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    Selecting notebook model to suit your needs

    13th August 2006

    Here I will list parameters you will most probably consider when bying a new notebook. I hope this post will help you choose what you really need.

    Weight: ranges from under 2kg (1.6 for yet-fully-functional notebook) and up to 6 kg (DTR). Most of the notebooks you’ll encounter weigh around 2.5-3 kg. If you want less kilos – you’ll have to pay noticeable extra for portability.

    Screen size: ranges from approx. 12″ up to 20″ (is that still a ‘notebook’ with 20″, how do you think?). The most common screen sizes are 14.1-15.4 inches. As for any other LCD display, the most important features are the reaction time (pixel on/off times), brightness and contrast. Usually you will not get those details in notebook specs; so you have to see for yourself. I just should note that cheaper notebooks (those in 600-800$ range) usually come with noticeably worse displays than more expensive laptops.

    Screen resolution: usually ranges from 1024×768 up to something like 1680×1050 and 1600×1200 (WUXGA+). The higher the resolution – the more you can fit at once on the screen. But take into account also the physical display size: if you happen to buy 14″ with 1680×1050 resolution, you either have perfect eye-sight, or you do not care about the eye-strain at all. I think that for a 15″-15.4″ display a resolution of 1280×800 (very common) is acceptable. My notebook has the resolution 1400×1050 at 15.4″ in diagonal, and not everybody feels comfortable working with that :). Of course you can switch from 1400×1050 down to 1024×768 (and not vice versa), but LCDs usually work best at their maximum resolution. At lower resolutions, the quality of the picture will be worse.

    CPU: Single core, Double core. Double core means that you have something like 2 CPUs; single core – just one CPU. You will need double core only if you really do edit lots of videos – video compression and decompression can be split into separate threads (processes), which gain speed by using both CPU cores. You might also consider double core if you need hardcore gaming notebook. For the majority of office tasks, and also for gaming with not-maximal graphics settings, single core should be enough (for gaming: strongly depends on the video card type, see below for this).

    CPU: 32bit, 64bit. You will definitely come across some CPUs which have two numbers – ’64′ – in their name. Those CPUs support 64bit commands. Frankly speaking, 64bit CPUs do not have any advantage over usual 32bit – at least now. Don’t pay attention if you are being told that those 64bit will help your notebook gain performance.

    CPU: Celeron, Pentium M. I am not quite sure, but Celerons are not only slower than Pentiums with the same clock speed, they also lack some energy-saving features. Thus, buying a Celeron-based notebook, you should be aware that it will not perfrom the same as Pentium-based, and you may also expect shorter battery life.

    Memory (RAM): ranges from 256 MB up to 4 GB. DO NOT take less than 512: you will suffer from slow response and slow program loading with that amount of memory for sure. 512MB or 1GB are currently optimal. The more memory – the better. Usually you can install some more RAM later (do an upgrade), but the maximal installable memory is model-dependent. For a highly portable notebook you may be limited with 1 or 1.5 GB of upgrade RAM, and for DTR up to 4GB are usually installable.

    Hard disk drive (HDD) capacity, speed, interface: capacities vary between 20GB and 200GB, with 40-80GB most frequently available. 40GB might be sufficient, especially if you work only with texts, and do not store movies and MP3s on your hard-drive. But this is already an outdated storage capacity; I would recommend taking 60 or 80 GB of storage, and more – if you need to store lots of videos. Usually, the more portable your notebook – the less storage you have with it. HDD rotation speed (also known as rpm – rotations per minute) strongly influences data transfer rates – i.e. how fast your programs and data will load, given enough other system resources. 4200rpm is most common; 5400rpm is noticeably better and also available for fair price; 7200rpm is probably the highest available, and the fastest as well. I would recommend taking either 5400 or 7200. Notebook’s hard drive can have ATA and Serial ATA (SATA) interface. SATA is more modern, but for 4200rpm or even 5400 rpm it gives no real advantage over ATA. 7200rpm on ATA is faster than 5400rpm on SATA. For future upgrades – SATA drives will be more common and generally better than outdated ATA drives.

    Graphics accelerator: can be integrated or discrete; can have shared memory or own memory. Integrated is usually Intel’s GMA900 series, which uses shared memory (taken from RAM). On integrated solution you cannot expect sufficient gaming experience even with a powerful CPU. You’ll be able to play games, but only those which are at least 2-3 years old, or do not require graphics acceleration. For office use, integrated solution is sufficient. Discrete graphics accelerator (most frequently you’ll come across ATI’s X600, X700, nVidia’s Go 7300-7700) is usually much better than integrated. However, discrete accelerator may still have shared memory, which impedes performance. So the best is to take discrete graphics with something like 128MB of own memory. This will make almost all of the games playable – probably not in highest resolutions, unless you will also take the double-core CPU.

    Wireless communication protocols: most commonly you’ll need WiFi b/g to stay connected. To get WiFi a/b/g you will most probably pay an extra (b and g protocols use the same frequency, but ‘a’ protocol uses a different one). Bluetooth is highly recommended as an option to upgrade or built-in; however, you can always buy a Bluetooth USB dongle starting at around 20$ and be happy :), so that is not really a factor. IrDA/FIR in my personal opinion are less usable than bluetooth, so consider this only when you already have some IrDA-enabled devices, or plan to buy those.

    Ports and connectors: most of the time you will be using USB to connect various devices to your notebook, so it is good to have at least 3 of them; four is a good number of ports. You can always use USB replicator, but this is additional hassle which can be avoided with just more USBs built-in. Also note how your USBs are arranged: if stacked close together, you may find it hard to use all at once; it’s better when USB’s are spread to different locations on the notebook’s case. FireWire (IEEE 1394) is a de facto standard for transmitting high-volume data, such as videos. Highly recommended. VGA output is important if you plan to make presentations using your notebook and some large-screen projector, or just want to plug your notebook to the desktop 23″ display for more comfortable work. There is also DVI output, but it is rare in the notebook field, and as for the large-screen projectors – even more rare. Headphones out and microphone in are standard; you may want to have hardware controlled volume – this allows to turn off sounds before your OS makes any noise, if you had forgotten to ‘mute’ sounds in software. Notebooks often come with built-in microphone, which is usually sufficient for some voice-chat (but not more, of course). LPT is an old, bulky port, used to connect to older printers; I would say you don’t need it, unless your company extensively uses LPT printers. SPDIF is good if you have 5.1 sound system, and your notebook has a sound processor of the sufficient quality. Video out is a frequent option, though personally I didn’t use it a lot yet. Ethernet (RJ45) and modem plugs – the first is strongly recommended – probably that (except for WiFi) will be the most frequent option for connectin to networks and internet. Modem plug is needed if you know that you will happen to visit some pretty wild places, where only the phone will be available.

    CDRW, Combo or DVD-RW: evidently, the best option is DVD-RW (double-layer, super-multi), which will allow you to read and write most of the disk formats available (except for the long-coming blueray and/or HD). Combo is worse, but might be a solution for an ultra-portable notebook – you’ll read pretty much everything, and will be able to dump backups to CDs. Simple CDRW is not a recommended option, and you will hardly find that in modern notebooks.

    Card reader: a convenient feature, which saves some cable-handling time and allows to get digital content even if your camera is dead on batteries. Most commonly readers support 4 or 6 card formats. You may want to have a look at the memory solutions of your other smaller devices to know which formats you really need.

    That seems to be it. Any corrections, comments, suggestions and questions are welcome. This article is valid as of date of publishing, but of course will be getting older each month; if you need my advice on your specific case – do not hesitate to contact me, for a tiny fee I will propose you 2-3 notebook models which suit you the most to choose from.


    5 Responses to “Selecting notebook model to suit your needs”

    1. ron Says:

      По моєму, в цих рекомендаціях по вибору бука дуже бракує пункту “S c r e e n q u a l i t y” !
      Враховуючи те, що якісну матрицю в ноуті при бюджеті до 2-х тис$ дуже важко підібрати, а з жахливим lcd – елементарно… :)

    2. chronos Says:

      Звичайно, було б добре дати якусь рекомендацію що до якості матриці, але мені не відомі об’єктивні способи визначення або порівняння якості матриць :(. Тому єдине, що я зазначив у тексті – це

      I just should note that cheaper notebooks (those in 600-800$ range) usually come with noticeably worse displays than more expensive laptops.

      По-моєму, до 2K цілком реально вибрати ноутбук з екраном нормальної якості – навіть від 1300 матриці вже цілком пристойні (imho). Найгірші, які я бачив – це саме “початковий рівень” – деякі досить популярні серед студентів моделі, наприклад, HP 6110 (з цифрами міг помилитися :) ).

    3. ron Says:

      Цілком об”єктивними є дані стосовно типу матриць на буках: абсолютна більшість – Tn(+film) і незначна частина IPS (і саме останні мають супер якість картинки і водяться часто у правильних брендів на машинках від 2-х к$ ) Стосовно Tn+film, то одні з найкращих мають Соні і Асуси.)
      Взагалі непогана(хоч і суто суб”єктивна) оцінка екранів різних виробників є ось тут від товариша quoted з ixbt.
      і почитати гілку можна також тут

      п.с.А взагалі, Тока, досить цікаво, що і ти почав глибоко копати тему ноутів десь в той самий період, як і я. :)

    4. chronos Says:

      дякую за лінки, було цікаво.
      Глибоко я не копав “тему ноутів” – не має великого сенсу, оскільки все одно за 5-6 місяців будь-який ноут, куплений із гарним співвідношенням ціна/якість, стає застарілим :) Тут – просто написав досить очевидні для мене речі, із надією що вони комусь та й будуть корисні :)

      п.с. А з ким маю честь? :) (можна через “контакт”)

    5. LG Express LM70-32HR Notebook: Impressions » Autarchy of the Private Cave Says:

      [...] Selecting notebook model to suit your needs [...]

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