Sales of desktop computers are falling, along with so much of the retail economy. But there does seem to be one bright spot in the computer industry-mini-laptops. They're selling briskly, and sales are expected to quadruple in the next four years.
Netbooks weigh just two to three pounds and have nine-to-ten-inch screens.
They're some of the cheapest laptops out there.
But Dean Gallea of Consumer Reports cautions that while you'll save a bundle, you'll sacrifice features.
"They're typically slower and have less memory, which makes them fine for light office work but not for gaming." said Gallea. "And they're Wi-Fi ready, which makes them well equipped for people who want to go online or check their e-mail while they're out."
Consumer Reports tested the least expensive Windows netbooks on the market, and found several good choices priced around $400.
"When you're shopping for a netbook, there are several features you should consider, including ergonomics-or how easy it is to use," said Gallea.
For one, the keyboards are smaller than typical laptops and can feel cramped.
Next, try out the track pad and see how easy it is to press the buttons.
Finally, compare battery life. Some can run for more than six hours, others less than 2 1/2.
"The beauty of a netbook is its small size. You can fit it in a carry-on or even a large handbag." said Gallea. "So as long as you know you're giving up a few things in exchange for portability, you probably won't be disappointed."
When shopping for a netbook, Consumer Reports says there are a couple of things to be aware of.
Some are sold with solid-state hard drives, which you want to avoid.
That's because they have relatively little storage space.
Check the netbook specs.
And several of the netbooks Consumer Reports tested did not come with anti-virus software, so be sure to install some right away.