The Gadgets Page

September 15, 2006

Sony Tries Hard, But Still End Up One Step Behind

Filed under: Laptops — Laura Moncur @ 12:44 pm

The New Sony N Series: Does it look all that "organic" to you?Sony has just unveiled the N Series of laptops that are supposed be for the more fashion conscious. Sorry, Sony. The fashionistas are buying Apples. Didn’t you get the message?

They are throwing around words like “culturally creative” and “organic lifestyle” without explaining how a brown computer actually achieves that organic lifestyle. Aren’t all computers silicon-based life forms?

Sony's New N Series: Just looks like another white laptopI want to take Sony by the hand and gently urge them to quit trying to compete with Apple. They are so much better than white laptops and worthless exercise MP3 players. They were the original portable music company. They shouldn’t be trying to ride Apple’s coattails. They should just be doing their own thing.

They have been great in the past. Why are they wallowing in Apple’s design catalog?

Sony, I owned one of your VAIO laptops and I loved it. It lasted me six long years before I finally had to retire it. When I tried to buy a new one, however, I got a surprise. To replace my VAIO with a similar model was going to cost me $3000. I opted for the Acer instead because it was the same thing at $1200. I would have loved to stay faithful, but I’m not going to pay a $1800 premium to do it. That’s your problem, not the color of your laptop line.

Quit trying to pursue the “culturally creative.” We’re busying finding creative ways not to spend money on your overpriced laptops.

April 14, 2006

Broadband Online Wherever You Are

Filed under: Laptops,PDAs and Phones — Laura Moncur @ 12:45 pm

We looked at the PCMCIA card at the Sprint Store. I asked Mike,

“If we had that, we could be online everywhere?”

“Yep, but you have to pay 60 bucks a month for it and we’d only use it about once a month when we’re out of town.”

“Could we use it at home instead of the cable modem?”

“No. You’re not supposed to hook it up to a router like that. Plus, the cable modem is faster.”

Well, Sprint not only announced that it will be acceptable to hook your card up to a wireless router, they’ll gladly sell you one that is guaranteed to work.

You put your PCMCIA card into the router (see at the top) and then you have a wireless local network that you can connect to with you home PC or laptop. Say goodbye to DSL. Say goodbye to dialup. Say goodbye to the cable company. All we need is Sprint.

Now, we just need to know whether it’s REALLY broadband speeds or if that’s just marketing hype. This could simplify our lives even more (as long as it really works).

Via: Sprint announces EV-DO router and USB dongle – Engadget

April 10, 2006

How to choose a notebook PC

Filed under: Laptops — Michael Moncur @ 12:46 pm

Considering a new notebook computer and confused by the choices? In this six-part series, we looked at just about everything you might want to consider when choosing a notebook. Here are links to the detailed articles:

  • Part 1: Size Matters—One of the first things to consider is the size of notebook. Notebook manufacturers and retailers divide them into three basic size categories: Mainstream, Thin and Light, and Desktop Replacements. [more]
  • Part 2: Screens—Aside from screen size, which depends on the notebook size, there are four factors to consider: screen resolution, widescreen or regular, and glossy or matte. [more]
  • Part 3: Processors—Processors used to be easy to tell apart—a 2.0GHz processor was faster than a 1.5GHz processor, and cost more money. A Pentium 3 was more efficient than a Pentium 2. Now processor speed means less than it used to, and the manufacturers have helpfully started calling their processors things like “Core Duo T2300″ and “Turion 64 ML-40″. Here we take a look at the latest mobile offerings from Intel and AMD and how to compare them.
  • Part 4: Disks, Video, and Memory—Three more major notebook features: disk drives, video cards, and memory. While these are relatively minor considerations when you buy a desktop machine—you can always upgrade them later—notebooks are harder to upgrade, so it’s worth taking a moment to consider what you need and buy it up front if possible. [more]
  • Part 5: Connectivity—Notebooks are rarely used in isolation. Here’s a tour of the different networking and connectivity options available in today’s notebooks: WiFi, Bluetooth, Wireless Broadband, USB, and Firewire.[more]
  • Part 6: CDs, DVDs, and Expansion Cards—Lastly, we look at the CD/DVD options: CD readers, CD writers, DVD writers, Superdrives, and so on. This article also covers PC Card slots and the newer ExpressCard standard, and takes a quick look at memory card reader options. [more]

If you think this all looks confusing, you’re right. It’s no wonder computer stores use cute catchphrases like “affordable mobile multimedia” to promote machines, and manufacturers themselves use novelty features like webcams and anti-spyware software to appear to leap ahead of their competition.

The good news: If you throw $500-$1000 at a salesman in frustration, whatever he chooses for you will probably be a much better machine than you could have found two years ago. Nonetheless, I think it’s worth the trouble to choose a machine you’ll be happy with.

Any questions on these articles? More notebook features that confuse you? Feel free to leave a comment.

April 6, 2006

Choosing a notebook PC: CDs, DVDs, and other slots

Filed under: Laptops — Michael Moncur @ 12:48 pm

Almost done! To wrap up our series on Choosing a notebook PC, here’s a quick look at a few more features you might want to consider: CD and DVD drives, PC Card slots, and other media/peripheral slots.

CD and DVD Drives

One big difference between notebooks is the included CD or DVD drives. Most notebooks have a built-in drive, but the smallest models may have a separate USB drive. Most manufacturers offer one or more of the following choices, with the price going up as you go down the list:

  • CD-ROM drive (read-only)
  • CD-R writer
  • “Combo Drive:” Reads DVDs, reads and writes CDs
  • “Super Drive:” Reads and writes both CDs and DVDs

If you need a DVD writer, there are two things to look out for. First, there are two different writable DVD standards, DVD-R and DVD+R. Some drives only support one or the other—look for one that supports both if possible. Also, the newest drives are “Double Layer,” meaning they can write to full-size 8.5 GB DVDs. If it isn’t labelled “Double” or “Dual,” it is probably limited to the single-layer 4 GB variety.

It’s possible, but not simple, to upgrade the CD/DVD drive after purchase, so you’re better off choosing the one you need now. Keep in mind that even if you don’t plan on making your own music CDs or video DVDs, CD writers and DVD writers are still very handy for backing up data.

PC Card Slots

If you want to add a network adapter, broadband wireless card, high-end sound card, or other peripheral, you’ll want a notebook with an expansion slot. Most notebooks include a PC Card (the new name for PCMCIA) slot for this purpose. Look for a Type II slot for the best peripheral support—most of today’s notebooks have this.

Some machines, such as Apple iBooks and some of the smallest PC notebooks, lack a PC card slot. Unless you have a specific peripheral you need to use, this isn’t a big disadvantage, since you can use USB or Firewire to attach just about everything.

ExpressCard/34 and 54

The newest notebooks include slots for the new ExpressCard standard, sometimes in place of a PC Card slot. ExpressCards come in two sizes: ExpressCard/54 is the same width as a normal PC Card slot, 54mm, although the cards are L-shaped. ExpressCard/34 is a narrower 34mm card that uses the same connector.

This new standard will probably replace PC Card slots—Apple’s new MacBook Pro, for example, includes an ExpressCard/34 slot instead of a PC Card slot. For now, there aren’t many peripherals made for these slots, but there will undoubtedly be more in the future.

Memory Card Readers

Last but not least, some laptops include slots for small memory cards like those used with digital cameras, such as SD (Secure Digital) cards or Memory Sticks. If the notebook is made by Sony, it probably supports their Memory Stick format and nothing else. Other brands often include a “5-in-1″ card reader that supports multiple types of cards.

While this is mainly a novelty feature—you can get a card reader for cheap—it’s still nice to have a built-in slot if you do lots of work with a digital camera.


This concludes our 6-part series on choosing a notebook computer. I’ll post a wrap-up tomorrow that summarizes the whole thing.


April 5, 2006

Choosing a notebook PC: Connectivity

Filed under: Laptops — Michael Moncur @ 5:00 am

One of the hardest things about buying a new computer is reconciling the manufacturer’s long list of “key features” with what you actually need. Continuing our series on Choosing a notebook PC, today I’ll take a look at the different networking and connectivity options available in today’s notebooks.


WiFi (Wireless networking, also known as 802.11a/b/g) is included in virtually all of the current notebooks. While you can add wireless networking to any notebook with a PC Card slot, it’s nice to have it built in. If you travel in urban areas frequently, this is a must—you can get online at a surprising number of hotels, and in the cheaper hotels it’s often free. There’s not much to choose here, since most of the notebooks out there support all of the wireless standards.


Bluetooth is a short-distance wireless protocol that is ideally suited for notebook peripherals—for example, a wireless mouse or a headset for Internet telephony. You may also be able to use it to get online by connecting with your mobile phone (a process called Bluetooth DUN, or Dial-up Networking).

My personal experience with Bluetooth in Windows–especially with DUN—has been less than stellar, but I’m sure there are people out there who have it working correctly. I’ve had better luck with my Apple iBook.

Surprisingly, most notebooks don’t include Bluetooth. Some of the higher-end ones do, and it’s available as a low-priced add-on for most of the customizable notebooks. If you plan on using Bluetooth peripherals or a Bluetooth-compatible mobile phone, look for this feature—but don’t make it a deal-breaker, since you can buy a USB Bluetooth interface to add to any machine for about $30.

Wireless Broadband

A few higher-end notebooks have built-in support for wireless broadband connections. This is basically a built-in mobile phone connection that gets online with the new high-speed offerings—Verizon or Sprint’s EVDO, or Cingular’s EDGE. If you travel to places without WiFi often, this might get you a fast connection, but you’ll pay for it. Sprint’s data service, for example is $59 a month.

Even if you need wireless broadband, I don’t recommend buying a notebook with it built-in for two reasons. First of all, it’s expensive and unnecessary—you can add a PC Card to connect to the same network on any notebook for $99. Second, it’s carrier-specific. Change mobile providers and your notebook’s built-in broadband is probably useless. You’re better off with a separate card you can replace.


USB is a mature standard for connecting peripherals, and every notebook today includes it. Although you don’t have to worry about that, you might want to check the specifics:

  • USB 2.0 is the current standard. Don’t settle for 1.0 unless you’re buying a cheap used notebook. USB 2.0 comes in two versions, “full speed” (12 Mbit/s) and “high speed” (480 Mbit/s). Fortunately, just about all current notebooks support the highest USB 2.0 speed.
  • How many ports do you need? Notebooks usually have between 2 and 4. You can add a hub if you need more.
  • Where are the ports? For example, if you’re right-handed, hooking a mouse to a port on the left side is a bit inconvenient.


Firewire, also known as IEEE 1394 or i.Link, is another type of peripheral connection included in many laptops. Although its maximum speed is 400 Mbit/s, it’s generally considered to be faster than USB 2.0 in practice.

Some manufacturers include Firewire ports in all of their notebooks, others may not. You’ll need it if you have a peripheral that supports it, like a digital camcorder. In that case, be sure to make sure it’s included, as Firewire isn’t the easiest thing to add to a notebook.

It’s almost time to wrap this series. In the next installment I’ll take a look at CD/DVD drives and other media supported by notebooks.


March 28, 2006

Choosing a notebook PC: Disks, Video, and Memory

Filed under: Laptops,Site News — Michael Moncur @ 12:50 pm

Continuing our series on choosing a notebook PC, today I’ll take a look at three more major notebook features: disk drives, video cards, and memory.

While these are relatively minor considerations when you buy a desktop machine—you can always upgrade them later—notebooks are harder to upgrade, so it’s worth taking a moment to consider what you need and buy it up front if possible.

Disk Drives

The most obvious consideration when choosing a disk drive is size, and the larger the better—especially if you’ll be working with digital photos or video, or storing a library of MP3s on the machine. Today’s top models have disk sizes ranging from 40GB to 100GB. If you order online, you can usually choose the disk size, but if you buy your notebook locally you’re stuck with the stock choice. Make sure it’s something you can live with.

In general, for strictly business use—no video or music—40GB is plenty. But if your notebook will double as a desktop music or video player, get the biggest drive you can afford.

All but the largest notebooks have room for only one disk drive. While it is possible to upgrade the drive, it requires reinstalling the operating system—not always an easy task with notebooks, since you have to track down drivers for all of their components. Also, since laptop disk drives are smaller and less in demand, you usually save money by buying the drive with the notebook.

Another variable is disk drive speed. Most notebook drives are 5400 RPM, a bit slower than the 7200 RPM drives that are available on desktops. Some ultra-small notebooks will have 4200 RPM or slower drives, but since the slower drives use less battery, it might be worthwhile to live without the highest speed. Unless you’re using the machine for video editing or music production, drive speed probably won’t affect your experience.


On a desktop PC, you can upgrade the video card if you need more performance. While there are some standards for notebooks to support video upgrades, almost no machines support them, so you should buy the machine with the video support you need.

For PC notebooks, there are usually two video choices. The cheapest is “Integrated video,” also known as “Intel Graphics Media Accelerator”—this is the video chipset packaged with Intel’s Centrino chipset. It usually shares the system RAM rather than having its own video memory. It works for business use and can play a DVD just fine, but isn’t very fast for anything video-intensive—games in particular.

If you plan on doing lots of gaming or video editing, look for a machine with a separate nVidia or ATI video card and dedicated video RAM. You’ll also want to read reviews and benchmarks for each model if you need lots of video performance. Some customizable laptops offer both choices, others have only one video option.


One last factor that will have a major effect on your notebook’s performance is the amount of RAM memory. For Windows, I recommend a minimum of 1 GB unless you’ll only be running the simplest software. For Mac OS X, 512 MB is workable, but 1 GB is faster.

Memory is one area where you may be able to save $100 or more by upgrading it yourself. You can add memory to most notebooks by removing a few screws and inserting a chip. If you’re buying a customized PC, check and compare their price for a memory upgrade to the manufacturer’s price when you buy the notebook. If the price is significantly lower, you might want to buy the (almost crippled) 256 MB model and put in a new chip. (You can buy memory at many online sources, but Crucial is a good place to start because their site can tell you which type the notebook needs.)

Most notebooks have two memory slots. If you buy a machine with 512 MB or 1 GB of RAM, be warned that the stock memory might be divided between two chips, making an upgrade difficult. For example, if a 1 GB notebook has two 512 MB chips and you buy a new 1 GB chip, the maximum memory will be 1.5 GB, since you’ll have to remove one of the existing chips to add the new one.

Almost done! In the next installment I’ll look at connectivity options for notebooks—WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, and so on.


March 24, 2006

Choosing a notebook PC: Processors

Filed under: Laptops,Site News — Michael Moncur @ 12:52 pm

While choosing a PC has never been an easy task, processors used to be easy to tell apart—a 2.0GHz processor was faster than a 1.5GHz processor, and cost more money. A Pentium 3 was more efficient than a Pentium 2. Now processor speed means less than it used to, and the manufacturers have helpfully started calling their processors things like “Core Duo T2300″ and “Turion 64 ML-40″.

Continuing our series on choosing a notebook PC, today I’m taking a look at processors for notebooks. Read on to find out how to tell them apart, and how to choose the best one for your new notebook.

Intel Processors

A bit of history: While Intel’s Pentium 4 was built for blistering clock speeds, which looked great when compared with their competition, they weren’t very efficient in processing or in power consumption. Desktop P4’s worked, but the speed didn’t get much higher than 3GHz because of manufacturing difficulty—and there was no way to squeeze one of these beasts into a laptop. So Intel went back to their Pentium 3 design, and built the Pentium M processor based on that. It ran at slower clock speeds than a P4, but was more efficient and less power-hungry, making it ideal for laptops.

As of January this year, Intel released their Core Duo chips, which are basically two Pentium Ms built into the same chip, and Core Solo, a 1-processor version of the updated chip. These are the latest Intel processors to appear in notebook PCs (including Apple’s new MacBook Pro). Intel is extending this idea to future desktop chips, which will be the next generation after Pentium 4.

Here are the Intel processors you’ll find in current notebooks:

  • Core Duo: Essentially a double Pentium M. The fastest Intel processor for notebooks.
  • Pentium M: The previous state of the art, and still a respectable processor.
  • Core Solo: A single-processor version of a Core Duo—essentially a Pentium M, but for the new platform.
  • Celeron M: A slower economy model, a stripped down Pentium M.

AMD Processors

While Intel was going back to the drawing board, their competitor AMD continued improving their processors. In particular, they’re producing 64-bit processors, while Intel’s are all still 32-bit, and their chips, like Intel’s Pentium M series, are more efficient at the same clock speed. Their Turion processors, released last year, are low-power 64-bit chips meant for notebooks. Until the Core Duo was released, AMD had a clear lead over Intel; now the two are competitive. AMD’s current notebook processors include the following:

  • Turion 64: AMD’s top of the line notebook processor.
  • Mobile Sempron: A lower-end mobile CPU that costs less.

(AMD also has a dual-core Athlon 64 processor, but it’s only available in a few very specialized and very large notebooks.)

Choosing a Processor

Should you choose Intel or AMD? That’s a difficult question if you’re looking for the fastest possible notebook—Intel’s Core Duo chips have two processors, but AMD’s Turion processors support 64-bit processing. Neither is a clear advantage, though:

  • Two processors only give you an advantage when you’re running two or more programs at once, or using an application designed to take advantage of multiple processors.
  • 64-bit chips only give you an advantage when you’re running a 64-bit operating system, like the upcoming Windows Vista.

I suspect the latest Core Duo machines, which have only been out for a month or so, will beat AMD in benchmarks, but it’s hard to find comparisons of machines as new as these. The good news: if you’re just looking for a machine that can run Photoshop or play your favorite game, one of the latest processors from either one will work just fine.

Processor Speed

One last thing to consider: processor speed. With either Intel or AMD, you will find a range of speeds, and if you order a custom notebook from HP, Sony, or Dell, you can choose the speed. How much speed you need depends on what you’re planning to do with the notebook:

  • Desktop applications (Word processing, Spreadsheet, etc.)—the slowest and cheapest of the current models will work fine.
  • Design and music (Photoshop, Cubase, etc.)—the faster the better.
  • Games—the faster the better, but the video card might matter more—see the next installment.

If you want a reasonably fast machine at a good price, I recommend getting the second- or third-fastest processor. You always pay a very high price for the top processor. For example, as of today, when ordering a Dell Inspiron E1705 notebook, you get a 1.66GHz Core Duo by default. The next step up, 1.83 GHz, adds $100 to the price, and going up to 2 GHz costs $300. Stepping up to the newest, fastest 2.16 GHz processor costs a whopping $600—you can save $300 by choosing the second-best, and I doubt you’ll miss that .16 GHz.

(Note: Both Intel and AMD have assigned code numbers to their chips, like T2300 and M40. While you can generally assume a bigger number means a faster processor, I recommend you look at the actual speed in GHz.)

Macintosh Considerations

I’ve focused on Windows notebooks here, since they have many processor choices. If you’re considering an Apple notebook, there are less choices, but you do have one major thing to consider: Intel or G4. Apple is moving to Intel processors, and their MacBook Pro is the first Intel-based notebook. It’s undoubtedly faster than the previous machines, but there are some advantages to sticking with the tried-and-true G4 notebooks for now:

  • MacBook Pro: The Intel Core Duo processors are fast, and you’ll have a machine that supports the platform Apple’s taking into the future. However, older applications aren’t optimized for Intel processors and will have to run under the Rosetta emulation system, making them potentially slower than on a G4. In particular, Photoshop isn’t available in a Core Duo build yet, and probably won’t be until they release a new version.

  • iBooks and Powerbooks: The G4 processor might be the fastest choice for Photoshop right now, but you’ll be behind the curve as everything moves to the Intel platform over the next year or two.

Of course, Apple will undoubtedly release more Intel-based notebooks soon, so keep an eye on the market before you decide.


One thing to watch out for: some manufacturers use desktop processors in notebooks. Sometimes these are high-end models that are larger but faster, and sometimes they’re just cheap models. In either case, the processor will generate more heat and more drain on the battery than a true mobile processor, so avoid them unless you really need the speed.

Don’t forget that there are lots of factors besides the processor that will affect speed—the hard disk and video card being the biggest. In the next installment of this series on Monday, we’ll look at three more major notebook features to consider: disk drives, video, and memory.


March 23, 2006

Choosing a notebook PC: Screens

Filed under: Laptops — Michael Moncur @ 12:53 pm

Continuing our series on choosing a notebook PC, today we’ll look at the choices you’ll need to make to choose the ideal notebook screen. There are four factors to consider: screen size, resolution, widescreen or regular, and glossy or matte.

Screen size is something you’ve already looked at if you read the first installment—it’s part of choosing a tiny notebook, a mainstream one, or a giant desktop replacement. Your basic choices range from 12″ for the smallest notebook to 19″ and beyond for the largest. The following are the other aspects of the screen you’ll want to take a closer look at.

Regular or Widescreen?

Many newer notebooks are available in a widescreen format, with a wider aspect ratio than typical desktop monitor screens—probably because these notebooks can double as DVD players. Widescreen is ideal for watching movies on your notebook, but a traditional size might be more appropriate for word processing.

You’ll probably end up choosing a widescreen display regardless, since most manufacturers are focusing on them—for example, HP only makes 15″ value models in a traditional screen ratio. All of Dell’s current models have wide screens. Apple’s iBooks and Powerbooks have traditional screens, but the new MacBook Pro has a wide screen.

Screen Resolution and DPI

While the screen choices look basic—12.1″, 14″, 15.4″, 17″, 19″—it’s actually more complicated: the same size screen can be available with different screen resolutions. The resolution is the number of pixels displayed on the screen across its width and height. The most common resolutions for mainstream notebooks are 1024 x 768 (standard XGA) and 1280 x 800 (widescreen XGA).

The resolution determines the size of each pixel on the screen. This is usually measured in DPI (dots per inch). You can calculate the DPI for a screen using a formula or, better yet, using a convenient online calculator (thanks to

The DPI value is important because it determines the default size of text on your screen: a higher value means smaller text. While you can change the font size in your applications and in the operating system, you’re better off with a default value you’re comfortable with—especially on Windows, where many applications are not compatible with non-standard font sizes. You can also set the screen to a lower resolution, but if you use anything but the native resolution, the text won’t look nearly as good.

Depending on the laptop manufacturer and screen size, you might be able to choose different resolutions. For example, when you buy the 17″ HP DV8000 notebook, you can choose between two resolutions for the 17″ screen: 1440 x 900 or 1680 x 1050. With the basic 1440 x 900 screen, the DPI is 99.9. With the higher-resolution screen, the DPI is 116.5. While it’s tempting to think that more is better, unless your eyesight is great or you’re willing to customize font settings, the high-res screen will be inconvenient.

If you’ve got a desktop monitor you’re comfortable with, you can calculate its DPI and try to find a notebook screen with a similar value. I use a 19″ LCD monitor with 1280 x 1024 resolution at my desk—86 DPI—so I looked for a low DPI value notebook. My ideal notebook screen turns out to be 15.4″ and 1280 x 800 (98 DPI). I was surprised to find that this is the same resolution as Laura’s tiny 12.1″ notebook (124.7 DPI). While it might seem like a waste of space, the larger pixels make for a very comfortable screen to read, and one that is very similar to the screen I use on my desk.

Of course, the best way to choose a screen is to see it in person. Visit your local computer store and try different notebooks with a text editor, word processor, or web browser. Even if the model you’re considering isn’t available locally, there’s probably one there with the same screen size and resolution.

Glossy vs. Matte

One last thing to consider—and one of the most confusing. If you’ve walked through the notebook section of a computer store lately, you might have noticed that many of the screens have a glossy, reflective finish. It’s not hard to see why—they look great in the store. With a bit more contrast than traditional matte screens, they look great playing videos.

The trouble is, all that reflectiveness can get in the way when you’re reading text. Many people prefer matte screens for working with text, but I’ve been surprised to hear some people recommend glossy screens for the same purpose. This seems to be a matter of personal preference. I’ve personally used matte screens for years, but my new notebook has a glossy screen and I’ve found it easy to work with.

The glossy screens are known by various trademark names: BrightView (HP), XBRITE (Sony), CrystalView (Acer), TrueLife (Dell), TruBrite (Toshiba), and so on. If you’re buying your notebook at a local store, you won’t have much choice—all but a few models will have glossy screens. If you order online, however, some brands, like HP and Dell, let you choose between matte and glossy screens.

As with resolution, this is something you’ll need to see in person to determine your preference. Be sure to try looking at a word processor document or a web browser rather than the demo video running at the store, and make sure you can read despite the gloss. Keep in mind that a well-lit office might have even more glare than you see at the store. You should also look at different brands of notebook, since some are glossier than others.

Tomorrow, our series on choosing a notebook continues with a look at the confusing array of processor choices available.

March 22, 2006

Choosing a notebook PC: Size matters

Filed under: Articles,Laptops — Michael Moncur @ 1:08 am

Since I just purchased a new notebook PC, I’ve been taking a good look at the notebook market for the last couple of weeks. Prices are lower than ever for great notebooks, but the growing number of vastly different choices can be confusing. Starting today, this series of posts will look at some of the decisions you need to make to find the right notebook for you.

One of the first things to consider is the size of notebook. Notebook manufacturers and retailers divide them into three basic size categories:

  • Mainstream: The traditional “laptop” form factor. These machines have screen sizes ranging from 14″ to 15.4″, and generally weigh 6-7 pounds. They usually have standard-sized keyboards, although there are some unusual key placements to make room for everything. They’re a good compromise between portability and usability, making them the most popular category. They’re also the cheapest, although prices vary greatly based on speed, features, and quality.
  • Thin and Light: These are smaller, lighter notebooks that are much easier to carry. Screen sizes range from 10″ to 14″, and the machines weigh 3-6 pounds. While these used to be some of the most expensive machines, low-end models are now competitive with mainstream notebooks—but at this size, there’s always a compromise. The low-end models usually have slower processors and lack features, like DVD drives, that are hard to miniaturize; at the high end, all of the features are there, but the price is much higher. All ultralight notebooks have smaller keyboards, so you may find it hard to type with even the best models.
  • Desktop Replacement: These are still notebook computers, and portable in theory, but they’re large and heavy, and best suited to sitting on a desk and being moved only occasionally. Screen sizes range from 17″ to 21″, and the weight is usually 8-10 pounds. These machines usually have full-sized keyboards, and some even have numeric keypads. Like the ultralight machines, these monsters used to cost a lot more than a mainstream notebook, but the price difference is small now. If you expect the notebook to be your only PC, and don’t plan on carrying it to work every day, these are nice machines.

This is probably the choice that will have the greatest effect on how much use you get from a notebook. If it’s too small, you’ll be fighting with a tiny keyboard and squinting to read the screen, and if it’s too large, you’ll leave it at home.

So which size should you choose? My recommendation would be the largest one you can conveniently carry everywhere you want to carry it. If you plan on using it at home 90% of the time, portability is less of a concern, but if you’ll be taking it to class or work every day, a pound or two can make a big difference.

One of the biggest reasons to choose a larger notebook is the screen. In tomorrow’s installment, I’ll look at the different types of notebook screens available today, and you’ll learn that more resolution isn’t always better.

January 23, 2006

CES: The NextGen Home Experience

The CES NextGen Home Experience

The CES NextGen Home Experience had a two hour wait to go through it. Engadget felt like it wasn’t worth the wait.

Unlike, Engadget, we thought it was worth it to go through the “Home of the Future,” even though they kept telling us that this is NOT the home of the future. It’s the home of today and every product on demonstration is available today. This week, we’ll share all the new and coolest gadgets we saw in the Home of the Future… er… Today at CES.

NextGen Home Floor Plan

« Previous PageNext Page »

Powered by WordPress
(c) 2003-2017 Michael Moncur, Laura Moncur, Matthew Strebe, and The Gadgets Page