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Standard Laptop Reviews 
Published 2006/6/13
Article Rated: 4.00

A standard laptop PC is a good middle ground for most people. If your travel needs are moderate and you don't need a super-fast, decked-out machine for power-hungry applications, this is the laptop reviews category you should be considering.

Machines in this class weigh between six and eight pounds, which makes them comfortable to carry for short distances. When considering travel weight, don't forget to consider the weight of the carrying case, a spare battery, extra drives or modules, and the inevitable paperwork you'll need to haul with you. If you're a frequent traveler, you should be looking into the ultra-portable category. If you travel infrequently, and are planning to make your portable computer your only computer, look into the more powerful desktop-replacement laptop reviews category.

Standard laptops are typically outfitted with CD-ROM drives; although you'll find DVD-ROM and even CD-Recordable devices in some laptops. Even at the low end, you should expect to get 256MB of RAM; a built-in NIC; and a 20GB, 4,200RPM hard drive. Some of the luxury features you'll sacrifice--in exchange for the lower price tag--are state-of-the-art graphics capabilities (most will have integrated graphics and shared memory); ultra-fast CPUs; and large, high-resolution displays.
Ultraportable Laptop Reviews

The ultraportable is the smallest traditional notebook design. Ultraportables typically weigh less than four pounds and measure an inch thick or less.

These laptops are designed for true road warriors---mobile professionals who travel constantly and need a healthy dose of computing power on the road with them at all times.

Expect a CPU that will let you get your work done in a hurry, but not much else. These laptops come with processors that range from 900 MHz to 1.5 GHz and include 256MB-512MB of RAM.

When it comes to ultraportables, small screens are a plus, especially for frequent flyers. Most of these systems come with displays that range from 10.6 to 12.1 inches. Several models are featured in our laptop reviews.

Don't expect to play 3-D games---virtually all ultraportable laptops use integrated video chips instead of advanced graphics cards with dedicated video memory. In other words, be happy with your DVD's and Solitaire.

Most ultraportables have one spindle---just a hard drive, with sizes typically ranging from 20GB to 40GB. Some ultraportable vendors make (CD or DVD) optical drives as an external option, while a few, such as Sony and Fujitsu, build them into their ultraportable laptops.

Ultraportables don't have space for lots of ports, but you can expect at least a couple of USB 2.0 ports, video output for presentations, Ethernet, and a headphone jack. A memory card reader of some kind is considered a bonus for this class of laptop.

If the whole point of an ultraportable is the ability to take it anywhere, you should also be able to connect from anywhere. Make sure you get integrated Wi-Fi, either 802.11b or 802.11g. This important wireless feature is listed in all of our laptop reviews.
Thin & Light Laptop Reviews

Thin and light notebooks offer the best of both worlds. Weighing less than six pounds and measuring 1.5 inches thick or less, they are relatively portable but offer more than enough power for productivity, as well as plenty of multimedia options for music, pictures, videos, and games.

These are all-around laptops designed for people who want a system they can easily take from home to work and back again, or on the occasional cross-country flight.

Compared to ultraportables, thin-and-lights come with comparatively powerful processors, including Intel's Pentium M and AMD's Athlon XP-M. Clock speeds range from 1.6 to 2 GHz, and RAM in these systems varies from 256MB to 512MB.

Bigger notebooks mean bigger screens. Most thin-and-lights have 14-inch displays, which is fine for viewing everything from e-mail and web pages to Word and Excel docs.

Almost all thin-and-lights come with a combo DVD/CD-RW optical drive. Expect to pay a couple hundred dollars more for the ability to record your own DVD's. In all of our laptop reviews, we give you complete specs.

While not all thin-and-light systems come with integrated wireless, many do---look for Wi-Fi and even Bluetooth as a way to distinguish similar systems in our laptop review specs. Centrino systems deliver wireless capabilities without imposing a noticeable penalty on battery life.

You won't find as many ports as in desktop replacements, but you will encounter USB 2.0, parallel, and sometimes even serial ports in thin-and-lights. FireWire, great for connecting a video camera, is also becoming increasingly common in this notebook category.

Video support is predictably better in these systems than in ultraportables---chipsets like the RADEON 9000 let you play games when the workday ends. Intel's Extreme Graphics chip, which you'll often find in this category, delivers smooth movie playback but only decent gameplay.
Multimedia Laptop Reviews

The desktop replacement category encompasses laptops that have enough power and flexibility to do anything your desktop pc can. They weigh eight to fifteen pounds, but can be moved from room to room with relative ease if the need arises.

Also known as desknotes in our laptop reviews, these big systems are designed for users who rarely need to travel with their systems but want portability as an option. If you want desktop power in something that takes up a lot less room, these systems are for you.

Most desknotes have 15 inch displays, and some are as big as 17 inches. And many models are coming with widescreens for viewing two open windows simultaneously.

Expect desktop-like performance with true desktop processors running at up to 3 GHz. The system specs read like a desktop PC, including at least 512MB of RAM. The only true desktop compromise will be in hard drive capacity, which currently tops out at around 100GB for notebooks.

Desknotes are often three-spindle systems, which means there's room for a hard drive, an optical drive, and a floppy drive. Instead of a floppy, however, I recommend looking for a laptop with a media card reader for transferring files to and from devices like your digital camera, MP3 player, or PDA.

Desknotes come with excellent mobile graphics chips that handle multimedia apps with unbelievable ease. In fact, some models offer 64MB or more of dedicated video memory for super-fast gameplay.

Most desknotes now ship with Wi-Fi, but if your computer will be positioned near a modem, you don't need wireless built in. If you plan on moving from room to room, then wireless might be worth it. Unlike a desktop, if you leave on vacation, just take your desknote with you. No more transfering primary software programs or files from your desktop to your laptop. Nice!
Tablet PC Laptop Reviews

Tablet PC devices deliver the benefits of both handwriting recognition and a full-fledged notebook in one powerful and flexible device. Some are slate models with external keyboards, while others are convertibles that change from slate to notebook and back again.

Tablets are best suited for workers who want to take notes and save them in their own handwriting, and have the ability to brainstorm, collaborate, scribble e-mails, and sign faxes with a digital pen.

The first Tablet PC's featured slower processors, such as Transmeta's Crusoe and Intel's Pentium 3. Pentium M-based Tablets are hitting the street, though, which means there's finally enough oomph under the hood for snappy pen performance. Transmeta is working on a new low-power processor that may be a serious rival to the Pentium. Look for it within the next few months in our laptop reviews Tablet PC section.

Expect to find displays that range from 10.4 to 14.1 inches. That's a good thing for tablets, though, especially when using them in pen mode. You don't want to hold a larger display in the crook of your arm for more than a minute or two.

If you haven't looked a Tablets since they launched last year, look again. Microsoft is in the process of tweaking the operating system to be even more pen-friendly, and both Office 2003 and One Note let you do more than ever before.

Smaller hard drives (20GB) and limited RAM (256MB) are the norm for most Tablets. You can upgrade to 40GB and 512MB, but it will cost you some serious dollars.

Tablet PC's have been, by definition, one-spindle devices. Optical drives and floppies are often provided as external peripherals. The only current exceptions are Acer's 14.1-inch TravelMate C300 and Gateway's M275 Tablet, both of which come with a combo drive.

It's the extra features that distinguish Tablets, so look for Centrino Wi-Fi or 802.11g so you can do your work in real time.

Quick Tip: Make sure the Tablet system you buy is running Windows XP Tablet Edition. It will be noted in our laptop reviews.


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