Defining the difference between a "netbook" PC and a "notebook" one has never been an exact science--despite several ridiculous lawsuits that would make you think otherwise. But Asus has decided to confuse matters even further: its upcoming 1004DN Eee PC will include an optical disc drive.
Asus has done more than any other PC maker to bring the netbook to the public consciousness. The original Eee PC was a surprisingly revolutionary machine. And a year ago it was easy to identify: it had a tiny 7-inch screen, a conspicuously small form factor, a shrunken keyboard, an SSD-only option and reportedly long battery life compared to larger laptops. There was no optical drive. And, most importantly of all, it had an Intel Atom processor purring away inside--that's one of the reasons it was so amazingly cheap to buy. Many machines since have copied those essential design specs.
Now lets look at the Eee 1004DN. It has a 10-inch screen--smaller than most laptops, but much larger than the original Eee. It's 1.3 inches deep at the widest point, which is 20% chunkier than my wife's aging iBM, and it's twice as deep as my "ultraportable" MacBook Air. Its keyboard seems to be a 96% regular size version. And its reportedly going to cost $550.
So it's not overly small, it's got an optical drive and it costs not much less than some entry level "full" notebooks that have a proper full-size keypad and more powerful CPUs--even dumb ol' "Lauren" in the new Microsoft ad buys a 17-inch whopper for just $699. The 1004DN's not a netbook, it's a slightly shrunken laptop offering a degree more portability, with a low-grade processor and deflated pricing.
Granted, feature creep was always going to blur the definition of a netbook--especially in a now-crowded market and an economic crisis that's reducing consumer spending. But it looks like the netbook, in its current shape and specs, has just about reached its design limitations.