NOTEBOOK BUYING TIPS
INTRODUCTION TO SELECTING YOUR NOTEBOOK
Thinking about buying a new notebook, and confused by all the
choices? Here you will find the answers.
As notebooks have become
more varied, they've also become tougher to choose from. To get certain
amenities, you may have to sacrifice others.
If you buy a 3-pound notebook, you'll have to give up a full-size keyboard, a
built-in DVD drive, and a desktop-like screen. But if you buy a full-featured
notebook that weighs 8 pounds, you may end up leaving it behind because it's too
heavy. It's a sad truth, but there's no single perfect notebook -- only those
with features that either suit or don't suit your needs. The trick is to
prioritize your needs and find the notebook that best meets them.
The two most significant criteria are price and form factor. If
you need a notebook that's either extremely lightweight or a true desktop
equivalent, then you've eliminated a lot of available models. Most of us
select notebooks that lie somewhere between these extremes. We don't want to
spend so little that we sacrifice quality, and we don't want our notebooks to be
so lightweight that we have to give up too much functionality. We want a balance
of price, weight, and features that's skewed toward our particular needs.
Because choosing a notebook involves trade-offs, you should decide up front
how much weight will be acceptable. A 3-pound notebook will likely require you
to carry a bulky external CD-ROM (or DVD-ROM) drive. With a 5-pound notebook,
the CD-ROM (or DVD-ROM) drive will probably be integrated, making it easier to
listen to audio CDs or watch DVD movies while traveling. Need an extra battery
to finish the movie? That 6-pound model might have an extra bay that can house a
second battery, and it might also have a 15-inch screen for a theatre-like movie
experience. Need an even larger screen and high-fidelity speakers for group
presentations? Watch the weight creep up to 7 or even 8 pounds as you pile on
Similar trade-offs apply when looking at price in relation to processors,
hard drives, and graphics adapters. If you plan to use your notebook for word
processing, Web browsing, and e-mail, you can easily get by with a low-end
notebook featuring a 2GHz processor and a 60GB hard drive. But if you plan to
play leading-edge games or edit large multimedia files on your notebook, you
might want to splurge on one with over two GHz processor, a 100GB hard drive, and an AGP graphics display with
32MB or over of memory. Of course, you'll pay about two
times more for the latter notebook, but it can also function as your primary
Today's notebook processors are so fast, it's hard to make a
bad selection. Even the entry-level 2GHz to 2.4GHz Mobile Celeron, Intel and AMD processors are impressive. They're as fast as the leading-edge
PC desktop processors not long ago. With the Celeron on the low end and the Dual
Core and Centrino on the high end.
How important is a fast processor in a notebook? It depends on the
application. However, most processors available today can handle most
applications. While processor speed isn't the be-all and end-all of notebook
performance, it's difficult to separate the CPU from the other components. If
you want a notebook with a 15-inch screen, or even the larger 17-inch, a
80GB hard drive, and fast AGP graphics with plenty of RAM, you might only be able to find configurations that include a fast
Screen size is tightly intertwined with a portable's form factor. As a
general rule, you want the largest screen possible for the size notebook that
fits your needs. If you want a lightweight notebook, you'll have to accept a
smaller screen, such as 12 inches. The screen resolutions (measured by
pixels) are also very important. The lager numbers of pixels of a screen the
clearer and can show more information. Some notebooks have SXGA
resolution (1280x1024), compared to the SVGA resolution (800x600) for most
subnotebooks. Sony has a subnotebook which has a modified XGA resolution (1024x480).
Some manufactures also offer SXGA (1400x1050) and UXGA (1600x1200). Most notebooks that fall
between the extreme form factors have an XGA resolution (1,024x768), with a
14-inch or 15-inch screen being fairly typical.
You'll find active-matrix
screens, also referred to as TFT (Thin Film Transistor) screens in almost every notebook.
Now a lot
of notebooks also come with wide-screen display! These are sure good for playing DVD
Keyboard size is also linked to the overall size of the notebook. Most
subnotebook keyboards are 75 to 95 percent the size of a standard notebook
keyboard, so they can be more difficult to type on, especially if you have large
hands. The smaller keyboards often have less key travel, so the keys don't press
down nearly as far as they do on a desktop keyboard. A key-travel distance of
3.5mm is considered standard, so you may want to avoid notebooks that
significantly reduce that distance. You'll likely be spending a great deal of
time at the keyboard, so insist on trying it before you buy. Most notebooks have either a pointing
stick or touch pad. Be sure that you're comfortable with whichever option is
offered with the notebook you're buying. Many seasoned road warriors have a
strong preference for one or the other; only you can determine which works best
for you. A few models offer both types of pointing
devices in the same notebook.
Whether you choose a lightweight, a heavyweight, or something
in between will also help determine the expansion capabilities of your notebook.
Recent developments in drive design have made it possible to squeeze a floppy
drive and a CD-ROM drive into the space formerly required for a single drive.
Now a combo drive with CD-RW and DVD (or even DVD+/-RW and with dual layer
capability) is also available. So it's much
less common now to have to deal with external drives or swapping out drives,
except with lightweight models (there is still exception such as a 2.5 lb and
12.1 inch notebook has a DVD writer drive included) . In a few notebooks, you can attach a module that includes an extra drive.
This arrangement works well only if you rarely need the extra features, because
the combined weight of the notebook and module is usually more than the weight
of a notebook that has all the features built in. With the heavier
desktop-replacement notebooks, you often have multiple expansion bays for the
simultaneous use of two or more add-ons. These add-ons might include a second
battery, a second hard drive, or a CD-RW drive. You might use
one configuration when traveling by plane and another when using the notebook in
Most people do not notice the importance of hard disk drive
speed. Since the CPU and RAM speeds are so fast now, the hard disk drive speed
becomes the bottleneck of the system. For desktop PC, you can normally find 3
types of hard drive speed: 5400 rpm, 7200 rpm, and 10000 rpm. The faster the
better. For notebook, you normally can see 5400 or 7200 rpm. You need to pay
more for drive with speed of 7200 rpm. Now drive speed for server has reached
15000 rpm. Get a drive
with speed as fast as possible.
Most notebooks include either a built-in modem or a PC Card modem. Built-in
modems tend to draw less power because it's easier to shut down the modem
completely when it's not being used. PC Card modems usually take up one of your
two PC Card slots, which could limit your ability to add PC Card peripherals. On
the other hand, some built-in modems use proprietary DSP chips and are not as
reliable or as fast as a PC Card modem.
A more elegant solution for modem and network interface cards is the new Mini
PCI slot. Functionally equivalent to a standard PCI expansion card, internal Mini PCI
cards are roughly two-thirds the size of a credit card. Even though they are
extremely small, a single card can be used for both modem and network
connections. Dell, HP, Gateway, Hitachi, IBM, Micron, NEC, and Toshiba
are supporting the Mini PCI standard.
Many notebooks now come with integrated wireless network card.
Bluetooth technology is starting to gear up in notebooks too.
As a rule of thumb, get as much as you can afford. For
computers running Windows Vista (32bit), you must have at least 1 GB RAM and can
expand up to 3 GB.
Talking about battery, now Lithium Ion is the mainstream.
However, a newer type called Lithium Ion Polymer is available. Lithium Ion
Polymer differs from Lithium Ion battery in that it can be made in different and
smaller shapes while the latter must be in rectangular shape. Lithium Ion
Polymer is therefore suitable for ultra-light notebooks or sub-notebooks. Now
there are notebooks equipped with internal Lithium Ion Polymer battery and
external Lithium Ion battery.
You may want to get an extra battery if you'll be on the road
all the time and you don't want to carry that AC adapter.
If you have some external peripherals and gadgets such as PDA,
digital cameras, and USB driven peripherals, then you should pay some attention
to the I/O ports that are available. Look for ports such as Firewire IEEE 1394
for fast transfer of digital images, IrDA for your PDA, USB (1.0) or USB 2.0 for
your USB driven peripherals. USB 2.0 is hundred times faster than USB (1.0).
Some notebooks even have ports of S-video, TV-out, and S/PDIF for AC-3 digital
Durability is also a consideration especially if you are a
careless user. Dropping the notebook while in transit or in use, spilling
liquids on it, and striking the unit with another object are the leading causes
of notebook damage. Notebook vendors are thus trying to make laptops tougher by
using magnesium alloy cases (the material is 20 times stronger than plastic, but
still light) or titanium cases applying special gels to secure hard drives, and
protecting the circuits with spill-resistant keyboards. Look for the name
Tough Notebook (they are very expensive) as some manufacturers produce notebooks which can stand a one-foot
to two-foot drop.
Thinking about upgrade in the future? Notebooks will never be as easy to
upgrade as desktop systems, but they're getting closer. RAM upgrades are so
simple nowadays that many users buy and install the memory themselves. Hard disk
upgrades are becoming almost as effortless; removing the drives (either via a
snap-out assembly or by twisting out a few screws). Usually users will tend to
upgrade RAM more often than hard disk. If you can only afford 1 GB RAM now, make
sure it only uses one of the two RAM slots available in the notebook. When you
are ready to upgrade it to 2 GB RAM, you can just buy a 1 GB RAM module and
insert it in the empty slot. Not so lucky for upgrading to a bigger size hard
disk as most of the time you have to trade off your existing hard disk.
Finally, carefully scrutinize the manufacturer's warranty and support
policies. If you depend on your notebook while traveling, ask if the
manufacturer can guarantee a repair within one or two business days. Will the
company send a replacement overnight if needed? Are you covered by the same
policies when traveling outside the country? You might have to pay extra for
full protection, but it could be worth it for the peace of mind. Most notebooks
have either a one-year or three-year warranty. Consider a model with a
three-year warranty -- it often indicates that the notebook is designed for
mobile professionals. If the notebook you are looking at just comes with a
one-year warranty, upgrade it to a three-year warranty by all means - as most
repairs are done by the manufacturer which usually charges more than you can
imagine and the LCD display is very expensive to replace too.
If you are going to buy an Apple notebook, then you don't have
much choice. However, for Windows notebooks operating system, you can choose
from Windows Vista Home Basic or Premium Edition, Windows Vista Business, Windows
Vista Media Centre, and Windows Vista Ultimate. For business use, you should get either Windows
XP Professional or Windows Vista Business. You only consider the Windows 2000 Professional if
your company has some applications which could not be run in Windows XP.
Computers with Windows XP Home or Vista Home Editions can not connect to Windows server. So
Windows Vista Home Editions are really for home use.
For office applications, Microsoft Office suites being the
most common. But Microsoft has given you many choices in selecting the one that
best suites your needs. Microsoft Office 2003 or 2007 SBE (Small Business
Edition) is usually offered by brand name manufacturers such as Dell when you
buy a computer from them. MS Office 2003 or 2007 SBE has Word, Excel, Outlook, Power
Point, and Publisher. While
in retail stores you can usually get MS Office 2003 or 2007 Standard which bundles with
Word, Excel, Outlook and Power Point. But this version is more expensive. If you
need database program Access, then go for MS Office 2003 or 2007 Professional which has
Word, Excel, Outlook, Power Point, Publisher, and Access. But this version is very
expensive. If you don't want to spend few hundreds dollars for office
applications, you can consider MS Works Suite which has Word, Works Spreadsheet
(not Excel), and some other applications such as Map, Encyclopaedia, etc. It
doesn't have Outlook, but the suite costs a lot less.
Because notebooks are available in such a wide variety of shapes and sizes,
choosing one can be a more subjective experience than choosing a desktop. Just
as your choice of a car can indicate whether you're thrifty or extravagant,
outgoing or reclusive, your choice of notebook can indicate whether you prefer
performance to practicality, or raw speed to mobility. With desktops, it's easy
to pack in additional features as long as you're willing to accept a higher
price. With notebooks, of the three most desired qualities -- low price, low
weight, and high speed -- you probably can have only two with any particular model.
||Thin and light
||Rugged construction; provision for second
||Security lock; reliability of suspend mode
||Dual-screen options; IEEE 1394 and S-Video
|Employee without a desktop
||Expansion bays and modules
||Option to increase hard drive size
||Built-in DVD drive; long battery life
||Hardware MPEG-2 decoder; Dolby Digital
||Fast AGP graphics
||Wavetable MIDI; USB port for joystick
||Quality of the built-in speakers
STILL CAN'T DECIDE?
after reading all these, you are now ready to find that make and model you want.
If you want a notebook running MAC OS, then you can just go to Apple's web site
or retailers and find that model which best suits you. However, if you want a Windows
notebook, and most people do, then you have to spend much more time to find that
particular one you like. Here are those brand name notebook manufacturers: Acer,
Dell, Fujitsu, Gateway, HP, Hitachi, IBM, Micron, NEC, Sony, and Toshiba. Selecting one is a process of selecting the features that
you like most or that fit the way you work best. To do that, you'll have to get
hands-on with the machines.
modified on August 2, 2007.