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Laptops of Luxury

Our Nominees for the Portable Computer Haul of Fame
Steve Morgenstern
From the Print Edition:
The Cuba Issue, May/Jun 01

Speaking man to man, we can all agree that the lap is a sensitive area, and you have to be darn careful what you put there. Sit the wrong adorable baby in your lap, and you're stuck with a hefty dry cleaning bill. Sit the wrong adorable babe in your lap, and the bills can be even higher, especially if you're married.

Somewhere between these extremes lie the perils of picking the wrong laptop computer. In addition to thousands of dollars in monetary damages, consider the toll on your physical and mental health of cramped keyboards, squint-inducing screens and pokey performance.

The basics of picking a laptop are the same as selecting any computer system: make sure that the screen is readable and the keyboard comfortable, that there's enough speed and storage space for your needs, and that the manufacturer will answer the phone in the event of whirring, clicking, or billowing smoke. Before grappling with laptop specs, however, you need to determine how you're going to use the machine. You can order a desktop computer with "the works" and be fairly assured that it will deliver no matter what task you throw at it, but every laptop is an exercise in compromise. For instance, if you choose a model equipped with a big, beautiful screen, you'll be lugging a heavier machine and/or living with shorter battery life. If you want lightning-fast performance, you're going to pay for the privilege -- is it worth an extra thousand bucks to have your laptop idling at a blistering speed while you struggle to figure out the next letter to type into your word processor?

While subtle distinctions differentiate the hundreds of laptops on the market, they can be most significantly categorized with one simple question: Will the laptop be a traveling supplement to your regular desktop computer, or will it serve as your day-in, day-out primary machine?

 

Replacing a Desktop System

It's easy enough to find a laptop with enough power to handle typical day-to-day business applications, so going laptop-only is a viable option. Odds are you'll need an Ethernet port for connecting to a local area network in the office plus a modem for accessing the Internet while traveling. A large laptop display may be all you need for day-to-day computing -- despite the numeric difference, a 15-inch LCD display on a laptop has as much visible area as a 17-inch desktop monitor, thanks to differences in the way the two are measured. Another desktop-replacement option is to choose a laptop sporting a smaller screen (more portable and less expensive) and a port for connecting a full-size external monitor when working at your desk.

External keyboard and mouse ports allow you to plug in full-size peripherals at your desk. While I never bother plugging in an external keyboard, I'll often reach for a real mouse -- it's much more comfortable than using the built-in pointing device for any length of time.

Then there's the disk drive question. With multi-gigabyte hard drives shipping as standard equipment, outfitting a laptop with plenty of storage is a snap. What you have to puzzle out is equipping yourself with the right combination of removable disk drives. While some people consider the floppy disk a barely useful antique, I still want the option of saving files to a dirt-cheap floppy that I can easily carry to another computer or to a hotel business center for printing. While a drive that can record CD-ROMs seems like an extravagance on the road, it can make sense in a desktop-replacement machine -- recordable CDs sell for half a buck or less today, and they're a great way to back up files. Although virtually no software is distributed on DVD-ROM, you might want to include a DVD drive to play movies on your laptop.

It may also pay to step up to a faster processor. The slowest, least expensive Celeron processor that Intel makes is still plenty fast for basic word processing/spreadsheet/e-mail applications. However, if you want to fiddle with digital photos, edit video footage, or compress audio CD tracks into MP3 files, a faster processor will be appreciated. Then there's the question of computer games. Yes, I know you're a serious guy, much too busy and important to waste time with such frivolity, but a few minutes of mindless violence or realistic video football -- purely for therapeutic purposes, mind you -- is probably good for you. If you want to play games with high-quality 3D graphics, you'll need a fast processor, plenty of memory and, most importantly, a powerful graphics chip.


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Comments   1 comment(s)

ignatius paul — portharcourt, rivers state nigeria, nigeria,  —  July 20, 2011 7:57am ET

i want to order


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