HOME Technology 2003
Smaller, faster, lighter laptops
The strength of the New Zealand dollar against our major trading partners has allowed computer vendors to become more aggressive this year, slicing about 30 per cent off the price of a typical laptop or notebook.

"This is the year of the notebook Ė theyíre really starting to take off in both the business and consumer space," says IDC analyst Sonja Olsson. "The New Zealand dollar has been growing strongly so components are a lot cheaper allowing vendors to compete more heavily on price."

Prices began dropping last year but many people opted to go for the gadgets Ė the smart mobile phones, digital cameras, MP3 players, personal digital assistants. This year however laptops will be favoured because of the excitement about price.

Desktop gap closing

Functionality has also improved closing the gap between notebooks and the desktop PC with many potential buyers including those who were previously looking for a second or third PC.

This yearís batch of notebooks are typically lighter, faster and more geared to mobile communications. Advances such as Intelís Centrino mobile technology chipset geared for wireless mobile users and including features that enable extended battery life and thinner form factors in notebook design have also helped raise the profile of the notebook.

You can get an adequate notebook now for as little as $2000, although a typical entry level machine might range from $2249 - $3000 (inc GST). This would have a processor speeds of 2.2GHz - 2.4GHz with 40-60Gb RAM, a 14 inch thin film transistor (TFT) screen, 256Mb and come with CD/ DVD writer combo and windows XP installed. You might even get a digital camera, printer or 12 months phone support thrown in and a couple years interest free on your hire purchase.

At the higher end though, for a 2.6-3GHz machine with more hard disk (80Gb), memory (512 RAM), a 15-inch TFT and a suite of useful software you might pay between $3500 to $5000.

Hard case needed

With WiFi maturing and cards (est $69) and WiFi access points (est $200) becoming affordable setting up a wireless home network to share bandwidth from your internet connection around the home or office becomes attractive.

Portable buyers should be aware that the machine theyíre about to purchase will not take kindly to rough handling. A solid case with padding could help extend its life if a lot of traveling will be involved.

Other factors to take into consideration include battery life, how long will it take to charge up and how much is a spare battery to have as a back-up?

According to IDC the installed base of notebooks was about 30,000 in 2002 and thatís up 36 per cent to 40,699 this year. HP was the market leader in the second quarter this year with 39.9 per cent market share followed by Toshiba, IBM and Acer. Toshiba has traditionally led this sector and Dell is usually somewhere in the top five mix.

The big innovation last year was the release of the Tablet notebook by major notebook manufacturers in conjunction with Microsoftís Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system. IDC says it hasnít really made a major impact at this stage. "The aim of most vendors hasnít been to attract wide-scale demand. Itís still quite expensive and is more geared to niche areas such as the medical industry. Nobody is expecting it to do big things just yet the real excitement will be when the prices come down and then itíll begin to register," says IDCís Sonja Olsson.

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