Laptop Reviews

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

How to Buy Laptop

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Prioritize Laptop Price, Performance, & Portability
Before looking at system specs, decide whether features or portability matter more to you. Many students and frequent travelers consider portability a deciding factor when buying a laptop. On the other hand, lighter and smaller laptops are generally less powerful than their heavier counterparts.

More expensive laptops either offer more features or greater portability than lower-priced models. For example, "desktop replacements" have all the features you'd want from a full-sized desktop PC, but they weigh a lot, and you wouldn't want to carry one around for long. Similarly, thin-and-light notebooks and bargain notebooks have a lot of the same features, but the thin-and-light models weigh less and often cost more. If your priority is budget and features, more than portability, consider buying a bargain notebook. If you'd rather have less weight to carry, it might make sense to step up to a thin-and-light or ultraportable.

When deciding how much laptop you can carry, consider the laptop's weight as well as the additional weight of a carrying case, an extra battery, any swappable drives you feel like bringing with you, a power cord, and networking cables.

Find a Laptop to Fit Your Lifestyle
Consider how you plan to use your laptop before you start shopping. It should meet your personal needs as well as the system requirements set by your Internet service provider.

Laptops for home Users
You want a second computer for the house that you can take with you from room to room. You want to email, surf the Internet, and do some basic photo editing. Look for a bargain laptop or desktop replacement with at least 800 MHz processor and 256MB RAM. If you have a wireless home network, make sure it includes built-in Wi-Fi.

Laptops for students
You want a lightweight computer that you can carry from the classroom to the library. As a starting point, find out which platform your school prefers and supports. Some universities don't care what kind of computer you have while others will provide you with a very specific list of system requirements. If your school doesn't have specific recommendations, look for an ultraportable or thin-and-light laptop with a processor in the Pentium-M family, with built-in Wi-Fi, at least 256MB RAM, a burner (either a CD-R, CD-RW, or DVD+RW/-RW drive), and a productivity software package such as Microsoft Office or Microsoft Works.

Laptops for frequent travelers
You want a lightweight computer to use at the airport and in meetings. Look at thin-and-light or ultraportable laptops with processors in the Pentium-M family, built-in Wi-Fi, at least 256MB RAM, and a suite of productivity applications such as Microsoft Office or Microsoft Works.

Laptops for business users
You need to travel, create presentations and spreadsheets, and hook up to a network. Depending on your need for portability, look at thin-and-light and desktop replacement laptops with the productivity software such as Microsoft Office, Wi-Fi (or an included Wi-Fi card), an Ethernet card, at least 256MB RAM, and at least 40GB hard drive space. Frequent business travelers will probably prefer thin-and-lights to desktop replacements. But, if you spend most of your time at a desk, the desktop replacement's superior power and features may be the way to go.

Laptops for multimedia enthusiasts
You want to edit video, audio, or photos with processor-intensive applications such as Photoshop. Look for a desktop replacement with at least 512MB RAM, a 2GHz or faster processor, and at least 80GB hard drive space.

A FireWire (also called IEEE 1394) or USB 2.0 port can also come in handy to transfer data from devices such as your video camera, digital camera, and MP3 player. If you want to burn DVD movies, buy a DVD+R/RW drive. You can also purchase these components separately in the Laptop Parts & Accessories category.

Laptops for gamers
Gamers want speed and amazing graphics. Gaming laptops have fast processors, high-end graphics cards, and slick displays, but you'll usually pay a premium for all the latest goodies. Look for a desktop replacement with a Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon 64 processor in the 2.8 to 3.4 GHz range (or AMD equivalent), at least 1GB RAM, and a 256MB 3D graphics card. Article:

Notebook systems have grown in popularity due to their increasing performance and portability. Many systems are even now being marketed as replacements for desktop systems, but few can perform at the same level as a desktop system particularly when it comes to graphics. This guide will help you to look at some of the key items you want to look at before you purchase your next PC notebook system.

Size and Weight
Obviously the size and weight of a notebook is important. Ultraportables offer light weight and sizes, but sacrifice items such as optical drives. Desktop replacements have equivalent power to desktop systems, but they are heavy and bulky making them difficult to carry around. When shopping for a laptop, make sure to pick up the systems and verify its something you are willing to carry. Don't forget to also consider the weight of accessories such as AC adapter when carrying around the notebook.

Processors (CPU)
Notebook processors still lag behind desktop CPUs but they make up for that with their energy efficiency. To determine the right CPU to get, look at the purpose of the system. If it is meant to be a mobile web browser, email, word processing or even DVD player, any CPU above 1GHz should be sufficient. A desktop replacement should have a high-end processor rated at least 1.6GHz or higher for mobile specific processors or 2.8GHz for desktop processors.

Memory (RAM)
Laptop computers are generally more restricted in the amount of memory they can have compared to desktop systems. When looking at computers you want to make sure to check out the maximum memory the system can handle as well as the amount that is installed in the computer. It's also useful to find out if a memory upgrade can be done yourself or if it has to be done by a technician.

When purchasing a notebook, look at the native resolution of the screen as the size. A large size screen is generally preferred but some large screens have such high resolutions that it can make standard fonts unbearably hard to read. The size of the screen also impacts the size of the laptop. Newer systems with 17" screens tend to be very large and more difficult to carry.

Hard drive size is straight forward in laptops, but the choice of optical drives is important. One of the great abilities of laptops now is their ability to turn into portable DVD players. With a DVD-ROM or CD-RW/DVD combo drive, one can watch DVD movies through the computer or even plug it into a home theater system. Many ultraportable laptops often lack an internal optical drive to save on space.

The ability to connect to the net is integral to most laptops today. Look for systems that include a built in 56Kbps modem and Fast Ethernet. This allows one to get logged in for most situations. If you want ultimate portability, look at getting a laptop computer with an integrated 802.11b/g wireless adapter. More and more locations are available with wireless hotspots for connectivity.

Battery Life
How good is a portable computer going to be if you are only able to get 30 minutes of computing time on a single charge? Try to find the manufacturer’s listed battery life for the standard battery. Look to get a system with at least 2 hours of battery life under normal conditions. If you need extended time unplugged, look for laptops with media bays that can double as extra battery slots.

Warranty Plans
Laptops take a lot of abuse and are more prone to breakdowns due to their portability. When buying a system, make sure to get at least a 1 year warranty from the manufacturer. If you will be using the system heavily, a system that comes with a 3 year warranty might be a better choice but it will cost more. Third party extended plans are not a good choice unless service is done through the manufacturer.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

PowerBook G4s boost screen resolution, battery life

In announcing the latest changes to its PowerBook family, Apple highlighted the new models’ higher-resolution screens and longer battery life but made no mention of their lower prices. Indeed, base prices for each of the three models haven’t changed. But because the company has amplified the base configurations—with brand-new features and others previously available only at extra cost—the machines are now better values than ever.

Squeeze those pixels

The most noticeable advance in both the flagship 17-inch PowerBook G4 (Best Current Price: $2360.00) and the popular 15-inch version (Best Current Price: $1839.95) is higher screen resolution. The 17-inch model ($2,499) now displays 1,680 by 1,050 pixels, up from 1,440 by 900 pixels—a 36 percent increase in the amount of information the screen can show. Put another way, the number of pixels per inch (ppi) has jumped from 101 to 117—a record high for an Apple display.

In the 15-inch model, which now has only one standard configuration priced at $1,999, the default, native resolution has increased to 1,440 by 960 pixels, up from 1,280 by 854 pixels —a 26.4 percent increase. That comes out to a pixel density of 114 ppi, up from 101 ppi.

All those numbers translate into more room to work and play. It’s now easier to keep your palettes alongside the image you’re retouching in Photoshop, or your calendar next to your spreadsheet.

There’s a downside, though: the only way to add more pixels without increasing the screen’s physical size is to make each pixel smaller, and because of the way the Mac currently draws to the screen, all text, graphics, icons, menus, and everything else are correspondingly smaller. As a result, the screen’s desktop looks more compressed than on any previous Mac. (For comparison, the original Mac had 72 ppi. Today, the 12-inch PowerBooks and iBooks have 106 ppi; the 14-inch iBook has 91 ppi; and Apple’s current Cinema Displays range between 98 and 100 ppi.)

To help with readability, Apple has boosted the new models’ screen brightness—by a noticeable 46 percent in the 17-inch PowerBook and by 13 to 15 percent in the 15-inch model, according to the company. And if you’re having any problems, you can always switch to a lower resolution, but you’ll end up with a smaller or slightly less crisp screen display. For a more comfortable view, a better solution would be to zoom your documents in applications that offer that option.

Altogether, I don’t think the new default resolutions will present problems for most users in most situations. (The only time I found them uncomfortable was when I tried to read the hand-drawn text accompanying some cartoons on the Web.) But if your eyesight is subpar, or if you have any concerns about the new screens, be sure to visit a local retailer to try before you buy.

15-inch: numerous enhancements

In the previous PowerBook generation, Apple offered two standard 15-inch configurations, one at $1,999 and the other at $2,299. The latter had a 1.67GHz G4 processor and a SuperDrive, while the less expensive configuration had only a 1.5GHz G4 processor and a Combo (CD-RW/DVD-ROM) drive. Now there’s only one standard 15-inch configuration, priced at $1,999, and it has a 1.67GHz G4 processor and a SuperDrive. In effect, that’s a substantial price cut, at least for people who want the option of burning DVDs.

(That’s also true of the new 12-inch PowerBook. The old base configuration, priced at $1,499, had a Combo drive and a 60GB hard drive; you had to spend another $200 to get the version with a SuperDrive and an 80GB drive. In the new lineup, the single 12-inch configuration includes the SuperDrive and the 80GB hard drive.)

The latest 15-inch model also sports several additional improvements. Although it uses the same graphics chip as its predecessor (the ATI Mobility Radeon 9700), Apple has doubled the video RAM to 128MB and added dual-link DVI support, so the standard configuration now can drive the 30-inch Cinema Display. Previously, that capability was available only as a $100 build-to-order upgrade from the $2,299 configuration.

The updated 15-inch model also incorporates many enhancements that weren’t available at all in the previous generation. The 8x SuperDrive, for example, now supports double-layer burning, making it possible to store up to 8.5GB per disc. Standard system memory remains at 512MB, expandable to 2GB, but it’s a newer, faster flavor: DDR2 (double data rate 2), in place of plain DDR.

The audio-in port can now handle optical digital audio input, as well as line-in connections, while the headphone jack doubles as an optical digital audio-out port. And battery life has improved to a maximum of 5.5 hours per charge, compared with 4.5 hours previously, according to Apple. (Remember, though, that if you’re actually using the PowerBook, a charge won’t last nearly that long. Apple claims that the battery life is 3 hours and 45 minutes for a combination of wireless Web browsing and editing a text document, but only 2 hours and 15 minutes for DVD playback.)

17-inch: Less room for improvement

Even before this update, the one standard configuration of the 17-inch PowerBook already had a 1.67GHz G4 processor, a SuperDrive, 128MB of video RAM, dual-link DVI, and optical/digital audio-in and -out ports. That doesn’t leave a lot of possibilities for upgrading, especially since the 1.67GHz remains the fastest G4 available. But Apple did add three improvements it also made to the 15-inch model: DDR2 memory, double-layer support in the SuperDrive, and an increase in battery life to a maximum of 5.5 hours. Finally, hard-drive capacity has increased from 100GB to 120GB, as high as you can currently get in a notebook.

Macworld’s buying advice

The latest improvements to the PowerBook line are hardly revolutionary, but they’re all welcome. With a SuperDrive now standard at $1,499, the 12-inch model stacks up better against the competition—even against Apple’s own iBooks. The 15-inch PowerBook is still a little pricey compared with Windows alternatives, but it’s a superb system, and with a faster processor and SuperDrive now standard at $1,999, it’s a better value than it used to be. If you can afford it and don’t mind its size, the 17-inch model remains the best portable computer money can buy.


Shopping for a Laptop? Choose Agility or Endurance

I am planning to purchase a laptop, but I don't know which processor type to get. Should I go with the Pentium 4 chip or Centrino technology?

A. Base your purchasing decision on the types of tasks you want to do with your laptop, because these processors were designed for different styles of computing.

The Pentium 4 processor is the latest in Intel's long line of Pentium family products that started when the first Pentiums replaced the old 486 line of computer processors back in the early 1990's. The latest Pentium 4 chips, both for desktop and laptop computers, are built for heavy duty, whether for multitasking through several programs at once or doing processor-intensive tasks like video editing.

Pentium 4 chips are often found inside beefier laptops designed as desktop replacement computers, which often have features like 17-inch screens and high-quality stereo speakers for multimedia fun and games. These processors can handle most programs out there, from Web browsing to war games.

The Centrino technology used by many laptops was designed for a different style of computing. The term Centrino refers not just to the processor, but to a collection of features designed to make mobile computing more productive. Centrino systems typically include an Intel Pentium M processor and built-in wireless connectivity. The Pentium M is just fine for running standard business applications like word-processing, Internet and spreadsheet programs. The Centrino system itself is designed to use its power more efficiently than other processors so the laptop can last longer between battery charges, which might be an important factor to consider if you plan to use the new laptop for business travel. (The next generation of Centrino laptops, code-named Sonoma, will arrive later this year and will have faster processors and other improvements.)

Intel has an interactive guide to help you decide which processor is best for you at The company is not the only one to make processors for PC laptops, however. Many major manufacturers, including Fujitsu, Sharp and Hewlett-Packard, offer laptops with processors made by Advanced Micro Devices. Information on A.M.D.'s Athlon and Sempron processors for mobile computers is at

Do a Password Sidestep

Q. I never set up a password when I installed Windows XP Professional, but I regularly get a message from the computer telling me my password is about to expire, and requesting that I change it. I can still use the computer by clicking on O.K. in the password box, but is there any way I can remove this message?

A. Microsoft has acknowledged this annoyance for XP Pro users, and has offered a fix. The default password is typically set to nothing, which is why you can bypass the password box by clicking on O.K.

To change that, go to the Start menu to Control Panel and double-click on the User Accounts icon. Select your account name and then click on Create a Password. You'll see a set of boxes for a personal password for the system. Fill both of those in with the same password, then click on the Create a Password button.

If you later decide you don't want a password after all, restart the PC and log on with your new password. Go back to the Control Panel to User Accounts, and click on your account name, then on Remove the Password.

Contacts, Refreshed

Q. Do you have to have a Bluetooth-equipped Mac to synchronize a Mac OS X address book to a wireless phone with Apple's iSync?

A. Apple's free iSync synchronization program for Mac OS X makes keeping the computer's address book updated across your phone, personal organizer and iPod a breeze, providing you have the right kind of phone, personal organizer and iPod. Having Bluetooth, (the short-range wireless technology designed to replace some types of cable connections), on both the Mac and phone simplifies the use of iSync, but you can also use a regular U.S.B. connection between the Mac and certain Motorola phones.

A list of iSync-compatible devices is at Buying a Bluetooth adapter for the Mac is another option, one that will set you back less than $50.


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