The IBM R Series laptop has a great keyboard.
By Columnist
updated 8/23/2005 4:51:23 PM ET 2005-08-23T20:51:23

Laptops. Notebooks. Portable computers that run the gamut from large, heavy (barely luggable) units to the thin, lightweight ultra portables -– a few of which can fit in your coat pocket.

They also run the gamut of everything from a starter unit (acceptable levels of processor and battery power along with sufficient memory) to DVD-burning, modern game playing, full-blown, advanced media units -– outfitted to the hilt with nearly everything you might need in a laptop and more.

It’s your job to decide on exactly what you need. Are you going to be creating word processing documents, surfing the Web and handling e-mail -– or maybe handling 3D graphic, scientific calculations and, at the same time, recording your favorite HDTV shows? 

Does your portable computer really have to be portable or will you be using it plugged into the wall most of the time?  Is it for your home, dorm room, or maybe for use in a coffee shop? 

Then again, how portable is portable?  Do weight and dimensions really matter?  (They do if you have to carry the device everywhere you go each day.)  And finally, what can you afford to spend on your new laptop?

The good thing with laptops today is that whatever you want or need it's available.  What more can you ask?  The same computer manufacturer can outfit a laptop so that it costs you less than $600 – or add enough bells and whistles so it will set you back more than $2,000.  It’s actually not the same computer, but the same computer platform where additional, better and more expensive parts are used.

Dell Inspiron 6000
Dell Inspiron 6000 sells for $674 to $1,477.  You decide.
For instance, if you like Dell, you can go to its Web site and buy an Inspiron 6000 notebook.  It looks very nice and sports a wide-screen display.  The $674 Entry level 6000 comes with an Intel Celeron processor, 256 MB of memory and a 40 GB hard drive.  Dell's $1,024 Mid-Range model has an Intel Pentium M processor, 512 MB of memory, a CD burner and 60 GB hard drive. And Dell's full-blown Media Center model ($1,477) has the same Pentium M processor and 512 MB of memory, plus the Windows Media Center operating system, an improved video card, a CD/DVD burner an 80 GB hard drive and more. 

The bottom line here is you’re dealing with the same computer but at different levels of features and sophistication selling for very different prices. And it’s not just Dell. You have many, many choices.

Here are some of my current favorite choices:

I think ThinkPad laptops and notebooks are terrific -- I always have. For my way of typing the ThinkPads have the best keyboards around. I seem to type better when I use one -– and I love using one.

The G series is the affordable in the ThinkPad line. Prices start at $899. Next up is the R series, with a Pentium M processor, 256 MB of memory, a 30 GB hard drive, a CD burner and 15-inch screen. The R series prices start at $999.

I also must mention the X series of laptops. Their X41 is small, thin and lightweight.  Think in terms of a great, full-sized keyboard on a 3 pound machine. You can add extra batteries -– one in the back and one that attaches underneath -– which provides you with an astonishing 8-9 hours of battery life.  Perfect for cross-country flights or a full day’s worth of note-taking, IMing and Web browsing. X series prices start at $1,499.

HP's Compaq Presario m2000 series can be configured with a Celeron, Pentium, Sempron or Turion 64 processor.
HP also has a number of lines of laptops – including the very affordable Compaq Presario m2000 series -– which, at the time of this writing –- starts at $529 (after a rebate) with Intel Celeron M and Pentium processors and the m2000z series with AMD Sempron and Turion 64 processors.  HP also offers the somewhat similar ZE2000z (with AMD chips) starting at $579 and the ZE2000 (with Intel chips) starting at $599.

Toshiba has a number of affordable laptop lines -– like the M30X -– with computers from $699. But there are two Toshibas which deserve special mention. 

The first is the oddly named Qosmio Media Center laptop. Toshiba says it’s perfect for dorm rooms.  That’s because it’s a laptop that doubles as a TiVo-like audio/video recording device and triples as a flat-screen TV.  It’s also a pretty good gaming computer too. Prices start at just under $1,800 and run up to around $3,000.

Toshiba's latest Libretto, the U100, sports a 60 GB hard drive in a tiny enclosure.
At the other end of the scale is the Toshiba Libretto U100.  Think of it as a laptop that someone shrunk or a PDA on steroids. It has a full (small) keyboard, a Pentium M processor, 512 MB of memory, a 60 GB hard drive, Windows XP Professional operating system and 802.11b/g wireless networking. And it's all in a package that weights around 2 pounds and can fit in the palm of (a large) hand. Prices hover in the $2,000 range. 

The new Libretto has serious competition in the tiny portable category. There’s my wonderful OQO mini (with me nearly always) and the often threatened release of the similar Flip Start device from Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc. 

Apple Computer
Pretty little PowerBooks all in a row.
Finally, there are the terrific devices from Apple.  The iBook G4 line comes in two sizes: The 12-inch screen ($999) and the 14-inch model ($1,299 - $1,499). PowerBooks comes in three sizes: 12-inch ($1,499 - $1,699), the very popular (there’s one in my house) 15-inch ($1,999 - $2,299) and the 17-inch ($2,699).

Once again, prices differ because of different and improved features.  It’s now easy to make sure that your next laptop is exactly what you want, need and can afford.

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