While traditional desktop and all-in-one systems are still popular choices among computer shoppers, the laptop and netbook selection continues to grow, offering an exciting array of products. Highly portable, lightweight and convenient, laptop computers allow users to surf the web, listen to digital music files, watch online TV or movies, organize files, send email and more from practically anywhere. A laptop or netbook holds the power of a personal computer in a very convenient, versatile package--one you can stow in a backpack, a tote or even a purse in some cases. A laptop is great for students, gamers, business travelers and other mobile users, and it can serve even as a desktop replacement or a reliable second option in the home.
Popular Brands and Prices
Numerous makers of laptops and netbooks exist. Sony, Apple, HP, Dell and Toshiba are some of the most well-known. Others include Lenovo, Acer, Asus, Samsung, MSI, Gateway and Panasonic. As of 2010, netbooks typically fall into the $300 to $500 range with select devices costing $1,000 or more. Laptops average about $600 to $1,200, but one can spend $3,500 or more on an advanced model. Inexpensive netbooks from Sylvania and Iview, among others, are available, but they are usually quite limited in scope.
The smallest available laptop is known as a netbook. Weighing as little as 1.3 pounds and being in most cases an inch or less in thickness, some netbooks are compact enough to fit into a large pocket or purse. Using a netbook has its pros and cons. On the plus side, netbooks are ultra small, very energy efficient and ideally suited to mobile web-based use. To this end, they are great for email, web browsing, blogging and file management. Select models feature an optional TV tuner for entertainment on the go. On the downside, their processors and memories can't typically handle simultaneous applications, and they usually have no optical drive and cannot be used for digital content creation or for software that requires a lot of RAM. Netbooks feature displays ranging from 5.6 inches to 12 inches.
Notebook is another name for a full-size laptop, typically 13 inches and bigger. Usually weighing between 6 and 10 pounds, notebooks feature many of the hardware components found on desktops such as an optical drive, bigger hard drive and high-quality speakers. They also have faster processors and more memory, so multitasking is possible. Depending on the model and its configuration, notebooks are used for business management, multimedia applications, gaming and everyday use. Although heavier, many notebooks are still quite thin, with displays up to 18.4 inches, allowing them to fit into a backpack.
Laptops and netbooks come in 2 basic designs: standard flip-open laptops and tablets. Tablets feature a touchscreen, and as their name suggests, they resemble a flat pad. Convertible tablets are also available, able to quickly switch between the different designs. Laptop and netbook displays come in standard and widescreen varieties, ranging from about 5.6 inches to 18.4 inches diagonally. Most models feature LED-backlit LCD or LCD-TFT screens with a resolution of 1024 by 600 or better. Touchscreen models are available too. Notebooks feature full-size keyboards, backlit with some models, while netbooks incorporate keyboards 90 percent of full size or bigger.
Most laptops feature a touchpad for cursor control. Apple, Lenovo and others offer multi-touch touchpads with integrated buttons. Other makers place left and right mouse buttons adjacent to the pad. External connections typically include one or more USB 2.0 or the faster USB 3.0 ports. Audio in/out, microphone and/or headphone jacks, and an SD card reader are standard. A firewire port, a multi-card reader, and a slot-loading or tray-loading CD/DVD+RW, CD-RW/DVD-ROM or Blu-Ray drive are found on advanced models.
Power and Performance
Laptops and netbooks are outfitted with an Intel or AMD chip, such as the Intel Atom, Core 2 Duo, i3, i5 or i7 or one of several AMD Athlon varieties; and they feature processing speeds ranging from 1.2 to 2.66GHz. With a turbo boost option, that speed can reach 2.8 or even 3.0GHz, depending on the system. In terms of memory, netbooks usually feature 1 or 2GB of RAM, while notebooks have up to 4GB. Select models will support up to 8GB. Both hard-disc drives and solid-state drives are available in select laptops and netbooks. Netbooks usually possess a 160 to 250GB HDD or up to a 64GB SSD, but inexpensive netbooks are available with smaller hard drives. A 500GB hard drive is the standard figure for most notebooks, but high-performance and gaming notebooks often will support dual hard drives for a total of 1TB or more of storage. Dell produces an Alienware model with a 512GB solid-state drive that is fast and spacious.
Part of the fun of a laptop or netbook is the variety of features it includes and its capabilites. Integrated webcams and digital microphones are practically standard, allowing for quick and easy video chatting. Select machines feature a 5.1-channel or better audio out port. Other extra features may include an integrated Bluetooth device for wireless accessory use, an HDMI port for seamless interaction with an HDTV and a TV tuner. Standard on new laptops is an integrated GPU, usually made by Intel. Advanced gaming and multimedia models feature a dedicated graphics card with up to 1GB of memory. The NVIDIA GeForce or ATI Radeon graphics cards provide exceptional visual characteristics without using internal memory.
Operating System and Software
All laptops and netbooks with the exception of Apple products are designed to run a Windows-based operating system such as Genuine Home 7, XP or Vista. The Macbook, Macbook Pro and Macbook Air from Apple run the latest Mac OS X operating system. Depending on the laptop, extra software may be included for word processing and office applications, money management, graphic design and more. Examples include Microsoft Office, Apple iWork and Adobe Photoshop. Some machines offer advanced security programs such as VeriFace or AlienSense facial recognition software, which uses the built-in webcam to read biometric measurements.
Batteries and Accessories
The battery is what gives a laptop or netbook its portability. The standard type is lithium-ion (Li-Ion). Li-Ion batteries are lightweight, non-toxic and as powerful as earlier NiCad and NiMH batteries. In addition, they usually provide anywhere from 2 to 15 hours of life on a single charge, depending on applications used. Netbooks typically stay powered longer, for they lack a lot of energy-draining hardware. Laptop batteries feature up to 9 cells with various voltage and milli-Amp-per-hour power ratings. Most are brand specific. Other laptop accessories include a whole host of bags and cases, speakers, external hard drives for added storage, mice, supplemental multi-card readers, headset headphones for gamers and port-replicating docking stations.