What’s the Best Netbook Music Player?2
With a desktop operating system, a high capacity hard drive, and a standard 3.5mm headphone plug, netbooks make great portable music players. Unlike iPods and other PMPs, netbooks weren’t designed for media playback, so listening to music in the background can slow a netbook down considerably. We evaluated the performance of five audio players, namely Windows Media Player, foobar2000, VLC, Zune, and Winamp Lite to see which one had the least system impact. The less CPU and memory usage a player has, the faster other programs will run while you jam.
Windows Media Player
Developed by Microsoft and installed in almost every Windows computer, Windows Media Player automatically integrates files from your Music library into its collection. Dismal codec support is the biggest thing that prevents WMP from taking off, even if there are many special features like crossfading tucked under WMP’s many context menus.
When navigating around on WMP’s shiny interface while tossing on additional tracks to the playlist every now and then, WMP’s memory usage almost always stayed a little bit below 40MB. Measured CPU usage was below or around 2%, with noticeable spikes every time we actively used the program’s functions.
Windows Media Player is a good option if you don’t want to hassle with third party software and endless updates (we’ve never encountered a single WMP update that wasn’t included with an OS upgrade), provided your music library is compatible.
Designed to be plain and simple, while still very customizable, foobar2000 looks flat at first glance until you see how powerful it really is. Rearranging the interface is a snap, and supporting many codecs out of the box, importing any music library is a breeze. A built in tag editor and file converter ensures that you’ll rarely need to open another program to manage your music collection.
We saw noticeable differences in memory usage depending on which interface setup was picked. Using a visualizer added an additional 10MB of RAM to the 30MB baseline. CPU usage was extremely little at all times, hovering at less than 1%.
foobar2000 looks to be an all in one dedicated music player and manager that offers the same level of management (or more) as Windows Media Player or iTunes without being tied down to a company’s ‘ecosystem’ and better codec support. The modular, compact interface will work well on lower resolution netbook screens.
VLC Media Player
The Swiss Army knife of media players, VLC was designed to be the only program you’ll ever need to play anything on your computer. Supporting hundreds of formats, as well as custom skins (including look-alikes for other media players), streaming options, and third party addons, VLC is capable of almost anything related to media playback.
With an album in the playlist, frequently seeking to random locations and changing tracks didn’t budge VLC’s almost constant RAM usage of 36.8 MB. CPU usage never reached higher than 2% and had only one small spike when we continued adding tracks to the playlist.
VLC Media Player is a must have for any machine, simply because it does everything. We’ve yet to encounter a file that VLC can’t handle, so we leave it installed and updated even though it isn’t our main media player.
Technically now deprecated by Microsoft in favor of Xbox Music and Videos, the desktop Zune software is barely used by anyone except owners of Windows Phone 7 or Zune devices. The Zune desktop client sports a unique interface that was a starting block for the modern ‘Metro’ design found in Windows 8.
We weren’t particularly surprised that Zune performed the worst out of all the media players tested. Instead, what really shocked us was that it performed so badly. With over 170 MB of RAM usage and around 5% CPU usage when playing back music, running Zune in the background will bring most netbooks down to a snail’s pace.
The only reason anyone should be using Zune software on a low power machine is for syncing with a WP7 or Zune device. Otherwise, we’d strongly recommend against it for a netbook media player.
A less powerful and slimmed down version of its bigger brother Winamp, Winamp Lite is everything you need for playing music all in a tiny, compact interface. With no real library management abilities like the ones found in foobar2000 and Zune, Winamp Lite is about as simple as it gets for a dedicated music player.
Using a flat 23 MB of ram and less than 1% CPU usage at almost all times, “Lite” is a name well deserved. Stripped of many of Winamp’s features, Winamp Lite is pretty barebones, and its system impact reflects that, with the least CPU and RAM usage of all players tested.
Winamp Lite is the ultimate “it just works” music player. There’s no particularly unique or special features about it, other than that it’s extremely lightweight and won’t even come close to slowing down your netbook.
And the best netbook music player is… well, we’re split between Winamp Lite and foobar2000. Neither Winamp Lite’s super compact interface nor foobar2000′s heavily customizable interface will get in the way on a netbook screen, and both of them took up very few system resources. The only media player we can’t recommend is Zune, which uses up a whopping 170 MB of RAM when playing music. We can only recommend trying out both and deciding via personal preference.