Laptop Survey

Like it says – Joe

SUMMARY: Tell us about your laptop!

Ever since I picked up a MINOX camera at an estate sale, I’ve had a fascination for finely crafted mini-machines. Laptops arguably are the PC equivalent to the MINOX and as such, I marvel at the technical challenge of cramming a lot of functionality (and heat dissipation) into a very tight footprint.

I’ve noticed, however, that as laptops become more mainstream, the footprint on some is getting larger – now we see laptops with 17″ LCDs marketed as desktop replacements. Well call me curious – I know what I look for in a laptop, but I would like to get an idea about what our readers look for. I’ve put together some questions and I’d appreciate a few minutes of your time to email me your laptop preferences.

Please cut and paste this questionnaire into an email:

1. My current laptop is a

2. Check one: Was this a personal purchase (  ) or one that was provided by your company (  ).

3. Check one: If a company purchase, did you pick the brand (  ) or was it dictated by your employer (  ).

4. What application programs do you run and with what frequency (e.g., Business apps: 75%):

  • Business apps (e.g., Excel, Word, etc):
  • Internet access:
  • Personal apps (e.g., games, personal finance, etc.)
  • Other (please list):

5. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being unimportant to 5 being very important, how important is your laptop’s weight and size (ie portability):

6. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being very dissatisfied and 5 being very satisfied, how would you rate your laptop’s performance:

7. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being totally uninterested and 5 being very interested, how interested are you in hardware hacks to improve your laptop’s performance?

8. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being totally uninterested and 5 being very interested, how interested are you in software apps to improve your laptop’s performance?

9. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being totally unimportant to 5 being very important, how important is gaming performance in selecting a laptop:

10. On a scale from 1 – 5, with 1 being very dissatisfied and 5 being very satisfied, how would you rate your laptop overall:

11. Considering your overall experience with your laptop, would you be satisfied with it as your only PC: Yes (  )   No (  )

12. Any other comments?

Thanks so much for your time!

Survey Results CONTINUED on page 2…

The response was quite good – almost 200 readers responded. I tabulated the responses below and included some comments from readers where appropriate:

1. My current laptop is a:

PII Case Diagram

No real surprise here – our reader’s purchases reflect what’s going on in the market. Dell¹ leads the way with “the usual suspects” falling in line. After about 5% share, it tails off into single digits for the likes of Asus, Gateway, NEC and Sharp very quickly – lots of bit players with niche shares.

2. Was this a personal purchase ( 84% ) or one that was provided by your company ( 16% ).

A larger share of personal purchases than I imagined.

3. If a company purchase, did you pick the brand ( 25% ) or was it dictated by your employer ( 75% ).

No real surprise here – I would expect that the IT folks dictate what to buy etc.

4. What application programs do you run and with what frequency:

Application

Frequency

Business apps (e.g., Excel, Word, etc)

30.4%

Internet access

41.8%

Personal apps (e.g., games, personal finance, etc.)

16.4%

Other

11.4%

This did surprise me – considering that most of you bought your own laptops, I would have thought that personal apps would be higher. However, that’s not to say that people don’t use Business Apps for personal needs. The high share for internet access is interesting, although I would think that internet access is an important use of desktop PCs as well, but its share may be lower – games, for example, are more viable on desktops than laptops.

Greg

My wife loves it, as she is able to email/IM/surf without having to go to the den, although she still needs to use the main computer to use scanner for family album. I only use it to surf; as for gaming/video editing, it is not feasible.

¹It could be argued that with HP acquiring Compaq, the combined share is larger than Dell. However, over time, does 1 + 1 = 2? As the difference between the two inevitably narrows, I think the shares of the two brands will shrink.{mospagebreak}

5. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being unimportant to 5 being very important, how important is your laptop’s weight and size (ie portability): 3.4

This does surprise me. Portability is of middling importance, while I would have thought that the prime objective in buying a laptop is portability; it is for me, but that’s me. I think it suggests that other factors, such as performance and screen size, are more important purchase criteria than portability.

Looking at laptop offerings suggests that 15″ screens are probably the most predominant size; laptops of this size seem to weigh in at about 5 – 7 pounds, which confirms what you told us – portabilty is a factor, but not the over riding purchase criteria.

6. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being very dissatisfied and 5 being very satisfied, how would you rate your laptop’s performance: 4.0

Basically you told us that for what it is and how you use laptops, you were pretty satisfied. This is consistent with your laptop apps – business software and internet access are not really power uses compared to games, for example. While some of you are power users (Auto Cad as an example), overall readers are using laptops for “normal” stuff – word processing, Powerpoint, and internet access most likely the major apps.

7. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being totally uninterested and 5 being very interested, how interested are you in hardware hacks to improve your laptop’s performance? 3.4

With the high cost of laptops and their proprietary hardware, there is reluctance to hack laptops. Some of you have done it, but clearly this is an exception.

Tom

I wish the internals of laptops were more standard. Every make seems to be a custom design, of course dictated by size and competitive forces. Still, for the most part, if a person buys a particular model of laptop, they have also bought into a dependency on the manufacturer.

Bruce

I’ve already upgraded the HD and Ram. I love my laptop. I filled out this survey on it. I use my desktop for gaming (and a desktop is a must); it can be upgraded easily and cheaper. My laptop is a little older, but it works great (and the desktop takes most of the real heavy work off of it). I’d do some hardware hacks on my own (and risk it) if laptops didn’t cost so much.

Jason

I’d love to have a notebook as configurable as a PC – in other words,
one in which I could easily upgrade the video card, sound card, even the
motherboard and LCD panel, as I can with a desktop PC. I’m not
holding my breath, though.

Nic

The best feature of my laptop is its upgradeability (Dell Inspiron 8600). I can go as far as upgrading to an ATI Radeon 9600 128MB card, though costly, is about the equivalent to a desktop card once resale of my current card would be factored in. It also supports expandibility to 1GB of ram, which I do not even have in my desktop. Laptop hard drives are cheaper all the time, but 5400 rpm and 60GB or above offers optimal speed and size for costs.

Lastly, I have found my Dell easy to work with as far as cleaning out the heatpipes and modding. I have taken a piece of aluminum and had it cut to rest over my GPU heatsink and the heatpipe-block of the CPU. Combining both cooling elements and replacing the interfaces with Arctic Silver has allowed me to OC my Go4200 to 225/540 stable at max fan and cool temps, and 210/520 with just the GPU fan on high and CPU fan on slow. There are many guides for other mods online that I may eventually take the time to do, but they are mostly cosmetic.
{mospagebreak}

8. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being totally uninterested and 5 being very interested, how interested are you in software apps to improve your laptop’s performance? 3.5

Some reluctance here also – more perhaps due to skepticism that this is going to make a tangible difference than anything else.

9. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being totally unimportant to 5 being very important, how important is gaming performance in selecting a laptop: 2.7

Chicken and egg? Laptops are to some degree compromise machines, therefor gaming is not really viable. I think this refects the reality of what’s available in the market; if laptops were gaming friendly, would this change?

Brian

Gaming and laptops to not mix well together.

I used to
have a big nine pound “laptop” so I could play games on
it, but it ended up sitting on a desk most of the time
just like a desktop. It was big and cumbersome, so it was a
pain to take anywhere and the battery life wasn’t too
impressive either.

For my next purchase, I decide not to
make gaming a factor and chose a Centrino notebook that
was lightweight and portable. It could not play any of
the new games, but it was perfect for writing papers,
surfing the internet, and watching movies. I ended up
getting a lot more use out of the Centrino than my
previous computer because I could actually carry it places
and place it comfortably on my lap without much hassle.

I learned that laptops should be light, portable, and have
good battery life. Trying to make them into gaming
machines would turn them into desktops because they will
spend the majority of the time sitting on top of a desk.

10. On a scale from 1 – 5, with 1 being very dissatisfied and 5 being very satisfied, how would you rate your laptop overall: 4.2

Overall, for what you do, you’re pretty well satisifed, but not jumping up and down satisfied. I think this reflects the compromise laptop owners implictly make, based on what laptops are capble of doing.
{mospagebreak}

11. Considering your overall experience with your laptop, would you be satisfied with it as your only PC: Yes ( 29% ) No ( 71% )

Very strong message here – laptops are OK for what they are, but they are NOT desktop replacements.

Travis

Laptops are useful only when you need a work station that you can carry with you, to run PowerPoint or to use on the plane. They’re underpowered, overpriced, have a teeny tiny screen with bad response, have teeny tiny hard drives, no 3D graphics punch, run too hot to Fold 24/7, are not very expandable, not sufficient to use as a DVR, are far too fragile, and suck in the “bang for buck” arena.

And another problem: I can’t build what I want from scratch. I have to have one therefore I do. AMD’s Turin 64 initiative looks interesting for the battery life.

Yves

I’m not about to give up my PC for a laptop. I get more power, more storage, better graphics all for less with a desktop. You can build a top notch gaming rig for $800 and or you can get the lowest end Dell laptop for that price – which do you think I would rather have?

James

I recently spec’d and helped purchase a new laptop for my Father. It was a HP zd7000 and it is extremely nice. It is a 3.0Ghz PIV Hyper-Threaded, 512 MB RAM, 800 Mhz FSB. It has a 17” wide screen and a 7200 RPM 60 GB Hard Drive. It also has Built in Wireless G.

This is a system that could easily replace a desktop. It’s quiet, sleek and the 17” widescreen monitor is easy on the eyes. It also has a full size keyboard that is easy to use. I personally do a lot of video encoding, and this laptop can be purchased with a TV Tuner/Capture card as an option. The two laptops I list above would not replace my desktop system, but the one I spec’d for my parents would, easily.

Normalicy

First off, I think that anyone that buys a laptop for a desktop replacement is just a retard. They are hardly upgradeable & they are very eregnomically incorrect. However, for a traveling companion/backup computer they are great.

I can’t say that my laptop is a powerhouse, but it has been really reliable & has taken me a lot of places. I use it as my exclusive map for any trips – I even used it while I toured England & France & when I was in Hawaii. I must say that I would have had half as much fun if I didn’t have my laptop.

I got lost a few times (not because of the laptop) & the only reason I got back to where I was going is because of the laptop (AutoRoute is the European equivelant of Streets & Trips). It’s saved me hours of driving time. I also like it to connect to the internet while out & about (which isn’t nearly as easy as one would hope in England).

It also does double duty as a good place to offload all my digital camera’s pics. I like the fact that I can take the pics while on the trip, get to my hotel, edit the pics & make a slideshow for my friends to watch on TV when I get home through the S-video jack.

Last but not least, it made a long day a bit easier to take when I got stranded at the airport in London – Worms Armageddon kept me warm throught the night.

Eric

I think next time I will get the lightest thing I can find with the best battery life and leave the real computing to the desktop.

Mark

These so-called ‘desktop replacements’ are the worst kind of tool…average at most things, worst for some things, and not perfect for anything.

Matthew

Our laptop is pretty nice. It is portable enough, has decent battery life, and can play games decently. It is useful on vacations and such. I couldn’t, however, live with it as my main machine for an extended period. I play a lot of games; my desktop is far better at that (graphics card, monitor, full-size keyboard, etc.) My desktop also has a ton of hard drive space (774 GB compared to the laptop’s 30 GB). For me, there is no debate between desktop/laptop. The desktop wins everyday of the week and twice on Sunday. I like the laptop when I would otherwise be without any computer.

Big Computer > Little Computer > No Computer

Bob

I have often told my boss that if it comes down to a laptop OR a desktop, I want the laptop. Although, I would probably beef it up a bit and opt for a higher-end model. I prefer portability, but not to the point of sacrificing necessary items, such as a DVD/CDRW drive.

If I needed a larger screen, I would probably get a 17″ LCD to go with it. I think a 15″ screen is plenty for anyone and anything larger becomes cumbersome. If this were a persoal laptop, I would put more emphasis on gaming, but right now there is no replacement for a desktop PC when it comes to gaming. If you’re serious about gaming, you just don’t buy a laptop.

Peter

I would never buy a laptop as a desktop replacement, because they are more expensive than desktops and considering that I can get much better overall performance with a desktop, what’s even the purpose of the term “desktop replacement”?

I mean, if you want to call it a desktop replacement, it should perform on a level of other desktops, which most laptops cannot. And even if one should be able to go neck and neck with even a half decent desktop, you’d be paying out the ear for the thing and it would be about the size/weight of your garden vareity world atlas.

Of course, I’d love to have a GeForce 6800 Ultra in my laptop (I was pretty disappointed when some of my favorite games didn’t run on the system), but I’d prefer to actually be able to carry my laptop in my backpack (and hardly notice it) than to have to strap on one of those support belts you see weightlifters and grocery store stockers wear to schlep my “laptop” around.

Dillon

While I’m not satisfied with it as my only PC, I’ve been using it as such for about 4 months now due to slow upgrades/mods. It’s pretty bearable, but the expense/impossibility of laptop upgrades means I’ll be going back to a desktop shortly. Also, this thing is way too loud/hot, to the extent that the noise and heat are more of a problem than the weight. My punishment for buying a notebook that uses a desktop P4.
{mospagebreak}

12. Any other comments?

The following excerpts are interesting reads – Jason’s is especially worth considering when selecting a laptop:

Jason

For the past five years I have worked on laptops for a living and get to handle all sorts of broken laptops. I do not recommend any laptop, regardless of what brand it is or what features that it has, that contains a desktop derived processor.

The immediate disadvantages are obvious in that they run hotter and consume more power and therefore are heavier due to the larger cooling system and batteries required for decent battery life.

In addition, I see a much higher failure rate in the desktop based laptops and yes, I realize that they probably outsell the mobile based ones. I don’t know if they are cutting other corners, besides the cheap but fast desktop CPU, but they fail more and it is communicated in the warranties, as I can find mobile based laptops that come standard with 3 three warranties, but all the desktop based ones I see come with a 1 year warranty.

One of the less severe but common problems I see is that the fans run more often in the desktop based laptops and therefore the heatsink(s) become clogged, causing the laptop to shutdown due to overheating. Owners of desktop based laptops need to be more conscience of maintenance by keeping the laptop cooler and cleaning out the heatsink(s) and fan(s) periodically.

Brian

From looking at my rankings, it
would appear that I’m not really happy with this
laptop, which technically is true. But overall I don’t
regret the purchase.

The main reason for the low
scores is that I’m comparing my laptop to what i think
they should be, and what I want them to be, as opposed
to what is available currently. I think that there has
been some neglect on the part of the aftermarket
companies with availability of parts and upgrades for
laptops.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that we
should see (mainstream) aftermarket parts and
accessories just like a desktop. I want to be able to
pick every part and piece from mobo to color of cables
to case design. Some name brand laptops are moving
toward this but it’s still going to be fairly
proprietary or very expensive.

You could always get an Alienware laptop and spend $3,000 for a basic computer in a shiny case with the ability to swap video cards for gaming. This kind of technology should have been mainstream a few years ago.

Brandon

One thing I have noticed repeatedly is that many people think that when
they are going to college they should get a laptop instead of a
desktop.

Everytime I hear this, I do whatever I can to get them to get a
desktop. Kids think they are “cute” and that they are somehow going to
need them with them in class. You don’t need a computer in class, and if
you do it will be provided (some schools do require you to get a laptop but
most then give discounts).

Laptops often get stolen. Where I go to
school, if you are on campus you are never more than a few rooms away from
a computer you can use. So most of these kids spend a ton on a laptop that
sits on their desk in their dorm all year. Then the few times they do want
to carry it, it’s a burden because they got the massive 17″ monitor
version.

Laptops have gotten to be “cool”. It’s getting to be like people
driving a Hummer. It can go offroad, but the majority of people don’t take
it offroad so it’s good offroad features get cut (original Hummer is miles
better than H2 offroad). People buy laptops and sit them on their desks
because they want flash and importance, so laptop manufacturers make them
heavy with short battery life and high heat.

Captainslg

I’m simply NOT a big fan of laptops. If I wanted some form of mobile computing, the benefits of having it powerful enough to do everything I normally do wouldn’t outweigh the downsides of the lack of adaptability that a laptop provides. If I wanted a laptop, I’d get something that I wouldn’t be terribly attached to or dependant upon, because eventually they kick the bucket, get stolen, or outlive their usefulness.

TheEaglecD

I can’t really repair things (e.g. replace components) myself if something breaks. As I feel that laptops are more prone to being ruined due to heavier abuse (compared to tower systems), I don’t want to rely on one exclusively as I’m dependant on having a running system for my studies. Secondly the storage capacity of today’s laptop doesn’t meet my requirements. I have 160GB in my tower system and I’m looking to buy another 160GB drive for a file-/backup-sever soon.

Conclusions

Based on what you told us, it seems that laptops are an acceptable compromise bounded by what they can do. There is no illusion that a laptop is as capable as a desktop, but this is also dimensioned by what people use a PC for – if your uses are word processing, spreadsheets, internet and some personal finance stuff only, a laptop is OK as a primary machine. Start to add in some CPU intensive apps and the desktop rules.

Umprompted comments about heat and noise also point to the essential compromise that’s made between the laptop’s form factor and performance: there’s only so much heat dissipation possible and the more powerful the laptop, the more heat and noise.

Overall, readers have made the tradeoff and accepted that for what they are, laptops are OK but not a knockout.
{mospagebreak}

Ed Note: The following emails raise a number of interesting points regarding laptops:

Kris

I think that one people don’t realize that you don’t HAVE to buy a name brand laptop. In fact, one thing I learned from NotebookForums.com is that there are only a handful of laptop ODMs, and most companies either use those or customized versions of them. Very few, if any, design their own. Clevo, Compal, Mitac, Asus and a few others make them. “Manfacturers” just slap their own logo on them.

Take for example the VoodooPC m360 – very big name brand in the geek world, much like Alienware.

Default config on that baby is priced at $3090.56 with a 1.6 GHz Dothan. Quite pricy, and must be a great laptop then, right?

Now check the very last laptop in the left column at this site:

rjtech.com
rjtech.com (its own page).

Look familiar?

Exact same laptop sold as a base kit for $889.

By the time I added all my parts (1.7 GHz Dothan – more than what’s in VoodooPC’s, everything else pretty much the same), I paid right around $1600 for it. I saved nearly $1500. To be fair, I could have paid a professional $500 for a really good paint job and still would have come out $1000 cheaper.

For those that aren’t comfortable adding their own parts, you can have him do it, or pick one of about 10 other vendors selling the same laptop under their own brand.

The stories are similar for the other major ODMs. You mentioned in your article:

“Based on what you told us, it seems that laptops are an acceptable compromise bounded by what they can do. There is no illusion that a laptop is as capable as a desktop, but this is also dimensioned by what people use a PC for – if your uses are word processing, spreadsheets, internet and some personal finance stuff only, a laptop is OK as a primary machine. Start to add in some CPU intensive apps and the desktop rules.”

There’s more to it than that. Granted, you’re not going to find a laptop that’s every bit as capable as a desktop. However, without really looking, people are limiting themselves to what the Dells are willing to sell them and not seeing that there are laptops that can pretty much let you have your cake and eat it too. The problem is that these really aren’t advertised as much, so they don’t know they’re out there. I ran across that forum by accident, but it was invaluable for finding the best laptop for me.

Heat issues? Don’t have them with a Dothan.

Fan rarely runs on battery, and the only time it really runs is when I game on it. Gaming is pretty good. You’re not going to get GeForce 6800 performance out of it, but you will get the equivalent of a Radeon 9600 Pro on your laptop. That’ll still handle just about any game out there right now, and Half Life 2 is very playable on it. That’s better than most laptops you’ll buy off the shelf, and you won’t have to pay an arm and a leg for it either.

Bottom line: There are good laptops out there that can give people near a desktop experience (much more so than most laptops) that are affordable and very portable. Small and up to 5 hours battery life? Hell yeah, it’s possible.

I could guarantee that if most of those guys were stuck with a laptop like mine as their only machine, they wouldn’t be complaining.

Dave

I’m an electrical design engineer (circuit and system level).

Laptops actually ARE standards based for most parts:

  • PCMCIA slots
  • SO-DIMM Ram slots
  • CPU sockets (some cheap models may be soldered, but so are the cheapest desktop boards)
  • USB
  • Parallel Port (if available)
  • Serial Port (if available)
  • VGA Port
  • TV-Out (If available)
  • Compact PCI (for some motherboards, which allows for integrated wireless and
    other upgrades)

Why are there non-standard parts?

Price and Power Consumption vs design requirements like size and
performance. Cheap, Small size, long power vs top performer, gaming video
chipset.

SO what’s standardized and why?

1) LCD screen + all associated driving hardware

Why isn’t it standard: There are MANY MANY manufacturers of LCD screens each of
which have their own levels of price / power consumption + maximum
resolution + maximum colors + refresh rate + maximum operating temperature
ratings + viewable dimension + backlighting scheme.

If I was sharp and I was making laptops, I would ONLY USE Sharp brand LCDs.
If I was Samsung and I was making laptops, I would only use Samsung LCDs…
etc.

Price dictates most of the decision of what to include in a laptop. For
some manufacturers using a custom brand (their own) is much cheaper — all
your programmers to write drivers for the LCD already work for you in another
division.

The Larger the LCD, the higher the resolution; the faster the refresh rate,
the more power it consumes. If I was making a Transmeta or Via laptop and
my goal was very long battery life, I wouldn’t use a high resolution, fast,
bright LCD that eats battery life.

2) Custom cooling solution

The needs are obvious – if you have a P4 3.06HT
CPU, you need a better solution for cooling than a Via based laptop. This
very often dictates the shape of the motherboard.

3) Video cards not upgradeable

Cost of connectors, cost of slot, cost of
retaining bracket and space needed for a “standard” video card. Besides,
75% of laptops use an integrated chipset with video and sound support built
in. A modern video card would end battery life.

4) Sound cards not upgradeable

Cost of connectors, cost of slot, cost of
retaining bracket and space needed for a “standard” sound card. Your laptop
most likely uses piezo-electric bases speakers. They produce AWFUL sound
compared to ANY voicecoil speaker. I wouldn’t worry about high quality
sound. Also, invariably it is an integrated solution with the motherboard
chipset, ie, you get it whether you want it or not.

5) Non-standard batteries and battery charger

Depends on the power needs
of the laptop, price and most importantly size. A Via or Pentium-M or
cCleron laptop motherboard won’t need nearly the battery power for a mobile
Athlon.

6) The almight dollar defines just about everything I’ve mentioned here.

Hacking a laptop is no big deal – just ALWAYS KEEP IN MIND THE POWER
CONSUMPTION:
not all laptops’ voltage regulators are capable of supplying
power to everything you plug into the motherboard. 99% of them are designed
to meet the requirements with as little head room as possible – doing more
than that is a waste of money for the manufacturer.

Email Joe

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