Looking to Buy a Business Notebook PC?

    Notebook style pc’s make a lot of sense.  With the latest models you get desktop pc performance in a computer you can take anywhere, video equivalent to flat panel displays, and affordable prices although you always pay a slight premium for the portability.  Prices have come down to the point that even high-end notebooks are no longer budget busters.

    So what should you look for in order to make a smart purchase that will last for several years?  Remarkably, Intel now has five different processor families that can be found in notebooks.  The “Mobile Intel Pentium 4” is similar to the regular “Intel Pentium 4” except it has SpeedStep technology to reduce the wattage required to power it when the processor is not being used heavily.  If you want the highest performance available in a cpu truly designed for a notebook this is the one to get.  The Mobile Intel Pentium 4 comes in speeds up to 3.06 GHz, with a front-side bus of 533MHz, and can use 333MHz DDR RAM memory.  Not quite as fast as the fastest Pentium 4 but darn close.  We would recommend this cpu for someone that keeps a dozen applications open at once and at least one of them is a heavy duty app requiring serious processing power like AutoCad, Visio, or Visual Studio.  The tradeoff between this cpu and the Pentium M, to be described next, is the power it consumes.  You simply will not get as much run time on battery unless you purchase a notebook that permits the use of a second battery (and the weight that goes with it). 

    The “Intel Pentium M” is Intel’s latest technology and is the one the typical business user will want to have in his or her notebook.  Its architecture allows it to be much more efficient than the Mobile Intel Pentium 4.  A Pentium M running at 1.4 GHz is roughly equivalent to a Mobile Intel Pentium 4 running at 2.4 GHz but uses only a third of the power.  Performance is very good with its 400 MHz front side bus and use of 266 MHz DDR memory.  Don’t confuse the Intel Pentium M with the “Mobile Intel Pentium 4 Processor-M” which is being discontinued primarily because it lacks hyper-threading.

    When shopping for a notebook you will see the term Centrino.  Is Centrino good?  Should you buy a notebook with Centrino?  Not in our opinion.  Here’s why.  Centrino is a brand name permitted to be used if a notebook includes three Intel components: the Intel Pentium M (good), Intel’s chip set (good), and Intel’s wireless card (bad).  Its not that Intel makes a bad wireless card, it is because it only supports 802.11b which is the slowest of the three standards for wireless local area network connectivity.  If you just plan to use your notebook in wireless mode to connect to the internet then the slower speed is not a factor.  But, if you plan to connect to your corporate network or any server for that matter where you run applications, or are accessing large database files, you will be disappointed.  It is better to get a notebook that can access both 802.11b and 802.11g.  Ideally, it would be able to access any of the three wireless standards including 802.11a.

    If you take your notebook with you frequently, weight is a consideration.  Today’s mainstream notebooks have travel weights between 3.5 and eight pounds.  The lightest weight notebooks frequently have a smaller 12” display and some require you to carry your floppy and optical drive separately and plug them in as you need them.  This gets to be a bit of a hassle when you end up with many external devices.  But once you hit the five plus pound mark there are many notebooks with a full 14” and 15” display and built-in devices.

    Battery time ranges from two to 5.5 hours depending on the model you chose.  It is best to try to find an independent review of the system that has tested the manufacturers claims.  Be sure to follow the instructions that come with your new notebook to get the most out of your battery life.  There are some experimental notebooks out now that are running on fuel cells that will last eight hours on a charge but you probably want to wait a little on this technology to mature.

    ATI and nVidia are developing graphics cards especially for notebooks and if you are into digital editing, gaming, or 3-dimensional graphics, you will want to pay special attention to the video card that is built in.

     Be sure to get a hard drive with at least 30GB of storage space but go for the largest and fastest one you can afford.  Get Windows XP Pro (not XP Home) for your operating system.  Get a minimum of 256MB of RAM and 512MB if you can talk the boss into it.  Get a DVD ROM / CD-RW combo optical drive so that you can play DVDs and burn CD’s which is especially useful for backing up data if for no other reason.  For ports get a 10/100/1000 NIC, two pc card slots, and three v2.0 USB ports (SD & FireWire are nice extras).  And seriously consider the extended warranty offered with the notebook to cover you for a full three years if the notebook you want comes with a one year warranty.

     For brands we recommend you first look at IBM, Toshiba, and HP Compaq and stay with their business models. We have found the consumer models to include too much unneeded software that just slows down the pc over time and creates problems.

    See you at the local hot spot!  

                                                                     

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