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Thursday, November 03, 2005

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 www.intel.com/personal/resources/configure/decision_tool.htm. 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 www.amd.com.

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 www.apple.com/isync/devices.html. Buying a Bluetooth adapter for the Mac is another option, one that will set you back less than $50.

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