How To Join The Wireless World Of Computing

 Woo-hoo! I’m finally joining the wireless world by buying a laptop! Do you want to know the things you should consider when moving from wired to wireless computing?  You may want to read the steps I took…


 


  


For several years I have been thinking about buying a laptop but between the extra security needed and the price, I decided that a laptop just wasn’t meant to be.  This year things changed.  (For those of you who have also thought of  buying a laptop, I will  list the steps I am taking in case it is useful to you).


 In September I realized my HP desktop computer was 3 years old and seems to be running slower now that the Vista enabled software updates with the added software . As you have read in my earlier blog on the subject,  I went looking for RAM to boost the performance of my desktop and on the same page I saw an ad for a brand new laptop for $599.99 CDN.  Previous laptops I looked at started at $1200.00 and moved upwards with $1700.00 being the average for one that I would want.   I looked at my finances and the age of my desktop, and decided to look a little further. 


 


As I like to investigate most purchases before buying, I went to several web sites looking for recommendations for the best manufacturer, cost vs. value, reliability and anything else I could find out.



I started by making a list of what I needed, then what I wanted in a laptop.  My list went as follows:


 First the Items I need: 

  • a Dual Core processor so that it could run Vista Premium all the way to Vista Ultimate and future OSs.
  • a DVD burner
  • A firewire port (aka 1394 net adapter) for transferring information from a digital camera, other hardware that can be connected by firewire.  Firewire transfer rate of information is much faster than USB.
  • Minimum of 1Gig of RAM expandable to at least 2 Gigs
  • The OS needs to be a minimum of Vista Home Premium, because the laptops with Vista Home Basic, in most cases cannot be upgraded to run the other versions of Vista, such as Vista Ultimate, due to slower processors and minimum hardware for past OS’s (older technology).
  • all the system components in the laptop must meet the system requirements for all forms of Vista.
  • weight no more than 6 1/2 lbs. (2.94 kg) in case I want to carry the laptop with me.
  • A battery with a short charging time, but not necessarily a long life while fully charged because I will be using it plugged into the wall most of the time.
  • Minimum 1 year warranty. All warranties are limited so make sure you know that the warranty covers what you need it to.

 What I want in a Laptop that is not necessary for its function:

  • as large a screen as possible after taking into account all the necessities.
  • Minimum of 4 USB ports for all the hardware I need/want to plug in
  • A manufacturer with a good repair/reliability record and very few warranty claims.

  • Connectors to plug in a full size monitor, keyboard and mouse if I find I don’t like the built-in’s.

  • 2  Ethernet LAN network adapters, one for hard-wired connection to the internet or to other devices like my desktop computer and one for wireless connection to the internet. (every laptop will have a wireless LAN adapter, but not all have one for hardwired connectivity.

  • a switch to turn off the wireless adapter if it is not in use. (This is a great security feature)

  • an access point or wireless router for connecting to the Internet using wireless technology ( I don’t consider this a necessity because I will be using my laptop where I can plug it in most of the time but most people would consider it a necessity ).

  • what software included with the laptop. (some brands include a great deal of useless software that you won’t use but it will take up space and memory). It is strictly a personal decision whether you want this bundled software or not.

  • does it have a built-in Webcam?

 Now that I have my list of features I want in a laptop I went looking on the Internet for information about what is available.  I started at Consumer Reports. Though not a technology website, they often have good information on the most popular brands of computers and I gained some good ideas on what to look for, as well as what to avoid, which is often just as valuable.

 

Consumer Reports had tested the following laptop manufacturers, all of them familiar to me:

  • Dell
  • Acer
  • Apple
  • Gateway/Emachines
  • Gateway
  • HP
  • Lenovo
  • Sony
  • Toshiba

 

Since I had never seriously considered buying a laptop before, I knew very little other than the names of the manufacturers.  I could only get very basic information from Consumer Reports unless I subscribed to their website. For a 1 month fee of $5.95 USD I could access their entire Website so I decided it was worth it to join for a month to get all the information they had available.

 

The subscription gave me all the information I needed about a range of laptops so that I could narrow down my choices to a few manufacturers. It included: How to choose a laptop, their ratings of the laptops they tested, repair and reliability records for different brands, and information about each manufacturer.  20% to 23% of the laptops they tested needed repairs which appears high at first glance.   Their final recommendations were to choose a laptop based on Ease of Use because all other parameters such as: processor speed is usually adequate for most people in today’s laptops. Some manufacturers also allow you to choose the hardware.   Another recommendation was that the location of the different features such as the DVD drive, USB ports, etc and the way the keyboard feels are more important considerations than specific hardware.

 

The following questions are ones you should answer before deciding which laptop to buy:

 
  • What is it going to be used for – business, pleasure, school, or at home to replace a desktop.
  • are you planning to carry it around with you or is it going to sit on your desk where it can be plugged into an outlet all the time?
  • Do you want a Windows OS or a Mac?
  • How much do you want to spend
  • How many USB ports – printers, mice, external keyboards, scanners?
  • Does it have a firewire connection to transfer digital photos or information?
  • Can you plug in a monitor to it in case you don’t like the laptop monitor
  • How many Ethernet cards are inside – wireless and LAN? You will need both if you want to set up a network with your desktop PC and connect to the internet at the same time. You will also need a hardwired Ethernet card if you want to connect to the internet without using the wireless adapter.
  • Does It have expansion slots and how many?
  • Is there a Bluetooth wireless wireless hookup for a cell phone or another laptop?
  • What is the warranty offered by the manufacturer?
  There are many different options available for laptops and once you have determined what you need the laptop for, you can then decide what else you want. A few manufacturers offer to let you build your own laptop. 

 

I decided that the price was the biggest factor for me, so I decided that I was looking for one under $1000 including tax and delivery.  For my purposes I wanted a laptop to use part of the time instead of my desktop. It had to be able to run Vista and since there are several different flavours of Vista I wanted it to be able to run the highest version which is Vista Ultimate.  I decided it didn’t need to come with Vista Ultimate installed, but it must be able to be upgraded to run it. To determine this I needed to know the System Requirements for each version of Vista. That decision removed the cheapest of the laptops, because they could not be upgraded to run a version higher than ‘Vista Basic’. The laptop you choose should be the result of answering all the above questions so that you get what you want because your needs will be different from mine.

 

The following is a very brief summary of the findings from the Consumer Reports testing of the different manufacturers’ laptops.

 

Dell is a large manufacturer who offer fully featured laptops and a build-your-own laptop as well. One laptop was tested and rated very well but was out of my price range. I decided not to go with Dell because I didn’t really know what I wanted in a laptop and at the time another manufacturer had a laptop that was rated as a Best Buy.  It varies with the model chosen and what you want in a laptop. Repair history 22%. (Rating is average # of repairs expressed as a percent)

 

Acer tends to be an inexpensive laptop but is only available from retailers, and therefore cannot be customized. Acer recently purchased Gateway. Most of the Acer brand computers were middle of the road in the ratings.

 

Apple has always tended to be expensive but if you want a Mac it is the only game in town. They are recognized as design and tech support leaders. The multimedia capabilities of a Mac are unsurpassed according to Consumer Reports. They score very well in the workhorse classification ( suitable as desktop replacements) at Consumer Reports. Repair history 23%.

 

Gateway/Emachines brand were recently acquired by Acer. These computers are for the budget minded and therefore do not offer the customization that other manufacturers do. If you are looking for a low priced laptop, this may be the place to look.

 

Gateway brand has also been acquired recently by Acer. Have a very good online selection and they also have a wide range of products available. This brand tend to score lower in the ratings than other comparable brands.

 

HP Pavilion scored in the middle ratings and were an average performer in all the testing.  They offer plenty of features in a laptop and are also stylish.  I did think about their laptops before making my final decision.  Repair history 22%. 

 

Lenovo is the old IBM name.  Their laptops are more business oriented and they offer practicality and security. Overall they offer fewer multimedia options and are less customizable than other brands.  I didn’t consider them because I wanted more features than they offer. One of the best repair histories of 20%

 

Sony offers style but is also more expensive than other comparable brands. Sony laptops also come with a large amount of trial software which most people don’t want or use. I had seen a Sony Viao a few years ago that a friend had and really liked the look and feel of it. I found that Consumer Reports had tested one but noted that it was one of the more expensive brands so I didn’t look any farther. Repair history 21%.

 

Toshiba offers a well-rounded selection, a computer for every interest. They are lighter weight than most. They also include a larger number of trial programs than most people would like, but they redeem themselves with different brands for different uses. Eg Satellite is their mainstream brand, Qosmio is a desktop replacement with multimedia features; Portégé brand are very light and portable and Tecra laptops are for business users.  Repair history 21%

 

Once I read all the information available at Consumer Reports I had reduced the list of laptop manufacturers I was interested in to four: Acer, Dell, HP and Toshiba. 

 

My next stop was PC World.com where there is a buying guide with details of what to look for in a laptop. I read the information they had and from what I learned I reduced my list of laptop manufacturers to two: Acer and Toshiba. I still had no idea which of the many different laptops offered by the two manufacturers I would choose.

 

After a break of a day or two to absorb what I’d read already, I read the reviews at zdnet.com and cnet.com. They categorized the specific laptops by price so that I was able to narrow down my choices  by price. I had decided that I would look at the laptops with 15.4 inch monitors.  I looked back at the ratings for the Acer 15.4″ tested at Consumer Reports and the Toshiba Satellite 15.4 (which was rated a best buy) and decided I would eliminate Acer from my list. This left me with the Toshiba Satellite series of laptops. Toshiba laptops had all the hardware I needed and wanted and they were in the correct price range.

 

My last stop for reviews was one of the most detailed sites I found  NotebookReview.com where they have tested many of the current laptops and give recommendations on what to buy. The nice thing about the recommendations here is they have geared their recommendations to the different uses that people might need a laptop for:  Home Users, Students, Businesspeople, desktop replacement etc.

 

I read the reviews there for all the different manufacturers in my price range and decided that the Toshiba Satellite series was again the best for my purposes.  I then checked each Toshiba laptop for the features I wanted and looked up the prices for them at my local electronics stores. As I am in Canada, some of the models had different model numbers than in the US, though they were the same machines.  Using the Toshiba website I was able to find the comparable machine that was listed at Notebook Review.

 

After checking all the Toshiba Satelittes that I might want I chose the Toshiba Satellite A200-AH3 listed as a Toshiba Satellite A135-S4427 in the US.  Here are the features of the one I chose. It has everything I might need or want and is priced in the correct range:

 

Toshiba Satellite A200-AH3 Notebook Computer, Bilingual


Features:
  • 1.73GHz Intel® Pentium® Dual Core processor T2080 (533MHz FSB, L1 Cache 32KB/32KB, L2 Cache 1MB)
  • 1GB (2x 512MB) 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM, expandable to 2GB
  • 120GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive
  • Built-in 8x DVD Super-Multi Double Layer Drive
  • 15.4″ Wide XGA TFT with TruBrite™ Native LCD Panel (1280 x 800)
  • Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator 950 with up to 256MB dynamically allocated shared graphics memory
  • Integrated 1.3MP Web Camera for Video over IP
  • Integrated microphone for Voice over IP
  • Atheros Wireless LAN (802.11b/g)
  • 10/100 integrated Ethernet LAN
  • V.92 56K Data/Fax Modem
  • Ports: 5-in-1 Bridge Media Adaptor (SD Card, xD picture card, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, Multi Media Card), 4 USB 2.0, RJ11, RJ45, IEEE 1394, external microphone port, headphone port, RGB, S-Video Out
  • Microsoft® Windows® Vista Home Premium, Bilingual
  • Software Included: Norton Internet Security™ 2007 (90 day trial version); Microsoft Office 2007 (60 day trial version)
  • Dimensions: 362mmW x 267.8mmD x 39.3mmH
  • Weight: 2.72kg (6lbs).
  • 1-year Limited International

     

Choosing a laptop is a very individual thing to do. If you don’t choose the items that you need you will not be happy with your purchase.  I believe that a person needs to go through the lists of available features because you may be surprised that there are features on those lists that you never thought existed.  A laptop is very different from a desktop and needs features that a desktop would never use.  Take your time, don’t just pick a laptop at your local electronics store because the price is right. The time you spend checking what is available will pay off in the end with you being happy with your purchase for a long time to come!