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Laptops at prices a parent can love

Notebook computers with the kind of performance that will satisfy most students now carry a price tag that won’t make a parent cringe.
/ Source: Reuters

Notebook computers with the kind of performance that will satisfy most students now carry a price tag that won’t make a parent cringe. Computer parts have become cheaper this year, and now $1,000 can buy a notebook with a sufficient-sized hard drive, more than adequate memory and a speedy microprocessor so that students can surf the Web, write term papers and even download music.

Cost was traditionaly their big drawback. Models powerful enough to meet the demands of many students have carried price tags upward of $1,500 or even $2,000 — a cost that would make most parents shudder.

Portable computers work best for students hurrying from class to class who don’t want to be tied down by all the pesky cords of a desk-crowding, hard-to-move personal computer.

“You can get a pretty potent machine even though it’s a notebook,” said Roger Kay, an analyst at PC market researcher IDC of Framingham, Massachusetts.

Hewlett-Packard, eMachines, Dell, Gateway and others are selling notebooks — they don’t call them laptops anymore —priced around $1,000 to $1,200 with a 20-gigabyte hard drive, 256 megabytes of computer memory and a microprocessor that runs at least at a speed of 2 gigahertz.

Most have 15-inch screens, wide enough to watch a movie.

Of course, there are limitations. Serious computer users into online gaming may not be satisfied with the graphics, and digital video editors may find that there is not enough memory in these notebook computer models.

Wireless wanted
Wireless Internet access, the hottest trend in computing this year, still typically commands a higher price as well.

But for most student requirements, the systems are more than powerful enough, PC watchers say.

Notebook computers have traditionally cost several hundred dollars more than comparably featured desktop PCs, but as the parts prices have fallen and the volume of computers shifted to notebook sales, companies have slashed prices. That means that the gap has decreased between the price of a notebook computer and the price of the desktop computer.

As a result, global notebook computer sales grew 22 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier while desktop computer shipments rose only 5 percent, according to IDC.

The back-to-school shopping season, which runs through early September, is all about notebooks with the latest high-capacity wireless access, said Stephen Baker at market researcher NPD Group.

Universities are creating wireless networks that allow computer users to read e-mail or use the Internet just about anywhere on campus. And students are tuning in at the local Starbucks or local brew pub, Baker said.

So far this year, Baker said 12 percent of the notebooks sold had a wireless card or chip built into it, and that he expects that number to be at least doubled by September.

What's out there
Privately held eMachines Inc., which sells computers in stores like Best Buy Co., offers a $1,199 notebook with the latest high-capacity 802.11g wireless access built in.

EMachines’ M5310 boasts a 15-inch screen, an Advanced Micro Devices Corp. microprocessor, a roughly 40-billion byte hard drive, speedy 512 megabytes of computer memory, and a read-writeable CD/DVD drive. It weighs a hefty 6.5 pounds.

Gateway Inc. is selling a $999 personal computer with a minimal 128 megabytes of memory, a moderate-sized 30 gigabyte hard drive, and a powerful Intel Pentium 4 2.2-gigahertz processor. Similarly, it weighs 6.2 pounds.

Hewlett-Packard Inc. offers its Pavilion brand ze5451 notebook for $1,099.99, after a $100 mail-in rebate.

It runs an Intel Pentium 4 2.4-gigahertz microprocessor, has a CD-RW/DVD combination drive and 256 megabytes of memory that is completely adequate for most all tasks. It weighs 7.5 pounds, making it harder for a student to pack around campus.

The No. 1 personal computer maker, Dell Computer Corp. , offers a model retail-priced at $999, after a $100 rebate, with the Inspiron 5100. It offers a 14-inch display, 256 megabytes of memory, a DVD drive, at least a 2.4 gigahertz Intel Pentium 4 processor, and a 30-gigabyte hard drive. It weighs 7.2 pounds — a real shoulder load to move around.

Japanese computer maker Toshiba Corp. offers a $999 machine while IBM, which primarily sells business machines, markets a $1,099 machine over the Internet that weighs in at a whopping 8.49 pounds.

Apple Computer Inc., the personal computer maker with its own operating system and an eye for style, offers an iBook with its own G3 microprocessor, 128 megabytes of memory and a 30-gigabyte hard drive for $999. While the 12.1-inch screen is on the small side, it weighs a low 4.9 pounds compared to other low-cost notebooks, and can be counted on to draw envious looks from other cafe- or library-goers.