[AI] comparison of laptops

leds leds at vsnl.net
Wed Jul 14 03:15:41 EDT 2010

Dear access indians,


If you want to buy a laptop, consider the following:

Windows vs. Macintosh. Many people choose laptops using the Windows operating system because it's what they've always used, but Apple's Mac OS is a fine alternative. In recent subscriber surveys, CONSUMER REPORTS found Apple's technical support to be top-notch. According to another survey, we also found that Apple computers were less susceptible to most viruses and spyware than Windows-based computers. Among Windows laptops, Lenovo's tech support is above average. Dell's support is improving.

Buy à la carte. Dell and Gateway pioneered the notion that every computer can be tailored to an individual's needs. Configure-to-order is now common practice for laptops as well as desktops.

Menus show you all the options and let you see how a change affects the overall price. You might decide on a less-expensive processor, for example, but spend more for wireless capability or better graphics. Configure-to-order will often give you choices you won't get if you buy an off-the-shelf model. And it means less chance of overlooking important details. But be sure to double-check your choices before ordering, and look for unwanted items that some manufacturers include by default.

You can also purchase a computer off the shelf. (You can do the same online if you opt for the default choices of equipment the manufacturer offers.) Most retail configurations are quite robust, except for graphics.

Downplay the processor speed. Current processors deliver all the speed most people need. Spend your money on more memory.

Ergonomics can make or break a laptop. Look for a slightly tilted keyboard with keys that don't feel mushy. Touchpads should be large enough so your finger can cover the span of the screen without repeatedly lifting it, and touchpad buttons should be easy to find and press. The touchpad should also have a dedicated scroll area.

The laptop shouldn't get hot during use (89 to 100 degrees is a good range), and it should run quietly. Ideally, devices such as optical drives should be in front for easy access. Glossy screens are now standard on most laptops. Several have added antireflective coatings, with mixed results.




mportant features Laptop & notebook computers

Laptops generally come with a single- or dual-core processor. Cheaper laptops come with a single-core processor such as the Intel Celeron or AMD Sempron, which are fine for basic Web browsing and e-mail. For those with greater needs, dual-core processors such as the Intel Core 2 Duo and AMD Turion 64 X2 are recommended.

Laptops come with a 60- to 250-gigabyte hard drive and 512 megabytes or more of random-access memory (RAM). We recommend at least 1GB.

Laptops use a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. In Consumer Reports tests, a normal battery provided two to nearly five hours of continuous use when running office applications. (Laptops go into sleep mode when used intermittently, extending the time between charges.) You can lengthen battery life if you dim the display, turn off wireless devices when not needed, and use only basic applications. Playing a DVD movie uses more battery power than other functions, but most laptops should be able to play one through to the end. Many laptops can accept an "extended" battery, adding size and weight but giving as much as twice the battery life.

A laptop's keyboard can be quite different from that of a desktop computer. The keys themselves might be full-sized (generally only lightweight models pare them down), but they might not feel as solid. Some laptops have extra buttons to expedite your access to e-mail or a Web browser, or to control DVD playback. You can attach a USB keyboard, which you might find easier to use.

A 14- to 15-inch display, measured diagonally, should suit most people. Displays that are 17 inches are becoming more common. A resolution of 1,280x800 (WXGA) pixels (picture elements) or more is better than 1,024x768 (XGA) for viewing the fine detail in photographs or video, but it might shrink objects on the screen. You can use settings in Windows to make them larger. Most models are offered with a display that has a glossy surface instead of a matte one. Those look better in bright ambient light as long as you avoid direct reflections. Try to view the screen in bright light before buying. A "wide aspect" display (WXGA or WSXGA) fits wide-screen DVD movies better.

A new display technology called LED-backlit LCD is making its way into laptops. It's supposed to be more power-efficient and provide a brighter picture.

Most laptops use a small touchpad in place of a mouse-you slide your finger across it to move the cursor. You can also program the pad to respond to a "tap" as a "click," or to scroll as you sweep your index finger along the pad's right edge. An alternative system uses a pointing stick the size of a pencil eraser in the middle of the keyboard. You can attach a USB mouse or trackball, if you prefer.

Laptops usually include at least one PC-card or Expresscard slot for expansion. You might add a wireless-network card or a cellular modem if those are not built in.

Some laptops offer a connection for a docking station, a $100 to $200 base that makes it easy to connect an external monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, network, and power in one step.

Most laptops let you attach those devices anyway, without the docking station. At least two USB ports, for easy hookup of, say, a printer, digital camera, or scanner, is standard. A wired network (Ethernet) port is common, as is a FireWire port for digital-video transfer. An internal wireless-network (Wi-Fi) adapter is standard. Another option is an internal Bluetooth wireless adapter to link to a cell phone or another laptop.

A growing number of laptops include fingerprint scanners for security and as a convenient alternative to typing a password when logging in.

For backing up files or transferring them to other computers, you can use a USB memory drive (about $20 and up), which fits on a keychain and holds as much data as a CD-R, or save files on a writeable CD or camera-memory card. The small speakers built into laptops often sound tinny. Headphones or external speakers deliver much better sound.





Behind the brands


The brands listed here are the major names in laptops. Many made our Quick Picks <http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/electronics-computers/computers/computer/laptop-computers/laptop-notebook-computers-sub/cr-quick-recommendations-laptops/0607_laptops_cr-quick-rec.htm>  in recent Ratings <http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/electronics-computers/computers/computer/laptop-computers/laptop-notebook-computers-sub/ratings-laptops/latest-ratings/0607_laptops_ratings_rate.htm> . Repair rates for laptops <http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/electronics-computers/computers/computer/laptop-computers/laptop-notebook-computers-sub/repairs-reliability-laptops/brand-repair-history/index.htm>  are relatively high, but brand differences are minimal. We have no reliability or tech support data for Acer.



The retail brand. Because they're only available at retail, you can't configure Acer's systems. But they tend to be inexpensive. We like the onscreen control panel, which provides easy access to your system's settings. Acer recently acquired Gateway. You can find Acer computers online at PCConnection.com, Newegg.com, Amazon.com, PCMall.com, and TigerDirect.com.



Design and tech-support leader. Apple has consistently offered the best tech support of all brands but you must pay for it after 90 days. You might consider an extended warranty, which can be costly. Another option is to try Apple's retail stores, which offer free support. Few, if any, virus and spyware infections of Macs have been reported. An updated version of the Mac OS X operating system was released in October. Apple also offers innovative and thoughtful hardware designs. Bundled multimedia software is on the cutting edge. Macs can now run Windows as well. But Macs are often costlier, aren't as configurable, and run warmer than most other laptop brands. Apple's MacBooks have 13-inch displays; MacBook Pros come with 15- or 17-inch screens. If you shop online, Apple's site offers top-notch selection. But if price is a priority, you might be able to save a bit at MacConnection.com, Amazon.com, or MacMall.com.



For the budget-minded. The eMachines brand is Gateway's offering for buyers looking for a deal. You sacrifice features and configurable options for the lower price. Gateway's DX line is a mid-range machine that is more configurable than eMachines. More-expensive FX models start at $1,000. Gateway recently introduced an all-in-one model, the Gateway One. Gateway was recently acquired by Acer. Gateway's Web site offers above-average model selection, but Newegg.com, Amazon.com, and TigerDirect might offer better prices.



Full-featured. A trendsetter among Windows PC makers, Dell offers well-equipped systems in a range of prices. They're more expandable than other brands. A webcam and dual microphones were recently added to compete with other brands' multimedia capabilities. Cases are available in a variety of colors. You can configure your system without the trial and promotional software included by many other brands. Laptops in the Inspiron line are generally thicker and heavier than other brands. Tech support was better than some Windows brands'. Dell's Inspiron line consists of mainstream laptops that range from budget systems to desktop replacements. The XPS line offers more expensive, beefier models geared toward power users and gamers. Dell's Web site offers better-than-average model selection.



Very good online selection. The newest Gateway laptops incorporate features such as a webcam, bringing them in line with many other brands. Some of the low-priced models are not as well built, with drawbacks such as flimsy snap-on screen borders. Tech support was disappointing. Gateway's offerings include the NX line and the C line of convertible laptops/tablets. The T-, M-, and P-series represent Gateway's travel, mainstream, and premium models. Gateway was recently acquired by Acer. Gateway's Web site offers better-than-average model selection, but Newegg.com, Amazon.com, and TigerDirect.com might offer better prices.



Stylish design with plenty of features. Along with Dell, HP is a trendsetter among Windows PC manufacturers. The company makes use of interesting design elements, such as a glossy finish, but sometimes that style comes at the expense of usability. For example, the glossy touchpad can make it hard to control the cursor. New models include a fingerprint scanner and an expansion port. HP systems include a lot of trial and promotional software. Technical support was disappointing. The Pavilion is HP's mainstream laptop line. HP also offers budget laptops under the Compaq name; gaming systems are part of the HDX line. HP's and Compaq's Web sites offer better-than-average model selection, but PCConnection.com, Newegg.com, Amazon.com, PCMall.com, and TigerDirect may offer better prices.



An emphasis on practicality and security. Lenovo is aggressive when it comes to safety, with built-in security features and a backup program standard on its laptops. A fingerprint scanner is optional. Instead of focusing on trendy design, Lenovo emphasizes a more business-oriented look. But models also include fewer multimedia features than other brands and are less configurable.

Tech support was best among Windows brands we surveyed. ThinkPads are business-oriented; Lenovo's 3000 series targets home users and small businesses. Lenovo's Web site offers better-than-average model selection, but PCConnection.com, Newegg.com, Amazon.com, and PCMall.com might offer better prices.



Stylish but expensive. With an emphasis on style, Sony varies its systems' designs from one size to another. Sony laptops can be costly. The company includes a notable set of multimedia programs in its systems but it also throws in a lot of trial and promotional software. Tech support was disappointing. Sony has only one laptop line, the VAIO. Sony's Web site offers better-than-average model selection but much-worse-than-average pricing. PCConnection, Newegg.com, Amazon.com, and PCMall.com probably offer better prices.



Well-rounded selection. Toshibas are among the lightest laptops in some categories and are slightly less expensive than comparable budget Dells. The metallic keyboards on the newer models have a grainy texture. A lot of trial and promotional software is preloaded. Toshiba's support was disappointing. The Satellite is Toshiba's mainstream brand; Qosmio is a desktop replacement loaded with multimedia features. Ultraportable systems use the Portégé name; Tecra laptops are for business users. Toshiba's Web site offers better-than-average model selection but less-favorable pricing. PCConnection, Newegg.com, Amazon.com, and PCMall.com probably offer better prices.



Sony Vaio VGN-TZ191N/XC: First Look

We take our first look at a slim, light laptop with a flash-based hard drive




Solid-state drives are on the cutting edge of storage technology, allowing your computer to access data without the moving parts required by a traditional hard drive. So-called flash drives don't have the spinning disk of a conventional hard drive, so they use less power, work more quietly, and should be more resistant to damage from rugged use. And because there are no moving parts, they promise to access data more quickly.

We tested the first consumer laptop to include one of those drives, the new Sony VAIO VGN-TZ191N/XC ($3,200). It's a slim and light 11-inch, 2.6-pound model that also features an LED-backlighted display, another energy-saving technology, as well as a lightweight carbon-fiber casing. We found that battery life was indeed longer, but we had mixed results with speed and usability. Here's a look at the benefits and trade-offs of this new model.


Battery life is longer. Our tests found that the TZ191N/XC could run for 7.5 hours. That's 3.75 hours longer than the best Windows laptops in the Ratings <http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/electronics-computers/computers/computer/laptop-computers/laptop-notebook-computers-sub/ratings-laptops/latest-ratings/0607_laptops_ratings_rate.htm>  (available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers). It's also slightly longer-lasting than Apple MacBooks, which ran between 4 and 5 hours in our battery tests.

It's noticeably lighter. The Sony's 2.6-pound weight makes it the lightest by far of any systems we've recently tested. But its design has drawbacks: The touchpad, buttons, and keyboard are squeezed into a tight space, making them uncomfortable to use over time. Placing the power and utility buttons on the laptop's side makes them more prone to being accidentally pushed. It's also hard to insert and remove the battery, and indicator lights are not always easy to see because they face sideways or downward. But despite the small footprint, there are a good number of features built in, such as a webcam, microphone, and fingerprint reader.

The display is better. The TZ191N/XC's LED-backlighted display is brighter than traditional LCDs. Although the 11.1-inch screen is small, it's also wide, and its high resolution provides crisp detail, even when viewed from above or the side. Photos have very good contrast and color tone. But the screen's size makes smaller text difficult to read.


Performance is a mixed bag. One of the touted benefits of flash drives is quicker boot-up. When we compared boot-up time for the TZ191N/XC with another slim-and-light, the Sony VAIO SZ440, we found there was little difference between the two. That's probably because boot-up requires processes that use the drive and the processor, and the processor slowed things down. On the other hand, for drive-intensive tasks such as scanning for viruses, the TZ191N/XC was as much as 40 percent faster than its hard-drive sibling.

Capacity is limited. At least for now, flash drives have limited storage capacity. The TZ191N/XC we tested came with a 32GB drive. With the operating system and all essentials installed, there was only a paltry 8GB of free space. For additional space, you can add an external drive or configure a similar model with a conventional, heavier, and slower 100GB hard drive. But both measures defeat the purpose of having a flash drive.


The TZ191N/XC is an early adopter of several new technologies that will most likely improve over time. So far, flash drives have not proved to be the cure-all for complaints about sluggish boot-up. If you travel frequently and need the lightest possible laptop, the TZ191N/XC's design limitations might be worth tolerating. For most people, its benefits aren't worth the high price and inconvenience. 


Smile with me...cheers

More information about the AccessIndia mailing list