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Mighty minis

Netbooks -- small, light laptops -- are the latest fad, with 20% of new laptop sales and outselling smartphones.

These mini laptops weigh about two pounds and get wireless Internet. They have no CD drive, relying on Web downloads for new software. USB ports allow you to put data on flash drives. Screens are about 10 inches, and keyboards are nearly as big as a normal laptop. Many sell for about $250.

When Stephen Martin opened his ASUS 1000 at the University of Missouri's farm computer users meeting last winter, it got attention.

"A netbook is perfectly capable of running any spreadsheet program," says Martin, an Extension computer specialist in the ag econ department. "Any computing device that can run a spreadsheet program obviously has an application on the farm."

When Martin ran his own hog farm, he used a palmtop computer for spreadsheets that kept feed and breeding records. To Martin, netbooks are a vast improvement And, "it's a lot easier to read than an iPhone," he says.

Netbooks can be tough enough for on-farm use, if you can keep the dust out, says Kent Shannon, a precision ag specialist with University of Missouri Extension. "They're attractive because you can get solid-state hard drives, which means they don't have any moving parts in them."

Still, these machines can be slow if you run a lot of programs on them. Most have only 1 gigabyte of memory.

That's a reason Dietrich Kastens hasn't jumped into the netbooks fad on his family's farm near Atwood, Kansas. He uses a larger laptop in his machinery. "The netbook, I'm not so sure where it's going to fit in yet," he says. "People are going to want to do some office work in the cab."

The cost of data storage is high with solid-state technology. But as computer companies use more efficient technologies, "you'll have netbooks that are fully functional within 3 to 5 years," he says.

Meanwhile, a netbook can bring markets and weather into your cab, If you have high-speed cell phone service and want to pay for it.

Netbooks -- small, light laptops -- are the latest fad, with 20% of new laptop sales and outselling smartphones.

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