By David Strom
Is $600 for a “netbook” too much to spend these days? Apparently so. I tried out the SecurePC from 01com.com and while a nice package, the price is a bit steep considering the competition.
The idea behind the SecurePC is a nifty one: put together a stripped-down version of Windows XP that just can connect to the Web and do nothing else. You do not have access to any local storage, so your PC can’t get infected from malicious Web sites or emails. You can’t download any programs. If it lives out on the Internet, you can run it – the usual Flash and Java add-ons come with the machine. Otherwise, forget it.
The notebook runs Intel’s Atom processor, so it is quiet, cool, and compact. The screen is bright but isn’t going to win an awards for size – it is a 10 inch diagonal and can run an external video monitor in the odd resolution of 1280×960 because of its form factor, I guess. And it comes with a solid state hard drive so there is one less moving part and heat source to worry about.
I liked the design and feel of the machine’s hard plastic case and they way it boots up almost instantly – it takes longer to find your wireless network than it does to bring up the overall system. The keyboard is a bit cramped for me, particularly the comma and period keys that are somewhat squished together. And it comes with three USB ports, although I am not sure what you would connect to them other than an external mouse. If you try to plug in a thumb drive, you aren’t going to get any files off it. The SecurePC does support USB 3G broadband modems, but I didn’t test any.
You can access network shares via the wired or wireless interfaces, but again, I am not sure what you would do with the files when you see them, unless you could run a auto-executing virtual machine session across the network. To get an idea of how stripped-down this OS is, you open up a rather sparse Control Panel. There isn’t much you can do, which I guess is good if you are getting this PC for grandma.
The disk storage is limited, and I had to play some games adjusting the virtual memory settings that would also allow enough room for temporary files: InTouch could spend some more time tweaking these setings. Another drawback is that you can’t upgrade your OS when Microsoft issues the inevitable patches since you have to wait for InTouch to release a new image of the machine’s innards.
If you are paranoid and can live without any applications – other than IE – than this is worth a look. It could be the perfect kitchen computer, or a second machine to do a lot of Web searching or Webmail on. The only real issue I have is the price. For $350, I can get a Dell, Acer, HP mini that has a 10 inch screen and a full version of Windows and larger hard drives, and for the price of the Secure PC I can get a full-strength laptop with a 15 inch screen. And to make things more complicated, Radio Shack.com is selling netbooks for $99, plus the cost of a 3G broadband wireless plan from AT&T for $60 a month for a two-year contract.