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Notebook Buying Guide - by Paul Tansey

Hard Drives and Optical Drives

When considering hard drive size, it's all about how much you plan on doing with your notebook. While 40GB is adequate for many uses, it is not uncommon to see hard drives or 80GB or more, which is a must-have for video and audio editing, or large music and photo libraries. While most stock notebook hard drives spin at an adequate 4200 RPM, some users are opting for 5400 or even 7200 RPM upgrades, which enhance system performance, especially when it comes to file handling and video editing, though battery life can suffer. Of course, as the drive size and speed increases, so does the cost of the notebook.

Your notebook will make it possible for you to be much more mobile than before, but what about removable storage? Floppy drives are no longer standard, and may not be available for all notebooks. Fortunately, optical drives have been evolving, with CD-RW/DVD combo drives now the standard. These drives are great because they not only allow you to play movies and music on your notebook, but writeable CDs also offer a storage medium with a large capacity, ideal for data backup or transfer.

There are a variety of drives to consider, such as CD-ROM, which are the most economical but can only read CDs, CD-R/RW, which can write and re-write CDs, and DVD+/-/R/RW drives, which can write and re-write to CDs or DVDs. Drive speeds, such as "8X DVD writing" should also be considered for heavy users. There are also dual layer DVD burners, which can record up to 8.5GB on a single sided disc that incorporates two recordable layers. By giving you more capacity to record you can increase the bit rate on recorded video for better quality picture on playback.

For convenience, many users are also looking to USB keys or MP3 players to serve as portable storage for file transfer.

Networking and Wireless Alternatives

Intel® CentrinoTM Mobile Technology is making it possible for notebook users to stay connected to their network or Internet connection while granting them freedom from cable clutter. Centrino is a set of technologies that combines optimized mobile processing power with built-in wireless networking capabilities.

Notebooks equipped with Centrino can effortlessly connect to (Wi-Fi®) wireless networking 'hot-spots' at home, at the office, or at an increasing number of coffee shops, universities, airports, and hotels around the worldwide.

Centrino technology can also reduce battery wear and keep your system one step ahead of your processing needs, using Advanced Instruction Prediction. A similar feature called SmartDrive is often found in notebooks, and enables the computer to "learn" your approach to data management and will anticipate your needs for faster processing.

Other connectivity options to consider are modems and network cards. Most notebooks will feature an integrated 56K modem, which is handy if you find yourself in a remote part of the world with only a phone connection for dial-up. A 10/100 network card will either be built-in or will, in the case of certain entry-level notebooks, plug into a PC Card slot.

Other Considerations

Once you have your notebook's basic components selected, you will want to pay attention to the features that will directly affect your enjoyment and productivity. Most keyboards feature the standard 84 keys, though they will vary in size. Most notebooks also let you connect a standard keyboard if you find yours too small, while a trackpad or pointer stick can be supplemented by an external mouse.

For those who shuttle their notebook between home and the office, a docking station connects to a monitor, keyboard and mouse, much like a regular PC. Then you simply slide your notebook into the dock's single set of connectors, rather than having to fuss with multiple connections.

Most notebooks will come with at least one USB connection. If you need more, be sure to look for a model that offers multiple connections to accommodate the variety of handy add-ons, from keyboard lights to portable fans. An external USB hub is handy if you run out of ports.

Battery life will also vary greatly, so make sure your notebook's capacity will see you through your average flight or afternoon at the coffee shop. Investing in a notebook security device, such as a Kensington lock and/or motion sensor alarm will help ensure your notebook's still there when you return from the washroom.


Notebook technology is constantly evolving, and keeping up can be a challenge. Be sure to check out the extensive product details at FUTURESHOP.ca or visit your nearest Future Shop, where one of our Associate can explain the latest features, and help you choose a notebook that's right for you.