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Notebook Sizes and Classes
The first decision you will need to make when shopping for a notebook is what general class of machine you are most interested in. While it is true that there is a spectrum of different designs, most machines fall into one of a handful of categories, based on the market and users for which they are targeted.
The key to knowing which class you want is being absolutely sure about what your requirements are for the system. You must understand what you want the system to be able to do, and what your priorities are. To some extent, the category of machine is a function of the design decisions made by the engineers who created it. The existence of different notebook categories is based primarily on the issue of size. More specifically, different notebook types are needed because of the fact that size trades off against other critical attributes, including performance, capacity, features and connectivity.
There are in fact several different aspects of size that all factor into the design of different notebook types:
Of course these are all related: smaller and thinner almost always means lighter too. Here are the usual notebook classes and a brief description of each:
Note: Some people call personal
digital assistants (PDAs) "sub-notebooks" as well, since they are
"PC-like" and certainly smaller than a notebook. I believe these units are
stripped-down sufficiently that I don't consider them PCs any more, and do not cover them
in this guide. I do mention a bit about them here.
Of course there are shades of gray between these categories, and not all notebooks will fit cleanly into one of the three. In fact, it doesn't really matter what class any particular unit falls into. What is important is to think about what size you want, and understand the way notebook makers position their products. The ideal size for you depends in turn entirely on how you plan to use the machine, and most importantly, how important size and weight are to you, compared to the other notebook attributes.
As I alluded to in the bullet point on sub-notebooks, the key in some ways is how "portable" you want "portable" to be. Some people use a notebook primarily while traveling, and only as a second machine. For these, a very lightweight unit is of paramount importance, and a lack of CPU performance, screen size or disk space is not a big issue. Others want a notebook for the ability to easily move their work with them, but usually use the machine in one position or another, stationary. I personally fall into this category--I prefer a machine that has more features, and I don't care much about weight since I don't spend very much time carrying the unit around. I do care about performance and features since my notebook is my primary machine.
Note: Companies focus heavily
on the weight of the notebook unit itself, but when you travel, do you just take the PC
itself? Of course not: you have to take all the cables and accessories too. Include these
in weight assessments. For example, if a maker shaves half a pound off the weight of the
base unit by making the CD-ROM drive external, then that only matters if you rarely use
the CD-ROM drive. Otherwise you're going to be dragging it around with you anyway, and
also putting up with the hassle of having it external to the system.
Tip: If you want to reduce your
total carry weight, forego the fancy leather carrying case: they are heavy! Go with a
good-quality padded synthetic case; ask about the weight of the case before purchasing.