Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Choosing a Laptop/Notebook

As promised earlier, here you go with this post...
I have spent endless hours reading posts after posts, reviews after reviews for more than 3 months before deciding the exact config and model. Like me, if you don't have unlimited money resource to buy a laptop, you would want to be maximize your value for money! Thought this small guide might help you a bit towards that end. Feel free to add and seek advice :D

0. Processor
Most of tasks we do are not CPU-bound, they are IO-bound. So invest wisely
Anything more than 1.86 GHz is just a feel-good-factor! If you are not into too much of graphics (which is the case for most of us), trust me, processor is NEVER the deciding factor in the over all feel of speed you get. So don't waste your $$$s on this, no matter what GHz shit Intel promotes. In fact, if you are observant, Intel just stopped pushing GHzs these days, in fact from P-4, they started NOT advertising speed much and even reduced their core clock speeds!!! And if you missed that, take a note NOW!

But yes, don't go for the outdated Celeron processors. Dual core, in my view is NO better either. You are better off with single core Pentium-M, and if you saving some bucks, go for single core. Ask the sales rep explicitly if they offer discounts on single cores. And don't even think of Quad-cores for your notebook! Whoever tells you need one, is full of sh!t!

1. RAM
1GB is great, but 512MB is not bad either. Get 533 MHz DDR2, that's the standard these days anyway. If you gonna run vmware, or any other virtualization stuff, 512MB might be a tad too little. And anything above 1.5GB, again, is a WASTE! It like 1 person living in Palatial house! You definitely feel good, but don't need and never gonna use that much space!
(update: I don't use M$ OS much, so thanks for update from my colleague, Vinay. He says you need 2GB for Vista! God! My Linux runs pretty darn well on 512!)

2. HDD
Hitachi is really good. Never made it's presence felt by emitting unnecessary decibels. What is VERY important is that buy the fastest you can in your budget. Even if it means cutting down on few GBs of space and compromising RAM!!! Being a mechanical device, it's the slowest element introducing the maximum latency. That's the reason I opted for 512MB RAM and 80GB 7200 rpm HDD. I could have very well gotten 1GB RAM and 120GB 5400 rpm HDD n the same cost. But just increasing RAM doesn't increase the speed. I can bet my config will kick a$$ of the later config! So, invest wisely. Remember what I told above, most of your tasks will be IO-bound and NOT CPU-bound.

3. Display & Resolution
That's purely a matter of choice. Too small a display (12") means cramped kbd, lesser screen real estate and limited resolution. Too big a display (17") and you are better off leaving your baby on the desk. For me 14" worked the best. Small enough to carry her around. And still full sized keyboard. Read the spec for pitch and keystroke. Highest in the class resolution of 1400 x 1050 gives me more than sufficient screen real estate.
There's another thing, depending on your taste, you might want a glossy vs matte finished display. I personally like matte, it reduces the glare and looks more professional. I don't know of any maker giving you matte finished screens other than TP.

4. Weight
You don't have much of a choice here, because this is dominated largely by the size of your lappy. Your call, what takes the precedence: weight or size.

5. Built
TPs are notoriously famous for lasting years immemorable! Nothing beats it! But I tell you, Sony Vaio looks more sexier. It's Classy vs Sexy. Vaio will get you more stares from babes than TP! But hey, TP also has a legend, which goes like: If you enter a boardroom, and don't know who's heading it, look for ThinkPad! I tell you, it's classy jet-black looks are superlatively beautiful.

6. DVD
Due to her size and built, my TP could only take 9mm drives. To my knowledge there's only one maker of DVD-writer of that spec: Matshita. I WANTED a DVD-writer and had to spend a fortune getting it! Probably you won't have to take that pain. Go for the best you can here. And yes, if you are in a habit of backing up your movie DVDs a lot, you might wanna consider buying a DVD drive which has a firmware update to ... you know what!

7. WiFi
Get the built-in one, don't buy external card, it's cumbersome. I trust most of then have built-in, but if you go for 12" (or lower) sized notebooks, you will mostly probably be left with no choice but carry that additional card with antenna sticking out of it. This does give your notebook a robotic look, but don't forget that it gets tangled in wires VERY easily if you move around a lot.

8. Mobo
Unlike PCs, you don't have much say here, you gotta take what the maker gives you.

9. Heat
You don't want to boil eggs on your notebook, you are better off with your traditional stove. So another most important factor that you wanna consider is how good is your notebook's thermodynamics. Because more the heat means faster fan. And yes, the faster your CPU higher is your core clock and more is the heat generated. This is another good reason to not reach for the fastest processor. And faster fan implies more noise and shorter battery life. Only way to figure this info is to dive in LOTS of mailing lists.

Same config on Dell, HP or Acer will definitely cost you 30%-40% less! But I tell you, if you are looking at notebook for longer run, it's worth investing in ThinkPad. DON'T buy TP from India, it's hellishly expensive there! Plus, you won't get all the options to configure. If you can, buy it from US or Canada.

What I've never tried with my TP is the S-video port, PCMCIA slot. Things that she doesn't have are FireWire port & card reader. I don't need'em.

If you are serious on buying a TP, I strongly recommend that you spend some time on ThinkPad Forum. It's moderated by some GREAT moderators who are freaking knowledgeable about TPs and have ripped many of them apart and put'em back, SUCCESSFULLY!

Acronyms used:
TP: ThinkPad
kbd: KeyBoarD
mobo: MOtherBOard

P.S.: These specs and tips are not of much use to you if you are one of these species: Gamer, heavy video-editing, number-cruncher, etc. where CPU power becomes too critical a factor. But the general guideline will still help you. And neither have I taken Apple Macs into consideration.


vinayadavi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vinayadavi said...

Agreed to all configurations except RAM.

512MB is too less, at least 1.0GB, if you are running foe Vista then 2.0GB is must.

Sagar Bhanagay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sagar Bhanagay said...

Very informative & well researched! Almost a handy pocket-guide. But then, sometimes I wonder ...

Sameer said...

i agree with point #0 about the processor. Thats why i chose to get a 1.6GHz. But then, I bought Dell and thats where my smartness ends :)

Anil said...

MacBook Pro or MacBook only! ;)

Anonymous said...

one day when u will use firefox you will realize compromising 5400/1024 with 7200/512 was such a big mistake :)


The Shaolin said...

@ Nakul,
Been doing that for well over 2 years now!!! No issues with ffox on TP with 512MB!!!
I wonder why you say so!!!