3 protocol, IMAP doesn't automatically download e-mail messages from the server. It instead first downloads only the subject lines.
Small as they are, netbooks are easy to steal. It's therefore a good idea to prevent anyone who finds the netbook from being able to exploit what's inside. Encryption using free software like TrueCrypt is key to that effort. The Open Source program makes it easy to encrypt single files or entire hard drives.