Cheap laptops are nothing new this time of year–they’ve been practically a holiday tradition since 2002 when Sotec released a decent laptop for $900, which was jaw-droppingly low for the time–but this year, Best Buy is selling a Lenovo Ideapad 100s for $149.99, which, while not jaw-droppingly low given the number of $199 laptops that were available last year, is still the cheapest name-brand laptop I’ve seen. Note: Best Buy has since raised the price to $199, but Ebay has limited stock of the same item for $129.
I’ve seen some reviews, but there is one thing I haven’t seen anyone bring up yet: This is a netbook in every way, except I think we’re supposed to call them cloudbooks now. So keep that in mind. The machine is probably worth $149.99, but it made some compromises to reach that price point.
Windows 10 is out today. Of course I’ve been getting questions about whether to upgrade from Windows 7 to 10, and I’ve been seeing mixed advice on upgrading, though some of that mixed advice is regarding Microsoft history that isn’t completely relevant today.
My advice is to upgrade immediately if you’re running Windows 8 or 8.1, and to wait, perhaps six months, if you’re running Windows 7, but I still think you should do it. I’ll explain.
If you want to make your online banking more secure, I have a tip for you.
Due to the increasing amount of malware targeting bank accounts, it’s not a bad idea to dedicate a computer to online banking and only online banking. Of course, who wants to dedicate an expensive computer to that task?
You don’t have to. You can buy a $120 refurbished Chromebook to use. If you don’t want to spend any money but have a seldom-used computer still hanging around that isn’t good for much, load Linux Mint on it and use it exclusively for banking. My experience with Mint on an old netbook has been rather good. Linux Mint is, if anything, easier to get up and running than Windows.
I’m not particularly worried about this, but under the very worst case scenario, certain solid-state disks can theoretically lose data in a week or two if they’re left without power. But that doesn’t instill panic and get clicks when you say it like that.
But you knew I was going to write about it. Let me tell you why I’m not worried.
Over the Labor Day weekend I decided to upgrade my HP Mini 110 netbook to Linux Mint 17. The Mini 110 can handle Windows 7, but Linux Mint doesn’t cost any money and I figure a Linux box is more useful to me than yet another Windows box. There are some things I do that are easier to accomplish in Linux than in Windows. Plus, I’m curious how my two young sons will react to Linux.
Linux Mint, if you’re not familiar with it, is a Ubuntu derivative that includes a lot of consumer-friendly features, like including drivers and codecs and other common software that aren’t completely open source. It’s not a Linux distribution for the Free Software purist, but having options is one of the nice things about Linux in 2014.
Linux Mint includes a lot of useful software, so once you get it installed, you’re up and running with a useful computer with minimal effort.
I see the advice going around, again, to disable the Windows firewall and rely on an external router, the justification being that it makes your computer “invisible.” It doesn’t. Only IPV6 can do that–and then, only if you don’t use it for anything.
The trouble with that advice is that there are botnets targeting routers. Routers are nothing special; they’re small computers running Linux on an ARM or MIPS CPU, typically outdated versions with old vulnerabilities that can be exploited by someone who knows what to look for. One example of this is the Aidra botnet. Typically Aidra is used to attack outside targets, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility for an infected router to turn on and attack the machines it’s supposed to protect. And if you’ve turned off your firewall, then you have no protection against that. Read more
A few years ago, Microsoft quietly released a security tool called EMET–the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit. EMET is now in version 4.0, and it’s probably the best security tool you’ve never heard of. And that’s a real shame.
Modern versions of Windows and modern CPUs include several security-enhancing technologies that aren’t necessarily switched on by default. EMET is a wrapper that forces software to use these technologies, even if they weren’t designed from the get-go to use them. The idea, then, is that if a badly behaving data file tries to exploit a traditional vulnerability in one of these programs, EMET steps in and shuts it down. A real-world example would be if you visit a web page that’s playing a malicious Flash video, or that contains a malicious Acrobat PDF. The malicious data loads, starts to execute, and the minute it misbehaves, EMET slams the browser tab shut. You won’t know right away what happened, but your computer didn’t get infected, either. Read more
I bought a keyboard this week for the Hisense Sero 7 Pro. It’s a universal keyboard/case made by Afunta, and I paid $12.50 for it. I took a chance on it, and now you don’t have to. Its spring-loaded jaws nicely accomodate the Sero 7 Pro, and the keyboard works with the Sero 7 Pro with no issues. Plug it in, wait a moment, and it starts working, replacing the onscreen keyboard when you need keyboard input, basically turning your tablet into a convertible. It has a micro USB connector, unlike many 7-inch keyboards, so it works with the Sero 7 without an adapter. It’s odd that most keyboards seem to have full-size USB connectors but most 7-inch tablets have micro ports.
I wouldn’t want to type at length with the keyboard, but it’s much nicer than using an onscreen keyboard on a 7-inch screen.
The last two netbook vendors standing, Acer and Asus, have both announced they’ve produced their last netbook. So they’re joining the Playstation 2 in the land of the digital dinosaurs, though I suspect more people will miss the 12-year-old game console than the netbook. The Guardian has an analysis, but basically they blame the emergence of tablets, and the increased cost of producing netbooks with Windows.
It’s still a couple of weeks off, but we already know two retailers will be offering sub-$200 laptops on the day the United States gorges itself on bargains.
The question is, what do you get for your $200 on these minimalist laptops? I’ll answer those questions, then you can decide whether they’re worth $200 and braving the crowds, the weird hours, and likely the cold. (Yes, there are costs beyond the money you spend.) Read more