What to avoid when buying a notebook

What to avoid when buying a notebook

25th May 2008, Comments 0 comments

Go shopping for a notebook computer today, and you're likely to focus on the specs that manufacturers tout: dual core processor, large screen, size, and light weight. By Jay Dougherty.

Other features of current notebooks, though, are less desirable - and more controversial. Know what they are before you buy a notebook, and you're more likely to remain happy about your purchase.

Glossy screens
When you buy a notebook computer, pay special attention to whether the LCD is "glossy" or "matte." Increasingly, manufacturers are offering glossy screens. While these are great for watching movies on your laptop, they're not optimal for doing traditional office work.

The reason: the glossy screens are highly reflective. In typical office environments, glossy screens can be hard on both your eyes and your concentration, as you'll have to work harder to ignore the ambient lighting and background objects that are reflected in your screen. Bottom line: if you're buying a notebook primarily to get work done and not to watch movies or play games, avoid glossy screens.

Slow wireless
Most notebooks on the market today come with built-in wireless network connectivity. The trouble is that many still include yesterday's technology. The wireless transmission standard is about to get a big boost in speed with the official unveiling of the 802.11n standard, which provides internet and networking connectivity speeds that are about 10 times faster than the wireless standards currently in use.

That's a significant speed boost, and it's one you want in your notebook computer, especially because changing the type of wireless connectivity that you have in a notebook is difficult or impossible once you buy the machine. To add a new wireless standard to an existing notebook, for example, you'd have to purchase an add-on device and potentially crowd the limited ports you get in a notebook.

Avoid notebooks that offer only the built-in 802.11b or 802.11g wireless cards. Even if the version of 802.11n offered in a notebook sold today is dubbed "draft" or "pre-release," it'll likely still be far faster than the 802.11g standard - and you'll probably be able to upgrade it later, once the standard is finally ratified.

Flimsy construction

How well a notebook computer is built will likely determine whether you still own it three years from now or whether it gets sold off for parts. The unfortunate fact is that as competition has forced manufacturers to offer notebooks as rock-bottom prices, quality of exterior construction has suffered.

Consumer-level notebooks - those not designed for businesses - are typically constructed with a less durable shell. The result is that they don't stand up very well to any type of fall or hard knock. Some coatings scratch easily, too, leaving notebooks looking worn out before their time.

If you'll be doing a lot of travelling or will be buying a notebook for a youngster, think about buying notebooks that were made to take some abuse. The Dell Latitude series, the Acer TravelMate, or the Lenovo ThinkPad are all highly regarded in terms of durability.

Combine a powerful processor, fast hard drive, and hefty battery, and what do you get? Heat - and lots of it. There's a good reason why the moniker "laptop" has all but disappeared: Some notebook computers are really not suitable for resting on your lap because they get too hot on the underside to hold comfortably.
But some notebook computers are still designed for those who wish to work from their lap. That's why it's important to find out just how hot a laptop gets on the underside. Either contact the manufacturer and ask specifically about this or visit a store in which the notebook is running, and feel the underside.

Noise is less of a problem with notebooks than it once was, but it can still be a factor - especially if you're easily bothered by noise while working. Noise in notebooks generally comes from two sources: the hard drive and the cooling fan. If you want to eliminate the source of hard drive altogether, consider a new notebook with a solid state drive.

And fan noise can sometimes be controlled with utilities such as Notebook Hardware Control. But because some notebooks are much louder than others, it's wise to inquire about noise before you purchase a unit.


Photo: Model Freschta Sahibi presents a notebook from Eee PC at the CeBIT fair at Hanover in March. By Friso Gentsch.


[Copyright dpa 2008]


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