Traveling businesspeople who need the power of their office computers on the road can find it in the newest high-performance, feature-rich notebook computers. Outstripping their full-sized 486 desktop brothers, these small machines have faster processors, larger hard drives, more memory, more flexibility and greater capabilities than many 2- or 3-year-old desktop PCs.
High-performance notebooks--characterized by their 8-by-11-inch size--have multimedia capabilities and include CD-ROM drives, stereo speakers, speedy built-in modems, color display screens, a variety of ports for PC cards and connectors, microphone and phone jacks, and docking capability once you're back at your office. Some have an "open architecture" that allows you to build the notebook to your personal specifications.
Except for ultra-thin models, extra features tend to add bulk and weight to portable computers, even though many notebooks incorporate slots for interchangeable components such as CD-ROM, floppy disk and backup drives, and extra battery packs.
Although you can, of course, leave some of the components at home, most mobile entrepreneurs need multimedia versions to take their offices with them, especially if they are making presentations or videoconferencing. But remember, extra cables and plugs add pounds to your luggage--and dollars to your total.
If it's speed you're after, the new notebooks' "brains" work faster than ever, many offering 150 MHz. To power that speed, rechargeable batteries provide two to six hours of operation. Some notebooks have a "sleep" mode to save power; most have a backup battery.
Prices for high-performance notebooks have not decreased with their growing popularity: Standard models still hover around $2,500; those with greater speed and muscle cost up to $5,000. (Remember, street prices can be hundreds of dollars lower.)
Almost every notebook on the market is powered by Intel's Pentium chip, which is swifter than a 486 but uses more battery power; hence the expansion bay for an extra pack. Most of the new models have upgradable RAM for more memory and can use several applications simultaneously.
Lower-end models, such as AST's Ascentia P series, are
expandable to 40MB RAM. Higher-end models, including
Panasonic's CF-25 series, are expandable to 72MB RAM, and the
Hitachi Mx series to
80MB RAM. The more memory you add, however, the higher the price.
Multimedia, which combines video, audio and graphics for taking your show on the road, is accommodated in notebook computers through multiple stereo speakers or ports to connect external speakers, removable CD-ROM drives, and ports to hook up to large monitors or screens.
Display screens are larger this year, and it's rare to find a high-performance notebook screen smaller than 11.3 inches; in fact, many have 12.1-inch screens. Trackpads, usually located front and center, are more popular on the new notebooks, although some have a port for connecting an external mouse.
Docking capabilities--relatively new for notebook computers but becoming commonplace--allow you to plug in to your full-sized desktop components once you've brought your notebook home. If desk space is at a premium, a dockable high-performance notebook takes up less room and does double duty for road warriors when it's time to upgrade or replace your desktop hard drive without getting rid of your standard keyboard and monitor.
Shopping for a notebook can be simple if you:
- determine how much speed and performance you need--the faster the processor, the higher the price.
- take the time to comparison shop. Ask to see the entire line of a series, then discuss lower- and higher-end versions with salespeople before coming to a decision.
- make a list of must-have features, then add like-to-have features depending on your budget.
- decide how fast you need your CD-ROM drive to be--the faster it is, the more expensive.
- calculate how many ports you need for printers, modems, networking, hard drives, CD-ROM drives, scanners, speakers, jacks, three-plug connectors, an external mouse and a keyboard.
- buy from a company that has a solid reputation and service record.
- check out warranties.