by November 11, 2000 0 comments

Till sometime ago, the notebook was the preserve of the upperechelons of the corporate ladder, or of the MNC executive. But things havechanged drastically and, today, the notebook is a must-have not only for thecorporate types, but also for anyone required to be on the move, fromentrepreneurs running their own businesses to sales executives required todemonstrate their wares or access pricing and ordering information. Accordingly,the market shows a wide variation in the prices of notebooks. Notebooks are nowavailable for as low as Rs 75,000 to Rs 80,000. But the really high-end ones arestill in the range of Rs 2 lakh to Rs 3 lakh.

In this shootout we cover the complete spectrum, ratingnotebooks all the way from Rs 79, 900 to a cool Rs 2.75 lakh. To make lifeeasier, we have divided these into three categories —entry-level notebookspriced below Rs 1 lakh, mid-level notebooks priced between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 1.5lakh, and the high-end ones, costing Rs 2 lakh and above.

As we usually do, we used our standardperformance-features-price matrix and the widely accepted Brown-Gibson model toidentify the winners in this shootout. And since the sensitivities of the marketare different across the three segments, we have used different weightages foreach.

The weightages*

Entry-level notebooks

Performance 100
Price 200
Features 100
Total 400

Mid-range notebooks

Performance 150
Price 150
Features 150
Total 450

High-end notebooks

Performance 200
Price 100
Features 200
Total 500

Let’s take a look at the elements of our scoring matrix indetail. This will help you understand the scores and the ratings better.

Performance

We considered four factors to judge a notebook’sperformance. Most important amongst these was a notebook’s capability to runproductivity applications. For this, we ran Business Winstone 99. You might ask,why Business Winstone and not high-end Winstone. This is because notebooks arestill not used for work like CAD and graphics design, at least not as theprimary machine.

Next came battery performance. Here we checked in two areasof performance. First, the longer a notebook can work on batteries, the better.For this, we measured working time on a full battery charge using Battery Mark4. Then we checked how long each notebook took to recharge its batteries. Thiswas done while the notebook was on, and OS running. This was done because forone, it’s not possible to measure the recharge time while the notebook isclosed and two, we assumed that you would be working while your notebookcharges. All tests were done at a resolution of 800×600 with 16-bit color depth.

Today, most, if not all, notebooks come with built-in audio.So we checked out the audio capabilities of each notebook. Here our tests weremore of a qualitative nature, like checking for sound distortion, if any, andvolume.

The high-end notebooks were also put through their paces tojudge video performance, using 3DMark 99 Max and VideoMark 2000.

Features

We broadly categorized these into six groups:

  • Physical Design: Three factors are important in thephysical design of a notebook. The most important of these is weight as itgoverns the mobility of a notebook. We weighed each notebook in the form as amobile user would carry it, that is, with standard accessories like powersupply, floppy drive, CD-ROM and, of course, the carry bag. We also weighed allthe carry bags separately, and found that the average weight of a carry bag was2.2 kg! If a notebook came to us without a carry bag, we added this weight toit. Other factors we took into consideration were screen size (larger is better)and thickness of a notebook (thinner is better).

  • Connectivity: Connectivity here means how a notebook canconnect with other devices, the network, and the Internet. We looked for modemand LAN connectivity, IR port, USB ports and any extra ports such as TV out.

  • Usability: Because notebooks are so compact, everything onit has to be scaled down in size, giving a user cramped feeling, particularlywith the keyboard and pointing device. So in keyboard layout, we looked for keysthat were out of place from normal layout, or were unusually large or small. Wealso checked if a notebook came with more than one pointing device (touchpad andtrack point). We checked to see if the mouse keys interfered with normal usageof the keyboard.

  • Software: Here we looked for recovery software. The mostimportant item here is a restore CD, which automatically restores the notebookto its original configuration. We checked to see if the notebooks came with thisCD and also looked at the options that these CDs gave. If you’re wonderingabout the first check, many notebooks did not come with a restore CD. Regardingthe options the CDs offered, some allowed us to restore specific notebookdrivers. Apart from this, we also took into account other bundled software, suchas anti-virus software.

  • Graphics and multimedia: In this area we checked themaximum resolution and color depth that the notebook’s display card could goup to. This could be more than the maximum resolution supported by the LCDPanel. You may need the extra resolution to connect your notebook to a monitoror projector. We then checked out the physical components of the soundsub-system, like sound jacks and their placement, presence of a microphone, andexternal volume control. In high-end notebooks, extra points were given for CD-ReWritersand DVD drives.

  • Ease of upgrade: Although you may not need to upgrade yournotebook, if such a situation arises, you should be able to do it with minimumtrouble. Here, for example, we checked to see if we could add a new hard driveor extra RAM easily, without having to open up the whole notebook. We also tookinto account the number of PC Card slots (PC Card slots can also be countedunder the connectivity parameter. But we chose upgrade, as PC cards actually addfunctionality to the notebook, rather than work as a connectivity option for,say a printer) and bays.

Pricing

Better performance and features come at a price. As is usualwith our shootouts, in the pricing area we considered both price and warranty.Under warranty, we considered warranty for the notebooks and batteriesseparately, as many vendors give different warranty periods.

Anil Chopra, Ashish Sharma, and Sachin Makhija at PCQ Labs

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