Shopping for a new netbook or laptop...

Hoping to get some advice. I'm not very computer savvy. I'm looking for a netbook simply to listen to internet radio and browse the web. I'll hook it up to my 2 channel system via USB cable and external DAC. Borrowed my wife's work laptop today to listen to Pandora. Are there any critical hardware components or performance specs I should be looking for? Will the quality of the computer's sound card have any effect on things? Don't really see myself downloading music files etc, so don't think I need a huge hard drive (but maybe I should). Thanks in advance for your time and input. If something recent on this topic has already been posted, please let me know. I missed it, if so. Thanks again.
Spend the extra money and get a Macintosh. You'll be supporting a man (Steven Jobs) who founded the company and then was thrown out by the board until the company foundered without him.

Who do we know in the audio world who experienced the same business setback?

Mr. Jobs company has a beautiful line of aluminum laptop cases machined from a solid block of Aluminum.

God Speed!
I think that HP's are the best out there for the money. However, their sound cards are the weak point. Mac's do excel here.
With external DAC via usb you will be fine. Don't expect much with headphone outs or with the internal speakers.
I recommend you check out Computer Audiophile website. Great information on equipment and how to set it up. They prefer Apple but are flexible with a variety of configurations. Good luck.
Agree with the mac recommendation. Switched to Apple computers about 4 years ago for business and personal and have never been happier.

The entry level macbook has 2g ram with a 250g harddrive and 13" screen and is $999.

Best Buy is giving a $150 gift card with purchase of the macbook on Black Friday FYI.

I am getting one of those then, and it is a great machine very capable of what you are looking for.

Also it has a toslink digital output which will output 24/96 resolution should you decide to get an outboard dac later.
NPR reported a new research study on laptop reliability and HP has the worst rating in laptop repairs in a two year span. Macintosh was rated number one followed by Sony as being more reliable but not by a wide margin. Reason is the component parts tend to be better quality then other OEM who tend to get massive orders of lower grade parts at a very cheap price.
From Digital trends:

SquareTrade is in the business of offering independent warranties to consumers. To produce this data, SquareTrade tracked failure rates for over 30,000 new notebook computers covered by SquareTrade warranty plans. Although that sample set is self-selecting—there’s no way of knowing how representative SquareTrade customers are of everyday computer users—the data does suggest significant variations in reliability among computer manufacturers or significant variations among the way SquareTrade customers select and use different manufacturers’ products.

And industry darling Apple? SquareTrade ranked them number four behind Asus, Toshiba, and Sony, with a two-year failure rate a little over 10 percent and a projected three-year failure rate of 17.4 percent. Above average barely.
Be serious, pick the Mac, which is the choice of most people who are audio engineers. Audio software is mostly developed for the Mac. Don't even think about net's. One problem with the Mac, BluRay, which is where the future of high resolution sound lies. Lastly, don't even think about a SquareTrade warranty, unless you regularly drop your machine.
Thanks to all for your time and input. Some good leads to follow up on. Whether I go PC or MAC, right now I'm just trying to understand if their are minimum processor, RAM and hard drive specs I should observe. Again, my needs are simple: listen to internet radio output to my 2 channel system, read email, surf the web and post to A'gon :-). I do currently have an outboard DAC, Kimber USB cable and fiber optic coax. Thanks Elevick for input on the sound card. Seems like that isn't something to worry about. Also, I'd been leaning towards an HP.

To all the MAC fans out there, I respect your input. Apple must be doing something right to have such an ardent following. Might be a little beyond what I wanted to spend, however.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.
I wasn't suggesting that he buy a SquareTrade warrenty. I was only quoting and analysis of the failure rate of laptops that are insured by squaretrade.

He's only going to use this to listen to internet radio, pandora and do some lite surfing. So, there's no need for a lot of processing power and audio quality because less important when listening to compressed streams. Any Netbook will work, just make sure to get one with at least 2GB of RAM. If your going to be listening to streams, then a large and fast hard drive is unimportant and the standard 160GB 5400 RPM drive is more than adequate. I've owned netbooks from HP, MSI and ASUS. I've stuck with the ASUS. Also, I have a fiend that's owned netbooks from HP, Lenovo and Sumsung and ultra-portables from Fujitsu and Sony. The ultra-portables are way over priced for what you use them for. All of the netbooks pretty much use the same hardware so it just comes down to who's name you want on yours.

One thing you might want to consider is getting one with a 11.x" or 12.x" screen; surfing on an 8" or 10" can be a little hard on the eyes. Finally, if you want something with a little more kick, look at the units based on the Ion chipset or the CULV standard. The CULV standard also allows for up to 4GB of RAM.
Yeah, we Mac bigots are obnoxious about it, right?

As Prpixel says, the hard drive size isn't important if you're really not going to download or rip much music. RAM is important, though, so that you can increase the streaming buffer size as high as necessary to avoid stops and starts. It's generally very easy to install RAM yourself and you can often save quite a bit of money by starting with the basic laptop configuration and buying the RAM separately. More RAM is always better.

Here's what looks like a decent guide to setting up a laptop for listening to streaming audio and it's PC specific.
FWIW, I have Windows-based laptops made by Sager and by Asus, and I previously owned another Sager. All of them have been very reliable (the first Sager failed after 6 years of heavy use), and I've been very pleased with their performance (running Windows XP; you'll want to go with Windows 7 if you choose a Windows-based pc).

Most of the Sager models are overkill for your purposes, but you might want to check out some of their less expensive models (around $700 plus options). All of them provide a SPDIF output, which might result in better sound quality through your DAC than using USB would (particularly if you might ever want to play back uncompressed music files, as opposed to internet radio). is probably the leading Sager dealer, and is exceptionally good to deal with, as you can see by checking out their ratings at

I have insufficient experience with Macs to be able to comment on them.

-- Al
Apple clearly makes beautiful hardware, but for those of us who have jobs which are not in graphic design, post production, or advertising, Windows still dominates the market.

Are any Apple users above running Windows? I would consider an Apple for Windows, particularly after recently having my third Sony VAIO break.

In the meantime, I have had great success with Lenovo S10 netbooks.

Although slow with a small chip, they are dirt cheap, very well made, with a clear screen, decent keyboard and never miss a beat.
I've spent a lot of time with HP's (3 in the office/house). They have been amazingly reliable. Personally, I like Media Player over the overly restrictive itunes. I get tons of flexibility to do things that Apple would have ethical issues with...
As I understand it, if you're a tweaker and into optimizing a playback program like Foobar with optimizing plugins, changing settings etc... then a Windows operating system is the better choice.

These people are very very passionate about their sound. This may be unfair but it reminds me of the solid state vs tubes argument. The windows people being spec "centric".

It's also about 30-40% cheaper.

Although then you have to deal with endless new operating system ugrades (per year or two), anti-virus sccans, slow start up etc.

Every inexpensive windows system I've had has crashed, or severely slowed down over time. Probably something to do with the way the operating systems function, software compatiability etc.

If you're just into plug and play. A user (computer for dummies) friedly interface. A computer for simple life style stuff (pictures, music, movies).

Apple is the way to go. You don't need anything fancy, since you're not really needing a lot of processing power to play music and watching a photo slideshow when the in-laws are over.

Although, I'd imagine you'd want at least a 120-160 gb internal hard drive. The smaller the quieter though, and if you're going to buy an external hard drive anyways then never mind.

Just something quiet.

If I were you, I'd look on Craigslist and look for a Mac Mini, especially if you have a TV near your system. Some even come with small LCD monitors. LIkely $300-500.

They leave virtually no footprint. It's like the size of a small brick. You can get external hard drives in the same shape. Quite aesthetically pleasing.

I would think you would want the mini-toslink optical out. In which case you want one of the later intel Mac Minis (doesn't have to be core2duo...but a intel core processor.. supposedly the older ones are better). Use a Vandenhul Optocoupler II (mini-toslink to toslink cable.. thus no adapters $100) glass cable.

IF you're sure you'll never use the optical output and only USB out, than the PowerPC chip G5s are fine, and super cheap ... like $200-300.

If you're using an external DAC, the soundcard shouldn't matter at all. But I'd imagine that apple's hardware (connectors etc) are of higher quality than a $300 notebook.

And btw, should you have a problem or question with you Mac OSX, google is your best friend. Less but more diehard-geek users, easier to find answers to your specific question when searching the vast WWW.

If you do buy new, use your gold or platinium card to double manufacturers warranty (works in Canada).

This is from my experience. I hated computers before, my macbook opened up a whole new world to me, it was so smooth and quick, searching the net was more convenient, thus I did it more, learning (and shopping.. read audio nervosa...) more. More confidence, equals more fun.

Yes, I am biased. Get a Mac Mini (used preferably off Craigslist).

happy hunting.
Every inexpensive windows system I've had has crashed, or severely slowed down over time. Probably something to do with the way the operating systems function, software compatiability etc.
That is a common experience among Windows PC users, but it need not be so. I have five Windows XP computers in my house, 3 desktops (which I built myself), and 2 laptops (which I reformatted and reinstalled the software on immediately after purchase, to get rid of the crapware that they are inevitably delivered with).

These computers range in age from 1 year to 6 years. Every one of them works very fast, very stably, and as well as when it was new. And I have never had to do a re-install of the operating system on any of them.

What do I attribute that to?

-- Researching any software that I may consider installing to make sure it is not a known resource hog.
-- Whenever a new program is installed, choosing "custom install" rather than "express install," so that I can select what options and what parts of the overall software package I want, and not install the others.
-- After any new software installation, using task manager to identify any new background processes it has added, and using msconfig or "administrative tools" to prevent them from starting automatically during boot if automatic startup is not specifically necessary.
-- Defragmenting the hard drives periodically, perhaps once a month.
-- Not using any comprehensive all-in-one "security suites"; pretty much all of them have problems in one area or another.
-- Avoiding Norton/Symantec software.
-- Using NOD32 anti-virus protection (just the av, not the full suite), which has extremely minimal impact on system performance.
-- Using a hardware firewall that protects my entire lan, rather than having the software in each computer perform that function (although Windows XP's marginally effective built-in firewall seems to affect performance very little if at all).
-- Keeping Windows security patches up to date.
-- Using Spyware Blaster.
-- Not visiting sites that are likely to be untrustworthy (file sharing sites, porn-hosting sites, etc.).
-- Using a drive imaging program periodically, so that in the event of hard drive failure, software corruption, or virus infection I can easily recover. In my case, that has only been necessary due to hard drive failure.

Obviously all of this will be impractical for many computer users, but my point is that the performance degradation of Windows computers over time, that is often reported, is both explainable and avoidable.

-- Al
Apple is no more reliable than average PC

Asus, Sony, and Toshiba are top.

Most netbook runs Window XP but slowly migrating to Window 7, Window XP is not that great in streaming out digital music via USB, you will need to run ASIO4ALL with XP for better sound.