Wanted: A Portable That Can Afford to Be a Portable

Most notebook computers are either too expensive or too heavy; that's why the 2.9-pound, $799 Lindows Mobile PC is so attractive.

I generally dont get too excited about notebook computer releases, because as useful as these systems are, they never seem to deliver quite the mix of attributes Im after. Recently, though, a new notebook has emerged that really grabs my interest, and it isnt the 12-inch PowerBook we review in this weeks issue.

The notebook thats caught my eye is the 2.9-pound, $799 Lindows Mobile PC that made an appearance at last weeks Desktop Linux Summit.

Its not that I wasnt charmed by the littlest Apple. The 12-inch PowerBook is beautifully made, and although Ive yet to see the Lindows Mobile PC up close, I cant imagine it cutting a more striking figure than the Apple unit does. Whats more, the G4-driven PowerBook certainly packs a greater performance punch than does the Lindows Mobile, which is powered by a 933MHz C3 chip from Via thats built for low power and low heat, but not for speed.

However, weight and cost matter much more to me than beauty and brawn when Im weighing notebook attributes, so as charming as the PowerBook may be, its $1,799 price tag and 4.6-pound weight work to cool my ardor. Apples iBook can be had for a more comely $999, but it weighs in at 4.9 pounds. Various PC notebooks cost less than a grand, and a couple weigh around 3 pounds, but Ive yet to see one that does both.

Portable profits

One of the biggest themes at the recent Macworld keynote, in which Steve Jobs introduced the new 12-inch and 17-inch PowerBooks, was Apples intention to shift an increasingly larger share of its computer sales to portables, and I imagine that other computer makers share a similar desire.

Its easy to see why. Profit margins on desktop systems have fallen precipitously, and with everyone using pretty much the same components in the desktop systems they sell, its getting tough to convince buyers of the value attached to a brand name.

Placing a focus on notebooks seems like a good strategy—you can build a mean desktop for a few hundred dollars. But if you want a PowerBook, youve got to pay what Apples asking. Now, if you or your company plans to spend $2,000 on a notebook, its probably going to have to serve as a desktop replacement, unless you or your company has cash to burn.

So I understand what computer makers have to gain from a shift from low-margin desktops to high-margin desktop replacements, but whats in it for us?

Not only do desktop-replacement notebooks cost more than desktop systems at the outset, but theyre also more costly and difficult to service and upgrade. Also, notebooks will always be slower than desktops of comparable age, in part because, while notebooks almost always ship with 4,200-rpm hard drives, you can scarcely expect less than 7,200 rpm in a new desktop drive.

What were supposed to get is mobility, and for me, mobility means never having to debate whether to bring your notebook with you. I want to carry the thing with me in my briefcase wherever I go. For that, a 4.5-pound notebook doesnt fit the bill.

However, because most notebooks also have to be desktop replacements, theyve got to carry weighty elements such as large displays and internal optical drives. Apple put an optical drive into even its smallest notebooks, because external drives are a pain to keep track of and use, especially if the machine with which youre using them is your desktop replacement.

Without an internal optical drive or a high-powered processor, the Lindows Mobile wont make a great desktop replacement. However, when you pay $799 for a notebook computer, you can afford to keep your desktop and let your portable be a portable.

What do you look for in a notebook computer? Talk to me at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.

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