Sunday, April 16, 2006

14. Desktop PC, Notebook PC, or Tablet PC?

From NotebookReview
By: Lowlymarine

When people start asking around about what computer they should buy, it's interesting to note the number of people that may not be best served by a notebook at all. Some would be better off with a more mobile solution, a la a tablet, and some don't have any real use for anything more than a desktop. So here's a brief rundown of your options.

Ah, desktops. The persistantly most common conception of a computer. Every household has one (or two or three or four), right? Well, there aren't any being used in my house any more, and that's becoming more and more commonplace. There are really only two reasons to go with a desktop anymore: a very tight budget or an unquenchable thirst to have the most powerful everything. The complete lack of mobility, the jungle-like tangle of cords and wires, the power-guzzling componenets - desktops just aren't as efficient as notebooks, given the space and power they take up. If you have no desire to ever go anywhere with your PC, and I mean never travel with it (aside from moving to a new residence, obviously), you may be able to get buy with a desktop. They're generally cheaper than notebooks for the power they offer, and they're far more upgradable. Furthermore, there are some important, powerful technologies that just don't fit in a notebook (yet), such as SLI dual graphics cards and dual-core processors. On the other end of the spectrum, grandma Ethel probably won't need to move her computerized recepie book much, so portability isn't usually an issue on the bottom-end of PC usage, either. But unless you're grandma Ethel or Timmy the Power Gamer, you probably want a notebook these days.

Notebooks serve all manner of purposes from simple word processing and web browsing to high-end 3D gaming. They're far more versatile than desktops for several reasons. First off is the convenience. Ever looked at an Imac and marvelled at how everything's right in one place, no seperate tower and monitor and speakers, and wished a PC like that existed? It does: it's called a notebook. Not only the speakers, monitor, and CPU, but the keyboard, UPS battery, and, to a lesser extent, the mouse, are all together on any notebook PC. No cords, no mess, no need for expensive peripherals. And then there's the portability. Feel like getting some fresh air, but have to write up a report? Just caught word of a big LAN party? Want to watch a DVD on the airplane trip? Just pick up and go. Laptops aren't just a specialty item for businessmen anymore; sure, the Thinkpad and it's clones still exist for the security and durability a business needs, but laptops are also available in more practical configurations: there are models as inexpensive as $400, powered by Sempron or Celeron-M processors and integrated GPUs, with meager amounts of RAM and tiny hard drives; however, there are also god-like gaming rigs, running as high as $3500, with powerful Pentium-M 770 or Athlon 64 processors, dedicated, interchangable GPUs, huge, fast hard drives, and gobs of RAM. Notebooks range from the 3 pound ultraportables to the 10 pound desktop replacement. Just about anything a desktop can do, a laptop can too. There are exceptions, however: Notebooks just don't have the mind-boggling array of performance upgrades desktops do (no SLI for you!), and they generally can't recieve much in the way of major upgrades. You also aren't gong to be picking up a new laptop with 512MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive, and a Sempron 3000+ for $300; they just plain cost more than desktops. It's the classic tradeoff of convenience versus cost. But trust me, once you get a good notebook, you'll never be able to buy a desktop again.

I should note that "laptop" is merely a slang term for a notebook computer. Whichever one you hear, it means the same thing. The manufacturers prefer the term notebook, however, because 1) many notebooks are either too small or too large to be placed in your lap comfortably, and 2) some notebooks generate large amounts of heat, and prolonged use in you lap could be...unhealthy.

There is one final, somewhat niche-market option left, however: the tablet PC.

Tablets, in their purest form, are the most portable of portable computers. They come in two major varieties: Traditional, or "slate" tablets, and convertable notebooks, in which the screen flips over and lays flat, covering the keyboard. All tablets share one thing in common: the electromagnetic pen-and-touchscreen interface. Tablets can be used without keyboards and mice through the use of an electromagnetic pen that acts like a mouse pointer, providing the ultimate in mobility. Tablets can also recoognize your handwriting and convert into text, using a program like Microsoft's OneNote (stnadard on most tablets). Tablets also have their own version of Windows: Windows XP Tablet PC Edition (Version 2005 is the most current). WinXP Tablet PC is based on Windows XP professional, giving you the power you need as a student or business professional. Wait, you're not a student or business professional? Then, to be honest, you probably don't need a tablet. Tablets offer advantages primarily needsed by those who have to do extensive notetaking, travelling between meetings or classes, presenting, etc; if you just need a machine to work on at home or sitting in an office, or to take to class for simple note taking, a notebook would be a more economical (and more powerful) choice.

Of the two varieties of tablet, originally slates were far more common due to the niche-market use of these products. Slates have the advantage of being lighter, cooler-running, and having longer battery life. The downside is that slate tablets tend to be geared towards these things first and foremost, and therefore pwerformance and port variety suffer substantially, and many features stnadard on most notebooks and converatbles, such as built-in optical drives, bluetooth cards, and flash memory readers, aren't available on slate tablets.

These days, however, convertables are catching up. Convertable tablets/notebooks offer the added convenience of a touchpad and keyboard to use while at your desk, and generally have a better variety of ports and usually come with integrated optical drives and flash memory readers. Convertables can also use dedicated graphcis cards and full-power processors (as opposed to the ULV processor typically used in slates) due to the added room for cooling. The downside to all this is added weight and reduced battery life, reducing the effectiveness of these PCs as all-day workhorses.

So when do you need a tablet rather than a regular notebook? Primarily if you do a lot of travelling between meetings or classes, and need a PC that can be quickly scooped up and carried away, or if you need the ability to stand and use your PC (for instance, demonstrating software to a client). Most average users can get by with a standard notebook, and save a nice chunk of change.

I hope that this helps you identify your needs a little more specifically. But remember, if you still can't decide which type of PC fits your needs best, just ask; we'll be happy to help you sort it all out.

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