First look: the new 11.6in Packard Bell netbook

dot-m_01-300x235 Netbooks have fallen into a steady routine since their 2007 debut: get a small chassis, cram it with an Intel Atom processor and integrated graphics, and watch them fly off the shelves. However, Packard Bell’s latest attempt to crack the lucrative netbook market, the 11.6in “dot m”, is a little different.

First look: the new 11.6in Packard Bell netbook

A glance at the exterior suggests that little about the classic netbook formula has changed: the 11.6in screen has a native resolution of 1,366 x 768, the trackpad is small but has a decent pair of buttons and supports multitouch functions, and the keyboard is reasonably spacious but also felt quite spongy. Three USB ports, an Ethernet socket and D-SUB output aren’t exactly groundbreaking, either.

Peek under the hood, though, and Packard Bell’s latest looks far more interesting than the average Atom-based products that have flooded the netbook market.

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For a start, you need not choose an Atom at all – instead, Packard Bell is giving customers the choice of an AMD Athlon L110 processor, running at 1.2GHz, and the usual 1.6GHz Atom N280. While the Intel part means that the standard netbook specification of 1GB of RAM, a smaller hard disk and integrated graphics remains, opting for the AMD CPU means that an ATI Radeon Express 1270 chip is included instead, alongside 2GB of RAM and a 320GB hard disk.

While this means that performance should receive a welcome boost, that isn’t the only benefit that Packard Bell were touting at yesterday’s launch. The model we saw was running Windows XP but, because the new dot m doesn’t comply to Microsoft’s strict licensing specifications – such as an Atom CPU and 1GB of RAM – Packard Bell is free to install whatever OS it likes. Whispers of Vista were mentioned at the event but, sadly, nothing beyond XP was confirmed.

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Packard Bell gave the price of the dot m as £349 inc. VAT, but also wouldn’t confirm which version this applied to – the Intel and XP flavour, which is presumably cheaper, or an AMD variant. We were also told that 3 and 6-cell batteries will be available and that some variations of the new netbook will have integrated 3G. Suffice to say that the 6-cell probably won’t be bundled with the dot m at launch, and we haven’t been told if the 3G modem will be locked to any one provider.

Packard Bell’s latest netbook, then, holds as many mysteries as it does cold, hard facts – while we’ve seen the AMD-based model and been told that Intel versions will follow, the final specification could change before the dot m arrives in the PC Pro Labs in the next few weeks. Suffice to say, whatever eventually turns up, we’ll be giving it the full review treatment.

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