HI, i want to buy a netbook for doing some stuff in the train. Can someone report how it is to code simple stuff on a netbook? 10/12".

I wanted to buy a very cheap one. like 1gb ram 1,6ghz blabla. and run linux on it with apache. i will code with JS/PHP. and as IDE i'll be using notepad++. so nothing big like eclispe or something else. maybe later on eclipse for java, but that doesn't really matter.

so first, would this setup work fine on such a netbook and, is it okay for coding?

I don't style any homepages on the netbook, I just want to code.

would be nice if someone can share his experience in that.

thanks :)

  • 1
    If price is not a problem, I've good reports from people using a macbook air.
    – Nerian
    Feb 7 '11 at 21:02
  • How's the keyboard? Feb 7 '11 at 21:03
  • @David: Full-size keyboard with 78 (U.S.) or 79 (ISO) keys, including 12 function keys and 4 arrow keys (inverted “T” arrangement) Source: apple.com/macbookair/specs.html
    – Nerian
    Feb 7 '11 at 22:08
  • there was a time when we coded on 80x25 screens (textual). So I guess it is possible to code something not huge (small projects with not much files to parse with intellisence) on netbooks. Even sometimes I do python coding on my android smartphone. Another question is that netbooks are not oriented on coding.
    – Genius
    Feb 8 '11 at 12:23
  • The N150 PLus is quite cheap. 380 swiss francs. Hmm, i think i go to the shop today and ask if i can play around with it for ahlf an hour :P but thanks. :)
    – user16297
    Feb 8 '11 at 12:29

19 Answers 19


My limited experience with standard netbook style computer has been abysmal. Small narrow screens, cramped keyboards, tiny trackpads, and above all underpowered. I wouldn't buy one for doing more the checking email and surfing the net.

If you don't mind shelling out a bit more money, the 11" MacBook Air is a dream to use compared to a netbook. Full sized keyboard and trackpad, very light, and excellent battery life. I don't think I could manage using one as my main machine, simple too little real estate on the screen. For a on the go / every day carry computer it would work great.

  • 1
    +1 I use a MacBook Air 11 as my primary development machine for iPhone/iPad apps, and I've completed several apps on it. Having a large monitor that can occasionally be used with it is nice.
    – hotpaw2
    Feb 7 '11 at 23:13
  • I love using my Asus Eeepc for surfing while lying on the couch, but the tiny keyboard is not well suited for coding.
    – oosterwal
    Feb 8 '11 at 21:35

I borrowed a co-workers netbook for a week and tried to do some basic programming, and opted against purchasing one for work. I wanted it for part-time development, primarily Python and Flex, so my use-case would have been somewhat similar to yours. Here's what I came up with:

  1. Terrible screen real estate. Unless I was willing to tote around a second monitor, running an IDE (Eclipse, in my case) would have been very difficult. Even with a lighter workspace, you'll likely struggle trying to deal displaying more than 2 windows simultaneously.
  2. Processing: Flex compiling is a bit beefy. The netbook hardware (though probably better now) wasn't sufficient for concurrent work. Most compilation tasks brought the hardware to a halt, particularly when I had Firefox running at the same time. Since you're doing web development, you'll likely need multiple windows open, and processing might be a problem.
  3. Awkward keyboard size: this was the primary issue. I have fairly large hands, though not abnormally so :) During the trial period, I wasn't able to type for longer than 20 minutes without taking a break. I've seen other netbooks with "full-size" keyboards, but for some reason, they still felt very cramped. My current laptop (Macbook 13") feels much more spacious, though that could be in my head. If you want a netbook, I wouldn't get one with less than a full-sized keyboard.
  • hmm yeah. Okay, doesnt sound that nice. Hmm, i think i will wait and try the macbook im getting. but that can take months. But yeah, okay thanks. Seems like some ppl c an code on it but i think i'll struggle with the small size. But its so lightweight :P and cheap. But thanks a lot for the answers :)
    – user16297
    Feb 7 '11 at 21:28
  • @pascal, yeah - that was the main draw for me too. It's cheap and light, and had decent battery life. But balanced against the difficulties I had, the positives just didn't outweigh the negatives :)
    – bedwyr
    Feb 7 '11 at 21:36
  • Eclipse is a screen estate hog. All Eclipse designers should try working on a 640x480 monitor for a while.
    – user1249
    Feb 9 '11 at 0:30
  • @Thor, I don't disagree. My first heavy duty programming was done with terminal, Emacs, and GDB :)
    – bedwyr
    Feb 9 '11 at 2:44
  • @Thorbjørn you can maximize the text pane in eclipse, this dramatically increases the coding space Feb 11 '11 at 11:27

I work (for my job, for the university, for my personal things) 24 hours a day and move all the time, my notebook is quite similar to the one you describe. I dont think you will have any trouble, unles you need some heavy IDE (Eclipse or Netbeans) or deal with big processing algorithms (like image processing).

I've also learned a lot from coding on my notebook, mainly because when you have limited resources, you learn your way through solutions.

My advise is to create a Linux environmente and start getting dirty with Console and Vim editor.

  • How do you work 24 hours a day?
    – q303
    Feb 8 '11 at 20:57
  • @q303 - Lots of caffeine? He didn't say 24/7 either, so he might just have an unorthodox sleeping schedule.
    – Inaimathi
    Feb 8 '11 at 21:00
  • :P I did not meant 24 hours literally, but i do use my laptop A LOT
    – guiman
    Feb 9 '11 at 11:15
  • 7
    Vim or Emacs (whichever school/church you want to belong to). Both have fairly open screens and ways to extend them to provide the advantages of an IDE. I think IDE developers can learn a thing or three about that. Feb 9 '11 at 13:15

My 12" netbook does every programming task I need it to do quite comfortably. This includes running Eclipse, Apache, multiple Rails servers, etc.

The keyboard is very close to full size, minus the number pad, and is easy to type on. My one gripe about my particular model (an Asus 1201PN) is the annoying trackpad and buttons, but it's tolerable.

If it wasn't for the limited CPU in it, it could easily be my main machine.

edit Though my netbook is not the super-super cheap variety... I have a feeling they would struggle.

  • I'm using a 5-year old Thinkpad X61. The keyboard is great, speed is very good (except for an SSD drive it is still faster than new netbooks), works very well on Linux, overall quality is wonderful and the price of used items is comparable to new netbooks. I fully recommend.
    – liori
    Feb 9 '11 at 20:33

I occasionally use my Samsung NC-10 netbook running OSX via Netbook Bootmaker as an Xcode dev box.


  • Easy to use on the train. In contrast, the Lenovo Thinkpad T400s I have for Windows development is far too big to comfortably fit on my lap in the cramped seats on UK trains.
  • Battery life is pretty good. I think it would probably have been better if I'd stuck with Windows XP, but who wants to suffer with that?
  • Amazingly portable. I can chuck it in the Thinkpad's laptop bag and not notice it's there.


  • Keyboard is fiddly, but after a few days exclusive use (I once took it to Germany on a trip and coded on it for a week) I get used to it.
  • Screen is small. Not only is real estate cramped, but OSX really doesn't like being on a screen this small. A number of applications have controls off the bottom of the screen (surprisingly, the new 11" Air has the same issue).
  • Trackpad is crap. I use a wireless mouse.
  • Compile times were sometimes frustrating, but if you're mainly coding PHP that shouldn't be a problem.

As an aside, before I Hackintoshed the netbook I used it as an Ubuntu dev box plugged into an external monitor, keyboard and mouse. It did a great job.

If I had the money, though, I'd buy a MacBook Air now instead. Lighter, better battery life, faster, larger screen, more RAM, SSD. Only problem is, they're ~£1000 more...

  • +1: I too use Samsung NC-10 for occasional programming, and it has been great for the price.
    – shang
    Feb 9 '11 at 12:06

I have an Acer Aspire One netbook. The ~10 inch screen is slightly bothersome, but it's tolerable for doing coding in short stints on the go. Same for the keyboard. Visual Studio 2010 fits reasonably well on screen, with some toolbars and sidebars turned off.

With the memory boosted from 1GB to 2GB, VS works fairly well. It takes a bit to start up, but once it's running it is responsive. Compiling doesn't take very long either.

Much of my coding is done on my laptop, with a bigger screen, external monitor and separate keyboard/mouse. The netbook is useful for on-the-go coding, in a coffee shop and at university and the like. I wouldn't want to use it for extended periods, but it's fine for short bursts.


It's the limited height which kills me. 10.1" Latitude 2100 was fine to use with gedit, gnome-terminal and the JDK in a relatively old school fashion. This not-a-netbook 11.6" MacBook Air with Eclipse is fine, other than the height issue. Using NetBeans, it's over an order of magnitude faster than my 17" Inspiron on things that count (although that machine is particularly bad, more so now that it has McAfee endpoint Encryption, not Applet FileVault). Latitude keyboard was cramped, but the Air is fine after you get used to it and the mousepad is unbelievably fantastic.

Get a good SSD. Although Tomcat isn't a complete bloater, I'd go for more than 1 GB for anything more than a digital watch.

  • I remember running Windows XP on 256MB or ram and thinking that was large. I also remember running Windows 95 on 16MB. When did applications get so greedy?
    – Josh K
    Feb 7 '11 at 21:29
  • I like to consider myself as young, but I learnt to program on a BBC Model B with 32K RAM, 32K ROM. RAM got cheap. People forgot what ROM was (which is particularly handy when anybody finds a security vulnerability). Feb 7 '11 at 21:32
  • @Josh K: 16MB? 256MB? When did things get that bloated? My first computer came with 16K, and I upgraded to 48K soon thereafter. I also remember running MacOS on 1M. Feb 7 '11 at 21:34

I often use mine to code; it's one of the least expensive netbooks. I find the keyboard pleasant, as I have small hands, and the screen is OK.

It can have a hard time running some applications, though; I could get some work done with VS10, but it was really slow.

Since you're saying you want to use mostly Notepad++, it should be fine for you; I'm not sure about Eclipse. As long as you don't plan on using a heavy weight IDE, it can work nicely.


I use mine to code constantly, and I love it.

The thing is, it's pretty far from a standard netbook; I picked up an OCZ neutrino (which has since been discontinued, AFAIK), popped in 2g of ram and an SSD. Be very careful about keyboard size/layout; a bad one can really bite you, while a good one feels about the same as a regular keyboard. The second thing is to maximize screen-realestate; I use Xmonad + Emacs (with all the toolbars turned off) so that all of my screen is going towards my typing area. I tried using Gedit a while back, and it was sufficiently annoying that I could see people steering away from netbooks for development.

Performance-wise, running Emacs, MySQL, nginx and Hunchentoot is just as responsive as on my desktop (which has several times the MHz and ram, and an equally fast SSD). The only program I've seen chugging is Inkscape.


I've done some coding on my Acer Aspire One, with Ubuntu Netbook Edition 10.04, when I'm on the move.

Things I Hate About It

  • Cramped screen space.
  • Processing power isn't the greatest

Things I Love About It

  • Very portable
  • I still get to have most of the things I want (like the terminal, text editor, and anything else I can snatch from the Ubuntu Software Center)
  • It's fast enough. Most of the time, when I'm just editting code, I don't notice a slow down at all.

Bottom line: I love it. Yes, it's a little cramped, but you get used to the setup very quickly. I get to have my cake (have a decent linux operating system), and eat it too (have a portable, small machine).


I tried to code on my 10" HP Mini 702ea, but issues with screen size and performance just made it impossible for application development. Maybe if I was doing scripting where I don't feel I need a full IDE, then perhaps it'd have been a better fit, but the IDE and VM environment I use just brought it to a halt.

So, in November I plumped for an HP Pavilion DM4 (http://www.engadget.com/2010/06/15/hp-pavilion-dm4-review/) which really hits the spot on every level. It looks nice, has a good keyboard (shame about the F-keys defaulting to the alternate functions like volume and screen brightness), decent battery life, but the most important thing for development is the basic raw power. It can quite comfortably run a few VMs and an IDE (I use VirtualBox and MonoDevelop).

It's also not that much bigger than a netbook.


People complain about screen real estate. But the solution for netbooks and notebooks for this is using multiple virtual desktops. I mostly use my laptop for doing some script or web development while I commute or just want to play around with code at home, and I've successfully been using virtual desktops.

I'm using a MacBook Pro myself and have turned on it's Spaces function which I use very often when developing. It will easily let you switch desktops with Ctrl+Arrow. I usually set up my spaces or virtual desktops like this:

  1. A browser for searching and reading references
  2. My editor or IDE
  3. The app or browser

If you're using Linux, there usually is a desktop switching mechanism built-in for the window manager installed. Windows does not have this built in; but there are some alternatives that can be installed such as Desktops.

I find the screen real estate to be an opportunity for me to avoid bad code such as code bloat or god classes, since navigating some bad code is a horrible experience to do in a laptop.


10" (and especially 12") netbooks are fine for Notepad++ coding, if you hide the taskbar etc. and just use the editor in full screen. Apache might be a bit on the heavy side, so you might, for example, check nginx for a lighter alternative. Eclipse, on the other hand, will be a lot more difficult to use on that screen size and it's a resource hog compared to Notepad++.

There are huge differences in keyboard quality and layouts in the different 10" and 12" netbooks, so you should ideally test one in person before making the purchase. The keyobard, I think, well be the most critical differentiator for you in the cheaper price range.


I don't have a netbook, but I have an underpowered and almost dead laptop so it's almost the same. There's a few things you'll have to get used to, but the ultimate recommendation depends on you're specific needs.

  • Keyboard--This is the most important part of the netbook. If your wrists are cocked to the side too far it becomes really uncomfortable really fast. If you can, go to the store and spend a little time using the keyboard. Open a text editor and just start spitting out hello world style programs until you have an opinion on the keyboard (it'll work or it won't). Don't get cheap on the keyboard. Everything else is secondary.
  • Clamshells--Everyone complains about the screen real estate, but forgets about space in public transportation or airplanes. When you have a big screen, the clamshell can't open as far which in turn makes it difficult to see the screen.
  • Screen real estate--Pixels count more than inches. Don't underestimate the amount of screen taken up by your operating system--the launcher and status bars at the top and bottom of Ubuntu desktop, the task bar at the bottom of Windows 7, etc. all take up an appreciable amount of screen real estate. Hide them if you can.
  • Clear text--With smaller screen real estate (pixels here), you have fewer pixels to represent your characters. Make sure that the OS you use has good code editing fonts that don't strain your eyes. Most modern operating systems from Mac to Windows to Linux have good anti-aliasing support, and you'll need it. You might need to tweak some settings, and you might have to download a good programming font (better than Courier New), but you don't want to introduce eye fatigue. Also, use a larger font size than 10pt. You may not be able to see as many lines on a screen, but the text will be clearer. That can make the difference between 10 minutes before your eyes get tired and several hours.
  • Battery life--This is probably the second most important aspect of a netbook. My old laptop is abysmal at this, and if I use it for more than 40 minutes untethered (just idling) I run out. If you intend to use this on a train or other transportation with no outlets, get the best battery life you can. You won't get the rated life, particularly if you are compiling, but it can mean the difference between 20 minutes before you have to shut down and being able to use the machine for the whole trip.

Hopefully it doesn't need to be said, but you don't buy a netbook for processing power. If you are working with complicated languages to compile like C++, you'll probably spend more time waiting for the compiler to get done and less time actually working. That said, my ancient of days laptop only has a 1-core 1Ghz processor, and I get along OK.

Programming stacks do take up a fair amount of RAM. I would recommend no less than 2GB of RAM in your machine--even with Ubuntu.

Note about IDEs: You will have better use of your screen with a high powered text editor like Vim or Emacs, but some IDEs provide a decent balance. The guys at JetBrains have a decent enough interface, and the niceties built into the IDEs really help you think about the problem you are trying to solve rather than the language you are trying to use. The support panels can all be collapsed out of the way so you can focus on editing text, but still provides the refactoring support, programming by intention, type-ahead, etc. You will be making use of hiding the panels more often so make sure you keep that in mind.


I have an Asus EEE PC (1008HA) which is very light, very small and has an excellent keyboard. I upgraded it to 2gig with a £30 upgrade (Check the web if you try this, it isn't trivial and you can destroy it) and use it happily with Visual Studio 2010.

I know you aren't using VS, but I thought I'd mention it because it is a huge bit of software that I usually use with twin 1080p 23" screens.

The keyboard is critical though, it's the best one I've seen although I haven't looked at some of the more recent ones.

I did think at the beginning it would be too slow, but it has turned out to be perfectly usable.


I used to do assembly assignments in college with an Asus EEEPC in between classes. It was a big pain in the eyes. I'd say the netbook has to have at least 11" and a full-sized keyboard. You can also get those Logitech wireless mouse with nano usb receivers.


I'm wondering why Lenovo x200/201[i|t] has not been mentioned yet. Although it's quite expensive for a netbook, and is not one either, but it's worth the money...

Pros (make my macbook pro obsolete):

  1. Intel i5
  2. 4 Gb RAM
  3. SSD
  4. 12" screen
  5. Internal 3G card
  6. Clitoris!
  7. 1.2 kilograms


  1. Integrated i915 graphics (poor image quality on external display)
  2. Crappy screen.

I take a Toshiba NB 205 on the train. I've tried to keep installed apps and saving documents to a minimum (No Office), but have several book readers.

I run MS C# & VB 2010 Express, VisualSVN Server Manager without any problems, but can't say I've done anything really intense.

The keyboard is OK, but I tend to inadvertently hit the touch pad and move the cursor which drives me nuts (I have it on the least sensitive setting.).


I use a Lenovo Ideapad S12 with eclipse with no problem. It has a decent keyboard, a big enough screen and usable track pad while still being lighter than a regular laptop and has much better battery life. It also has an express card slot for a 3G modem. I find putting the Windows taskbar on one of the sides of the screen gives you more usable vertical screen space. I intend to move to Ubuntu as soon as I can figure out how to connect to my employer's VPN with anything other than IE.