How Much Do You Need To Spend On A Notebook?

I've have noticed that magazines, online discussions and many other educators tend to convey what I consider to be an overemphasis on computer hardware.

Everyone seems to be advocating that business users buy only top of the line noetbooks. While this advice is fine for those without budgets, extremely advanced users and computer aficionados, it is not particularly useful advice for the average person who simply wants to use a computer to enhance their productivity.

What's The Problem?

Too many of us become focused on the specifications and not the applications! Buying a notebook computer is becoming too much like buying HI-FI equipment was in the past - everyone comparing reams of specs that often went beyond the range of human hearing.

The result is that many have spent too much on their hardware, but don't receive any real value from their investment. They haven't been adequately trained to utilize the new technology and simply have expensive word processors and electronic Rolodexes.

Even worse, many who have yet to move toward implementing notebooks into their business practices are intimidated by all of the jargon and the thought of buying such expensive machines; and instead continue to delay taking advantage of this computer technology.

What Should You Focus On

The reality is this: buy what you can afford, and make sure you budget for software! Remember, it is the software that manages your contacts, creates attractive promotional materials and allows you to become technologically productive.

Computer hardware simply executes the software's instructions, and just about any new machine sold today will run business software just fine.

And, let's be realistic, whatever you buy can likely be upgraded, but will probably become outdated within a few years anyway. Computers are simply tools, and every few years, you're going to need a new tool.

What You Need

  1. A Notebook Sales is a mobile business, and there is really no reason for a salesperson to buy anything other than a notebook computer. In the past, these small units could not economically rival the power and features of desktop units, but this is no longer true.

  2. Processor Speed Most people place too much emphasis on CPU "clock" speed. Any machine based on the Intel Centrino processor will be more than adequate for the typical business person or sales professional. These chips are specifically designed for use in notebooks, and typically outperform other chips that have higher "clock" speeds.

    Whatever you do, do not buy a notebook that includes a "desktop" processor. This is a cheap marketing trick used by many manufactures to sell consumers on "clock speed." Unfortunately, notebooks generally cannot dissipate the heat generated by desktop chips very well. The result is that as heat builds up, these units often run slower than lower-rated mobile chips, and even force systems to shut-down in order to avoid melt-down.

  3. Memory RAM, or Random Access Memory, enables the CPU to work on programs in a very fast atmosphere. Most notebooks now come with 128 megabytes as standard equipment. Unless you're an aggressive "multi-tasker" or heavily involved in digital photo and video editing, this is quite likely enough. While notebooks are not easy to upgrade in general, adding RAM is usually a very simple process, so don't buy more than you need at first.

  4. Display If you plan on making computer presentations to buyers and sellers, then you will need an "active matrix" display, and at least a 13 inch screen. If you are simply planning on using your computer as a productivity tool, and are sure that you won't need it for presentations, then you can function with a "dual-scan" screen - which will cost several hundred dollars less.

  5. Business Features While there are countless other features and options available, a few that should be seriously considered by the business user are as follows:

    • TV or S-Video Output - If you do intend on using your computer for business presentations, then the ability to patch into a TV using a standard RCA cable will be a real treat. Just about any TV or VCR has such inputs.

      The addition of an S-Video port will provide even better clarity when using a TV for external display, but older units may not support this feature.

      A notebook that provides either of these options is a good choice, while one that supports both features is best.

    • Internal Ethernet Adapters - Most business-class notebooks now come equipped with both internal modems and Ethernet (network) adapters as well. Models based on the Intel Centrino chip also include wireless networking as well.

      Not only will this save you the hassle of having to buy a plug-in adapter in the future, but having an internal Ethernet adapter saves you from compatibility and installations issues as well.

    • Firewire - The newer data ports that are in conformance with standard IEEE 1394 are commonly called Firewire. This standard is great for transferring large amounts of information, quickly. Right now, the most common accessory that uses Firewire is the new breed of digital video cameras.

      Even if you don't own a DVC right now, or plan on buying one anytime soon, it's likely that other peripherals will soon begin to take advantage of the speed available using Firewire. Shopping for a notebook that offers this port will likely save you money and complications down the road.

    • CD, CDRW & DVD - One of the most confusing options right now is the disk drive. For the business user, a standard CD drive is likely fine. However, if you do not currently have a reliable backup mechanism (such as a tape drive) then a CDRW is an excellent choice.

      While DVD will likely be the standard in the future, as a practicle matter, unless you really want to watch movies on your notebook, there really isn't a need for one of these right now.

  6. Everything Else Most of the other "selling points" used to market notbook computers are nothing more than a matter of personal preference, so make these decisions accordingly.

    However, you might want to consider whether you want a "2-Spindle" system which can usually have the CD or the Floppy installed, but not both at the same time. The alternative is the "3-Spindle" which includes both drives installed at the same time. This is not a technology issue, just a matter of user preference as "2-Spindle" notebooks are naturally somewhat smaller and lighter.

The Bottom Line

If you're in sales you need a notebook, not a desktop. Buy anything with Windows XP Professional (but not "XP Home" or ME) and do not buy a Macintosh.

You can get a solid business machine by shopping in the $1,200 to $1,500 price range. And, while you can certainly spend more than that, there really is no need from a business user's perspective. However, if you're new to computers, plan on spending another $1,000 in software within the next six months.

Finally, give serious consideration to attending quality software training programs. Too many business users are spending too much money on technology, but not taking full advantage of what they already own.

The content of this article is based on my seminar:
Next Century Productivity
Stephen M. Canale
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