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Standard portable notebook computers--weighing less than 8 pounds and measuring slightly larger than a 2-inch-high stack of letterhead--are gaining in popularity and dropping in price. If you need more than a standard notebook, however, consider a Super Video Graphics Array (SVGA) model.
SVGA screens have high-resolution liquid crystal displays (LCDs). Lightweight, flexible and thin, LCDs let tiny notebooks boast high-quality screens that add little to their weight. The standard LCD resolution is 640 x 480 dots per inch (dpi); the higher 800-x-600-dpi resolution means you get a more colorful, sharper picture, while allowing more data to be displayed on screen without increasing lid size. Two drawbacks: Some SVGA notebooks are a bit slower than standard VGA computers, and some text and graphics appear slightly smaller on screen because data is more compressed than on standard VGA screens.
Geared to mobile businesspeople with heavy graphics and multimedia application needs, these leading-edge machines are still far pricier than their standard notebook cousins. Most are powered by Pentium processors and pre-loaded with Windows 95 and other software. Higher-priced models have built-in fax modems, extra ports for additional modules, expansion bays for adding second batteries and other devices, docking capabilities and PCMCIA card slots.
Factors to consider before you buy:
- Is the keyboard layout convenient for your type of work? Those used to working with a standard 120-key keyboard will have to relearn the positions on an 85-key portable.
- Try the mouse or pointing device. Most pointing devices are now located at the front of the keyboard, but some are awkwardly placed or clipped to the side. Make sure yours is easily accessible.
- Do you really need an SVGA notebook, or is it just a "new toy" you want? If all you work on is text, you don't need the high-tech, multimedia model.
- Add it up. Essential accessories, such as a longer power cord, extra batteries and adapters, add to your cost and travel weight.
Here's a look at some of the most popular models.
- Apple Computer: A multimedia model with a built-in speaker and integrated microphone, the Macintosh PowerBook 5300ce/117k has CD-quality sound and is compatible with DOS and Windows when running emulation software. Memory is expandable to 64MB RAM. PC card slots let you add a modem, memory or Ethernet networking. A hot-swapping ability lets you switch batteries or other devices without shutting down.
- Compaq: This company has no fewer than 10 SVGA portable notebooks. The Armada 4100 notebook series is on the lower end and offers something for everyone, whether you need a multimedia model or simply a top-rate SVGA model. Options to add include a modem, a CD-ROM drive, a trackball, an adapter and a battery charger.
Compaq's LTE 5150, 5250, 5280, 5300 and 5380 models are a little pricier, with appropriately more features including 2.16GB hard drives. Setting these slimline machines apart from many others is their flexibility with a mix-and-match concept that offers three different configurations.
- Digital Equipment Corp.: A mere 1.1 inches thick, the HiNote Ultra IIs are some of the slimmest notebooks around yet still offer full-sized keyboards with a trackball, an 11.3-inch screen, two external docking ports, an external port for a mouse or keyboard, built-in speakers and microphone, and expandability to 56MB RAM. There are four SVGA models with pre-loaded software that includes a network management program.
- Hewlett Packard: The OmniBook 5500 series features sophisticated machines whose high-end models have 12.1-inch SVGA display screens. Features include hot-swapping, a built-in microphone and jack, headphones and stereo speakers, a docking station connector, onboard mouse buttons, a TrackPoint pointing device, a VCR connector, and an optional, removable CD-ROM drive.
- IBM: Two of the ThinkPad 560 series have big SVGA screens--12.1 inches--and full-sized keyboards, yet weigh just over 4 pounds. The base model has an 11.3-inch screen; all have floppy disk and audio ports. For desktop use, the ThinkPad 560 plugs into a port replicator. ThinkPads include 810MB or 1.08GB hard drives, 8MB RAM expandable to 40MB, and long-lasting lithium-ion batteries.
- NEC Technologies: Among the most sophisticated SVGA notebooks on the market are the Versa 6000H, Versa 6030H and Versa 6030X. They exceed the standard SVGA 800-x-600-dpi resolution, with the high-end model giving you 1024 x 780 dpi. Prices vary depending on screen size, storage capacity and performance. All have built-in modems, touchpads, CD-ROM drives, 1.08GB hard drives, floppy drives and docking capabilities.
- Sharp Electronics: Affordable, fast and fully featured, the PC-3030 and PC-3070 have built-in audio, infrared and pointing device capabilities for presentations; a touchpad for lefties or righties; and expansion capabilities for CD-ROM drives, video cards and fax modems. The PC-3030 has 8MB memory; the PC-3070, 16MB.
- Texas Instruments: BODY-drive the high-powered, speedy TravelMate 5300 if you want a state-of-the-art computer with a 1.2GB hard drive and 32MB expandability. Two lower-priced models are the Extensa 570CD and its more powerful sibling, the 570CDT. With 8MB RAM expandable to 40MB, a CD-ROM drive and multimedia capabilities, users can interweave video files, special effects or voice-overs for presentations.
- Toshiba America Information Systems: The world's leading manufacturer of portable notebooks offers seven SVGA models. The basic model in the Satellite 110 series, the 110CT, has a large 11.3-inch screen. The slightly more expensive Satellite Pro 420CDT offers more multimedia features, and the Tecra 500CDT model has superior expansion capabilities. The Portege 650, one of Toshiba's high-end models, is ultraportable and has a frameless 11.3-inch screen.