is fun, but not all of us really need a high-performance laptop compute
by Alan Zisman (c) 1995 First published
in Business in Vancouver
, Issue #282 March 21, 1995 High Tech Office column
computer software and hardware reviews for another local publication
(a more computer-oriented one), people loan me things from time to
time, hoping that after I've played with them for a while, I'll say
nice things in print about them. Sometimes it even happens that way.
I got to spend
a couple of weeks with a new notebook recently. I don't own a portable
computer, but I appreciate their allure. Without one, I'm often forced
to walk around with a floppy disk in my pocket, trying to work on
whatever machine is handy at home or at work.
to me that to go portable, you had to accept a couple of tradeoffs.
One is cost: smaller costs significantly more. The other has been
portables have seemed to be stuck with a processor and hard drive
that were a generation or two behind the current desktop standard.
For people who are always on the go, a portable seemed a necessity,
but for the rest of us, it seemed a nice thing to have, but not one
that would replace the desktop machine.
however, was a no-compromise screamer. A Pentium-90, not a low-speed
486. It had eight megs of RAM standard, which can be upgraded to 40
megs. A 340-meg hard drive, expandable to 720 megs. A colour screen.
Even a built-in sound card, stereo speakers, and a microphone.
time for us to reclaim the large amount of space on our desks devoted
to beige metal boxes. But after living with the portable for a couple
of weeks, I had begun to have second thoughts. Not that the machine
had problems-- it worked as advertised and ran all the software I
could throw at it. I even loaded up three operating systems-- DOS plus
Windows, OS/2 WARP, and a beta copy of Windows 95 --and found that
all three installed and ran without a hitch (aside from causing me a
repetitive strain disorder from switching all those floppies). It even
allowed me to switch from one to the other at will. But there's a
still a factor.
The base configuration carries a list of $5,000, which would buy a
lot of desktop machine. And expandability is limited. Yes, you can
add PC Cards for modem, or SCSI CD-ROM, or network adapter (Macs now
have built-in Ethernet, and so should these PCs). But there's room
for only two PC Cards. And PC Cards are again more expensive than their
course, way back
in 1985 or so, PC Magazine's Bill Machrone proposed a
law of personal computing when he said, "The computer you want always
costs $5,000." And that's U.S. dollars. Call it $7,000 Canadian, which
is just enough to buy this notebook with the far-superior active-matrix
hitch: what would you be using your notebook for? Taking notes at a
meeting? Word-processing wherever you are, whenever you have a few
moments (therefore never getting any time off work)? Keeping track
of appointments, customers, birthdays, and shopping lists? Getting your
e-mail from wherever you happen to be?
the bulk of
your computing on the go, is this more machine than you really need?
Even with today's bloated Windows software, no word processor known
requires a Pentium-90, or even performs much faster with one. The
factor is your typing speed, not your CPU.
with a built-in
colour monitor, you're not going to be doing fancy graphics on your
laptop. Even the best portable screens can't perform anywhere near
as well as the old cathode-ray tube on your desktop (and don't forget
that $2,000 premium to upgrade this one to the brighter, faster 10-inch
the power eats
up battery life. While the newer processors, like this 90-MHz Pentium
running at 3.3 volts, require much less battery power than the slower,
older generation, an hour and a half won't get you to Toronto on Air
Canada. Better have room in the briefcase for a spare battery.
people can justify
this level of power in a portable. Walk into a boardroom, plug it into
a large external monitor, and give that computer-based presentation
without having to worry whether it will run on your host's computer.
of us just need to have the fastest and the best that we can
Unfortunately, in the ever-changing world of high tech, you know that
it's only going to be, say, three months before something faster comes
But as for me
(and, I suspect,
for many of you), I may want a computer like this, but I simply can't
justify it. Not now, anyway. It would feel too much like buying that
$50,000 sports car just to tool around in the city at speeds under
60 kilometres-- an ego-boost, sure, but not something that's on the