Choosing a Home Notebook

By eweek  |  Posted 2004-10-15 Print this article Print

If your digital home is more of a digital apartment, you might be looking for a heavy-duty (and heavy) notebook that crams in as much desktop tech as possible. Otherwise, think of a notebook as a complement to your desktop.

If your digital home is more of a digital apartment, you might be looking for a heavy-duty (and heavy) notebook that crams in as much available desktop tech as possible. Otherwise, think of a notebook as a complement to your desktop, and take into account these considerations. Again, go for the fastest processor you can afford, although judging CPU ratings isnt as easy as it is with desktops. Intel, for instance, offers the battery-efficient Pentium M in speeds up to 2 GHz, but that CPU actually performs on a par with Mobile Pentium 4 processors rated at over 3 GHz. AMD has a Mobile Athlon 64 and an Athlon XP-M. When shopping for a notebook, think Pentium M or Athlon XP-M for lighter computers that will often run on battery power. Save the Mobile Pentium 4 and Mobile Athlon 64 for machines that will mostly move from AC outlet to outlet.

As for memory, a notebook pulling media duty should do well with 512MB of DDR SDRAM. Hard drive choices are limited, but 60GB is the magic number. At this size, you can likely get a 7,200-rpm drive, which will perform better than 5,400- or 4,200-rpm models. We even recommend taking slightly lower capacity (say, going from 80GB to 60GB) if it means being able to get a higher-speed drive. Regardless of your drives capacity, you should carry a smaller subset of applications on your laptop than youd install on your desktop. For example, youll likely use a compact video-playback app more often than youll use a pro-level video-editing bundle.

Notebook vendors dont allow a choice of chipset or motherboard, but more of them are letting consumers pick the graphics processor and even the amount of video memory it contains—though many vendors wont let you choose your screen resolution. You will want to max out all these video specs as much as possible within your budget. Luckily for DivX fans, ATI Radeon Mobility cards are appearing in more laptops.

Speaking of video, youll want a widescreen LCD for maximum movie enjoyment (or just for working on projects side by side). Whatever the aspect ratio, a 14- or 15-inch screen is very portable; 17-inch screens push the limits of your strength and your ability to be comfortable in tight spots like planes. Try to see the LCD before you buy, and be sure you like its crispness, viewing angles, and look. A growing number of vendors are including screens that have some type of brightness-enhancing technology, so consider this when shopping.

Audio is rarely great on notebooks, and additions such as integrated subwoofers can create hard-to-carry behemoths. Plan on using quality headphones or carrying portable speakers.

If you plan on doing most of your editing of digital content at home, ports wont be much of an issue, although most laptops with the horsepower to handle digital media also have at least USB 2.0. Youre likely to find media card readers built in too. Another type of I/O to look for is a built-in TV tuner, which will let you record and watch shows on the go.

Wireless connectivity and battery life determine where youll be able to stay connected and for how long. Try to buy integrated 802.11g wireless for fast interaction with your home network, and consider a machine with wired Gigabit Ethernet for frequent large data dumps. A laptop intended for true mobile freedom should have one of the aforementioned power-saving CPUs and a battery thats rated or benchmark-tested at over 3 hours.

Flash: Harmonic Media Convergence

15 million U.S. households now have a computer network, and roughly 8 percent of those—1.2 million—involve home stereos, digital audio receivers, televisions, or other CE devices.

Source: Parks Associates

Check out eWEEK.coms Desktop & Notebook Center at for the latest news in desktop and notebook computing.

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