What Is The Difference Between A Netbook, Notebook, Ultrabook, Laptop, & Palmtop?

featured notebook differences   What Is The Difference Between A Netbook, Notebook, Ultrabook, Laptop, & Palmtop?In a time not so long ago, the only choice to make between computing devices was between a hulking great desktop, or a laptop … which was still fairly huge. The constant miniaturation of technology and need for manufacturers to differentiate their products has now given us a smorgasboard of sizes; each with their own name. Let me show you the differences.

Order of size

Generally speaking, we can actually give a fairly broad ranking of these names by size, from smallest to largest:

  1. Palmtop
  2. Netbook
  3. Ultrabook
  4. Notebook
  5. Laptop

It may be more accurate to say this is in order of portability – since you can get a bigger screensize on a particular ultrabook than you would on a particular notebook; however, the notebook would be thicker and heavier.

With that out of the way, let’s look at some examples of each and their defining characteristics. All of these devices share one characteristic though: they all feature a clamshell design – that is, they had a screen in the lid, and it opens and closes like a clamshell; we won’t be talking about tablets or touchscreen mobile devices here.


The smallest devices that could give you a full computing experience, most palmtops ran a special low powered version of Windows called Windows CE, but there were later models running that could run regular Windows XP. With the advent of smartphones, the palmtop computer was made obselete and you can’t really buy one today (though you could probably track a few down in second hand shops in Japan). These devices had a screensize of around 6–7 inches. (Pictured: the HP–760LX)

palmtop   What Is The Difference Between A Netbook, Notebook, Ultrabook, Laptop, & Palmtop?


With a screensize of around 9 –10 inches, netbooks were quite popular before the iPad launched. They represented a truly portable full computing platform, with a tactile keyboard (ie, one you can actually push the buttons on rather than simply touch).

Although impractical for daily use, they run Windows so you can use all the applications you’re used to – as opposed to a tablet or mobile phone, which can’t run regular Windows applications.

Their popularity has declined in recent years, but you can certainly still buy them for around $200 – $500. They are suitable for daily computing tasks, but gaming and intensive applications like Photoshop or video editing are not possible. (Pictured: the Asus EEE-pc)

netbook eeeepc   What Is The Difference Between A Netbook, Notebook, Ultrabook, Laptop, & Palmtop?


These are the new breed of “ultra-portable notebook” – typically weighing less than 1.5kg, and extremely thin. The word was invented by PC manufacturers as a direct response to the Apple Macbook Air, the first true “ultrabook”. Despite the thin profile of ultrabooks (less than 2cm), screen sizes can often rival “normal” notebooks – anywhere from 11 to 15 inches. Most are equipped with SSD hard drives – these are silent, lighter, and much faster than regular HDDs, giving an “instant on” feel that avoids lengthy boot-up times. Although much faster, SSDs are more expensive than HDDs, so you’ll get less GBs for your money – just 128gb wouldn’t be unusual in an ultrabook. Ultrabooks also typically don’t have a DVD-drive, so bear this in mind if you’re shopping for a laptop to play your DVDs on.

Suitable for most computing tasks and lightweight gaming, they will struggle with the higher end 3D games. Ultrabooks can vary in price between around $700 to $1500. (Pictured: the Macbook Air)

macbook air ultrabook   What Is The Difference Between A Netbook, Notebook, Ultrabook, Laptop, & Palmtop?

Notebooks and Laptops

Historically, a laptop was a little larger, designed to be a replacement for a desktop that could still sit in your lap. Notebooks were simply a little smaller than laptops – something you could carry around anywhere, synonymous with a paper “notebook”. Nowadays however, there is no distinction. Manufacturers will use the terms notebook and laptop interchangeably; and it’s rare to see the term laptop used at all now.

Notebook is a bit of a catch-all. Anything that isn’t any of the above, is a notebook, so attempting to define price ranges is impossible; top of of the line notebooks can go as high as $4000. Screen sizes vary between 12 – 18 inches, though 15″ is the average. You can get notebooks with a powerful graphics card too for 3D gaming, though this isn’t true for all notebooks. Notebooks will usually have a DVD-drive and large hard disks; if they didn’t they would probably be termed ultra-books instead. (Pictured: a top-end Alienware notebook, an incredibly powerful machine)

notebook   What Is The Difference Between A Netbook, Notebook, Ultrabook, Laptop, & Palmtop?

I think that should explain the main differences; if you’re looking to buy a portable computer, I’d suggest our free downloadable 2012 notebook buyers guide. If you’d like to learn more about computing, check out the rest of our MakeUseOf Explains series.

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If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.


Igor Rizvi?

I have to admit,i didnt know the difference.It has been always justa a “laptop” for me,but now i see there is a big difference between those terms,thanks for sharing the wisdom:)

Keith Sheehan

Palmtop – Obsolete and under-powered
Netbook – See above
Notebook – Under-powered laptop
Ultrabook – Maocbook Air wannabes
Laptops – What most people use to actually get work done


should have read the comments part 1st.
this actually summarize everything above.
short and precise

Ravi Meena

nothing new here :(

Tom Sobieski

Yes, move along


I think Ultrabooks are only Fashion and pretty slow to do some good things. And netbooks should have never exist, that are a pain in the rear. I had to use too much PowerISO in order to install some programs on my computer.

Nikhil Gupta

agree with u …

Douglas Mutay

hahahaha…know what u talking about! such a headache…


Great info…TY, Going to share this with my aging parents…

Ahmed Khalil

I think so, their is nothing added here as the artical only concentrate on visual differences between them

Abhishek Rai

oh! man i have asked the same question a month ago and got satisfactory answers and now a whole article on this what a co-incidence. http://www.makeuseof.com/answers/difference-netbook-notebook-ultrabook-palmtop-laptop/

Schvenn Meister

Actually, I believe that IBM owns the trademark for the term laptop. So, unless you own a true IBM laptop, you own a notebook.

Also, a company called Psion Teklogix used to own the term netbook, but was convinced, likely due to some fairly large financial sum, to withdraw all of their claims to the term.

Benjamin Smith

…except IBM doesn’t even make latptops anymore…

Jim Cowan

Yes now Lenovo makes them!

Tom Sobieski

The laptop was invented by Adam Osborne in 1981. It was called ‘Osborne 1′ and cost $1,795.
Released in 1981 by the Osborne Computer Corporation, the Osborne 1 is considered to be the first true portable computer – it closes-up for protection, and has a carrying handle. It even has an optional battery pack, so it doesn’t have to plugged into the 110VAC outlet for power.

salim benhouhou

now i know the difference between them . thank you James

Boni Oloff

I think MacBook Air can be considered as UltraBook :)

josemon maliakal

very useful info ..thanks dude

Freecycle Me

Personally I am surprised people do not know this, but still, at least we all should know now :)

Gerald Shimizu

Good to know.

Ying Yang

nicely written :)


Nice & informative article. Thanks James

Imesh Chandrasiri

I always had this doubt! thanks mate! :)

Ed Q

Testing how points are awarded.

James Bruce



Didn’t Steve Jobs tried top remove the word “Laptop” as Macbooks was too hot to have on you lap and the fan did not work optimally placed there?


Actually, a notebook has heating vents on the bottom as well as sides, whereas a laptop has none, and is designed to go directly on the lap.

James Bruce

Not true; there is no distinction. Why do you think a fan on your lap is any less effective than a fan on a table?

Vishal Mishra

I was just looking for this type of article, but was not able to find one.It really helped me .

Tom Sobieski

To find palmtops you really don’t need to go to Japan UsedHandhelds has all you need. Used to be rum by Thaddeus Computing who published Pocket PC Magazine ( Now Smartphone .
The HP Palmtops used to be in heavy demand.

Jim Cowan

I think my next purchase will be a Samsung Desktop replacement with large screen!
I have been very happy for the last 4 years with my samsung R510 which runs 24 x 7 x365.

Josiah Brunne

I Love the look of the MacBook Air!

Alex Downs

Palmtop? Never heard of that, says something about the quality of the product lol.

Lisa Santika Onggrid

Good article. I used to be confused between Laptop and Notebook, though I can differentiate the others pretty easily.

Douglas Mutay

Thanks for the tip. It’s always confusing…


It’s not true that a tablet computer can’t run regular windows applications. I routinely use a Motion Computing LE1700 running WinXP Pro SP3 for teaching and traveling. It runs everything I need, it’s light with a long battery life and it has a removeable keyboard. For my purposes, it’s the best of all worlds.

Austen Gause

thanks i really didnt know there was a difference

harley bellwood

You can basically call them all laptops. I like a big screen, but then you have weight. Full size laptops are great if they are stationary but I wouldn’t want to lug one around.