netbook2 It won’t be long until netbooks take their place as something you’ll be considering as your second or third computer.

On January 10, Intel will formally unveil the next-generation processor that will allow netbooks to function at a reasonable speed. Asus, Acer, Lenovo, MSI, and others will have netbooks using the “Atom N450” processor available immediately. Dell and HP will presumably follow suit. Early reports suggest that prices will be similar to netbook prices now.

Netbooks with the new processor will run simple programs on Windows 7 at full speed, or close to it. They will be fast enough for Internet browsing, email, word processing, and remote control of an office computer. It is the Atom N450 processor that will allow a netbook to be a satisfying new tool for many people.

There will be more developments in the following months that will expand the range of netbooks to more complex programs and HD video. Intel has another processor on the heels of the Atom N450; Nvidia’s graphics components are due for a refresh with “Ion 2,” which reportedly will work with Intel’s new processors.

This article does the best job of drawing together all the news reports about the roadmap for the next six months.

Here’s where the netbook might fit in your life.

A netbook is very small and very light. With the new hardware, a netbook will be a full-powered computer running Windows 7, but don’t compare it to a notebook; compare it to an iPhone or other handheld device. An iPhone does not have a big enough screen for Internet browsing or using a remote control program on an office computer. A netbook is perfect for that.

You will be driven by the price. Over at Verizon Wireless today you can get a netbook for $99.99. The more powerful ones are $149.99 and $199.99. (I’m pretty sure the slow Gateway netbook was $29.99 at the Verizon store last weekend.) The next generation will likely be in the same price range. You’ll sign up to a two-year data contract for sixty bucks a month, which is expensive but gives the netbook an Internet connection anywhere.

A lot of people will want a new ultrathin notebooks as their primary travel computer, especially as more models hit the market under a thousand dollars (like the Dell Vostro V13). The increased screen size and full-size keyboard on a 14” or larger notebook make them better for sustained use. Netbooks fit a different niche – an almost casual purchase for something to throw into a briefcase on the fly.

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