Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Looking at more costly laptops - Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008

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Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008

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Looking at more costly laptops

QI want to buy my son a laptop for Christmas. He's been saving his money for a $1,000 machine. What can I get for that price?

AThe short answer is "a lot." Laptops—especially Windows machines—are powerful and inexpensive.  You might even want to look at inexpensive machines. I have a Buying Guide on them. You could spend the rest on software.

But if he is shooting for $1,000, he probably knows what he wants. There are a lot of things to consider. Maybe you should just go to the store with him and let him spec out the computer.

I'm going to take this opportunity to address medium and expensive laptops. I'm going to set the medium price range as $800 to $1,500. For $1,500 and up, we're talking high-end.

OK, those numbers are pretty arbitrary. But let's see what you'll get for these prices. One person's medium might be ridiculously expensive for someone else.

In the medium class, you won't see cheap microprocessors. Intel makes the Celeron, and AMD has the Sempro. Neither is recommended for big girls and big boys. If you're paying four figures, you need firepower!

On Intel machines, that translates to Core 2 Duo or the Core 2 Quad. The Core i7, a brand new chip, will eventually supplant the Core 2 series. They are all screamers. That's true of AMD's Turion X2, too.

A lot of notebooks are sporting 64-bit Windows Vista these days. This is the system of the future. Theoretically, a 64-bit system can handle twice the data of a 32-bit system. Unfortunately, the 64-bit system may be a little early. Some games and professional level programs are 64-bit. Otherwise, it's practically all 32-bit.

Your son's 32-bit programs will run on 64-bit Windows. But they will run in emulation, since they're not native. It's called Windows on Windows 64, or WoW64.

Windows 64 can address much more memory than Windows 32. So high-powered corporate programs might like it. Or, if you're a bleeding-edge type person, go for Windows 64. Otherwise, I'd stick with 32-bit Windows until software publishers catch up. 

Large screens abound on the medium-priced laptops. Your son will be looking at that screen for a few years, anyway. So I wouldn't skimp. One consideration, though, is weight.  There's often a correlation between screen size and pounds. That's not a good thing for road warriors. Think carefully about how this machine will be used. Even six pounds is heavy for people who travel a lot.

For this kind of money, I would specify Windows Vista Ultimate. That will cover him for business and pleasure. In some cases, you can downgrade to XP for an extra charge. You read that right; XP often costs extra.  

I've used Vista Ultimate for nearly two years. I like it. It has been trouble free. I don't know why people trash it. Anyway, I'd go with Vista. New programs will be built for it, not XP.

If he's got a music collection nonpareil, you may need a humongous hard drive. Otherwise, take whatever is standard—it will be big enough. Or, you may find solid state drives (SSD) in the stores. Machines with SSDs will boot faster. I think there's a fair amount of hype surrounding these drives. I put SSDs in the nice-to-have-but-I-wouldn't-pay-extra category.

You should get at least 2 gigabytes of random access memory. You might even go up to 3GBs. Don't go any higher, unless the machine is running Windows 64. In that case, you could go to 4 or 6GBs. However, that could be tremendous overkill. Two gigabytes will suit most people just fine.

Specify 256 megabytes of RAM on the video card. You may find video cards for laptops that go higher. But there is a tradeoff with system RAM. Read my tip for more about that.

Of course, your son must have a DVD burner. Such burners also can handle CDs, so he'll be all set.

You may get Bluetooth, a short-range networking protocol. That's not insanely helpful, but you could find it useful.

Above $1,500, we're discussing the ethereal. These machines can be really thin, for instance, or very light. Maybe they sport colors. Or, they are optimized for game playing. If he is that far into games, he probably knows what he wants. The two of you will have to decide how much such things are worth.

You'll note that I haven't mentioned Apple's MacBooks. That's because you don't have a lot of options. Apple's MacBook starts at $999. The display has 1GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive. The people at the Apple store will encourage you to add a gigabyte of RAM. You would be wise to do so.

MacBook also has beefier versions, at $1,300 and $1,600. They have faster chips and more RAM. And their RAM is a later development than the price leader's. I'm not sure that's worth much.

All three machines have 13-inch displays.

Continuing up the food chain, we have the MacBook Air. We tried one of these when they came out. It is truly an amazing product. It is three-quarters of an inch high at its maximum. And it weighs only three pounds.

However, think carefully about this machine. Its beauty makes it easy to love. But it has shortcomings. It doesn't include a DVD drive, for instance. And its display is only 13.3 inches. It may not be everything you need.

The MacBook Air comes in two versions--$1,800 and $2,500. The upper one has a faster microprocessor and a solid state hard drive. I think most people would be satisfied with the $1,800 version.

Finally, we have MacBook Pro. It comes in three versions--$2,000, $2,500 and $2,800. The bottom two have 15-inch screens; the big boy has a 17-incher. These strike me as expensive machines; before you buy, see what you can get in Windows.

Laptops have inherent problems. For one, they can get uncomfortably hot. You probably wouldn't want to put one on your lap. They also have lithium ion batteries. Such batteries have been troublesome in both Apple and Windows machines.

Laptops are somewhat less reliable than desktops. According to Consumer Reports, about a fifth of people surveyed had had problems. That includes Apple. Other surveys I have seen found people happier with Apple's service that that of other manufacturers.

Let's all be thankful

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I have plenty to be thankful for, including my wonderful family. You along with my millions of listeners and readers make my dreams come true every day. I will always be thankful for your attention. Working with you has been my pleasure.

Since it's Thanksgiving, I've decided to give my great staff a break. Instead of going to the office, they're coming to my house. They will cook a huge meal, wait on me and then, wash my car! Naaah, that's a joke. They'll be off Thursday and Friday. So there won't be any daily newsletters. We'll be back at work on Saturday.

I hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day. Let's be thankful for all the brave men and women at home and abroad who are at their posts to protect us. Enjoy your holiday, and thank you for letting me be a little part of your life again this year. And say a prayer for our troops who are in harm's way.

With love,


Taking your blood pressure at home has never been so easy!

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