One should be very careful buying a laptop because more than desktops
there are big differences in the technology and feature sets that
matter. Run-down of tech issues:
'True portable' versus 'desktop replacement' tech:
There are at least two major divisions of tech in laptops: tech
designed for laptops and tech designed for desktops but used in laptops.
Laptop tech results in smaller, lighter, cooler-running laptops that
last longer on their batteries. Only downside is they are a lot more
Desktop tech results in larger, heavier, hotter-running laptops that
have shorter runtimes on batteries before they need to be recharged. Of
course they are cheaper, sometimes a LOT cheaper, than true portable
There are likely one or more classes of laptops that would most
accurately be categorized as in between these extremes.
Telling the difference:
On the Intel side, anything labeled "Centrino" is true-portable; but
there are non-Centrino true-portables too. The biggest factor is the
CPU: the "M" for Mobile after the processor, as in Pentium M or Celeron
M, is a huge difference; the chips are barely related to the Pentiums in
desktops. They are really good tech, getting a lot of performance for
a little power, and a lot per clock. So a 1.5 GHz Pentium M sounds
slow but it is more like a 2.25 GHz desktop Pentium 4 or better. Do not
compare the two without multiplying the P-M/C-M speeds. These laptops
often are visually recognizable by being thin & sleek.
Any laptop labeled 'Desktop Replacement' or DTR is one based on
non-portable tech. They are best for those on a budget and/or where the
machine will spend most of its time sitting in one place plugged in to a
wall, or just moved around within a house like between a bedroom and the
living room couch. The true portable tech is worth it if you will be
using the machine on the road a lot or lugging it around in a backpack
or carry case. DTRs look fat (say, around 1" thick, keyboard to desk,
not including screen) and clunky by comparison with the true portables.
In the desktop world AMD is kicking Intel's butt but in the laptop
world it's the other way around. AMD has a portable tech called 'Turion'
meant to compete with Centrino but it's not quite as good. If on the
other hand you are buying a DTR, AMD is probably better because Intel
desktop chips run hotter and perform poorer, especially in games. Also
all current AMD models are 64-bit capable for future operating systems.
In the middle:
Just to confuse things there are intermediate chips: the 'Mobile
Pentium' and 'Athlon64 Mobile'. These are in between on the DTR/portable
spectrum in price & performance, as you would expect. They are more
closely related to desktop tech than portable tech, tho. Also beware of
buying older tech like Pentium III or Athlon XP-based notebooks; if
anyone is still selling these pay bottom dollar.
Graphics & gaming:
Laptop graphics are notoriously slow. But for RTS, it may not matter.
Still the low end may be slow enough to impact the latest RTS's. This
is one area where DTRs just blow away true portables. They can come
with graphics chipsets from NVidia or ATI that compete with decent add-in
card desktop graphics. Pentium M / Celeron M laptops usually come with
Intel graphics, which is slow. Turion laptops are probably faster in
graphics than P-M/C-M's. Find out the graphics chipset the laptop you
are interested in uses and check out on-line reviews to see if anyone
benchmarked an RTS on it, to see if performance will be acceptable.
Graphics becomes a LOT more important if you plan on playing any modern
shooters on the machine.
- steer clear of any Transmeta CPU based laptops (slowww).
- never buy a laptop with less than 512MB RAM if you can afford it;
Windows XP runs slow in 256M. Prefer a laptop upgradable to at least 1GB.
- buy XP Professional if you plan on ever logging on to a corporate
- I care, but you may not, for video out. I can load a laptop's hard
drive with movies & recorded TV MPEG files and use it as a portable
video jukebox. Some laptops have S-Video out ports built-in, some don't.
- Some laptops, especially smaller ones, require an expensive and / or
easy to lose adaptor to plug into an external monitor. Prefer one with
a standard VGA or DVI out port.
- Smaller laptops often omit an optical drive. I wouldn't want to get
one without a DVD burner, for back-ups and stuff, but that's just me.
- Some laptops include FireWire/IEEE1394 ports for hooking up digital
camcorders. Also can be used as a high-speed file transfer / network
port if your desktop has FireWire (400MBps = 4x Ethernet, unless both
have Gigabit Ethernet).
- You want at least 'b & g' wireless support; having no 'g' is
obsolete. 'n' or 'pre-n' is cutting edge.
- Some laptops include built-in card readers for uploading photographs
from your camera quickly.
- All new laptops should include USB 2.0.
- Laptop speakers are always crappy. You can get an awesome pair of
JBL Duet speakers for