HOME Technology 2004
Laptops rival desktop value
PC features spawn desktop replacement
Notebook computers are no longer poor cousins to the bulky PC - in fact improved performance, pricing and features have bought them into direct competition with their desktop equivalents.

Research company IDC says consumer notebook sales grew 100 per cent every quarter from mid 2003 through 2004. The main players sharing the market are Compaq-HP, Toshiba, Dell, Acer, IBM and NEC.

Wireless capability, enabling laptop users to roam while remaining connected to other devices or the Internet has added another dimension to computing freedom.

Jason Bell general manager of merchandise with the Noel Leeming Group says portable computers are now the first choice for most buyers including new and second time purchasers. "New pricing and the inclusion of technology normally only found in desktop PC's has meant the notebook format is able to replace the desktop machine purchased two years ago for less than they originally invested."

Entry level might be as low as $1500-$1800 but if you want the latest features expect to pay between $2000-$2500. The standard processor is likely to be a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 processor or AMD equivalent, although Intelís Centrino mobile technology chipset with inbuilt 802.11 wireless capability is becoming standard.

To make the grade entry level notebooks should have at least 128Mb RAM and a 15 inch TFT (thin film transistor) screen, a 40 - 60Gb hard drive and a CD writer that doubles as a DVD player. Increasingly however combo DVD writers that will burn both CDs and DVDs are being offered.

If you plan to go hard with graphics, videos, DVDs and games then moving from integrated graphics to dedicated 64Mb graphics capability is recommended. Budget for another $500 to upgrade your RAM to 512-500Mb and your disk to 80 Gb for a smoother experience. If you interchange SD or memory card data from a phone or PDA ensure thereís an appropriate slot or at least ensure USB capability to plug in a card reader.

Windows XP Home Edition is the standard operating system although XP Professional may give added features for advanced users or those who plan to network their machines.

Bundled offerings to sweeten the deal range from essential software such as Microsoft Works to a leather carry case, printer, DVD burner or upgrades to memory or screen technology.

A compact 17 inch TFT flat screen could well be the missing accessory so when you sit at your desk at home or at work youíll have the comfort of a big screen for under $700.

Meanwhile Hewlett Packard notebook product manager Simon Molloy says Intelís new chipset for mobile computing is a huge development which will change the whole bus architecture and simplify the design to make way for smaller faster laptops.

A key part of that change will be the introduction of the PCI Express input/output architecture which will allow laptops to evolve far beyond their current limitations, recognise and accept a broader range of devices and achieve much faster data throughput (up to 2.5Gbit/sec). It will also displace the PCI or PCMCIA card drives with a backwardly compatible drive optimised for mobile communication, security, data and flash media such as the SD card.

The innovation is due for release in new model laptops from about March 2005.

The key is donít rush in. Do your homework. Know how you plan to use the laptop and buy above your basic needs to ensure youíll still be happy with your purchase in two years.

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