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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Designing and Specifying PC Systems and Components | Notebook PC Specification Issues ]

General Notebook Specification Issues

There are some important "rules of the road" to keep in mind when you are shopping for a notebook PC. These are especially essential to remember if this is the first time you have considered a notebook machine, having only purchased desktop units before. The experience is both similar and at the same time, rather different.

Here are some general specification issues that I consider to be particular to notebook machines:

  • Fewer Choices: In almost every way, you have fewer options and choices when shopping for a notebook. For starters, there are fewer PC types available in notebook form: you can't build your own notebook, and you can't get one custom-made from a local PC shop. Your choices are pretty much limited to the big manufacturers or the medium-sized and large direct-sale configure-to-order companies. Even amongst those that sell notebook models, you have less control over what is inside the machine, fewer configuration choices, and fewer options overall. This means that you will have a harder time getting exactly what you want in a notebook. You have to be more careful in your shopping.
  • More Focus On System Design: Notebooks are not modularized in the way that desktops are; they are much more tightly integrated. Due to the high level of miniaturization, and the desire of notebook buyers for smaller size and less weight, notebook makers "pack in" the components as much as possible. This means that all notebooks are essentially custom designs, which means the particular design of every model is much more important than it is with a modular desktop unit (which is mostly a function of its components). With a notebook, the components matter but the way they are put together matters just as much. You'll want to pay slightly less attention to the components and more to the total package than you would with a desktop.
  • An Exercise In Compromises: You can't have everything in a desktop machine, but you can have even less of everything in a notebook. :^) You give up a lot in getting portability, and you must be prepared to make tradeoffs in the characteristics of the machine you purchase.
  • Higher Cost: Notebooks cost much more than desktops, and the more capabilities, performance and capacity you try to put into the machine, not only the more you pay, but the more the premium over a comparable desktop machine you pay.
  • Different Expandability and Upgradeability Issues: With the exception of simple upgrades like adding memory, most notebooks cannot be expanded or upgraded the way a desktop can (for example, most notebooks cannot have their CPU upgraded). Expansion is very different for notebook machines--it is focused mostly on how to connect peripherals and external input devices. Some designs are also much easier to do a hard disk or removable storage drive upgrade on than others. These are very important considerations if you will be using a notebook a great deal.
  • Service and Support More Important: Notebooks are far more likely to experience damage or problems than desktop units. This is largely because they are moved around a lot and desktops are not, but also because they are much more miniaturized and compact. Furthermore, since they are custom-designed, you generally can't take any notebook to any PC technician and expect that person to have the experience and spare parts necessary to do repairs. These issues mean that service and support are critical when buying a notebook, which in turn means that your choice of manufacturer is critical.
  • Quality Is Essential: Everyone cares about quality, and I wouldn't suggest that it is not important for desktop machines, but it is more important for notebooks. All of the issues above are the reason: tighter integration, higher susceptibility to damage, difficulty of repair, and higher cost. If you're going to "take a flyer" on a company you've never heard of before, a notebook is not the system you want to do it with.

Next: Notebook Sizes and Classes


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