Ken Colburn: Retailers I've talked with have told me netbooks have become some of the most commonly returned items they sell.
Q. I have a new netbook with Windows 7; videos are stop-and-go and sound moves OK. Is there a simple cure? - Mark
A. The relatively low prices of netbooks have enticed many folks to buy these low-powered little gems, but all too often the buyers aren't really clear about what they are buying. Retailers I've talked with have told me netbooks have become some of the most commonly returned items they sell.
Netbooks are the computer equivalent of a Smart car; they are not designed to carry lots of people, tow a heavy load or go really fast. If your computing needs are on the heavier side of the computation scale (live video or gaming), a netbook is probably the wrong tool.
The choppy video you are describing is most likely from either the lack of power in the netbook or your Internet connection speed. If the video you are referring to is loaded on your local hard drive, then the problem is definitely the lack of power in your netbook. If the video is being streamed from the Internet, there is a small chance that your Internet connection speed is too slow to provide a smooth stream.
The easiest way to check the Internet connection is to run the same video from another computer connected to the same network. If the second machine has the same choppy results, then the problem is either your Internet connection speed (contact your ISP to troubleshoot) or that the site that you're streaming from can't keep up.
If you want to check your Internet connection speed, check out Cnet's Bandwidth Meter Online Speed Test at http://bit.ly/7t9WaS.
If the video is coming from a small, non-commercial Web site, then it's possible they lack the technology to keep up with high demands. But sites like CNN.com/video or YouTube.com won't have any problem serving video to you. So test with them.
Netbooks were created to access basic Internet content like e-mail, blogs, social media, news sites and basic video. However, you should not expect video to be as smooth as a standard laptop or desktop.
Make sure that you're not trying to view the video in full-screen mode. And if you're using Microsoft's Internet Explorer, you will likely get better performance by installing either Mozilla's Firefox (http://mozilla.com) or Google's Chrome (http://www.google.com/chrome) browser. Both of these browsers work faster on underpowered or older computers (not just netbooks) and can be tweaked to run even faster if you're on a broadband connection (search Google for "Firefox speed tweaks" or "Chrome speed tweaks").
Another possible cause of performance drag when playing streaming video is a wireless connection. If you are trying to stream video via WiFi, try plugging directly into an Ethernet port. If it works better, you may need to upgrade your WiFi router.
It's also possible that the power source or power drain is causing performance issues. If you're trying to stream while on battery power, try plugging into an AC source to see if things improve. Also, anything that's plugged into the USB ports can draw power or cause performance issues on netbooks, so try removing everything from them.
If you added any third-party memory or if you have anything in any card slots, try reseating or removing those items to see if they are causing erratic video performance.
If, after trying all of these possible solutions, you still get choppy video, you are most likely trying to tow a boat with a Smart car.
Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the "Computer Corner" radio show, which can be heard at noon Saturdays on 92.3 KTAR-FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.