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How To Buy
HOW TO BUY A ... Multimedia Notebook


Most manufacturers offer a choice of active-matrix (DSTN) or dual-scan (TFT) displays. Active matrix carries a $300 to $500 premium, but it's money well spent if you're going to use your notebook for presentations. Displays measuring 11.3 inches diagonally provide ample viewing area and are widely available; 12.1-inch screens are preferable for frequent presentation work. Displays generally offer an 800x600 maximum resolution, with higher resolutions available for external monitors.


Six-speed CD-ROM drives are the current standard, but some manufacturers offer 8X and 10X units as well. Since current CD-ROMs aren't optimized to take advantage of a drive faster than 4X or 6X, an 8X CD-ROM drive should keep you one step ahead of the technology curve.

Video Memory

If you want your notebook to produce impressive graphics, video memory is extremely important. Start with at least 2MB of VRAM, but anticipate your future needs-few notebooks have upgradable video memory.


The best way to test a notebook's speakers is to listen to them. Look for 16-bit Sound Blaster Pro-compatible audio, and consider purchasing a set of external speakers.


Price can vary greatly depending on the features you select, such as a large screen, high-speed CD-ROM drive and so on. Plan on spending at least $2,000 to $2,500. High-end machines with all the bells and whistles often cost upwards of $5,000.

To fit into the multimedia category, a notebook should have, at minimum, a CD-ROM drive, a sound system and a color display. Besides those multimedia basics, the average road warrior should look for a 100MHz Pentium minimum. Most users will opt for a faster chip, given the small price difference between the 100MHz and a faster CPU. Memory is also an important consideration-graphics are very demanding, so look for 16MB or more to ensure adequate performance. Make sure you get at least an 810MB hard drive, especially if you'll be working with multimedia files. Many notebooks include hard disks up to 1GB or 2GB as a standard option.

Although most notebooks include trackpad pointing devices, some still offer a trackball or a pointing stick. A notebook's portable power is drawn from a nickel metal hydride (NiMH) or lithium ion battery. While the lithium ion battery offers longer life, the nickel metal hydride is cheaper. A built-in infrared (IR) port can be a plus if you have other hardware-such as a network interface, printer or mouse-that supports IR technology.

Windows Magazine, February 1997, page 239.

[ Go to February 1997 Table of Contents ]