Laptop makers lap up sales

Laptop sales have more than doubled over the past two years as organisations replace ageing desktops with portable computers.

Laptop sales have more than doubled over the past two years as organisations replace ageing desktops with portable computers.

Figures from analyst IDC show 114,198 laptop computers were sold in New Zealand in 2003, compared to 56,120 in 2001. IDC hardware analyst Liam Gunson says laptops are becoming a more common upgrade choice.

“We expect it to continue to grow as the average sale price stays low and as the performance gap narrows,” Gunson says.

The government, education, large business and home user sectors have made the greatest switch to laptops, but smaller businesses have also increased their laptop purchases. Almost a third (33.1%) of education users with new PCs in the fourth quarter last year chose a laptop, compared with 23.4% in the final quarter of 2001. Large businesses chose 30.8% laptops, up from 21.8% two years ago. Home users jumped to 24.3% from 11.1%.

More for your money

As devices become steadily smaller, laptop manufacturers can squeeze a lot of power into a small space. The range of prices and capabilities is probably just as broad as on the desktop, and most laptops these days will serve well as a desktop replacement.

Computerworld looked at two portable PCs from opposite ends of the feature spectrum: a $1499 bare-bones laptop from Dick Smith without an operating system, and Acer's shiny new Ferrari 3000 with all the bells and whistles and a $3799 price tag.

The Dick Smith laptop uses a Transmeta Crusoe processor. The Transmeta chips, which translate x86 instructions used in PC processors from AMD and Intel into Crusoe instructions, run much cooler and economically than more common chips.

Cool and quiet

That's a definite advantage in a laptop — the Dick Smith laptop doesn't even have a fan, so it's also very quiet — but the Transmeta chips are also slower than their x86 counterparts. Road warriors who use their laptops for accessing the internet and word processing certainly will find the speed acceptable and will be grateful to be able to work for long periods without having their laps superheated by the latest superchips, but gamers and Photoshop jockeys will want something gruntier.

Still, some of the components in this portable would have been cutting-edge just a few years ago. It has a pretty ordinary graphics card and 1024 x 768 display, but ships with a 30GB hard disk and a DVD-R/CD-RW drive. A wireless card can be easily added.

Dick Smith suggests Mandrake Linux or Windows for the operating system. We tried both, and both worked well. The decision will come down to personal preference.

As advertised, the machine ran coolly and quietly. We were unable to test the battery life, however, as the unit appeared to have a faulty battery.

Racy Acer

Acer's Ferrari 3000 is a different beast again. Where the Dick Smith laptop shell has a tendency to, uh, flex, the Acer has a more rigid feeling. The case is finished in bright Ferrari red -- it's certainly striking. Instead of the familiar Windows startup chime, the Acer boots with the sound of a Ferrari ripping past on a racetrack; it left most Computerworld staffers rolling their eyes but quickly unleashed the editor's inner petrolhead.

It's hard to see what is left out of this box. Built-in 802.11g wireless, Bluetooth, Firewire, DVD burner and a memory card reader are all standard. An ATi Radeon Mobility 9200 graphics card drives a 15in 1400x1050 LCD display. An AMD XP 2500+ processor does the number-crunching. If only my desktop were so quick.

In fact, both these machines are very competitively priced, but they serve completely different markets. Take your pick.

  • Toshiba last week said it had passed the million milestone for notebook computer sales in the Australia and New Zealand markets since 1985.

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