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2009 December 1 - 12:00 am

TECHNOLOGY TODAY: More Robust Laptops Can Be an Inviting Alternative to Desktops

For your next personal computer, should you go with a laptop PC even though you compute primarily at one location?

More people have been answering this question in the affirmative. Sales of laptop PCs surpassed desktop PCs for the first time in the third quarter of 2008, according to the market research firm iSuppli (www.isuppli.com).

Several factors explain the trend. Traditionally, desktops far outperformed laptops with cost, speed, storage capacity and reliability. Desktop PCs still have an advantage in these areas, but the difference has decreased dramatically. The smallest laptops, the netbooks, are now priced equivalently to the least expensive desktop PCs.

The main advantage of laptops is the most obvious. Rather than being tethered to one spot, you can compute wherever you happen to be, whether from building to building, within an office, factory, or house or even outside.

This portability is accentuated by the recent improvements in wireless Internet technology, with wireless network adapters now built into most laptops. This and other advances make it easier to set up a network in a business or home and to connect to an existing Wi-Fi network for Internet access in airports, hotels, coffee shops, restaurants, supermarkets, libraries and college campuses

Stationary desktop PCs still have their benefits. Their greater speed and capacity make them better suited for video editing, computer aided design and high-end gaming. Their larger size for some people makes them easier to type on and easier to view. People using desktops are also generally less prone to ergonomic problems, such as neck and back strain from slumping over a small machine.

Unless you’re near an outlet, laptops are also limited by their battery life. And laptops are more easily stolen than larger desktop PCs, which is a big factor in organizational settings.

Workarounds are available, however, to mitigate these issues. You can use a supplemental mouse, keyboard and/or monitor with a laptop PC. Laptop stands can improve the ergonomics without requiring supplemental devices. AViiQ (www.aviiq.com) has recently introduced its Portable Laptop Stand, which unlike most other laptop stands folds up so you can carry it along with the laptop.

Some people carry an external laptop battery with them, which can double the time you can compute before recharging. Energizer’s Energi To Go XP18000 (www.energizer.com/products/energi-to-go) is a portable power pack that can charge a laptop and two other devices at once while away from an electrical outlet.

Most laptops today have a security slot you can use to secure the unit to a desk or other immovable object with a security cable and lock such as those from Kensington (us.kensington.com).

The word “laptop” has evolved into an umbrella term for “portable computer.” Portable PCs today come in four main flavors, listed here by decreasing size: desktop replacements, laptops, notebooks and netbooks. Variations include tablet PCs with touch screens that can be used without a keyboard and “rugged” laptops built to withstand strong vibrations, heat and cold, moisture, and dust.

I’ve been experimenting with using a Sony VAIO desktop-replacement laptop (www.sonystyle.com/vaio) as my main work machine to see how well it replicates my current desktop PC experience. Sony makes some of the most reliable laptop PCs, according to a study by SquareTrade, a third-party warranty provider for laptops and other electronics (www.squaretrade.com).

The Sony VAIO CW Series laptops, which start at about $720, have large 14-inch screens and keys that have about the same size and spacing as desktop keyboards. As with most laptops you use a touchpad instead of a mouse, which requires an adjustment period unless you have previous experience with one.

The Sony VAIO runs Windows 7 and works well with it. As with most PCs, you can order it with extra capacity, going in increments from a 2.10 GHz to a 2.80 GHz Intel processor, a 250 GB to a 500 GB hard drive, 2 GB to 8 GB of memory, and so on. A slightly higher than basic configuration works great for me, though if I were doing high-end graphics I would opt for more.

At 5.3 pounds, it’s not light, but weight is the inevitable trade-off you face with laptops when choosing higher performance. Like many PCs these days, it comes standard with an advertising-laden edition of Microsoft Works, with various editions of Microsoft Office costing from $145 to $400 extra.

Though this is a machine that will travel with me, I’m not ready to give up my desktop PC just yet. But I can see how others would.

Comments: editor@ccweek.com

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@comcast.net or www.reidgoldsborough.com.

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