So, I need a new laptop. My current, a massive 6.4-pound Lenovo 3000, is on its way out: the hinge on the screen was split; the battery depleted; yes, all fixable, it’s true. What isn’t fixable is the fact that I am tired of lugging that monster around. The ‘portable office’ lifestyle, which so many freelance professions now grant us, is at odds with the simple size/bulk of my machine. And my spine.
In the five years since my previous computer purchase, the market has split. Now, it isn’t just laptops — it’s full-sized notebooks and teeny-tiny netbooks, ultra-portables and soon-to-be ultrabooks. Notebooks, you likely know, or can infer enough from the literal-cum-suggestive name; netbooks, less familiar, are sleek capsules, ranging from just enough juice to get you online to nearly enough CPU and graphical horsepower to cut the next Avatar. As I already have a desktop for power-usage, I started looking into cheaper mini-machines. With an average ticket of $300 – 400 CAD for a barebones netbook, the price alone is a decent incentive if one needs little more than some on-the-go typing.
While netbooks blazed into the market in 2008 with innovations like the Intel Atom processor, the hardware does have its downside. The lack of video processing is one — most units can’t handle the full-HD 1080p resolution that digital cameras currently shoot. Not only that, but the netbook’s lack of processing-oomph means you’re going to lose the ability to have a number of applications open simultaneously. And forget about upgrading: far easier, and cheap(er), to replace. Still, that size, that price, that portability: At first blush, netbooks seem hard to beat.
It’s a temporary lead, though, which is why I’m still deciding about my own purchase. The laptop market is forever racing forward, building on the advances of each new chipset generation. Engineers and designers are creating low-cost, fully functional takes on the netbook. Dell has offered up its Vostro (from $329); Acer has done the same with its Aspire TimelineX series (from $449). Ironically, the drive to make ever-more-powerful mobile solutions might actually be the cause of the tech trend’s own undoing. The main development is of faster processors, now combined with better video cards (something like the AMD E-350, which runs really fast and allows for some mean 3D processing, too). The result: You can now get the power of a notebook in something closer to the size of a netbook.
Take something like the Lenovo Thinkpad X220 (from $849). It’s small — only 12.5 inches — and starting at 2.9 pounds, which puts it just slightly larger than the netbook size, yet it gives you the benefit of a full-size keyboard, gorgeous high-contrast, wide viewing-angle display, and the latest full-fat Intel Core i7 processors (light years faster than Atom and the reduced-speed ultra low-voltage CPUs you’ll find in the Macbook Air). For only a few hundred dollars more than your average netbook , you’re getting something with all the power of a full laptop. Toshiba is also rocking the market with its R830 series (from $949), an ultra-portable that even includes a DVD drive. Despite the comparably inflated price, these mean machines come in cheaper and with significantly more muscle than Apple’s Macbook Air (from $999).
Bottom line: With the new generation of notebooks, you’re getting full-grade tech in a much smaller size — just what you need to get your operation back on the road. Plus, it won’t look like a children’s toy when you pull it out at that next meeting. After all, in the freelance lifestyle, you need every advantage you can get.
Image courtesy of Sam.