Community Newsletter: Q&A forum: Considering a move to a laptop full time, any advice?

by: Lee Koo (ADMIN) April 6, 2007 12:39 AM PDT

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Considering a move to a laptop full time, any advice?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) ModeratorCNET staff - 4/6/07 12:39 AM

Question:

Dear members, I'm thinking of phasing out my desktop PC and just going with a laptop for full-time computing at home, on the go, wherever. I have accessories to plug in when I'm at home, including a desktop printer, scanner, external hard disk, cable modem, and speakers with an amp. I know I'll probably need a dock as well, but I'm not sure what else. Is this a good idea? What should I do to prepare for such a transition?

--Submitted by: David B.


Answer voted most helpful by our members:

Each year I see an increasing number of computer users are trading their Desktop computers for Laptop/notebook computers. The shift from Desktop PCs to Laptops has been sparked primarily by lower priced laptops as well as the convenience of Wireless networks, which are everywhere. I think that as people use their computers more and increase the number of hours that they spend in font of the computer screen, they find the attraction of being able to move their computer around the house or outside almost irresistible. I have to say that I now use my laptop computer about 80% of the time. However, I still use a desktop for things like Video editing, gaming or applications where I need the power or storage capacity of a desktop or the convenience of my dual screen setup.

Even though it may seem like there is no real big difference between a laptop and a Desktop, there are some very distinct pros and cons that you should be aware of. Keep in mind that if your needs are minimal, than some of these differences may not be of any real concern to you.

LAPTOP PROS
1. Portability No Contest in this area. If you have a need for mobility, than a laptop is the only way to go. Take it to work, on vacation or to the local coffee shop.

2. Uses Less Space Many users find that the reduced amount of space that a laptop takes up on the desk is well worth the switch.

3. Uses less electricity A laptop will generally consume less electricity, especially if you happen to be replacing an older desktop that has a traditional CRT monitor.


LAPTOP CONS
1. More Expensive than Desktop It may be a little difficult to compare the two but to purchase a laptop with the same power and features as a desktop would cost about twice as much.

2. Not as Powerfull as a desktop In general, laptops do not have the same capabilities as the larger desktops. For example: The maximum hard drive available today for a laptop is about 160 gig as compared to about 500gig for a desktop. They tend to use slower, more energy saving processors and components. This may be more of an issue for heavy computer users and gamers.

3. Life Expectancy Laptops do not tend to last as long as desktop computers. This could be due to extra bumping, dropping and overheating that normally goes hand in hand with portability. But also, laptops can not be upgraded to the extent that desktop computers can, so they will typically be replaced more often just to keep up with technology changes.

4. More expensive to repair When something does go wrong, laptop repairs can cost 2, 3 or even 4 times more than desktop computers. In many cases, if your laptop is out of warranty, it may not even be worth getting it repaired. To give you a few examples: I had to order a new DVD drive for a HP laptop a few weeks ago. The replacement cost for the drive was $239. This same type of drive for a desktop would run about $60. A Standard replacement keyboard for a Dell laptop cost me about $80 and about hour to install and test. You can pick up a standard keyboard for a desktop for about $20 and install it yourself. I had to replace the screen on a Sony TR3 last year, Sony charge me $700. If this were a desktop, I could have purchased a new monitor for about $200 and had use of the computer in about 1 hour rather than the 3 weeks it took to send it back to Sony.

5. Limited Upgrades Laptops are fairly limited as to what can be upgraded. Yes you can add some extra memory or maybe a new hard drive, but you can forget about upgrading the video card, processor or motherboard. Also upgrades tend to cost more than desktops.

6. Down Time If your laptop needs repair, you may be without a computer for several weeks. Laptops are typically built with many custom or proprietary parts. When something goes wrong, the parts usually need to be ordered or the computer may even need to be sent back to the manufacturer for service, leaving you without a computer for several weeks. This is less likely with a desktop computer.

7. Recycled Parts The overall value of purchasing a desktop computer is often extended by reusing some of the parts. This is especially true of the monitor. It is very common for people to reuse the monitor or move it to other computers in the house. Nothing much can be reused on a laptop.

PURCHASING A LAPTOP

1. If you decide to go with a laptop, I can not stress enough the importance of picking out a unit that you are comfortable with as well as one that meets your technical needs. You should ask yourself questions such as: Do I like the screen? Am I comfortable with the keyboard? How about the USB ports? Are they in the right places? Unlike a Desktop computer, where if you dont like the screen, mouse or keyboard, you can easily swap it out for another, you are stuck with what you get with a laptop. Short of purchasing and hooking up an external monitor, if you dont like the size of the screen or maybe the high-gloss reflective coating that comes on most laptops now, there is not much you can do.

2. Purchase all the accessories that you need or want with the computer instead of waiting to go back later to get them. Laptops models change so fast that the accessory you want may not be available later. It is also often more expensive to purchase add-on items at a later date. So if you really think that you need extra long battery life, order that extended life, 9-cell battery with your computer.

3. Always insist on Recovery/Installation CDs with your computer. Dont let anyone tell you that you dont need them. Believe me when I tell you that 3 years down the road when your hard drive fails and the backup CDs you created on day one have oxidized and no longer work, you will need those CDs. If you did not receive any with your computer, you can usually order them for about $10.

4. Windows Vista or XP Unfortunately, this is probably not the best time to be purchasing a new computer because Windows Vista is so New and full of problems and you kind of hate to purchase the older XP. If you plan to purchase all new Vista Compatible hardware and software than not a problem, go with Vista. But if you need to integrate some older software and some existing hardware such as an all-in-one printer, you may want to consider ordering your new computer with Windows XP, or holding off until Vista has time to mature. If you are not in a rush, I would suggest waiting 6 months.

PLANNING THE SWITCH

You need to plan your migration to any new computer regardless of the type of computer or operating system you plan to purchase. NOTE: I personally do not recommend using any of the migration software packages that are available that claim to move everything from your old computer to your new one.

1. Inventory Current Software and Hardware You will want to make a list of all the hardware and software that you currently use. Write down every program that you use and include any new items that you might like to have. Pull together all the original installation CDs and License numbers to make sure you are not missing anything. If you will be throwing out your old computer, you may be able to reuse some of the software, but that will depend on the software and licenses.

2. Compatibility Issues - If you are moving to a new Operating system, you will need to check each item in your inventory list for compatibility with the new system. You can find this information online and may need to download new drivers or versions or even have to purchase some new software. For Vista, you could download and run the Vista Compatibility Wizard on your old computer just to get some ideas, but dont rely 100% on the wizard results, I have found that it misses many problems, but it is a good starting point.

3. Personal Data Go through your Inventory List from above and make a notation as to what data you want to save as well as its location. If you do not know exactly where the data is stored, that is ok for now, but just note that there is data from that program, so you dont forget. Your list may look something like this:

Word 2003 OK with WinXP C:\Documents and Settings\User\My Documents
Excel 2003 OK with WinXP C:\Documents and Settings\User\My Documents
PowerPoint OK with WinXP C:\Documents and Settings\User\My Documents
Favorites OK with WinXP C:\Documents and Settings\User\Favorites
Outlook OK with WinXP C:\Doc\User\Local Settings\Application Data\...
Quicken OK with WinXP C:\Doc\User\My Documents\Quicken\...
iTunes OK with WinXP C:\Doc\User\My Documents\My Music\itunes
Turbo Tax OK with WinXP Not sure

4. How to Move Data There are several ways to move your data from your old computer to a new one. You can do it all manually or with some assistance. I have found that the Windows Files and Settings Transfer Wizard does a nice job for when you are moving from Win98, ME, 2000 or XP to a new XP computer. Windows Vista also has a similar tool. You can use any of the following methods to transfer data regardless of which way you are planning to move the data.
a. Network Connection If you have a home network and you are familiar with setting up file sharing, you can transfer your data over the network.
b. CD/DVD If your old computer has a CD or DVD burner, you could burn all of your data to that.
c. USB Network Cable Belkin and other companies make a USB data transfer cable that allows you to transfer files from one computer to another.
d. USB Hard Drive Transfer your data to the USB Drive and then to your new computer.
e. Flash Drive A flash/thumb drive will work as long as you dont have enormous amounts of data.
f. Install Old Drive into USB Enclosure - For about $29 you can pick up a USB enclosure that will turn your old drive into a USB drive allowing you to read it from any other computer.

Regardless of which method you decide to use, I would take this opportunity to go through your files and clean out some of the junk that has been collecting before moving your data over to your new computer.


OTHER EXTRAS and ACCESSORIES

Even though you can purchase a laptop for under $700 these days, the extras can almost double that price. Software, Security Suites, Docks and extended warrantees can really add up. Here is a list of items that you may want to consider:

1. Office Suite Most everyone needs at least a word processor and in many cases Excel and PowerPoint. Depending on your needs you can expect to spend between $149 and $500 for an Office Suite. Dont forget to check out Student/Teacher versions which if you qualify can save you several hundred dollars. If you are not picky, there are some great alternative to Microsoft Office such as Corels office Suite which included Word Perfect or even FREE versions such as Open Office.

2. Security Software You will need some form of Security Software. You will probably receive a free trial of Norton or McAfee that you will have to pay for in a month or so to continue coverage. Depending on your Internet Service provider, they may offer some free software.

3. Laptop Case If you are going to be traveling with your laptop, you will need a sturdy carrying case. Try to find something that has some protective cushioning to protect the laptop in the event that you drop it.

4. Docking Station Some laptop models have a connector on the bottom or back that is designed to plug into a specific docking station. If you plan to use your laptop as a replacement for a desktop, you may want to take advantage of this feature and have a full size monitor, Speakers, keyboard and mouse attached to the dock. You can usually accomplish this same effect without a dock, but you will plugging and unplugging all kinds of cables each time you want to take your laptop with you. With the dock, you simply push one button and away you go. NOTE: Dont confuse a port replicator, which some companies call a universal Dock, with an actual docking station.

5. Keyboard and Mouse Many users prefer using a regular size keyboard and mouse or at least prefer to use a mouse rather than the touch pad. You can easily install either of these in a wired or wireless version.

6. Laptop Lock If you will be traveling a lot or using your computer in locations that are less than desirable, then you may want to consider an laptop lock or alarm.

7. Power Supply- Depending on your needs, you may want to consider purchasing a second power supply or maybe even a car cord to be able to plug your laptop into a standard cigarette lighter. Having an extra power cord makes it just that much easier to pick up and run with your laptop.

8. Laptop Cooling Pad Other than dropping your laptop, a common killer of laptops is overheating. For about $29, you can purchase a cooling pad that goes under your laptop when it is being used at your desk. This is especially useful if you typically leave your computer on all the time.

9. Extra Battery or Extended Life Battery If you spend a lot of time on the road and battery life is major concern to you, some models offer the ability to add a second battery or to replace the original battery with a longer life version. For example, when you order a Dell Laptop you have a choice between a 6-cell standard battery or the 9-cell longer life battery.

10. Wireless Options Many more options are starting to surface for Wireless connectivity. Besides Standard WiFi and Bluetooth, one major option that you should be aware of is the built-in Cell phone data cards. More and more models are offering data cards for connecting to the internet through the cell phone network. These plans tend to run about $59.99 per month but if you travel a lot and need constant connectivity without having to go searching for the nearest WiFi hotspot, this is a great way to go. You can purchase the cards that plug into the external PCMCIA slot on virtually any laptop or get the built-in version on select models only. I have seen them available on some Sony and Dell models. Dell lets you choose between either Verizon or Cingular (at the time of order) and I think Sony only offers the Cingular service.

11. Warrantees All laptops come with some form of factory warrantee and all suppliers would love to sell you one of their extended plans. Personally I do not normally recommend purchasing any additional warrantees on a laptop priced less than $1000. But that may be just me. Keep in mind that once a laptop is out of warrantee the minimum repair cost can easily be $200 and more. If you do decide to purchase an extended warrantee, make sure you totally understand exactly what it is you are getting. What is covered? Who will fix it? Will it have to be sent out? How long will I be without my computer? Does it cover accidental damage? What is covered under the normal warrantee?

Good Luck with whatever you decide.

Dana
Wayland Computer

--Submitted by: Dana (CNET member: waytron)

If you have any advice or recommendations for David, let's hear them. Click on the "Reply" link to post. Thanks!

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