Buying a laptop [but where is my scroll]

The budget was about £1000-1300 [$1600-2100]. The machine was going to be a replacement for an ageing Toshiba with a 15.3 inch screen.

I am going to be doing some travelling so I wanted a machine that was lighter than the Toshiba and with a longer battery life. In return I was prepared to accept a smaller screen, say 13.1 or 14.1 inch.

After a bit of research the choice had narrowed down to four machines
  • A 13.3 inch Sony Vaio S series
  • A 15.6 inch Dell Studio XPS
  • A 13 inch Apple Mac Book Pro
  • A 14.1 Lenovo ThinkPad T410
The Sony was soon dismissed. I have never trusted Sony since the rootkit affair and, since the machine was not exceptional, it was easy to cross the Vaio off my list.

Dell had a good website, but it seemed more concerned with selling me an extended service contract than a laptop. I suppose that is how they make their money when desktops and laptops are commodity items. The basic service level provided with the computer seemed poor [10 days to do repairs]  and I didn't like the idea of having to pay more to get an adequate repair service. I think the Studio XPS is a decent enough computer but, like the Sony Vaio, it is not exceptional. Given that, and some poor service I have had from Dell in the past, I decided to cross them off the list as well.

That left the Apple Mac Book Pro and the Lenovo ThinkPad. If I had been choosing on the basis of software [OS X v Windows 7] I would have picked the Apple Mac Book Pro without hesitation. I have Windows and OS X desktops and OS X is clearly superior.

Unfortunately for Apple, I had to consider the hardware as well. The Apple Mac Book Pro has a good screen and very good battery life.  Otherwise, I think it is unsuited for anybody wanting to do serious computing. It has hardly any ports. There is no VGA port and I often need to connect to a projector. You can buy an adaptor and connect via a USB, but I really object to having to buy an adaptor after paying over £1,200 for a computer. Also, there are only two USB ports and I understand they are so close together than it can be hard to use both at the same time.

The more I looked at the Apple Mac Book Pro the more I realised that it was more a toy than a serious business computer. It would be ok for somebody who wanted something fashionable  and only intended to do a bit of browsing and some word processing.

It is so seriously crippled that I am surprised Apple can ever sell a single machine.  The Steve Jobs pixie dust must seriously confuse people.

That left the Lenovo ThinkPad. It used to be the IBM ThinkPad, then IBM sold their PC business to a Chinese company. The ThinkPads have always had an excellent reputation for good solid engineering and an outstanding keyboard. The T410 is extremely well equipped with ports [firewire, VGA, eSata, four USB, SDHC card, Ethernet etc], has a good battery life [especially if you get the nine cell battery] and a good screen.

There are other ways in which the ThinkPad is better than the Mac Book. The Apple Mac Book Pro is a closed system. It is hard to replace the battery or do any upgrading. The Lenovo ThinkPad battery can be swapped in seconds and there are lots of easily removed lids so users can get at their computer's innards.

I also liked the Lenovo website. It was even easier to use than the Dell website, but it was packed with solid technical information. I felt I was dealing with a group of engineers, rather than a bunch of salesmen.

In the end the choice was easy. I bought the Lenovo ThinkPad T410 for just under £1200 and it arrived in four days.

So far, I am happy with my choice, but unhappy with the technology. What I would have really liked was a scroll.

Where is my Scroll

The main components of a personal computer are the microprocessor, primary storage, secondary storage, display, power supply and devices for data entry and control.  Not all of these have developed at the same pace.

Microprocessors have followed Moore's Law, and reached a stage where most users have enough processing power. Random access memory has become much cheaper, and most personal computers have several gigabytes of RAM. More is always useful, but random access memory is not a constraint for most users.

Secondary storage has become much cheaper and disk capacities have increased. Hard disks have also become much smaller, and flash memory is becoming cheap enough to replace some of the smaller capacity magnetic discs. The other development in secondary storage is that now data and applications can be stored and accessed over the Internet, so some of a PC's secondary storage can be on a remote server.

The two areas of the personal computer which have hardly developed at all are the display and battery life. We have we moved from CRT displays to flat panels but we still have to choose between large displays which are tethered to the desktop, or displays which are portable, but too small. Laptop batteries have a life of a few hours.

We don't need more powerful processors or bigger hard disks. What we do need are large portable displays that do not need much power. Electronic paper may be the solution.

When large flexible displays are available at a reasonable cost we will see the development of devices such as the scroll.

Bob's scroll 

It’s one of those hectic mornings. Bob’s stress level was already sliding into the danger zone before he stepped off the elevator – and that was two mind-numbing meetings ago.

Thankfully, his next meeting isn’t for half an hour, so Bob sneaked downstairs to the local coffee bar and ordered a chilled espresso and cream. He found a comfortable chair and opened his scroll; a plastic film wrapped around a 400mm long and 12mm diameter metal tube.

Bob unrolled a single sheet of plastic less than 0.3 millimeters thick from the tube. A shake of his wrist turned the sheet rigid. With a squeeze of his thumb on the bottom corner Bob selected a business magazine from a pop-up menu of various newspapers and magazines to which he subscribes. Instantly, his ultra-thin display displayed the magazines latest front page.

Bob flipped through the electronic pages to his favorite columnist and relaxed into his chair. Just as he was getting to the fun part of the piece, a tiny icon begins to flash in the top corner of his screen. He tapped the icon with his finger, which fades the newspaper into the background and brings his e-mail to the forefront.

After a quick scan of the messages, Bob squeezed the bottom corner of the screen and selected the keyboard option from the menu. Instantly, the bottom third of his electronic display showed a computer keyboard. After placing the display on the tabletop, Bob began to type replies to the more urgent messages.

Just as he catches up, another icon appears. With a tap, his e-mail program fades into the background and the face of his personal assistant appears. Her lips are already moving.

Bob tapped his ear to turn on his Bluetooth earbud and caught her words midstream.

His next client is early. Bob quickly retrieved a copy of the client's spreadsheet from the company servers and checked the latest figures.

With a sigh, Bob rolled the screen back around its tube. He’ll need to catch up with the columnist at another time.


1 comment:

Todd HellsKitchen said...

Another insightful article!!