by November 10, 2000 0 comments

How do you choose a notebook that best suits your needs?
Unfortunately, the rules of the game here are different from those that govern the purchase of a PC. The notebook was originally meant for use when on the move–for carrying from place to place, working on when away from the workstation, or for making presentations from. Today, many notebooks have gone on to replace the primary workstation, the PC on which you work when you are in your office. That is, instead of having both a PC and a notebook, you can do with only a notebook.

Here, we answer the questions asked on the previous page to enable you to choose a notebook that is right for you.

How fast?
In a PC-centric world, one of the first (and often the only one) questions that you may ask before you purchase a PC is the speed of the processor. However, when it comes to purchasing a notebook, the speed of the processor is one of the last things you would look at, probably because you will not tax it too much anyway with your productivity applications. For most needs a Celeron-based machine is good enough, though a PIII-based machine will obviously give better performance.

Which ports?
This question is often ignored, but can be a crucial one. Standard on almost all notebooks are a monitor port, and a connector for an external mouse and a printer port. Most notebooks have an IrDA port. But a few do away with it. This is unfortunate, as the IrDA port can be useful in communicating with a PDA like the Palm Pilot or for transferring files from one notebook to another. Otherthings being equal, look for a notebook with IrDA port.

Similarly, most new notebooks come with one or two USB ports. With more and more peripherals becoming USB enabled, USB ports are a must.

PC card slots
PC cards extend the functionality of your notebook, much like PCI cards extend the functionality of your PC. The most common PC cards these days are network cards or modem cards. The standard configuration is to have two PC cards lots, one on top of the other. If you have built-in modem and LAN card, then you are unlikely to use the Pc card slot, unless you want to have an ISDN modemor something like that.

Some notebooks come with a single PC Card slot instead of two. The limitation of this is that PC cards like the ones from Xircom are double the thickness of normal cards and require both the slots. You can opt for combo cards–cards that have more than one function–if your notebook has only one PC card slot. Some notebooks are smarter. Though they have only one PC cardslot, they also have a dummy slot so that cards of double thickness can fit in.

Hard-disk capacity
Notebooks have not yet reached the levels of the PC when it comes to hard-disk capacities. So, while entry-level hard disk capacity on the PC is 17GB to 20 GB, that of the notebook is still at 6 GB to 10 GB. Obviously, the larger the hard-disk capacity, the better.

What about a floppy drive?
The floppy has been a ubiquitous part of the PC and the notebook for some time. But now, some notebooks offer the floppy drive as an option. Do you really need one? It is, no doubt, comforting to have a floppydrive for those times when you want to transfer a small file or two quickly. But if you have IrDA or a Zip disk, you can easily do without the floppy drive. And in the bargain, you can even brag that you have outgrown the floppy!

Sound
Sound is today integral to most notebooks. But do not expect to get the quality of a Bose system from your notebook. Sound on your notebook is supposed to be of passable quality. Only the really high-end notebooks offer something better.

Incidentally, did you know that you can turn your notebook into a public-address system without much of an effort? Okay, here is how you do it. You need a set of good PC speakers and a speaker-cum-headphone set. Together, these will cost less than a thousand rupees. First, plug the speakers and the headphones into the right sockets (the ones marked with the speaker and the headphone icons respectively). Now, click on the speaker icon on the Windows task bar. Go to microphone and unmute it.

Backup and recharge times
These are the most critical items to be considered when buying a notebook, especially if you want to work while traveling. The average flight across metros in India, including airport waiting time, is about three hours, out of which you can get about two hours of working time. Now, a notebook normally shuts down when there is only 10 percent of power left (this setting can be changed by going to the Alarms tab in the Power Management ControlPanel).

Obviously, the longer the backup time, the better. With some notebooks, you can add an extra battery and improve backup times even further.

Imagine this scenario. You worked through that long flight and drained the batteries completely. You go in to make an important presentation the first thing after landing. In the middle of the presentation the power goes off! Hardly the scenario you would want to be in, right? This is where recharging time comes in. The faster a notebook can recharge, the better it is for you while on the road.

How heavy?
Another important point to bear in mind, particularly if you are more of a road warrior than a cubicle dweller. Lugging a notebook around is no fun if it weighs as much as a suitcase packed for a week. So, look for a notebook that is light, after including the power adapter, add-on drives and the carry bag. You may ask: Why the carry bag? Some carry bags can weigh as much as 2 kgs or more. That is why.

CD or DVD or CD Writer?
Today, a CD drive is a must-have for a notebook. So, don’t buy one without a CD drive. Some notebooks offer you DVD drives or even CDWriters. And, of course, they are priced higher for it. CD Writers are convenient, particularly if you have to frequently transfer large amounts of data from your system to other machines. Otherwise, I would stay with a plainand simple CD drive.

Keyboard and pointing device
This is not a major concern, but some notebooks do place somekeys at odd positions, or may have a cramped keyboard by having very small keys.You normally get used to your keyboard layout in some time, but it helps to have a comfortable layout.

The screen
This is another critical element to consider when buying a notebook. Obviously, the larger the screen, the better. But we have to go beyond the screen size into material used for the screen and the amount of VRAM present to make a really good decision. Like the screen size, more the VRAM, the better.

Traditionally, a notebook screen is made of one of two types of material. The active matrix is the costlier one, and can be viewed from awider angle. TFT screens are active matrix. The lower-cost option is the passive matrix that has a narrower viewing angle. Once outside this angle, you can’t see what is on the screen. These days, the passive-matrix options are HPA (High Performance Array), CSTN (Color Super-twist Nematic), and DSTN (Double LayerSuper-twist Nematic). Passive matrix and its variants are good enough, as you will work on your notebook directly facing the screen.

You will have noticed that in this piece, we have not given you precise recommendations. We have limited ourselves to explaining the differences and the impact they have. The choice is yours, depending on your specific need and your budgets.

Krishna Kumar

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