What I would like from the Mobile Computing Guide

I just read the ASUS laptop review. An incredibly indepth discussion as to the guts of the unit, and a good baseline for the units performance.

Reading the article, I began to wonder what I what is it that I, as a reader, am looking for in the Mobile Computing Guide. The last couple of articles have gotten me excited about the potential of the mobile/laptop market...and in potential I mean the ability to make the most of my investment.

I would love to own a desktop because:
o they are cheaper then laptops
o they have better components
o they are easily upgradable
o they have a bigger screen

I **own** a laptop because:
o it is portable
o it is a good compromise between performance, flexibility, and price
o did I mention it was portable?

In my mind, desktops are like a fixer-upper home...if the foundation is great (motherboard), then you can easily refurbish everything to fit your needs. A laptop is like a motorhome...it is a compromise of the dollars you are willing to spend for the conveniences that you need.

Casual campers purchase the small-cramped vehicles, much like entry-level-laptop users are looking for something cheap because they need something portable, though for only occasional ussage. At the other end of the extreme are snow-birds (people who travel out of the cold north country to spend months in warmer climates in the comfort of their 35-foot luxury motorhome) who spend more on their home-on-wheels then they do on their permanent residence. Much like professionals whose life depends upon the existance of their laptop.

There are a bundle of publications already doing latest -n- greatest portable hardware reviews. (Although it is tough to tell if these tests are valid...but as long as they run the same test all the time, then one can get a feel of performance comparison.) Does Tom's Hardware Guide want to do that? I would be interested, but only if Tom's Hardware Guide was able to develop testing methodologies which pushed the laptop vendors to improve their product line. Tell me where the industry standard testing are going wrong, and then start holding up all new laptops to this raised bar.

The ASUS article was interesting for seeing the inside of a laptop, but I don't know how useful this actually is. The article mentions that various components can be upgraded...but to what? I know that the mobile CPU upgrade article covers the CPU, but I still don't know where I can purchase any mobile CPUs! Seems that the laptop components are something that are not available on the direct market, only to OEMs. Anyone with a new laptop will not be breaking into the case since parts are hard to find, and it validates their warranty.

So, here is my challenge...take a survey of your laptop readers. Find the common ground of their equipment, and how often they replace a laptop. Are most of your readers using the latest laptop equipment, and replace it every year? Or are most of them on a 2-year old unit looking for ways to prolong their (very expensive) investment?

Part of the push that you can make is making Intel realize that there might be a market for their older mobile CPU technology at a higher speed. I love my laptop (a 4-year old IBM ThinkPad 770) and have only two complaints at the moment...CPU speed (233 MHz Pentium MMX), and weight (7+ lbs). Neither of which have annoyed me enough to dump my investment (laptop, extra battery, AC/DC converter, internal DVD drive, internal ZIP drive, and 2nd harddrive) for a new system. Only the 2nd harddrive would be reusable (and this is only if a new laptop could hold two harddrives like my current laptop can do), so I am mostly interested in finding ways to make my unit last longer.

Inform me where I can find upgradable components. Show me what performance gains I can get from the $$ spent. I would be more then willing to spend $300 if I could upgrade my CPU to 400MHz or more! It sure is better than spending $3000 for a new unit!

My two cents...

Mike Bendtsen
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  1. I like the idea of readers saying why we are interested in Uwe's column and would happily respond to a survey. I travel pretty constantly so desktops are out. I had a bit older IBM than you - a 486 - that i dearly loved but it died as a result of a rough ride on a dirt track in Zimbabwe. The vibration made a component that drove the TFT screen unreliable and it proved uneconomic to fix. I replaced it with a US$1500 class machine very much in Uwe's first category of basic 3 spindle machines. It is a Chembook with AMD 300 CPU, 12.1 TFT and 4gig HDD...I've had it over 2 years and have been very happy with it. The TFT screen isn't as fine grained as the old IBM but is fine, the CPU speed is adequate and the HDD does its job. I want 12 gigs next time. I use office apps, I do digital photography using photoshop6, surf, email, but I don't play games. I'm happy with it but I realy appreciate Tom's and Uwe keeping me up to date on what is happening in the notebook arena.

    Like you, I have my doubts about the comperability of the tests in the print publications. When I think about it, I don't read print tests of desktops either - I read Tom's. What I hope is that Uwe's series keeps us as up to date on what is happening in notebooks as Tom's does with desktops.Uwe will have to do it differently because, as you say, you can mix and match components on destops but not notebooks. For example, I am very interested in detailed Tom's style reviews of the new mobile Athelon machines compared to the next generation of mobile pentiums. I'm looking to replace the Chembook with an Athelon based notebook later in the year. I expect to see some good value for money machines like my Chembook with mobile Athelons in the basic 3 spindle machines.

    The only other point I would make is that the very compact light weight machines really address different needs. My son works in San Jose and travels a lot so he is a firm believer in a good 3-4 pound machine...he has one of the lightweight IBMs which is goergeous. I always point out to him that even if I could afford his expensive lightweight, it doesn't replace a desktop. He can synch to his desktop/network at the beginning and end of each trip. I could see myself going for one of the big fancy machines if I needed to make presentations.

    My personal approach to the 3-spindle value machines and the big kitchen sink machines is use Dell's offerrings as a starting point since they make both. Uwe might be able use another manufacturer as a sort of benchmark or reference system to give readers a feel for the market without playing favourites. I think I got better value for money than Dell offerrs with my Chembook although i felt I was taking a chance with a lesser known manufacturer. Dell's cost about US$2000 for a basic three spindle machine, between $3000 and $4000 for a luxury machine. I'll be looking to spend something under $2000 for the next one.

    Enjoyed reading you post and was surprised that I am the first to reply at No 45!

  2. There are several categories of notebook computers:

    1.Desktop-replacement 14+" LCD, 3-spindle, 800MHz and above, battery life is not important

    2.Standard notebooks 12-14" LCD, 2/3-spindle, USD1000-1500, 2-3hrs battery life

    3.Ultraportables, 6-12" LCD, 1-spindle, price not important, weight must be below 1.8kg, battery life 2-8hrs

    Testing procedure and comparison:

    1.Desktop replacement:
    Compare to other desktop replacement notebooks and a low-cost desktop as well as a normal desktop.
    Anyone who is buying a heavy and clunky desktop replacement is not concearned about weight nor battery life, he is likely not going to use it while traveling, but from place to place and putting the notebook in the car while traveling.
    He wants to have as much power as in his desktop at home, but add the possibility to have it with him on a trip. He needs 3D performance similar to his desktop!

    I suggest to test:
    WinBench, WinStone, Quake, MBTR, HDTach, etc.
    Battery test is less important, but could be done for reference.

    2. Standard notebooks:
    These units are likely to be 2nd PC so the price is most important, they will only be used while traveling or when mobility is needed. These people usually have a desktop at home for game etc.

    These notebooks should be compared to other notebooks in this segment, there is no need to compare them to desktops nor desktop replacements, nor ultraportables.

    I suggest to test:
    WinBench, WinStone, Battery run-down.
    Focus more on ergonomics, weight, features.

    3. Ultraportables
    These notebooks come with a high price premium, the most important here is weight and portability. Anyone buying this definetly got a 2nd PC so he is unlikely to do CPU heavy CAD drawings nor gaming.

    I suggest to test:
    Battery life contra weight
    Since this is a strong category for TMTA any performance benchmark will be unfair since they will not give a real picture of the performance. Benchmarks for Crusoe will be skewed in it's disadvantage, so a method for real performance should be developed.

    HOWEVER, what to note is that the reviews are SYSTEM reviews and not CPU reviews! So any feature of the notebook should be mentioned, any lack of feature should also be mentioned!

    Like the SONY C1V review totally lacked any review of the camera, probably the number 1 or 2 erason why people buy this notebook, it should have been compared to a standard desktop USB camera.
    Things like lack of LAN was mentioned, this was very good! However the Firewire port got little if no attention, this is a BIG cost adder in a notebook (around USD5) so a majority of the makers don't add this.

    The single most expensive component in a notebook (unless the CPU is Intel P3 700MHz and above) is the LCD screen. Fortunately DSTN screens have more or less disappeared now and replaced by TFTs. But there are still several notebooks with SVGA resolution and "strange" resolutions like the SONY (1024x480). Try to go to THG with that resolution, you will only see two banners and a line of text, it's impossible to use for wordprocessing or Internet surfing.
    Unfortunately this was never ever mentioned in the SONY review.

    Any review needs to be a SYSTEM review, unless you have two systems with only ONE component that is different, the SONY and ASUS had NO COMMON component: LCD, CPU, NB, SB, VGA, HDD, SDRAM, Battery etc. So any comparison here is impossible

  3. I think Lyngemarks points about doing 'system reviews' and making sure that all features are discussed are important.

    I want to make the point that there are some of us who really do have ONLY a notebook because we actually travel most of the time. I believe there are other prople who have gone notebook only for separate reasons - particluarly since powerful notebooks have become more affordable. I spend a few months a year in the US and the rest in Africa and Australia. I can't afford to leave a desktop laying around..so my perspective is that my notebook must serve almost all of my computing needs. Lack of a single port or feature might make a particular notbook useless to me. So covering all the features would be important to me too.

    I find a standard notebook more than adequate..a desktop replacement might be nice but I might resent the extra weight to say nothing of the cost. Travelling a lot also makes me aware that notebooks can get broken on the road easily and it doesn't make sense to expose $4000 to constant danger when a $2000 machine will do everything necessary.

    My priorities are a TFT screen and usable keyboard followed by a big HDD, lots of memory and a decent processor. I'd consider a standard notebook with a Transmeta chip if the benchmarks showed that it would not get in the way too much. Since the Transmeta chip is supposed to learn to do repititive tasks more quickly perhaps Uwe needs to think of a way to check this. I don't want a slug, but I don't think my current AMD 300 is slowing me down significantly either.

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