It can be argued that portable computing is the oldest form of computing, as the very earliest computing devices were made to be easily transportable as a means for speedy and accurate calculations in the market. The invention of the abacus set down some of the earliest steps towards our ever-evolving ideal of mobile computing.
So what makes an ideal Notebook computer in 2014? As usual, the best answer is; “That depends on you”. There are dozens of different portable computing standards, each designed to meet the common demands of a user group. This large proliferation of platforms and standards speaks to the fundamental fact that one size certainly doesn’t fit all. Even Apple with its high quality offerings only provides two notebook platforms for users to select between; a MacBookPro and a MacBookAir.
Selecting the right notebook computer requires that you ask yourself the following five questions, and the more honest you are with yourself, the happier you’ll be with your final choice.
What do you intend to do with this notebook? It is very true that form does fit function when it comes to notebook computers. Portable computing is at its heart a story of compromise – what are you willing to give up in order to make your system portable ‘enough’? In the early 1980’s, systems such as the Osborne 1 set the standard for early portable computing, but few today would call a 25 pound computer ‘portable’. Typical points of compromise in 2014 are the OS type (Chrome, OS X or Windows) size of the screen, the capability of the processor and the inclusion of a DVD drive. By asking yourself this question, you’ll be able to determine if the availability or exclusion of these features will have an impact on your ability to do what you want with the notebook. If the work you intend to do on the notebook is computing-heavy, such as work with images or video, then you’ll want to invest in a system with a high-performance processor, lots of RAM and a Solid-State Hard-Drive. If you only intend on surfing the web, then your important considerations are screen size and if you will require more than just WiFi (such as LTE / 3G cellular connection). Knowing what the use you intend to make of your notebook is a key first step in selecting the right notebook computer.
How much money do you have to spend? It always seems to come down to money, doesn’t it? Well, when it comes to computing, it seems like there is no limit to how much you can spend. The good news is that the continued proving of Moore’s Law means that what you can get for $1000 today is 700% faster than what you could buy a decade ago. Other key advances in LCD screens, Solid-State Hard-Drives, video cameras and portable memory systems such as SD Cards means that there are features and capabilities built in to portable computers today that were simply not available in years past. The cost entry point for portable computers has continued to drop in actual dollars, and in some cases the price has remained the same while features have been improved. Prices can range from about $200 to more than $5000, and as always you do get what you pay for.
Where do you intend to use this notebook? You may need to take your notebook computer out into the great outdoors in the middle of winter, or to a beach or on a camping trip. There are a number of systems that are specifically built to support computing in extreme or physically rough locations. Perhaps the most popular platform is Panasonic’s platform of rugged Toughbooks. Perhaps your notebook computer will only ever be used to surf the web in a coffee shop, in that case almost any notebook will do, however you may want to watch the weight and features and keep them to an absolute minimum. You might even want to consider a tablet instead. If you are someone who will be shuttling your notebook between work and home and wherever else your work will take you, then a well-built system with a metal case and full features including a DVD player should be of high consideration – but you’ll pay for it in weight. If general use is what you’re after, then as with every notebook choice, be sure to pay attention to the size of the battery and the stated lifespan. Generally, user’s don’t get as much battery life as manufacturers claim, however some systems come with swappable batteries, or the option to purchase a larger main battery. If running without access to an external power source is of importance to you, then the bigger the battery, the better. Arm-based processors and Mac notebooks traditionally have far longer on-battery life than Intel-based notebooks.
Will you be using this in conjunction with other computers? Some people simply use a notebook for occasional use when they are going to be away from their primary desktop PC, others have completely abandoned their desktop and now only compute with a notebook. If you intend on sharing your work between more than one computer, how will you be sharing the data files you are working on? If they are sensitive or should not be accessed by anyone else, then be sure not to send them via email, as everything you send in an email is as visible as the note on a postcard. Many people have adopted the use of Cloud Computing, where files and applications exist in “The Cloud” which is a simply a metaphor for the Internet. When you select a cloud storage option you will want to consider the cost, location where your data is stored and backup. Most services start out as free, but what will it cost you if you need to expand your storage? If the data that you store is legally restricted from being stored outside of your national borders, does the cloud service you are using guarantee this? In the unlikely event that your cloud hosting provider goes out of business or loses your files, how easy will it be for you to go to your backup copy of these files (you do have a backup of all your files, right?). And finally, if you are using a cloud system, how easy and secure is it for you to share some or all of your files with others?
Do you truly need a notebook computer, or will a desktop or tablet serve you better? After all of this consideration, one final question; do you really need a notebook computer? Only you can answer this question, but it is the one last hard question that you should face before taking cash in hand to buy that shiny new tool. If you are wondering if a Desktop Computer might make more sense, take a few minutes to check out our article on An Ideal Desktop Computer.
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