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Sunday, July 17, 2005

What to Look for In a Notebook Computer

By: The Editors at TigerDirect

Notebook computer sales are virtually exploding. And it’s no small wonder. With so many mobile PCs able to achieve desktop-like performance, more and more people opt for the convenience and portability that notebook computers offer. And the proliferation of wireless-ready laptops, along with the burgeoning number of global hot spots (places such as cafes, hotels and airports set up for wireless connections) adds another dimension that makes mobile computing even more attractive. Thanks to notebook computers, the traveling executive or the person who wants to be online at any time can enjoy all the benefits of a desktop computer from any location. With the dizzying array of notebook computers on the market, choosing the best mobile PC to fit your needs can be a bit of a challenge. This guide will take some of the guesswork out of the process, by helping you to look at some of the key items you want to look at before you purchase your next PC laptop system. (continued...)

Basic Considerations - Portability, Speed and Upgrade Ability
Before shopping for a notebook computer we recommend you think of three important issues - portability, speed and the ability to upgrade. When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, the most compelling reason to own a notebook is its ability to be easily transported from place to place; in other words, portability. If this isn’t an important consideration for you, then you should stick with a laptop. You should also know that most laptops are slower than desktops with the same features (CPU, hard drive capacity, memory, etc.), so it’s best to purchase a notebook with a fast processor, large hard drive and big memory to achieve the best performance. Be aware that notebooks are usually not upgradeable; although it is possible to upgrade memory and removable drives, the cost can be prohibitive. Therefore, make sure that the notebook you buy has specifications powerful enough to tackle the complex operations in the near future.

Notebook Classifications
Most of today’s notebook computers are divided among three major classifications - desktop replacements, mainstream notebooks and ultralights. A smaller segment of the market consists of mini notebooks and tablets.

Desktop Replacements
Desktop replacements are the heavyweights, both in performance and in bulk, and offer enough power, speed and top-grade components to rival desktop computers in productivity. Desktop replacements are rapidly gaining popularity among executives who need full-throttle productivity while traveling and users who don’t want to sacrifice performance while on the go. They generally weigh between 7 to 10 pounds and offer large displays, often as wide as 17-inches, but usually in the 15-inch range. These high-performance notebooks offer processors that can top 3GHz, and the high-end desktop replacements sport sophisticated graphics cards and other top-grade components that allow users to play games, perform complex photographic operations and video editing. However, if playing games and performing sophisticated photographic and video maneuvers isn’t important to you, you can save money by investing in a less expensive but still powerful mainstream desktop replacement notebook.

Mainstream Notebooks
These powerful, but no-frills PCs appeal to business users who travel frequently. They weigh between 4 and 7 pounds and usually have 14 to 15-inch displays. The goal of a mainstream notebook is to achieve a perfect balance of portability and power. New technology has allowed manufacturers to create low-voltage processors specially designed to enhance mobility by reducing power consumption, extending battery life and yielding solid performance. The new breed of mobile processors also supports wireless cards, which give users the flexibility to connect to the Internet from any hot spot on the globe. Wireless capability has become almost a mandatory feature for notebook computers.

Ultraportables, Mini-notebooks and Tablets
Ultraportables are the slimmest, trimmest full-featured notebooks on the market, weighing in at a remarkably light 2.2 to 4 pounds. Ultraportables are among the most expensive notebook PCs and are generally targeted toward business executives who want streamlined productivity and aren’t interested in a lot of add-ons. These high-powered execs generally use their computers to check email, surf the Web and read documents. Ultraportables typically sport 12-inch screens and small keyboards, although some models do feature full-sized keyboards. Mini-notebooks and tablets make up the smallest part of the market, but are most popular in Europe and Asia. They weigh less than 2 pounds, with tiny 10-inch screens and compressed keyboards. These systems are best if you use them only for reading documents and doing light email. Tablets come in two types: convertibles and slates. Convertibles resemble mainstream notebooks, but their displays swivel around so you can write on them using a digitizer stylus and Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Slates are gaining popularity in hospitals and with people in the real estate market. A slate is simply a display and an embedded CPU, with a keyboard that attaches separately. Once you've decided on a notebook class, you still need to choose the processor, wireless technology, and optical drive you'll want, as well as hard drive capacity.

Selecting a Processor
All processor manufacturers make processors that are especially designed to be compatible with today’s mobile technology. Generally speaking, as in selecting a processor for a notebook computer, processor speed is a critical factor. We recommend you choose a notebook that offers the fastest processing speed you can afford. Because it is difficult to upgrade a notebook CPU, make sure you purchase one that has a processor that will be able to meet your future needs.

Hard Drive
Hard drive capacities on notebooks range from 20GB to 100GB. Most users find that 40GB is big enough. The majority of mainstream notebooks use 4,200-rpm or 5,400-rpm hard drives, while the largest desktop replacement notebook drives spin at 7,200 rpm. Ultraportables most commonly have hard drives that revolve at 4,200 rpm. The faster a hard drive spins, the better the system's performance.

Optical Drive
A basic CD-ROM drive is almost standard issue in contemporary notebooks. However, for only a few dollars more you can move up to a top-notch DVD-ROM drive, giving you the ability to play. A DVD/CD-RW combo drive reads DVDs and reads and writes CDs. This can add considerably to your cost, but might be well worth it in terms of multimedia flexibility and entertainment value.

An integrated modem and wired Ethernet are included in almost all notebooks, and most come with built-in wireless Ethernet antennas. To experience true communication freedom it pays to go wireless and before long virtually all mobile computers will be equipped to take advantage of this amazing technology. The fastest wireless option is 802.11g, with a theoretical maximum throughput of 54 Mbps.

Operating System
The least expensive notebooks come with Windows XP Home Edition. However, we recommend you use Windows XP Professional Edition for business applications, because of its added networking and security features. It has a couch-friendly "10-foot interface," meaning that you can hook your system up to a large-screen monitor and control media via remote from 10 feet away.

Article Source: TigerDirect

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