Palmtops, Netbooks, Ultrabooks, Notebooks, Laptops: which is which?


Have you ever wondered what those many terms – laptop, ultrabook, notebook, netbook, etc, mean? Notebooks, Ultrabooks, and laptops are particularly confusing. Sometimes you just hear the terms and don’t care much because they don’t help much anyway, right?

Wrong. If you’re planning to buy a portable computer device in the foreseeable future, you need to learn the difference between these machines. This will help you make a sound, informed decision based on your needs.

We’ve made the job easier for you by briefly explaining the key differences between them below.




Palmtops are the smallest portable computers that ever existed. There were even smaller than today’s smartphones, with some measuring a measly 6-7 inches. The devices were full computers, however, unlike smartphones. They run a low powered version of windows called Windows CE though later models could run the full Windows XP. They also supported most applications that could be supported by full-size computers and although they were not very powerful, they were not very slow either. Unfortunately, the widespread adoption of smartphones rendered these devices obsolete. No one is manufacturing new palmtops presently.




Just below the palmtop was another mysterious device called the netbook. Netbooks were a little bigger than palmtops, some measuring up to 10 inches. But most of them were in the 8 to 9-inch range. Users saw them as a good alternative to large phones especially where a lot of typing was needed – you have to admit that typing a full MS Office word document on even the largest tablet isn’t easy. Unlike palmtops though, many companies still manufacture netbooks and they have dominated the sub-$200 price range in more recent years as the price point for entry level laptops has spiraled ever downwards.




More recently, netbooks have been replaced with Ultrabooks which compete directly with the likes of the Macbook Air and are not nearly as small but a lot more powerful. Ultrabooks could be looked at as shrunken versions of normal laptops because the only major difference between them and traditional laptops is mostly the size. While traditional laptops often weigh around 6-7 pounds, while some Ultrabooks regularly weigh between 3-4 pounds. Additionally, while laptop screens are 14inches to 15.6 inches, ultrabook screens are often 11 to 13 inches.

Keep in mind though that there are bigger and heavier Ultrabooks, some just as large as laptops. However, even in such circumstances, you’ll always notice a few other differences. First, Ultrabooks, just as the name suggests, are ultra-thin. Most of them are less than 2cm thick. Look at this one from Lenovo:

The other difference is that Ultrabooks mostly use SSD memory rather than the common HDD. SDD or Solid State Drives are characteristically quieter, lighter, and faster than HDDs. But they are also a lot more expensive, partly explaining why Ultrabooks are a bit highly priced compared to ordinary laptops. A 128GB ultrabook isn’t unusual and can cost just as much as a 1TB laptop.

Ultrabooks also don’t have DVD drives. Bear this in mind when shopping for your next portable computer.

Laptops and notebooks


We have combined these two because their features greatly overlap. Nevertheless, there still a few differences that you may want to keep in mind when shopping. Starting with the obvious, notebooks are lighter than laptops. Laptops are usually the bulkiest of the lot. A typical notebook weighs less than six pounds. This makes notebooks easier to carry around compared to laptops. Manufacturers of notebooks use different technologies, known as flat-panel technologies, to make the devices so thin and lightweight.

Look at the two devices below. The one on the left is a laptop while the one on the right is a notebook. You can see how much slimmer the notebook is.

In terms of computing power, there isn’t much difference between a notebook and a PC. They have the same CPUs, the same memory range, and the same drives.

We also have to mention that the bulkiness of laptops is because they are often packed with features. The original laptops were meant to resemble desktop computers, the only difference being than laptops were to be designed to sit on the lap. That’s why some laptops even had floppy drives. But floppies are no longer in use. Laptops also generate more heat compared to notebooks.

So, now you know what the different terms mean. If you’re still confused with the terms elitebook, probook, Chromebooks, ZBooks, and the likes, these are just names used by HP on it’s different notebooks, Ultrabooks, and laptops.