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RE: OT: Laptops

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Bill:

You have "reinforced" some of my assumptions (which I did not rely on too
much in my original post as to "assume can make an a$$ of me", not that I
need the help <grin>).

When friends and family want help with computer related decisions (I do
some "support" for friends and family), my basic recommendation it to
first list out the "critical" requirements...i.e. processor, screen size,
hard drive size, amount of RAM, uses, price limit, etc.  And from that
list, pick which are the "driving" issues...for example, is price the most
important thing?  What I am saying should not be new for an engineer...it
is critical/logical thinking...list the important aspects, and then
prioritize.

If cost is the driving issue, then more than likely you are gonna be
looking at a 7 poundish laptop.  There are a variety of such laptops right
around $1000.  As an example, I am looking at an Compaq (model 2199US)
on Best Buy's website that is basically the equivalent of what I bought a
year ago, but with a slightly faster processor (Athlon 2800+ compared to
mine which has a Athlon 2000+).  Otherwise, it is basically the same
specs...512 mb of RAM, 15" XGA (1024x768) TFT (active matrix) screen, CD
burner (24x)/DVD player, 40 gb HD (mine is actually 60 gb), ethernet port,
similar graphic card, internal modem (56k), two USB ports, no FireWire,
parallel port, 1 PC card slot for Type I, II or III, and optional external
floppy (would assume that like mine comes with a rebate form that allows
you to order the external drive for basically S&H).  All for $1050
(with $100 rebate).

This will be about the least expensive you can get, unless you go for a
Celeron (which like others I would not recommend).  A comparable Dell
(Inspiron 5150 with same basic specs) will run you a little more (when I
just did it on their site quickly, I got about $1350 including a instant
10% off that ends today).  Now, it will likely run a little faster as they
might be running it on a faster system bus (did not look at that).  The
main price difference was the Athlon in the Compaq vs. the Pentium 4 in
the Dell.  You will get very similar speeds but the Intel chip costs more
(my only warning, which you might already know...don't get fooled by
Intel's emphasis on processor clock speed...contrary to Intel's hype,
processor clock speed is NOT the end all, be all to how fast your computer
is...system bus speed, HD speed, amount of RAM, graphics processor, etc
can all play a major part..._AND_ even _IF_ you want to compare just
processors, it does not really matter as different processors use
different instruction sets...so comparing an Athlon 2800+ which has a
about 2.1 gHz clock speed to a Pentium 4 with 2.8 gHz is comparing apples
to oranges).

Now, if weight/size is your driving issue, then expect to pay more.  Dell
has their Inspiron 600m which is about 5 lbs but will likely run you
$1500+ depending on how you configure it.  The Inspiron 300m is about 3
lbs, but starts at $1500 and will likely run you $1800+ depending on what
configuration you want.  So, realize that if you want lighter, then your
wallet will be lighter as well (not to mention the smaller screen that you
will get by default...typically 12" for 3 pounders and 14ish for 5
pounders).

As to the screen resolution, that really becomes a personal taste issue.
Basically (just in case you were not aware), the screen resolution boils
down to higher resolution, the smaller the icons/fonts/elements on the
screen, but you can obviously fit more on the screen; the lower the
resolution, the bigger the icons/fonts/elements on teh screen, but can
show less.  So, as my dad put it when we were looking at laptops for him,
"an old fart like me has a tough time reading off the high resolution
screens".  So, he did not care too much for higher resolution.  My laptop
with 1024x768 works fine for me, but I could go a little higher if I
wanted to (I run my desktop at 1280x1024).

As to working in the daylight, most laptops should be the same as most
laptops now use TFT screens (active matrix).  They will be comparable in
sun light and have very similar viewing angles in "normal" light.

As to the wireless issue, I believe that most (if not all) Pentium M
equipped computers come standard with 802.11b wireless built-in on the
motherboard (i.e. the Centrino stuff).  Beyond that, many laptops now have
one version of WiFi built-in standard.  If they don't you can get a WiFi
card for about $30 to $50.  As to adding WiFi to your existing network,
the cheapest way is as Greg pointd out is just to buy a new router with a
WiFi access point built-in.  For what ever reason, stand alone WiFi access
points cost more than broadband routers with WiFi built-in (or they
did...have not looked in a while).  You can get a new broadband router
with built-in WiFi for about $100.

As to the different WiFi "flavors", 802.11b was the "original" (actually I
believe 802.11 was the first at about 1 Mbs but never really took
off...802.11b was the first to be widely used).  It runs at a max of about
11 Mbs, but that is dependent on how far from the access point and what
interference lies between (walls, microwaves, other electronic devices,
etc).  It runs on the 2.4 gHz frequency, which is what most cordless
phones now run on...so it is much more likely to get interference.  The
next "flavor" is 802.11g.  Its max is 54 Mbs and it also runs on the 2.4
gHz frequency.  It is backward compatible (in theory) with 802.11b.  The
last "flavor" is 802.11a.  Its max is 54 Mbs as well, but runs on the 5
gHz frequency.  So, it is NOT compatible with either b or g devices.  The
theoretical advantage is that you should not get interference with things
like cordless phones.  All usually come with WEP at a minimum, which will
not great security is better than nothing.  There are some companies that
offer "varients" of the main "flavors" that in theory boost speed, but I
have not heard too many positive things about them.  Keep in mind that
your typical Internet connection will peak out at somewhere between 1.5 to
3 Mbps (my cable modem in theory can reach 3 Mbps download, but get around
2.4 Mbps).  Thus, when doing email or browsing you will not even come
close to the 11 Mbps of 802.11b...you will only see the benefit of g or a
when you transfer files from one computer to another on your network.

As to the file issue, there is software that you can get that will
automatically sync folders on two seperate computers.  Supposedly, Windoze
XP can do some of that with the "Briefcase" but I have never really used
it.  You probably would want to use a third party app to do it as it would
likely do it much better.  The "cheap" way to do it is put all your files
on the laptop and then share that folder accross the network.  So, when
working at your desktop, just have the laptop on the network (preferably
hard wired to take advantage of the 100baseT or 1000baseT connection) and
access the files accross the network.  Then, when you leave with the
laptop the files come with you.  The disadvantage of this approach is if
someone steals your laptop (which will be much easier as your are carrying
it around), then all your critical files are in someone else's hands.  And
if you have other people that need to work on the files, then it makes it
difficult if you are out with the laptop.

All in all, it sounds like you will be using the laptop much like I do.  I
use it in front of the TV (have a 802.11b wireless broadband router).  It
is my travel computer.  I can use it for presentations and work on the
road (originally got it while I was teaching a class...I could use it for
lectures and to do work while the students took exams...and to create
homework solutions in front of the TV <grin> much like when I _DID_ my
engineering homework problems in front of the TV while in school).  I can
use it as a DVD player on the plane.  It is my emergency computer if the
power goes out or if my main desktop crashes.  And it is a "barebones"
laptop that I got cheap (for about $1200).  I doubt it would have much
trouble with AutoBAD, but don't know for sure.  It is actually faster than
my desktop as the Athlon in it is equivalent to a P4 while my desktop is a
PIII 800 mHz (so when my buddy and I play BattleField 1942 across the net,
I use the laptop).  Only real downside is that it is slightly heavy at
about 7 lbs, but it is not bad.

So, unless you really want the lighter/smaller computer, I would look at
something similar to the Compaq that I mentioned above.  As to Charley's
experience, I will point out that _ANY_ company can produce lemons.  I
know MANY people who have Dell laptops (Inspirons or Latitudes) and have
had positive experiences.  I have not had any problems with my Compaq and
my dad has had no real problems with his HP that is virtually identical to
my Compaq (just different looking case and slightly different processor).
IBMs usually get good reviews and I only really hear positive things about
them.  Similar for Sony VIAOs.  A Toshiba would be a good choice too.
Baiscally, if you go with a major computer brand, you should little or no
problems...but that is not to say that may not end up with a lot of
problems...such can happen with any company.

HTH,

Scott
Adrian, MI


On Wed, 2 Jun 2004, Bill Allen wrote:

> Scott -
>
> To give you an idea of what would work for me is that a Pocket PC *almost*
> works. The problem with a Pocket PC is that I would want to write Excel
> macros and I am skeptical that the Pocket PC version of Excel has all the
> functionality I need. I know that the Palm version was a joke.
>
> I don't think I will be doing my serious CAD work on it. It would be an
> occasional use item. Basically, it would be when I find myself away from the
> office and bored to death or if I wanted to sit in front of the tube, but do
> some light work at the same time. But, that doesn't mean I want it to run
> like a 3-legged dog, either.
>
> As far as processing speed, I fear that if it were much slower than my
> desktop, I would get frustrated, but I would guess that I wouldn't want to
> pay $1k for equivalent desktop speed either.
>
> Thanks for the info on the P4 vs batter life info. I was leaning towards P4
> until this, but now it looks like I want a Pentium-M.
>
> I really want it light and to have a small footprint. An external CDRW would
> be O.K. The 5 pound variety sounds much better than the 8 pound variety. I
> wouldn't mind giving up some things (screen, etc.) to get the size down.
>
> I would think that a 1280x800 screen would be O.K. I guess I need to go to a
> store to look at a few before I decide. I think the visibility in daylight
> might be more of a critical issue. I would hate to have to look at the
> screen at a certain angle just to make things out.
>
> Then there's the whole wireless issue. I have a wired router (Linksys) right
> now with one port available. I would rather not toss that and replace the
> whole thing with a wireless router, but that might be the best solution. I
> do want to have the capability of using it while watching the tube (best
> time to write and test macros). Also, my service manual for my motorcycle is
> CD only. It would be nice not to have to print a page or two whenever I'm
> doing a service.
>
> I would like to check e-mail and the web remotely.
>
> I *think* I would like to have an exact copy of "My Documents" on each
> machine and for them to "sync" easily. I can visualize that no matter how
> many documents I think I might need, invariably, I will want one that I've
> left behind. Right now, that's running about 2 gb (more or less).
>
> I often run out of RAM. My desktop has 512 mb and I'm thinking of increasing
> it. But, of course, I have everything open at the same time (2-3 acad
> drawings, 6-16 spreadsheets, 3-10 word docs, Outlook that always needs to be
> archived, etc.). That won't be the case on the laptop and my expectations
> won't be as high. But, I can't see myself running less that 256 mb.
>
> I cannot visualize wanting to print anything while I'm disconnected from my
> network.
>
> I currently don't do anything with videos or DVDs.
>
> Mostly, though I don't want to have a Charley Hamilton experience. I would
> like it to last three years or so and not to ever have to worry about
> components failing.
>
> Hope that helps. Thanks for your time.
>
> And, no, for a change, you were not too verbose.
>
> :o)
>
> T. William (Bill) Allen, S.E. (CA #2607)
> ALLEN DESIGNS (http://www.AllenDesigns.com)
> San Juan Capistrano, CA
>
> :-----Original Message-----
> :From: Scott Maxwell [mailto:smaxwell(--nospam--at)engin.umich.edu]
> :Sent: Wednesday, June 02, 2004 1:51 PM
> :To: seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org
> :Subject: Re: OT: Laptops
> :
> :Bill:
> :
> :Do you want a internal CD/DVD drive?  Do you value speed or battery life
> :more?  How much CADD do you plan on doing on it (i.e. what size screen do
> :you want)?
> :
> :Questions like these will help some.
> :
> :If you really want "small and lightweight", then you could be looking for
> :what some refer to as "sub-notebooks".  These are laptops that can be a
> :little as about 3 or so lbs.  They typically will not have an internal
> :floppy or CD/DVD drice, but will have an internal HD.  If so, then they
> :will either come with external drives or offer the option of getting them.
> :They will usually have at best a 15" screen but usually will have a 12" or
> :13" screen.  You will usually "pay more per pound" (or power) for these
> :sub-notebooks...in otherwords, you can get more "bang for your buck" with
> :heavier laptops.
> :
> :There are some laptops in the 5 lb range that do include internal CD/DVD
> :drives.
> :
> :Most laptops will be in the 7 to 9 lbs range (i.e. the "bricks").  Here
> :the question will be what do you want for a processor, a screen, and
> :expansion possibility.
> :
> :For processors, you can do Pentium 4, which is basically very similar to
> :the processor that you can get in a desktop.  This will get you the best
> :speed, but can be tough on the batteries.  There is the Pentium M, which
> :takes a slight hit on speed, but does much better for heat dissapation and
> :battery life.  Celeron will be the processor for the lower end laptops,
> :but still will usually crank out enough speed for what you want.  And you
> :can look at the non-Intel alternative...Athlons can get you close to
> :Pentium 4 speed for less money (typically).
> :
> :Most laptops have 15" screens.  You can now get some laptop with 17"
> :screens, which can help with CADD (but would probably be a waste for you
> :since you don't seem to want a desktop replacement).  You also will need
> :to decide what screen resolution you want (WXGA [1280x800], WSXGA+
> :[1680x1050], WUXGA [1920x1200], etc).  You will also want to decide video
> :controller/RAM.  Many laptops use part of the main system RAM for video
> :RAM.  Others will have dedicated RAM just for the video card.  Most will
> :now use 64 mb for video RAM standard, but it might be worth while (for
> :CADD use) to get 128 mb.
> :
> :Then there is expandability.  Obviously, every computer now comes with USB
> :ports, which can do most things in terms of expandability.  A FireWire
> :port (also known as iLink on Sony laptops and 1394 on most others) can be
> :useful, especially if you want to transfer video to the laptop (i.e.
> :digital camcorder) or want to hook up an external HD or DVD burner
> :(although some can be done with USB 2.0 as well).  Most laptops will be
> :comparable on the issue of PC card slots, unless you go for a
> :sub-notebook.  Some laptops still use the "expansion bay" system which
> :will allow you to by different drives (extra HDs, CD burners, DVD drives,
> :ZIP drives, etc) to use in them or even put in a second battery for extra
> :working time.
> :
> :In terms of brands, IBM is known in general for their laptops.  They are
> :especially known for their keyboards.  Obviously, Dell is another big one.
> :Toshiba is the long-live, historical leader, but their image has suffered
> :some in recent years from what I understand.  HP/Compaq are pretty good,
> :but their support is attrocious (at least from my experience).
> :
> :FWIW, I have a Compaq with an Athlon processor.  It has a 40 gb HD (if I
> :remember correctly) and I believe about 512 mb of RAM (64 of which is used
> :as video RAM).  It is rather heavy (about 7 lbs not counting the power
> :adapter).  Does have a built-in CD burner/DVD player.  I can get about 2
> :hours of battery life even when watching a DVD (i.e. when travelling on a
> :plane).  About 1 year old...paid about $1200 for it.  It can function as a
> :desktop replacement for the most part (but did not get it for that or
> :really use it for that).
> :
> :Hope that helps...and that I did not get too verbose for you.
> :
> :Scott
> :Adrian, MI
> :
> :
> :On Wed, 2 Jun 2004, Bill Allen wrote:
> :
> :> I'm looking for a laptop. I haven't had one in years (I think my last one
> :> was a 386SX to give you an idea).
> :>
> :>
> :>
> :> I don't need a desktop replacement, but I would like to run everything on
> :it
> :> that I run on my desktop including AutoCAD, STAAD, MS Office, e-mail and
> :> Internet.
> :>
> :>
> :>
> :> I don't want to spend a lot of money, but I don't want to under-purchase
> :> either.
> :>
> :>
> :>
> :> I want something reliable and durable (might take it camping with me).
> :>
> :>
> :>
> :> I would like it to be small and lightweight.
> :>
> :>
> :>
> :> Any suggestions?
> :>
> :>
> :>
> :> TIA,
> :>
> :>
> :>
> :> T. William (Bill) Allen, S.E. (CA #2607)
> :>
> :> ALLEN DESIGNS (http://www.AllenDesigns.com)
> :>
> :> San Juan Capistrano, CA
> :>
> :>
> :
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