IST Recommendations for Buying a
updated November 7th, 2008
people on campus require the portability of a laptop IST has gained more
experience with what features one should be looking for. Below are the features
one should be insisting on and others you may appreciate knowing about in
advance. As with desktops, laptops come in several classes. Please be sure to
purchase a “business-class” machine over a “home-class” model from whatever vendor
you purchase from. They cost more but will better withstand the rigours of
everyday use. (NOTE: Although much of what is covered does apply to the Apple
OS machines, the focus here is on Windows-based notebooks.)
- CPU: Mobil CPUs consume less
power and generate less heat. You may not be able to compare the speed
values given for mobile CPUs with their desktop counterparts.
- Memory: No less than 1GB of
system memory should be considered. 2GBs is a safer choice for Vista.
- Hard Disk: Disk is cheap. More
is better. Speed should also be considered as some manufacturers offer
faster disks but they consume more power and run hotter.
- Operating System: Consider
buying a notebook with Vista in mind. At
the very least the notebook should be Vista-rated.
- Networking: Most wired
connections are capable of a minimum of 100MBit. Most laptops with a wired
connection will support this so this should not be an issue. See “Wireless
- Ruggedness: Make sure the model
chosen doesn’t have any obvious weaknesses in terms of body ruggedness.
This is where class of laptop chosen will have the largest impact over
- Case: Choose a practical case
for your travel needs as you will always have extras you will want or need
to take along.
- Warranty: Many vendors now
offer an extended warranty that covers most accidents. This often includes
being dropped, having coffee spilled on it etc. It often does not cost as
much as one would expect and should be seriously considered.
separate purchases of laptops may have very different requirements. Here are
some points to consider:
- Weight: If you expect to spend
a lot of time carrying your laptop you’ll find the larger size one can
purchase, quickly loses its appeal. You’ll need to consider not just the
weight of the laptop itself, but the bag, the AC power supply and perhaps
an extra battery as a minimum. We’ve had several people trade in their
larger laptops for more portable ones for this reason. See “Docking
Stations” and “External Monitors” below.
- Size: Laptops are available
with 17inch screens but the rest of the computer is the same as in smaller
models. As with weight, the more you carry the unit the less appealing
this larger size will be. Again see “Docking Stations” and “External
- Screen: The LCD screen sizes
available come in various resolutions. As with LCD monitors
for desktops, make sure you buy the one that best meets the way you intend
to use it. Do not buy one resolution and expect to use it at another.
- Wireless Networking: This
option has become cheap enough that wireless NICs
exist in most business-class laptops. Most laptops capable of wireless
support at least IEEE
802.11b. Considerable additional speed can be achieved if 802.11g or
802.11n is available (which also support 802.11b if required).
- Heat: Do not expect to use your
laptop in your lap. They run much too hot. Some designs are better than
others and some options contribute more than others so see if things can
be turned off, or toned down to generate less heat during these times.
Options to Consider
- External mouse: The pad or button
mouse interface is quite dramatically different than the mouse you use on
a desktop. Many prefer to bypass the internal mouse with a regular,
wireless or miniature external mouse. Since most connect via the USB ports
now the only additional requirement of the laptop is that it have enough
ports to supply your needs.
- External keyboard: Even many
larger laptops have compressed keyboards. An external keyboard is cheap
and may be worth considering.
- External monitor: This is a
better way to make up for the portability of a small, light laptop. If you
spend your money on horsepower and save on size of a laptop you may have
enough left over for a “proper” external monitor. Unfortunately you’d need
more than one if you have several work locations.
- Docking Stations: Some laptop
classes from several vendors have the option of a docking station. This
lets you plug in your laptop and keep your external mouse, keyboard and
monitor connected to the docking station. Ideally you’d want one in the
office and at home, if these are your primary work locations. NOTE: Some
will let you plug and unplug your laptop live. Others require a
notification procedure before doing so.
- Battery: Consider buying a second
battery. It is rare to get more than four hours out of one. A lithium
battery, if available, does not have a “memory” effect and will outlast a
comparable NiCad battery. If more than one battery is offered, go for the
longer-life. (Note: They are usually not interchangeable as they tend to
run at different voltages.)
- Power Consumption: Simply by
turning off the wireless networking option, when not in use, you can
dramatically increase the length of time your laptop will run on one
battery charge. Buying power-efficient hard disks were already mentioned.
They all come with power-saving profiles that can be customised to your
requirements. If you need the monitor to stay at full power, count on
shorter battery life.
- Management Tools: This is
something you will not have much control over but several manufacturers
still produce their own hardware and software management tools. This is
less important than it used to be since most of this is now built into
Windows XP. If your hard disk needs to be re-imaged or rebuilt, you’d be
fine without these.
- Tablets: We have been reviewing
tablets as an alternative to laptops lately as they have several features
not found in a laptop or desktop unit.
experience with Lenovo, Dell and Toshiba laptops. We
have no reason to believe that HP or other well-known manufacturers won’t have
acceptable models as all seem to have fairly standardized features. Aside from
drivers all types we’ve tried meet the minimum requirements outlined above and
accepted our IST Windows XP image. We strongly encourage one department to
stick with one vendor so experience is easily shared.
purchased don’t forget about security: Many steps were taken to harden the operating
system in the IST Windows XP image. Please make sure yours is too. You may
also be well advised to have a contact name and number etc. prominently etched
in some visible part of the laptop to discourage theft. The security number
should be recorded as part of your inventory.
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Last updated by: Manfred Grisebach, IST – Systems, November