Laptop Roundup

Learn how to choose the right notebook computer to suit your needs.

Once a high-end status symbol, the laptop or notebook computer is as common today as desktop machines were a decade ago. What’s more, they are every bit as powerful as their desk-bound counterparts with spacious screens and comfortably-sized keyboards in addition to the lightweight portability that made notebook computers so popular in the first place.

In the early 1980s, when machines of this type were referred to as “luggables” (the Compaq Portable was the size of a small suitcase and weighed 28 pounds), there were only four in mass production: The Compaq Portable, the Osborn 1, the MicroStar and the Commodore SX64. Today, there is a bewildering number of brands and models to choose from, including name brands, off-brands and specialty machines.

Things to Look For

Don’t be dazzled by flash or muddled by jargon. There are only a few characteristics of a notebook computer that really matter and for each of them, bigger and faster are always better. That means better performance now and greater flexibility later. After that, it is just a matter of the use you have for your computer, the money you are willing to spend on it and personal taste.

Processor speed Measured in gigahertz (GHz) and averaging 1.66GHz, this is the speed at which the computer processes information. The big players here are AMD and Intel.

RAM memory Measured in either megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB) and generally ranging from 512MB to 2GB, this is the amount of physical memory that is resident on your computer. The more you have, the faster your applications will work.

Hard drive space Also measured in either megabytes or gigabytes, this usually ranges from 80GB on up and represents the amount of storage space you have for applications and data.

Screen size Notebook screens tend to be between 13 and 15 inches diagonally.

Keyboard size Some notebooks have cramped keyboards, which can be tedious to use for long periods of time. Others, however, have more or less standard-sized keyboards that are far more comfortable.

Optical drive Most notebooks today come with CD/DVD-ROM drives that allow you to both read these discs and write to them as well.

Operating System For PCs, you are likely to get Vista on any new laptop. That is fine if you are using a top-of-the-line notebook with lots of memory and a high processing speed. If your hardware is a bit more modest, however, you might consider having the operating system changed to Windows XP, which works well with almost any laptop.

Acer Aspire 5920

With a price around $959, this machine delivers solid performance for the price. The screen is a bright 15.4” LCD display, the battery gives about 3.5 hours of useful work time and the machine comes with speakers, microphone and built-in web camera. The processor is a 1.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Mobile processor, not the fastest processor around, but certainly respectable. The computer ships with 2 GB of RAM, a 250-GB hard drive, a CD/DVD read-write drive and Windows Vista Home Premium.

Dell XPS M1530

Available from $1,274, the Dell XPS M1530 is a great value for a slim, lightweight computer that can handle your business and personal needs. The 15.4” screen is bright and easy on the eyes while connectivity is handled through Ethernet, wireless and optional Bluetooth technology. Plus, one of the more interesting aspects of the M1530 is the remote control, which allows you to control multimedia, from slides in your office to DVDs in your hotel room. Standard equipment includes a 2.2 GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of RAM, 160GB hard drive and a slot-loading dual-layer DVD+/-RW drive.

MacBook Pro

Priced between $1,599 and $1,699, the MacBook Pro may be getting up there in price, but there are few notebooks out there that are this small, this smooth, and pack this much performance. It can handle day-to-day business tasks and it really shines as a platform for the kind of creative work—including 2-D and 3-D graphics, video and music—that Macs are famous for. The machine features a 2.2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2 GB of RAM, comes standard with a 120GB hard drive, a bright 15.4” screen and backlit keys and solid battery life of up to 5 hours. The slot-loading optical drive is an 8x SuperDrive that will let you read and write both CDs and DVDs. Overall, the MacBook Pro would be a great asset to any business.

HP Compaq 8710p

With an average weight of about 9 pounds, it’s a tad heavy, but it’s fast, and for about $2,200, the HP Compaq 8710p is a cut above with its elegant design, bright 17” screen, great battery life and Blu-ray disc optical drive. The core of the unit is a 2.2 GHz Core 2 Duo processor from Intel with a solid 2 GB of RAM and a spacious 160 GB hard drive. The battery can run for over 3.5 hours while playing videos and it handles graphics beautifully, making this a great choice to go from the boardroom to the game room.

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