Choosing the right laptop can make even a nerd nervous — Do I go with Intel Duo Core or AMD Turion? What megahertz? How much RAM? The best place to start is by deciding what sort of laptop you want from the four basic formats: desktop replacement, thin and light, ultraportable, or ruggedized? We’ve chosen two favorites in each category.
Desktop Replacement: This is a brawny machine that weighs approximately 8 pounds or more and sports a full-sized keyboard and large display screen. These laptops usually provide the best bang for your technology buck — they’re powerful, sturdy computers with a reasonable price tag. Lugging them around can be a pain, but if your portable will be your primary computer, you’ll probably want a desktop replacement model.
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Dell XPS M1710: Dell’s computer boasts top-of-the-line components, outstanding performance, solid construction, and great looks, all at a reasonable price. Highly recommended for the most demanding users. 8.7 lbs; built-in wireless; 15.51 x 11.30 X 1.69; $2,300; www.dell.com (photo, right).
HP dv9500t: A well-built, powerhouse computer that’s not as heavy as most machines in this class and is priced to please. 7.7lbs; built-in wireless; 15.16 x 11.65 x 1.57; $1,200; www.hp.com.
Thin and Lights: These machines have all the features of a desktop replacement but in a more svelte form. They weigh around 7 pounds and are noticeably slimmer than a desktop replacement model. They’re easier to travel with than their beefier brethren but may feel more fragile. Thin and lights are typically (but not always) more expensive than a similarly powerful desktop replacement — portability always comes at premium price.
MacBook Pro: Apple’s sleek laptop lets you run the Windows and Mac operating systems on one great machine. And there’s plenty of power under all that so-cool Apple styling. 6.8 lbs.; built-in wireless; 15.4 x 10.4 x 1; $2,000; www.apple.com.
Lenovo ThinkPad Mobile Workstation: Solid performance, good design, and the best keyboard of any laptop — it’s springy but firm. ThinkPads have always gotten all the little details that make for great user experience, and this computer drives the point home. 6 lbs.; built-in wireless; 15.4 x 10.0 x 1.1; $1,300; www.lenovo.com.
Ultraportables: These machines are typically under five pounds and about the size of a hardcover book. They’re a dream to travel with but their small keyboards and display screens can feel too cramped for everyday use. If, however, you’re looking for a computer that will be used solely as a travel companion, an ultraportable is your dream machine. Here again, expect to pay more than you would for a similarly configured desktop replacement.
Toshiba Portege R500: Big performance in a tiny package, and complete with a full-size keyboard and a built-in DVD drive — it’s very unusual to find both in an ultraportable. 2.4 lbs.; built-in wireless; 11.1 x 8.5 X 0.7; $2,000; www.toshiba.com (photo, right).
Lenovo ThinkPad X61s: A high-performance, gently-priced ultraportable. Pop in the optional extended-life battery and it’ll run for up to six hours. It has a great keyboard for such a small machine. 3.11 lbs.; built-in wireless; 10.58 x 8.35 x 1.41; $1,200; www.lenovo.com.
Ruggedized Laptops: Ruggedized laptops aren’t bothered by liquid, dust, or dirt. They can be dropped, squashed, and otherwise harassed and still survive. Due to their special disaster-blasting features, they are more expensive than other portable computers and are best for travelers who use their computers in conditions likely to damage less-armored machines.
Panasonic Toughbook V5: Panasonic’s ToughBooks have long been the leader of the ruggedized pack. The V5 is a mean machine, able to withstand almost anything you can throw at it, and all that macho muscle comes in a surprisingly small package. 3.7 lbs; built-in wireless; 12.2 x 9.6 X 1.3; $2,000; www.panasonic.com.
Dell Latitude ATG D620: A good contender to the Toughbooks, the ATG boasts solid performance and power. Since Dell runs a very competitive business, expect the ATG D620’s price to come down soon. 6.25 lbs; built-in wireless; 13.27 x 9.38 x 1.72; $3,000; www.dell.com.
Some folks wouldn’t dare venture away from home without their laptop handy. Look to the tech-savvy posters on our Talk forums for tips on traveling with your laptop: