Top 8 best Linux netbooks

One ideal machine for every netbook user

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Linux netbooks

We locked Mike Saunders in a room with eight netbooks, a week's supply of oxygen and one mission: to find the ideal machine for every type of user.

We're not rabid Microsoft-bashers here at TechRadar, but we always have a chuckle recalling Bill Gates's tablet PC prediction at Comdex in 2001.

"Within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America," said the world's most famous IT billionaire - yet he wasn't even close.

Tablets are still largely regarded as novelties and confined to a few niche market segments. What has taken everyone by surprise though is the booming netbook market.

When Asus released the Eee PC 701 most pundits thought it a pointless exercise, but its skimpy hardware proved more than adequate for the tasks that most people do on a regular basis.

Light web browsing, office work, solitaire on the train – the Eee did a good job, especially at its £200 price point, and was soon followed up by models with larger screens and keyboards to mitigate some initial gripes.

Major players such as Dell, Lenovo and Toshiba are now in the game, and while these machines mostly fit into the low-cost (sub-£300) category, choosing the right one is essential while we're all watching our pennies.

Although they're all capable of internet browsing with Wi-Fi and office work, they can vary drastically in key areas as we'll see.

Our test criteria

We've brought together all the netbooks we could get hold of for a comprehensive test. We're looking at:

Performance: All but one of the netbooks are based on the Intel Atom 1.6GHz CPU and 945GME graphics chip.

Because of this other components come into play, especially the storage and the wireless reception strength, so we're putting particular focus on these aspects.

Usability: The most important aspect of a netbook. It doesn't matter if it looks wonderful if the keyboard is far too cramped, or the trackpad is rubbish.

Build quality: You shouldn't need to baby your netbook.

You want to chuck it in your bag, use it everywhere and not worry about it taking a bump or two.

In order to make our benchmarks fair, and because we know that most regular Linux users prefer to install their own distro, we'll install Ubuntu 9.04 Netbook Remix on each machine that supports it. Let's get started then…