Notebooks have for some time been performing the functions of a desktop PC and that too just as well. They offer the speed, processing power, hard-disk capacity and expandability of a PC. High-end graphics is one area where they have lagged behind. But, that too is now possible to a certain extent with the workstation-class notebooks. Moreover, notebooks today are coming with additional features—the most exciting new feature being their Wi-Fi capabilities. Having said that, most principles that apply for buying a desktop PC, apply for buying a notebook as well, except for two additional considerations: battery life and weight.
So, the big question is: as an SMB, which notebook should you buy for your staff. The answer is that, as with most things, it depends on what use the notebook will be put to. There are four broad types of notebooks. The all-in-one value notebooks have all the standard specs and cost between Rs 70,000 and a lakh. The second type includes the mainstream notebooks, which you find with most vendors, meant for productivity work. The third are high-end workstation class machines that pack in every imaginable goody. They are quite heavy and are not the ones to be carried around too much; they function more as desktop replacements. Then there are the thin and light portables, weighing less than 2 kg. They achieve lightness by having external drives that can be connected via USB and smaller display and battery. The latest entrants are the tablet PCs.
Once you know what use you want to put the notebook to, you can go ahead and examine the components that various notebooks have. We’ll explain what those components mean.
Processor. Most processors for the desktop come with a mobile version for the notebook. For example, you will have a P4 for a desktop and a P4-M for the notebook. A mobile processor is different from a desktop one as it consumes less power and, therefore, runs cooler and consumes lesser battery. Some notebooks come with the desktop processor, which is not really recommended for reasons we just mentioned. So, check the processor before you buy. Choices in processors include Athlon, P4 and Celeron, and Transmeta Crusoe. If you need to run power-hungry apps, then Athlon or P4 based notebooks would be right, Celeron and Crusoe would be good for regular productivity work. The latest entrant to notebook processors is AMD’s 64-bit mobile Athlon. As the market still lacks 64-bit applications for the end user, you could opt for this as a future investment.
Memory. The amount of memory you need depends on your OS and the applications that you plan to run. Win XP and MacOS X require at least 256 MB of RAM, while other Windows and Mac versions can run with 128 MB. Also, since you can easily upgrade memory, check the number of slots to see how much RAM it can house.
Hard drive. The rule, the more the hard disk space the better, doesn’t apply to notebooks because as you go up in GB space, the price increases dramatically for notebook hard disks. This is because a laptop’s hard disk is smaller, uses less power and is more shock absorbent than a desktop’s hard disk.
For most needs, therefore, a 20 or 30 GB hard disk is sufficient. Go for a 60 GB one only if you really need to—if you work with video or music, for example. Also, look out for the speed of the hard disk—a faster spin rate means better performance.
A speed of 5400 rpm is better than that of 4200 rpm, but, of course, you’ll pay more for it. Recently, 7200 rpm drives have also been introduced, one player here being Hitachi.
Other drives. As DVDs become popular, a DVD drive is what will be required. If you’re planning for the future, a combo drive—a DVD-ROM reader and CD-RW drive—is a good idea. But, if your budget doesn’t permit, then go for a DVD-ROM drive—which can read CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs, but not burn CDs. You can always upgrade to a combo later. As of now, DVD Writers for notebooks are quite expensive, and not really recommended.
Choose from the available four categories, ie all-in-one, mainstream, high-end machines, and thin and light portables
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Go for the configuration that is best suited to your needs, avoiding stuff that you don’t need, such as floppy drive
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If you want more backup, consider Centrino-based notebooks
Floppy drives are now passé, so it would be better to buy an external one separately if need be. For those quick transfers of data, instead of a floppy drive, you can use the IrDA port on your notebook or buy a USB storage device. USB storage device are fairly inexpensive and available in capacities of 32, 64, 128, 256 MB and even up to 1 GB.
Battery, backup and recharge time. How long a battery lasts once its charged is one of the most crucial things to know before you buy a notebook. Most batteries last 2.5 to 3 hours depending on how long you use your laptop for a stretch.
Centrino-based notebooks can take battery life up to six hours, while Tablet PCs consume more power.
If you need the battery to last longer—if you take frequent long flights—then keep an extra battery pack and power plug handy. Some laptops come with expansion slots for peripherals, including for a second battery, while some have an attachable base that houses the second battery. Regarding recharge time, obviously, the faster the battery recharges, the better.
Almost all notebooks come with rechargeable Lithium Ion batteries. NiMH and Ni-Cad are old technologies; don’t go for them.
Networking. Wireless is the technology to talk about here. Look for a wireless-ready notebook with built-in antennae and wireless networking with the 802.11b standard. With such a notebook, you just have to plug in a wireless adapter whenever you want to go wireless. Intel’s Centrino technology-based notebooks come with built-in wireless capability. Built-in Ethernet is also standard.
Expansion ports. The standard ports that a notebook comes with are: parallel, serial, VGA and two or more USB ports.
Most notebooks come with at least one PCMCIA slot. But, some could also come with two. Other than that, now notebooks have begun to come with a FireWire port to connect high-speed devices and some even have a TV out port. All notebooks don’t come with IrDA capability, which is useful to wirelessly transfer files from your notebook to another one or to a PDA or cellphone.
If you need still more ports, you can opt for a docking station, which contains ports, slots and drive bays.
Graphics card. The graphics capabilities of a notebook will determine what apps you would use on it. For example, workstation class notebooks come with high-end graphics chipsets with dedicated VRAM (Video RAM), while ordinary notebooks would have shared VRAM. A high-end graphics card should have at least 64 MB of dedicated VRAM (Video RAM) and a good graphics chip from Nvidia or ATI.
Display. Notebook screens come in sizes ranging from 12.1 inches to 17 inches (diagonally). Of course, larger the screen, the better it is.
In terms of the monitor technology also, you have a choice between active-matrix screens— such as TFTs—and passive-matrix—such as HPA (High Performance Array), CSTN (Color Super Twist Nematic) and DSTN (Double Layer Super Twist Nematic). Active-matrix screens can be viewed from a wide angle, but are more expensive. For budget-conscious buyers, a passive screen will do just fine as you will work on your laptop directly facing the screen.
Weight. It’s not just the weight of the notebook that you need to consider, but also that of the carry bag, ac adapter, any extra modules and their cables. Remember, a carry bag may alone weigh almost up to 2 kg.