Portable Picks

Home Office Computing's editor shops for you, revealing the latest on inexpensive, lightweight notebooks.

August 1, 1999

This season's news in portable computing is that notebook PCs are getting comfortably lightweight and terrifically affordable, though, unfortunately, not both in the same package.

While Intel hurries to ship high-speed, low-voltage versions of its Pentium II and, soon, Pentium III processors, notebooks based on the less expensive AMD K6-2 (a computer chip made by Intel challenger Advanced Micro Devices Inc.)and Intel Celeron provide plenty of power for even demanding software. Almost any portable with a 300MHz or faster CPU will do for everyday word processors, spreadsheets, and presentations, as long as it’s equipped with at least 32MB (ideally 64MB) of RAM.

A mainstream, middleweight notebook—weighing in at 5 to 8 pounds and costing roughly $1,500–$3,500—should have a 12.1-inch or 13.3-inch (measured diagonally) active-matrix display for brighter, sharper, wider viewing.Models with show-off 14.1-inch and 15-inch screens are great desktop replacements but are usually too heavy to share your briefcase with books and papers.

Others with smaller screens fall into the tempting category of slimline or ultralight notebooks—systems that are less than 3 pounds and easy to carry all day but require you to plug into external drives to use a CD-ROM or floppy disk.

Skinny Windows 95/98 systems, in turn, are being challenged by a new crop of micronotebooks costing less than $1,000 and based on Microsoft's compact Windows CE operating system. Although these hybrids aren't as capable as "real" notebooks, they combine the long battery life and convenience of a schedule- and address-keeping PDA with keyboards and screens big enough to type letters, read and answer E-mail, and show presentations.

Don't confuse these handheld PC pros with palm-size PCs, which are keyboardless PDAs also based on Windows CE and rivals to 3Com's popular Palm and PalmPilot organizers. The newest palm-size PCs boast color screens but are too bulky and heavy to fit in a shirt pocket, as 3Com's PDAs do.

Eric Grevstad is editor in chief of Home Office Computing, the technology resource that reaches more than 500,000 home-based businesspeople each month. It covers everything from home office furnishings and tax and time management to computers, communications, Internet product reviews, and buyer’s guides. HOC is available on newsstands or by annual subscription for $19.97 (800/288-7812).

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