Tag: Buyer’s guide

How to go about buying a performance-focused computer

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming performance-focused laptop computer

Increasingly, every computer manufacturer is offering one or more product ranges in their regular-computer lineups that is focused towards high-performance personal computing. This is alongside their regular-computer product ranges that are focused towards ordinary computing tasks like word-processing, presentations, Web browsing and multimedia consumption.

What is a performance-focused computer

A performance-focused computer is a computer, typically a regular computer that runs a desktop operating system, that is engineered for high performance at demanding computer tasks. This is compared to ordinary computers which are engineered to work with the typical workload of computing tasks that most of us do in a manner that is expected for today’s standards.

Such computers will have highly-powerful main CPU and graphics processor chips along with copious amounts of RAM memory that runs at high speed. The storage devices, whether mechanical hard disk or solid-state, will be optimised to load and save lots of data very quickly. The peripheral-interface and network-interface chipsets in these systems will typically be engineered for high throughput between the computer and the connected peripherals or networks.

How did these evolve?

Gaming rig

An example of those gaming-rig desktop computers

Computer enthusiasts who were into games, multimedia, CAD, statistics or similar demanding tasks would improve their computers for higher performance. This is to provide smoother gameplay, quicker graphics rendering or quicker calculations.

It was part of effective competition by the various computer manufacturers to achieve increasingly-powerful personal computer products. This goal came about due to the acceptance of graphical user interfaces and graphics-rich computing for business and pleasure during the 1980s and 1990s.

For example, games enthusiasts would work on building the fastest games-focused computers that were commonly described as gaming rigs. This was like motor enthusiasts engaging in “souping up” or tuning their cars to become high-performance “hot-rods” or “street machines”.

As well, the computer software focused towards computer graphics, statistics, multimedia and allied fields and was used as part of day-to-day work became increasingly sophisticated. This required the computers to work under strenuous loads and manufacturers had to design workstation computers to handle these workloads.

Previously the perfornamce-focused computer was offered as the traditional “three-piece” system with a dedicated system unit that housed the “brains” of the computer i.e. the main CPU processor, graphics infrastructure, RAM memory and data storage while the keyboard, pointing device and display were separate units connected to this device. Now this class of computer is evolving towards portable laptop computers and “all-in-one” computers that have the “brains” of the system and the display in the same box, leading towards user-friendly setups for this kind of computing.

In the case of laptops, the performance-focused models came about in the form of “multimedia laptops” which were focused towards a wide range of tasks involving creating or consuming multimedia content. These typically had dedicated graphics infrastructure and, in some cases, high-performance sound infrastructure; along with high-performance processors, generous RAM and high-speed hard disks. Now they are in the form of gaming laptops, prosumer / content-creator laptops and mobile workstations.

Performance computer types

Gaming computers

These computers don’t just have high-speed CPUs, plenty of high-speed RAM and dedicated graphics infrastructure. Here, the combination of components installed in these computers is focused towards quick response during games, especially action-type games with increased player interaction with the characters of the game.

Initially these computers were aggressively styled in a similar manner to hot-rod cars in order to appeal to the core gaming community. But today most manufacturers are styling the computers in a similar manner to their regular mainstream laptop products. Here this practice is very similar to how most vehicle builders are offering their performance-tuned variants of common passenger cars like the Mini Cooper S or the Holden Monaro.

They can work well for most graphics or multimedia software but the software vendors don’t count on these computers delivering the high-performance that their software would need to work. It is because most of this software is required to engage in processes that are of a hands-off nature like “joining” desired parts of a film clip in to a cohesive sequence.

Prosumer / content-creator computers

These prosumer computers like the Lenovo Creator family have the high-speed silicon infrastructure optimised to quickly handle process-driven work with minimal changes to whatever appears on the screen. In some cases, they would be “certified” by consumer / hobbyist / entry-level business graphics and multimedia software vendors to perform at their best.

Lenovo IdeaPad Creator 5 15" clamshell laptop press picture courtesy of Lenovo USA

Lenovo IdeaPad Creator 5 15″ clamshell prosumer / content-creator laptop

The manufacturers who make these computers are offering them as an affordable gap-filler between their gaming computers and the workstations, especially for those of us who don’t have the budget to hire a specialist IT team.

Here, they are pitched at hobbyists, bloggers and freelance content creators who want to create multimedia content and be sure of optimum performance without having to pay through the nose for a high-specification workstation computer. This is because most of the software pitched at this user class doesn’t have high expectations compared to the software offered to larger businesses.

Workstation computers

The workstation computer is typically focused towards larger businesses where the use of demanding software is part of a person’s daily job. These have very high performance silicon for the main system and the graphics infrastructure that is optimised for these high workloads.

Dell Precision M2800 Mobile Workstation courtesy of Dell USA

Dell Precision M2800 – a mobile workstation that also bridges performance and portability

These would be certified by the likes of Autodesk to work with highly-demanding software like AutoCAD at their best. They also have enterprise-focused features like manageability or high-security features with such features being pitched towards IT managers optimising them towards their company’s needs.

What does it mean for a high-performance computer to be certified?

For a high-performance computer, especially a workstation, to be “certified” by a software vendor to work with their software, the computer design has to pass tests that the vendor performs regarding its reliability and performance with their software. It brings an express guarantee of compatibility, reliability and performance regarding the computer’s ability to run the software in question and the software vendor is more likely to support users who are using these certified computers.

A computer that isn’t certified to work with the highly-demanding software in question can run the software but the user cannot expect it to run reliably for their day-to-day tasks. Some of these vendors may not even provide full support for the software running on these systems.

Which kind of high-performance computer would suit different users

People who are focusing on high-performance gaming including eSports would be best to stick with gaming computers as their computer of choice. Here, they are not expecting more than quick response from their game’s characters. The other high-performance computer types will also be able to work well with games, which can allow those who use these systems for their work to use them for rest and relaxation with their favourite “regular-computer” game.

Often it is recommended for a student to invest in a high-performance computer if their coursework involves the use of demanding software associated with their target profession like CAD or statistics packages. But there is the factor that a student may not be showing interest in completing the course they initially intend to complete and following on with the career associated with the demanding software.

It may be better for them to use a gaming computer or a content-creator / prosumer computer that can run the software that is part of their coursework. Similarly a prior-generation workstation computer refurbished by computer technicians can also suit their needs. This is more so if the software is an entry-level class of program that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of something one would use as part of their duties. These software vendors license this software to students at relatively-cheap prices while they are studying their courses.

A photo or video hobbyist or similar content creator could get by with a gaming computer if they are doing their work on an ad-hoc basis. But if they do this kind of work more frequently, they could get by with a prosumer / content-creator machine especially if they use the hobbyist / entry-level business-grade content creation software.

A workstation would be considered of value for those of us who are intending to use the demanding software as a regular part of our primary paid work. If you work for yourself, you may find it ideal to omit the manageability features from these systems or allow these features to work with a computer vendor that provides the full-on support that takes advantage of the features.

Akitio Node Thunderbolt 3 "card cage" external graphics module - press image courtesy of Akitio

External grpahics modules like the Akitio Node can allow a user to use fit-for-purpose graphics cards with their existing Thunderbolt-3-equipped laptop, all-in-one or low-profile computer

If the computer in question has the ability to be upgraded for better performance, you may head towards the more advanced performance levels easily without throwing away your existing system. This is exemplified by traditional desktops equipped with standard-form user-replaceable display cards and user-upgradeable CPUs and RAM chips, or laptops and “all-in-one” computers equipped with Thunderbolt 3 ports so they can work with “card-cage” external graphics modules that accept desktop-grade display cards.


Increasingly computer manufacturers are identifying out and differentiating their lineups of high-performance computer systems pitched for games and advanced computing tasks. Here, you need to be able to choose the right high-performance computer system to suit your task that demands that kind of power.

Laptop Buyer’s Guide–2016-2018

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 laptop at Rydges Melbourne hotelYour old computer is going slow and you are thinking of your next computer. But what do you get? Perhaps, you may be thinking of getting someone a laptop computer as something that could go a long way towards their computing life especially if they move around a lot.

But you want to be sure you buy the right portable computer that suits your needs properly and are gaining the best value for money out of the new equipment. It is becoming more so with the way laptop computers are offering similar levels of functionality to traditional desktops, where you are able to buy high-performance machines that can excel at graphically-intensive tasks like gaming or high-end professional graphics. This is while most of the mid-tier computers offered nowadays are able to do what was expected of last generation’s high-performance computers.

Today’s laptop computers are moving towards areas that were considered by some to be previous off-limits to this class of computer. For example, there is an increase in the number of high-performance laptop computers that can appeal to people playing high-end games or dabbling with advanced computer-graphics work. As well, the Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C connection is opening up paths to high-performance computing thanks to the ability to plug in external graphics modules.

What should I pay attention to

There are certain specification that you need to pay attention to when you choose that laptop or 2-in-1 computer so you can be sure it is up to the job you purchased it for.

Pay attention to the class of CPU your computer is equipped with and its expectations. Here, you will find that entry-level processors the Intel Pentium and Celeron processors will get by for most basic computing tasks, perhaps with some casual gaming or video / audio playback thrown in. Expect that Intel Core m or i processor families and their AMD equivalents will do most computer tasks without stressing with the Intel Core i5 being able to suit most tasks effectively. If you are after performance for advanced gaming, workstation-grade graphics or heavy number-crunching, you may need to look towards the Intel Core i7 processors.

The amount of RAM memory in your computer will affect how many programs you can have running concurrently alongside including the ability to have one or more of these programs work with large files. In the case of your Web-browsing efforts, it will affect how many Web pages you can have open at once whether as separate tabs or browser sessions. This is without the computer slowing down or using up battery power because it has to swap memory data out to the hard disk because you, for example, are running Google Chrome with many Websites open along with Microsoft Word which you are using to make that “magnum opus” document that is based on your Web-based research.

Another factor to pay attention to is the amount of storage you will have on your computer because you don’t want to always be moving your files in to or out of the computer via something like a USB hard disk or rent a large amount of space on an online storage service. As well you don’t need to be regularly thinking of what programs or data to be getting rid of all the time.

Choosing to have your laptop computer equipped with either integrated or discrete graphics can affect how well it performs if you end up doing a lot of graphics-intensive work like advanced games, photo/video editing or workstation-grade graphics. It can also affect how well it performs with some other tasks like video transcoding or playback.

A trend that is surfacing with this generation of portable computers is that an increasing number of these computers may have the ability to be connected to an external graphics module to “bump up” the graphics performance when you need it. In most cases, these modules will be sold as an option you can purchase at a later date.

Most often, the screen size has an influence on how portable your laptop will be and whether it can suit certain tasks while on the road. This obviously influences how large the computer is, thus influencing factors like the ability to have larger storage or the kind of keyboard you can work with. Let’s not forget that it can also affect how much workspace you can have at once especially if you are a multitasker.

From my experience while reviewing laptop computers for this Website, I had found that a computer having a screen size of between 12”-14” was able to offer the best balance between comfortable use for content creation while being portable enough to be carried in a shoulder bag or small briefcase. It also is the smallest screen size for a computer that  provides a keyboard that is big enough for comfortable typing, especially if you are a touch-typist.

If you buy a 2-in-1 laptop that can be turned in to a tablet, you may find that the 13″ screen may be too large for use as a tablet. This is because most of us are used to the iPad which is a 10″ screen. But the larger screen on a tablet may provide comfortable viewing for situations where two or three of you are watching online video or browsing through photos or Web resources.

It is also worth paying attention to the screen resolution for your laptop’s integrated screen because this can be a trade-off between how sharp and detailed your display looks and how much battery power your laptop needs to run during the day. In a lot of cases, you may find that those laptops with too high a screen resolution for their screen size can become unbearable to use unless you spend a lot of time adjusting your operating system’s user-interface settings because the text and shell icons may be too small for comfortable use. It is although the newer operating systems do factor in the “dot-per-inch” settings for the higher-resolution displays and maintain that same level of visibility.

In most cases, you can get by with a screen that natively uses 1366×768 as its maximum resolution when you are on a limited budget or use a screen less than 13”. On the other hand, you can use a Full HD (1920×1080) screen resolution in most other situations because this resolution puts up a sharp display without draining your laptop’s battery too heavily.

Key trends to look at

There are a few key trends that are coming strong in the recent crop of laptop computers in addition to faster processors, increased RAM and storage capacity including use of solid-state storage, and integrated graphics subsystems that rival baseline discrete graphics cards.

USB Type-C connectivity

USB-C to be the key connection trend for the current laptop generation

An increasing number of laptop computers released during the 2016-2018 model years will be equipped with a USB Type-C socket. It is being considered as the single pipe that serves power connection along with high-speed data transfer. Some of these USB Type-C connections are also working as another high-speed data conduit like a DisplayPort or Thunderbolt 3 connection which I will be talking about next.

At the moment, this connection is appearing mainly on premium models but is trickling down to mainstream and low-cost computers. It is appearing as a sole connection type on some of the ultraportable computers including some low-end varieties because this connection type is very conducive towards a slimline design. But it will appear on a range of traditionally-designed laptops including most ultraportables and mainstream designs as an extra input-output port alongside the USB Type-A ports.

The USB Type-C connector is also being used as an external DisplayPort-compliant display connector and if you want to connect an existing monitor or projector to these computers, you will have to use a USB Type-C adaptor that is compliant to DisplayPort specifications and support “DP alt” mode.

You can connect existing USB-equipped peripherals to computers that have only these connections by using a USB-C adaptor cable or docking station (expansion module) that suits your needs. Some of the adaptors that have their own power supply even provide USB Power Delivery support so you can charge your laptop or avoid compromising its internal battery’s runtime while using external accessories – this is a feature you must look for if you want to get the most out of your laptop and adaptor device. Here, you can buy these accessories at most office-supply, consumer-electronics or computer stores.

External Graphics via Thunderbolt 3

Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port on Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook

Thunderbolt 3 ti open up paths for external graphics on this Dell XPS 13 2-in-1

The USB Type-C connector will serve as a way to provide a Thunderbolt 3 connection which is being exploited not just for direct-attached storage, but for external-graphics modules. Here, this connection is appearing mainly on premium-grade laptop computers including some ultraportables and will end up as a product-differentiating feature

What this allows for is that a person could buy an external graphics module that can be connected to their computer for improved graphics performance. This will come in two forms – a module with an integrated desktop graphics chipset or a “card-cage” where you can install a desktop graphics card.

Akitio Node Thunderbolt 3 "card cage" external graphics module - press image courtesy of Akitio

Akitio Node Thunderbolt 3 “card cage” external graphics module – to hot up the Thunderbolt-3-equipped laptops graphics abilities

At the moment, these devices are being pitched primarily at gamers who are wanting to “hot up” their gaming laptops but I would see them as something that permits a portable computer to work in a higher-performance manner for gaming / workstation / multimedia use  at your main usage space. NVIDIA even made it possible to allow workstation-grade graphics setups to work in this context, thus opening up the door towards situations like mainstream laptops heading towards mobile workstation territory.

Solid-state storage as the preferred option

Increasingly, solid-state storage is being implemented on more portable computing devices. This is either as a sole storage device or alongside a separate mechanical hard disk.

The driver for this technology is the the fact that this storage method isn’t demanding on battery power which is very important for portable computing. As well, the typical solid-state drive occupies less space in the computer than a traditional hard disk and is lighter, also making it conducive towards portable use. Let’s not forget that solid-state storage is quicker and more responsive.

But the “cost per byte” for solid-state storage is still more expensive than the traditional hard-disk technology, and is more so when it comes to capacities in the order of 500Gb or more. Typically, this will lead to 15” or larger mainstream laptops being equipped with a 1Tb hard disk as the base option with a 128Gb or 256Gb solid-state drive as a “high-speed system disk” option. Or you may come across a solid-state disk up to 512Gb as the sole integrated secondary storage option as a common specification for most laptop computers.

USB external hard disk

High capacity USB hard disks can be a godsend with laptop computers that have small solid-state storage capacities

If you value what solid-state storage offers in the form of high performance, reduced battery consumption and a lightweight computer, you may find that something around the 256Gb mark may hit the spot. But you would need to consider using a USB external hard disk of at least 1Tb as an “offload” storage device for your data especially if you expect this computer to be your main or sole computer. On the other hand, if you value a combination of performance and storage capacity, a laptop that uses a 128Gb SSD system disk and a 1Tb hard disk as the secondary disk could serve your needs better.

Integrated graphics with the same performance as baseline discrete graphics

Intel has pushed the HD Graphics and Iris Graphics integrated-graphics chipsets to offer the same graphics-performance prowess as an equivalent baseline discrete graphics chipset offered by AMD or NVIDIA. This would be represented by a “budget” desktop graphics card that you would equip a “workhorse” desktop PC with if the motherboard has no graphics chipset on board.

Here, they are investing in the integrated-graphics chipsets due to the fact that they don’t draw too much current and don’t yield too much heat thus being suitable for portable-computer use. This is more so with computer configurations that use 8Gb or more of RAM and they use some of that RAM capacity to “paint” the screen images. What these chipsets are offering is the ability to answer everyday computing including casual gaming or occasional photo and video editing work.

Let’s not forget that nearly all recent-issue laptops that are equipped with discrete graphics are also equipped with integrated graphics. But these setups switch between the graphics chipsets automatically dependent on the software you are running and on whether you are using the laptop’s internal battery or external power as well as how much battery power is left in the internal battery. These automatic-switchover setups are known by trade names like NVIDIA Optimus or AMD PowerPlay and, in most cases, work behind the scenes.

Improved sound reproduction

Most of the computer manufacturers are providing improved sound reproduction for their portable computer products, save for the low-tier models. This is in answer to a problem associated with the way these computers are designed where the sound came out being tinny or lifeless.

Initially the sound functionality in a computer was to provide audio prompts like the familiar “ding” tone but computer users are asking a lot more out of these computers. This is to allow them to enjoy music and video content on these systems thanks to file-based or streaming media delivery; along with being able to use IP-based voice and video communications platforms to talk to distant people.

This trend is being fulfilled by the computer manufacturers working with respected home or professional audio brands to “tune” their products for better sound reproduction. Examples of this include HP initially working with Dr. Dre’s Beats Audio but subsequently working with Bang & Olufsen; or Lenovo and ASUS partnering with Harman, known for JBL speakers or Harman-Kardon home audio, to “tune” some of their products.

System classes

Nearly every one of the main laptop manufacturers are following the same playbook that every one of the popular vehicle builders have followed when it comes to segmenting their product ranges. This is where a particular class of vehicle would be targeted towards a particular driver type such as the standard family cars being targeted towards the typical everyday driver.

Low-tier portables

These are a group of small notebooks that have followed on from the “netbooks” offered around 2009-2011 and have a very similar focus to those computers – a “cheap and cheerful” system that doesn’t have much. One could see these computers as being equivalent to the low-tier small cars that offer a baseline seating capacity of up to four normal-sized adults, a feature set that doesn’t offer much along with a powertrain that isn’t considered to be powerful.

Typically they will have an 11”-14” screen served by integrated graphics and will have a low-powered processor like an Intel Pentium or Celeron. The RAM memory will be this side of 4Gb while the storage will be up to 128Gb. Some of these computers will come as a 2-in-1 design of the detachable kind or, perhaps, a convertible kind rather than the traditional “clamshell” form factor. You will most likely see these computers offered in a bright colour so as to increase their appeal to children especially.

Units with a storage capacity of 32Gb to 64Gb and an 11” screen are being pitched as a Windows-based alternative to an Android tablet or an iPad. This is a way for Microsoft to “cut in” to the market traditionally held by Apple and Google when it comes to personal tablet computers.

Personally, I would see most of these computers serve as a baseline portable secondary computer for those of us on a budget and don’t expect to do much with them. Families could even see them as a “first-computer” option for lower-secondary-school (US: middle-school) students.

If you are expecting them to be your budget option for your only computer, I would recommend looking towards something with 128Gb storage and a 13”-14” screen and, perhaps, making use of an external hard disk. This may be more so for people like the older generation who just want something for basic computing and online-communications tasks but don’t want to shell out much.

Mainstream laptops

Lenovo Thinkpad G50-70 Laptop

Lenovo G50-70 – an example of a mainstream home laptop

This class of laptop computer is seen as the “bread and butter” for consumer and business portable computing ever since these kind of computers became popular as a viable alternative to the desktop personal computer. Over the last two decades, they got to a point where most households and businesses preferred to buy a laptop computer over a desktop computer for regular personal computing requirements.

In the same context to cars, they could be considered as being equivalent to the common family cars, typifying medium-to-large size vehicles that have the ability to seat four or five people comfortably, have a wide range of options and are powered with a powertrain that suits city and highway travel. Like these family cars where vehicle builders offered a range of model varieties with different powertrains (engine and transmission combinations), body styles or feature sets, the laptop manufacturers would provide a large product selection and options list for this class of laptop with some offering the ability for you to “build your own computer” where you have a system with the right product mix that suits your needs.

These computers will have a heavier and thicker chassis and will have plenty of connectivity options along with a larger battery for portable use. Essential features for this class of computer, whether home or business, are a 15” screen with some offering a variant with a 13” or 14” screen for portability or a 17” screen for a large workspace. Here, these screens would be mainly driven by integrated graphics although premium varieties will use discrete graphics.

The horsepower for these machines will typically come from any processor in the Intel Core i family with i3 or i5 being of choice for value-priced variants. AMD A4 or A6 may also be offered as a processor alternative for cheaper options. There will be a minimum of 4Gb RAM with newer machines offering 8Gb at least, and storage will be either in the order of at least 500Gb on a hard disk or 256Gb on a solid-state drive along a good chance of them being equipped with a read/write optical drive, most likely a DVD burner. Some of these systems may come equipped with a 128Gb or 256Gb solid-state drive alongside a 1Tb hard drive. This will be set up with the solid-state drive being your system disk where the operating system and applications are kept, thus allowing for quick starts.

There will be some premium variants that have discrete graphics, a high-performance processor like an Intel Core i7, 8Gb or more of RAM and 1Tb hard disk or solid-state storage. You may come across with some of them being equipped with a Blu-Ray drive as their optical drive. These models will end up being pitched for multimedia (photo/video editing, AV playout, etc), workstation or gaming use. and will appeal to this kind of application. Again, this is equivalent to higher-specification family cars which come with all the desirable options.

Mainstream home laptop

Mainstream laptops that are pitched as home computers will typically have some attention paid to their aesthetics but will miss out on durability, security or manageability features that business laptops would be equipped with.

They will also be sold through department stores, consumer-electronics stores and similar outlets that “Average Joe” would come across. Sometimes the office-supply stores or specialist computer stores may offer these computers as something for ordinary households to benefit from.

Here, you can get by using these computers as a portable household computer which most likely will be one that you can easily stow away in a drawer when not in use. It can also appeal to senior secondary or tertiary students as their first computer that they take with them when the leave the family nest. Some small-business users can get by with using them as their business computer, perhaps with having the operating system upgraded to a “professional” variant like Windows 10 Pro.

Mainstream business laptop

Expect this class of computer to be pitched towards office or field use in the workplace.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

A traditional business laptop represented by the Lenovo ThinkPad lineup

There will be most of the features and specifications associated with the mainstream home laptop computer although there will be a lot of emphasis on durable construction, security and fleet-level management. For example, there will be the use of fingerprint readers on a lot of these machines allowing for “sign-in with your finger” while there are chipsets associated with data encryption and authentication, including the use of Trusted Platform Modules. You may find that computers equipped with a fingerprint reader would come with a baseline password-vault program of some sort that is tied in with the fingerprint reader so you could sign in to Facebook or Gmail using your fingerprint.

Some of the manufacturers like HP and Dell offer different ranges of mainstream business computers. This is while other companies like Lenovo and Acer offer some models with the mainstream business product lineup, typically the entry-level models, that are focused towards the small business user.

Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop

Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop – an early example of what the Dell Vostro small-business laptop is about

Product ranges like the HP Probook and Dell Vostro range have a feature set very similar to the mainstream consumer laptop except that they would come with the “pro” edition of Windows, increased connectivity including VGA and Gigabit Ethernet ports along with TPM module and fingerprint reader security features as an option at least. With these systems, it is typically assumed that the IT team for a small business or community organisation consists of whoever owns or manages the organisation, along with IT-astute members of their community, and the retailer who supplied them the equipment or business-IT solution.

This is compared to the premium business product ranges like the Dell Latitude and HP Elitebook ranges where these computers come with a wider range of security and manageability features either as standard equipment or as options, along with the increased connectivity options. These machines are typically sold under contract to government departments and larger businesses who have their own IT staff or contract with an IT service provider to look after their computing and communications needs.

The HP Elitebook 2560p – an earlier 13″ example of a corporate-grade business laptop

The mainstream business computers will primarily be sold through specialist computer outlets whether online or “bricks-and-mortar”. It is more true for those outlets who place their focus on selling to the business market with a “solutions-based” approach where there is a strong support cycle. For example, you may approach one of these providers when your shop “grows up” from the old cash register to a fully-computerised point-of-sale system.

The question that may be raised when buying the mainstream business laptop is whether the manageability features that these will be supplied with are a waste of money or not. This also includes whether your supplier will use these features as part of them providing  after-sales support for your system.

Personally, I would place importance on a mainstream business laptop if you value system durability and security for your data or a strong relationship with your IT supplier, which is important for the typical “work-home” laptop that you take around frequently.

But with this class of computer, be careful of your potential supplier over-specifying your system. This is more so when your small business or community organisation is being sold management functionality that isn’t really necessary for their operation. Here, I would ask if they are using any of these features as a tool to provide remote support or for you to have the right level of security over your data in your business’s context.


Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook on tray table

Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook – one of the first Ultrabooks that defined this class of ultraportable computer very well

The typical ultraportable computer is designed to be light and occupy less space in your bag or briefcase, while running for a long time on its own batteries. A lot of manufacturers even invest a lot of money in developing these models and positioning them as the “beauty queens” of their product lineup. But these ultraportables will offer a level of performance very similar to what most of the mainstream home and business laptops will offer.

Some of these machines that fit Intel’s preferred specifications for an ultraportable are described as Ultrabooks but the others in this class are simply described simply as being ultraportable, thin and light or something else that describes their beauty. There has been an increase in product development in this class of computer due to the fact that everyone else wants to compete against the Apple MacBook product lineup that exudes itself in the beauty stakes.

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook – the latest example of an ultraportable clamshell laptop

Such computers could be seen in the vehicle world as being equivalent to the sporty-looking coupés and convertibles which have improved performance but are styled in a way to exude their beauty – a car to be seen in as well as to drive.They can also be seen as being equivalent to the luxury cars where there is an emphasis on the luxurious driving experience.

Most of these will end up with a screen size of between 11” and 14” with some larger variants coming with a 15” screen. The screens will typically have a resolution of up to QHD (3200×1800) and work from the computer’s integrated graphics processor. As for the horsepower, this will come most likely from Intel Core m or i processor families that are optimised for reduced power consumption and heat output. As for RAM, this will be typically 4Gb-8Gb RAM depending on the model with some premium models offering 16Gb RAM. They will also have a storage configuration of up to 256Gb on a solid-state drive or 500Gb on a hard disk with some top-shelf models offering 512Gb to 1Tb on a solid-state drive.

A lot of these computers will appear in the traditional “clamshell” form while an increasing number of them are appearing as a detachable or convertible 2-in-1 form. As well, most of these computers will be styled to look very elegant, more as fashion accessories and something you can impress others with. This will include use of finishes like rose gold or champagne gold on some of the premium models.

These computers will appeal to those of us who can afford the premium offered for a system that provides mainstream-grade performance in a very lightweight chassis. Units equipped with low-tier processors like some Core m varieties and have low-capacity storage will appeal as “portable-use” secondary computers rather than as main-use or sole-use computers.

High-performance laptops

The laptop is now showing itself as a computer type that doesn’t have to be an ordinary old low-performing unit for pedestrian computing tasks. Increasingly, the manufacturers are offering mobile computing systems that could relate to the high-performance cars of this world whether for work or play and they are being offered under one or two separate product ranges or even as separate brands.

High-performance mainstream laptop variants

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming laptop – a high-performance variant of the Dell Inspiron laptop computer lineup

This is in addition to mainstream consumer and business laptop variants that have been specified for performance like being equipped with high-performance CPUs and discrete graphics processors, along with plenty of RAM. The high-performance variants are typically identified as “gaming” or “workstation” packages but they still have the same conventional look as one of the regular mainstream laptops, perhaps with some detailing that underscores the performance.

These computers are portable computing’s equivalent of the high-performance variants of a vehicle builder’s common family-car products. Such cars are identified with names that have sport or GT connotations and are referred to as “sports sedans”, “hot hatches” or something similar. These cars are typically equipped with a high-performance powertrain and have exterior and interior detailing that conveys the sporting image.

Gaming laptops

Alienware gaming laptop

An Alienware gaming laptop that can benefit from the Alienware Graphics Amplifier expansion module

Gaming laptops are being pitched towards the young gamers who expect performance while they play the advanced games. They carry on from the “gaming rigs” – the aggressively-styled desktop computers that gamers tune up for performance during their gameplay.

They will have a highly-strung discrete graphics chipset integrated in to them, typically one of those GPUs that is tuned to work with fast-paced games. As well, they use extra RAM with this being in the order of 8Gb to 16Gb if not more, and a highly-powerful processor like the Intel Core i7 family. There will even be the ability to tweak more performance out of these components through the use of desktop software while they use high-performance hard disks or solid-state storage for their secondary storage. As for the screen, the size will typically range between 13” to 15” with the resolution being at least 1080p Full-HD quality.

Expect most of the gaming laptops to be designed to look aggressive because they convey the image of one of the American or Australian muscle cars that were popular through the late 60s to early 70s; or a car from one of Europe’s well-known sports-car marques. These were vehicles designed from the outset for high-performance driving.

Mobile workstations

Dell Precision M2800 Mobile Workstation courtesy of Dell USA

Dell Precision M2800 – a mobile workstation that also bridges performance and portability

This class of computer will typically be constructed for business performance and will have particular components that are designed to get the most out of a CAD, engineering, statistics, animation or similar highly-powerful business program. A significant number of these systems will be described as “certified” workstations in that they are certified by Autodesk or a similar software vendor to run their software reliably at best performance.

These business-class computers will be at least 15” with high-end business-focused discrete graphics and will use a processor like the Intel Core i7. The RAM memory will typically be at least 8Gb and using particular high-reliability chips while there is a high-performance hard disk and/or solid-state drive on board. Some of these systems will even be serviceable so that the components can be upgraded or replaced at will.

Some, if not most, of the mobile workstations may offer the features associated with a mainstream business laptop such as a fingerprint reader, a TPM module or manageability features. This is especially for those of us who are dealing with plans or blueprints that are considered highly-valuable intellectual property.

What to remember

Should I buy a laptop or a desktop computer?

This question will come up more frequently with those of us who are buying a computer as the main or only personal computer that we use rather a computer we intend to use as a secondary computer.

I would recommend purchasing a laptop or similarly-portable computer if you place emphasis on the portability factor.

For some of you, this may be about having to regularly store your computer away while it is not in use or to move it around the house as required. One of these situations is to use the dining table or kitchen bench as a desk, something you will be asked of if you live in a small home or apartment. It may also be about an aesthetic requirement to stow the computer away when you aren’t using it, even if you maintain a separate home office. This may be of importance where you expect to have your home office serve as a spare bedroom (think of that sofa-bed or something similar you have in there for guests), or you integrate your home office as part of a main living area.

On the other hand, you are taking your computer between two or more locations. For example, you have that “work-home” laptop that you use in the office then take home so you can do further work there. As well, you may be travelling a lot including frequently using public transport or using a café as your “second office” or “office away from the office”. It will also include those of you who are likely to live a nomadic lifestyle where you don’t expect to live at the same address for the long haul, such as people who are on work placements for example.

Setting up a dedicated workstation with your laptop

You can set up a dedicated workstation that is based around your laptop computer so you can work much better at your regular desktop working locations. This practice can work well with the mainstream laptops along with ultraportables and performance-grade computers where you expect to use these computers as a main-use or sole-use computer. It will also be of importance for those of you who have decided to move away from using a desktop computer as your main computer.

Typically, you establish this workstation by installing at least one larger monitor, along with a full-sized keyboard and a regular mouse on your desk and connecting them to the laptop computer. In this context, when you use a large monitor in this way, you may find yourself being able to use two screens (the laptop’s screen and the larger monitor) as a large display space.  You may decide to add better speakers or connect the laptop to a sound system like that old hi-fi amplifier and those old speakers for improved sound reproduction while you could add extra local-storage opportunities like a USB hard disk or optical drive. As well, you may take advantage of a wired Ethernet connection for assured network-connection reliability. Then you disconnect these peripherals from your computer when you take it between locations.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook in tent mode

Tent mode – one way you could set up a 2-in-1 as part of your workstation

Some of you may use a bracket which allows you to hang your laptop computer so it becomes one of the screens in your multi-screen setup. Such brackets will typically anchor to your monitor so you effectively have a contiguous large-screen display and they can apply to the 13”-14” computers. Similarly, a 2-in-1 set up in a presentation-viewer or tent mode can provide a very similar experience.

Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor press image courtesy of Minix

One of the docking stations or expansion interfaces that can be part of your workstation

Most of us would simplify this process using a docking station, which is a fancy name for an “expansion interface” module that simplifies how you connect these peripherals to your computer. Most of these devices simply plug in to a USB 3.0 port while the USB Type-C or Thunderbolt 3 port on newer equipment allows for a simplified high-speed data-pipe between the expansion module and the laptop computer. As well, an increasing number of these USB Type-C or Thunderbolt 3 docking stations also provide power to the host computer. It is also worth noting that some of the larger display monitors may offer the docking-station functionality  as a differentiating feature where they have, for example, an integrated multiple-port USB hub. This can save on the cost of another docking station if you are buying that large screen as well if the screen offers the same kind of connectivity that you want.

You could set up one of these peripheral-based dedicated workstations for each regular workspace that you use with the ability to spend more on equipping the workstation you use the most with the better peripherals. As well, you could even get away with “pushing down” peripherals to less-often-used workspaces when you equip your main workspace with better peripherals. This is like what most people have always done with refrigerators or colour television sets where the newer better one ends up where they use it most while older units end up continuing to give service in secondary areas.

To gain best advantage out of these setups, it is a good idea to use a docking station to connect the wired peripherals to the computer. If your computer is relatively new and implements a USB Type-C / Thunderbolt-3 connector, make sure that the docking station has this same connection. If you have a Thunderbolt-3-equipped computer, you could use a USB-C dock as something to start with, then see a newer Thunderbolt-3-equipped dock as something to use in the main workspace.

As well, make sure you buy one with at least all of the connections that you need for your desk-bound peripherals. If you are thinking of using a wireless mouse or keyboard, look towards any of those input devices that use Bluetooth rather than a proprietary connection that takes up a USB connection for its receiver dongle.

The laptop computer as a secondary computer

There are those of us who may find that we can get by with two computers – a fully-specified desktop or large laptop that has all the performance and capacity we need as the primary machine; and an easy-to-transport laptop that doesn’t have all of the specifications but is capable of being a portable-use secondary machine. Examples of these would be the budget portables, most affordable 2-in-1s, or the lower-specified models in a manufacturer’s ultraportable lineup.

Here, we cam shift data and synchronise files between the multiple computers using  shared folders on a NAS; a cloud storage service like Dropbox; removable media or sharing a “file-transfer” folder on one of the computers via your home network. As well, you can install on these computers a reduced complement of software that fulfills the essential tasks that you want to do on the road.

Thunderbolt 3 on this kind of secondary-use computer may also appeal to a range of users who may occasionally seek extra display performance from these computers and simply hook up an external graphics module for this purpose. This may be to turn out a “there-and-then” rough-edit of video taken during a location shoot that is part of your video project; or to “work through” a high-end game while on the road.

This kind of setup would appeal to those of us who want to do some computing work while away from our main home or office location, but keep that location as where you do most of your work.

Should I use a mobile-platform tablet or a laptop as my secondary computer?

Some of you may think that a mobile-platform tablet like an iPad or Android tablet is all you need for a secondary computer device, rather than you purchasing a laptop. The same question can also be raised by some people like those of the older generation who want to purchase a personal computing device like a laptop or iPad but don’t see themselves using it regularly.

This can hold true with those of us who do a lot of content consumption and create very little content while away from your main workspace. Examples of this may just be you writing a small amount of text such as short replies to email or writing up notes. But you may find that using a keyboard accessory like one of the many keyboard cases may have you able to create more content using a mobile-platform tablet.

It can also hold true if you do make use of software that is written for desktop (regular-computer) platforms. Here, the software that is written for these platforms comes with more abilities compared to similar software that is targeted towards mobile platforms and you will find yourself being able to work more productively with this software.

Here, if you are primarily doing activities like Web-browsing, viewing video content, playing casual games or answering a small amount of email, you may get by with a mobile-platform tablet. On the other hand, if you do frequent amounts of content creation including answering many emails or make heavy use of highly-capable regular-computer software, the laptop would earn its keep.

It is also worth noting that the “2-in-1” computer that can double as a laptop or a tablet may offer a bridge between these two conundrums. Most of these computers run Windows 10 and will run the commonly-powerful office software if you are thinking of using them to work on that magnum opus document, with the 13” varieties having a full-sized keyboard so you can type comfortably. This is while you can engage in social media with most of the social media platforms having their own Windows 10 apps.


Should I buy a gaming laptop or a mobile workstation as a high-performance personal computer?

Increasingly, most computer manufacturers are offering a range of high-performance computers in their product lines, whether as performance-optimised variants of their mainstream products or units designed from the ground up as gaming laptops or mobile workstations.

But you may be dabbling with high-end games, or high-end-graphics and video work and are considering this kind of equipment. What kind of high-performance computer should you really go for?

Those of us who are working with high-end games or are doing video editing, computer graphics or animation as a hobby may find that high-performance mainstream laptops or gaming laptops may be the way to go. It can also apply to students who are putting their foot in the door when it comes to architecture, engineering and allied courses. You would be on a winner if the computer you are after is equipped with a Thunderbolt 3 connector because you could buy an external “card-cage” graphics module and a CAD-grade high-performance desktop graphics card at a later state when you can afford it.

On the other hand, a mobile workstation would earn its keep when you head full-time in to the world of advanced graphics, especially if you are using the computer as your “axe” to make regular money.

Which system for whom

Expected computer role

Main or sole computer

You may be upgrading your main “workhorse” computer and wanting to use something a bit more portable. The system could be your “main” computer that you use in your primary working area while you use another computer as your “on-the-go” secondary computer. Or it could just be your only computer that you have.

Here, I would recommend a mainstream laptop computer or, if you can afford something more luxurious, an ultraportable if it’s your sole computer you are taking with you a lot or a high-performance machine for other situations. In all cases, place emphasis on the computer’s storage capacity and RAM memory and buy a system with as much of this as you can afford. You may find that if you are saving towards your computer, a stretch goal you could apply is for a machine that has more RAM or storage capacity than what you initially budgeted for.

Those of you who make light use of a computer like using it just for Web surfing, online communication (email, Social Web and some Skype) and some word-processing may find that you can get away with one of the entry-level laptops. The word-processing application may be the deal-maker that has an entry-level computer overtake an iPad or similar tablet especially if your idea is to create a memoir or some other magnum opus. It can also apply if you are wanting to head towards creating that small-time Website or blog. This is because of these computers having a keyboard more conducive to this activity and being able to run a fully-fledged word-processing or similar program.

Some of you may find that you may not be able to have a lot of storage on your main or sole computer, such as if you are on a budget and are buying a low-tier laptop, or are buying that ultraportable because of your travelling. In this case, I would make sure that the computer you are getting is equipped with at least one USB 3.0 Type-A port or a USB-C port and purchase a high-capacity USB hard disk as a data-offload solution.

Secondary computer

If the laptop or other portable computer you are buying is simply something you are intending to use as a supplementary computer while you keep using your main computer, you may be able to look at different factors here.

In most cases, you may be considering this computer for use while you are travelling while your main computer stays at home or in the office. Here, you place importance on the portability factor. This is where you could consider an ultraportable computer, whether in a clamshell or 2-in-1 form. If you are on a budget, you may find it worth looking at one of the entry-level 14” variants powered by a low-end processor. In this situation, you can skimp on storage capacity if you are sure you can offload data to your main computer.

Some of you may use a secondary laptop at home, perhaps as a “family computer” that you can store away when it isn’t used. Similarly this would be a laptop computer that you may give to your “better half” as a gift and have them keep their data on it. In the same context, you may be considering a “private” computer that you use for your personal data so you don’t store any of it on your business computer. This is more so for those of you who have your laptop supplied and managed by your workplace or rent or lease the IT your small business needs on an ongoing basis.

Here, most mainstream computers with modest specifications may answer your needs. If you are expecting it to be a personal alternative to that “work-home” laptop, you may then have to place emphasis on storage capacity for this application.

Particular usage cases

Highly nomadic user

There are some users who will have a “sole-use” laptop computer but are likely to move between many different locations. These may range from people working in the merchant navy or on oil / gas rigs where they are likely to spend a significant amount of time on that ship or rig; through people who are engaged in placement-based work where they are never sure if they will be in the same work location; to students who are mainly living in temporary accommodation like college dorms / residence halls or short-let housing.

Here, the laptop computer can suit your needs very well. At the moment, most mainstream computers would suit your needs especially if you find that they offer a large amount of storage. This is important for you because you may end up piling music, photo and video content on the hard disk before and during your travels. If you are a gamer, you will most likely be storing all the data related to the games you regularly play, be it the game files or information about your progress in that game.

You may be interested in the high-performance variants like the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming that I previously reviewed if you value performance for gaming or entry-level workstation tasks.

If you are expecting to transport your computer around your destination location such as, for example a college student living in a college dorm who then takes the computer between classes, the library and the dorm, you may want to consider an ultraportable laptop or a 13”-14” mainstream laptop. Such systems can easily be stored in a backpack or other day luggage without taking up much room and they are relatively light compared to the traditional 15” mainstream laptop.

The use of a small-sized high-capacity USB external hard disk may satisfy your needs if you have to buy a computer that doesn’t have enough storage for your needs such as an entry-level laptop. Here, you can easily stow this hard disk in your luggage without it taking up too much room if you need to transport it. This hard disk can simply serve as a backup or offload storage device while you keep what you are working with on the laptop’s own storage.

Similarly, having a computer that implements the Thunderbolt 3 connection and works properly with the external graphics modules can appeal to this class of user.

Work-home use

A more common scenario for those of you who regularly work away from home is to take the same computer between your home and your workplace. Some of you may also be likely to use this same computer for your personal computing needs.

Here, consider the purchase of a mainstream business laptop with as much RAM and capacity as you can afford. The 13”-14” varieties appear as a sweet spot for portability if you use it on the go, but you may have to look at an ultraportable if you are travelling a lot with it.

They also benefit from the “dedicated workstation” approach and should have at least a USB 3.0 port. Personally, I would even go towards a computer with at least a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 port, then use a dock with a similar connection and the desirable peripheral connections for your main workspace.


The first thing to be sure of when you buy a laptop computer tis that you are buying the right unit that suits your usage requirements.

Here, this is about making sure you have a computer that has the right amount of horsepower, storage space and RAM capacity to suit your needs yet is light enough for the portability that you need out of it. For those of you buying a computer for your business needs, you also need to be sure that you aren’t being forced to buy the more expensive overspecified model that can end up being complicated to deal with.

Should I buy a secondary printer for my home network?

Brother MFC-J4710DW sideways-print multifunction inkjet printer

Brother MFC-J4710DW – an example of a printer you would use as your main printer

Your existing printer or multifunction unit may be working satisfactorily for you at the moment but you may find that you or your household may benefit from a secondary printer that is connected to your home network.

Typically this may be brought about by you buying a printer with more functionality than the one you already own and you “pushing” down the existing printer to serve as a secondary machine like you would with the existing refrigerator or colour television set. In some cases, it is more attractive to do this with mid-tier consumer units or any of the business units where you spend more on the equipment rather than those units that cost as much as you paid for the machine to replace their ink or toner cartridges.

Of course, the idea of networking a printer would be to avoid the need to buy a printer for each computer at home but a different trend has risen. Increasingly, most printer manufacturers are implementing a “mobile-printing” strategy to allow you to print from a smartphone or tablet. This can be done through Apple AirPrint for iOS devices, Google CloudPrint for some Android devices or a manufacturer-provided app.

Similarly, most printer manufacturers are selling equipment on a “horses-for-courses” approach where different printers in their consumer and small-business product ranges suit different tasks.

What applications may cause you to think of a secondary printer?

There are two main applications where a secondary printer on your home network may be handy

A machine more locally placed

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one printer

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one inkjet printer – suitable for use as a secondary printer

Most likely, you will have the printer kept in your home office or study where you do a lot of the computing. But, as you use AirPrint or similar features that enable printing from your tablet or smartphone, you may be wanting to order print jobs from other rooms in the house like the kitchen. Similarly, most of the recent crop of printers have a “print-from-Web” function to obtain hard copy from Web services like Dropbox or Facebook.

The idea behind this setup is that when your computer device asks you which printer to send the job to, you determine the machine that is local to you for that job. Here, you have the advantage of being ready to collect the job immediately rather than it piling up on the desk. You also have the assurance of hearing whether the machine has started to turn out your job or not so you are not worried about sending it to the wrong unit or mis-specifying that job.

This situation may be more real for those of you who live in a larger house or a multi-storey / split-level house and have the home office up the front or downstairs but have a significant activity area on the other side of the house or upstairs like the kitchen and family room that is located down the back of the house. Similarly, those of you who have a multi-building home network covering the garage,barn or bungalow alongside the main house may also find this situation applying to you. Here, you could keep a lesser-capable printer or multifunction in the bungalow while having another unit like a better model kept in the main house.

Brother DCP-J552DW multifunction printer

Another printer that can serve as a secondary unit

Here, you could keep a light-duty network-capable multifunction printer like the Brother DCP-J552DW, the Brother DCP-J562DW or HP Envy 120 in the kitchen or family room. This could allow you to do on-the-spot printing and copying in that area. A mid-tier consumer inkjet, low-tier business inkjet or a low-tier business laser / LED machine may work well for a study.

Some families may use this as a way to work towards providing their adolescent or adult child with a printer for when they “grow their wings and leave the family nest”. Here, the adolescent or adult child could be responsible for buying the consumables for that machine and then take it with them when they move onwards.

The ability to have complementary functionality

You could have the best of both printing types for your home office if you have both a laser and an inkjet printer. Here, you could benefit from the flexibility that this offers when it comes to choosing and using stationery for your printing requirements. An example of this could be to not worry about purchasing laser labels or inkjet labels for your envelopes because you can use the appropriate machine for the labels you have on hand.

Some users may benefit from a monochrome laser or LED unit for their routine document-printing needs while a colour inkjet can come in handy when occasional colour printing is required. Similarly, a photo-grade inkjet machine like a high-end HP Photosmart or OfficeJet or high-end Epson could serve your photographic or brochure-printing needs while a machine not so good with “presentation printing” or “photo-grade printing” can do the normal office printing work. This is more so as presentation-grade glossy or silk-look paper is more readily available at local office-supply stores for inkjet printers than it is for laser printers.

Brother HL-6180DW monochrome network laser printer

One of those mono laser printers you would see as a document-printing workhorse

Another example would be is having machines that handle different paper sizes such as A4 and A3. You could use an A3-capable printer or MFC for your large-sheet printing requirements while you maintain an A4-capable machine like most business lasers for most printing needs.

What must you consider?

A common issue associated with very-low-end printers when it comes to keeping them going is that the cost of purchasing replacement consumables is equivalent to that of purchasing a similar-standard printer. As well, a lot of these machines may not last for a long time nor would they be able to yield a significant number of pages.

I would also be careful of the two-cartridge colour inkjet printers because if one colour runs out, you would have to replace the colour cartridge. These can only work well for occasional work but I wouldn’t expect to run them hard for constant work.

On the other hand, I would pay attention to brands that use the same type of consumables across a large part of their product range. This is represented with Hewlett-Packard implementing the 564 series of ink cartridges across most of their Photosmart product range since 2009 and Brother using the LC-133 cartridges across all of their current-issue inkjet machines.

The latter example was underscored with the Brother DCP-J552DW multifunction printer which is a light-duty home machine and the Brother MFC-J6720DW A3 multifunction printer which is a heavy-duty SOHO unit using these cartridges – you don’t have to think of buying two different cartridge types for the different printers..


You can run one or more additional printers on your home network still as communal printers. But these can earn their keep either as a machine that is local to a point of activity and/or to provide functionality that is complementary to other printers that you own.

Buyer’s Guide–Headphones and earphones

A situation that may easily come your way is that you may need to purchase a set of headphones for use with your MP3 player, smartphone or laptop. Similarly, a pair of headphones may come in handy as a gift idea for most people who travel or use the mobile or portable computing and audio equipment a lot.

Headphone acoustic-design types

Headphone driver-positioning arrangements:

Intra-aural: This type has the speaker driver placed within or on the ear canal and is typically represented by the classic hearing aid or the common earphones supplied with most personal-audio equipment. Some intra-aural headphones use a hard U-shaped headband that hangs around your neck, similar to the cheap “pneumatic” headsets that used to be used for airline inflight entertainment.

Circum-aural: The speaker driver in this kind of headphone sits outside the ear but has the ear enclosed with a sound-proof foam ring wrapped in vinyl or leather. This type is commonly used with aviation headsets and with headphones until the late 1970s.

Bang & Olufsen Form 2 headphones

Bang & Olufsen Form 2 headphones – An example of a premium supra-aural headphone design

Supra-aural: With this type of headphones, the speaker driver is wrapped in foam and is intended to just sit on the ear.

Headphone enclosure or housing types:

A pair of headphones that uses a circum-aural or supra-aural driver positioning arrangement can either have a closed-back or open-back housing.

Closed back: This type does not have any perforation or venting on the drivers’ housings. It is known to provide a focused sound with less sound leakage and improved bass response.

Open back: Here, the enclosure is vented or perforated or the headphones are designed as if the driver mounted freely on the bracket that is attached to the headband or ear clip. These typically can yield an accurate sound with good drivers but cannot be heard easily in noisy environments and can suffer sound leakage where other can hear the content.

Headphone Styles

There are three common styles of headphones that you can choose from.


Earphones typically describe the class which plug in to or clip on your ears and don’t have any headband of any sort. Earlier versions used to plug in to your ears like a set of earplugs or a hearing aid, but these evolved over time. For example, Sony ran a set of earphones which were a supra-aural type that had the speaker sit on your ear and they clipped on like the arms of a pair of glasses.  But most of today’s earphones typically have a small speaker that just faces in your ear with the unit resting in your ear.

Traditional headphones

Voyetra Turtle Beach M3 gaming headset

Voyetra Turtle Beach M3 gaming headset – an example of a circum-aural-style headphones

Then you have traditional headphones with a headband that sits over your head. This style has existed ever since this class of device was invented and most of the good-quality heavier-design closed-back types typically used a padded headband.

Compare this with lightweight supra-aural designs like the types that were popular when the Walkman came on the scene. These typically had either a lightweight aluminium or plastic strip serving as the headband with their earpieces anchored on to plastic brackets.

Street-style headphones

Another style that has started to appear in the late 90s is the “street-style”  where the headband wraps around the back of your head and the set rests on your ears in a similar vain to a pair of glasses.

Other points of interest


A headset describes any class of headphones that have a microphone either on the cord or as a boom that is attached to one of the headphone housings. Denon has integrated the microphone in to one of the earcaps in some of their headset designs rather than using a separate microphone on a boom or the headset cord, a trend which is now being followed with Bluetooth headsets.

These are used for communications applications like smartphones, forum chatter in online games, business call-centre telephony or Skype / VoIP telephony. They are also being considered useful with voice-activated assistant software of the Siri, Google Now and Cortana kind that is becoming part of desktop and mobile computing.

Wired headsets typically have a four-conductor 3.5mm plug which may work with some devices like laptops or iPhones but may not work with other devices. These may also come with a breakout cable to plug in to a microphone jack and a headphone jack.

Noise-cancelling headphones

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset - right earcup

Plantronics BackBeat Pro active-noise-cancellation Bluetooth headset

Most manufactures are selling a range of “Active Noise Cancelling” headphones that are pitched for travel use. Here, these headphones, typically traditional closed-back circum-aural types, use battery-operated circuitry that feeds a form of “anti-noise” to combat the low-frequency noise that you hear when in a plane, train or bus.

You are still able to hear voices from around you such as announcements that come over the vehicle’s or aircraft’s emergency-announcement system and these headphones can play program material coming from any audio device that you connect to them. In some cases and with some of these headsets, you may find that the noise-cancelling functionality may allow you to easily hear any background music or radio program being played through the vehicle’s or aircraft’s announcement system. This is because the active-noise-cancelling setup effectively “pushes aside” that loud droning noise of the vehicle or aircraft. Here, you have the ability to hear the program material in relative peace and quiet without the drone of the vehicle’s or aircraft’s engines distracting you.

It is worth paying attention that Bose, Sony and Bang & Olufsen are vying with each other to front up with the best active-noise-cancelling Bluetooth headsets in the form of the Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II, the Sony WH-1000XM3 and the B&O Beoplay H9i. Sony was pitching the ‘XM3 headset as a value-priced answer to the Bose QuietComfort 35 II while B&O came up with the H9i to compete in the brand-driven premium scene with an European answer to the Bose. Bose subsequently offered the Noise Canceling Headphones 700 as their modern-look follow-on to the QC 35 II. Here, this will show that the active-noise-cancelling Bluetooth headset is a very keen product class that is being marketed on both value and quality.

In the case of in-ear noise-cancelling headsets, Apple and Sony are competing with each other by the former offering the Apple AirPods Pro and the latter offering the Sony WF-1000XM3. Here, Sony is working to achieve the same kind of performance as the AirPods Pro but working at a value-for-money price like they did with the WH-1000XM3 headphones.

Wireless headphones

JBL E45BT Bluetooth headset

Some manufacturers supply wireless headphones that use an infrared or radio link from the audio source to the headphones.

There are some of these headphones that require that they work with a manufacturer-supplied transmitter that connects to the audio source. It may allow for special functions like headphone surround-sound or as a cost-saving measure for very cheap setups. These are more applicable if you intend to use them with a regular TV or music system rather than a computer or mobile device.

On the other hand, most of these headphones and headsets work using Bluetooth standards. This is in order for them to work with your mobile phone as a hands-free communication device and for entertainment in the case of smartphones. But they can work with regular computers running Windows 7 or MacOS X Snow Leopard and newer versions of these operating systems for communications or entertainment. Or they can work with a Bluetooth transmitter like the AirFly for a wireless link to existing audio equipment. As far as traditional desktop computers that don’t have integrated Bluetooth go, you may need to use a Bluetooth dongle to bring this wireless functionality to these computers.

If you do buy Bluetooth headphones, make sure that they comply to Headset Profile, Hands-Free Profile for headsets that have a microphone; and, in the case of those that have stereo headphones, A2DP audio profile. If the headphones or headset implements a form of media control, they should implement it to the AVRCP profile.

A feature that an increasing number of Bluetooth headsets is offering is multipoint functionality. This allows a single headset to work with two devices at the same time. It has come about due to people using a laptop or tablet and a smartphone at the same time or using two smartphones like a work/business phone and a private phone. Simplified setups like what JBL offers allow a call from either device to be managed through the headset’s controls without any procedures or allow you to simply start a content source on either device without any extra fiddling.

Increasingly most of the headphone manufacturers are offering in-ear earphones that have full Bluetooth wireless-headset functionality with some of these being described as “true wireless” earphones due to there not being a cord to link each earphone. These have their own batteries but use a supplied case with an integrated charger that runs from its own battery to charge these earphones. It has been brought about through the use of newer Bluetooth standards which allows for ultra-compact battery-powered Bluetooth devices.

Bluetooth earmuffs

A significant number of manufacturers are offering Bluetooth earmuffs which combine an occupational-health-and-safety compliant pair of hearing-protection earmuffs with a Bluetooth headset. They are pitched for people working with loud machinery or in similar situations and need to protect their hearing from the noise associated with these situations.

Better designed units will have circuitry to enhance the inbound and outbound audio for improved clarity and intelligibility.  This may allow you to talk with your caller or hear your audio content without the machine’s noise drowning it out.

Gaming headsets

As part of the core-gamer culture, some gaming-technology and headphone manufacturers are offering headphones and headsets that are optimised for use during video games. These will play the sound-effects during the video game through the headphones and the headset varieties will have the ability to work as a communications headset that is important with online games that offer inter-player voice-chat functionality.

They are less likely to be Bluetooth headsets and will use technologies like a USB digital-audio technology or simply wired-headset technologies. This is to assure that players have the appropriate latency for their games’s sound effects as Bluetooth currently doesn’t have the proper latency required for instant response.

The sound quality that gaming headsets provide will be optimised for the game sound-effects and music with the all-important bass response. These will even be circum-aural, if not supra-aural in order to allow the players to focus on any audio clues that the game yields.


Do you need to have two or three pairs of headphones “on the go”?

You may think it is unnecessary to have more than one set of headphones in your possession and ready to use. But this may be an advantage where you want to have a particular set of headphones suited to a particular kind of audio content or listening environment.

For example, you may use a pair of earphones or circum-aural headphones for listening in a noisy environment or to hear the detail in a piece of music whereas you may use a pair of lightweight supra-aural headphones when you go jogging so you can hear the traffic. You may even find that supra-aural or circum-aural headphones can suit long listening sessions much better than in-ear earphones, which may be of concern if you frequently use your headphones as a communications headset.

What kind of headphones suit your needs best?

If you are doing a lot of walking, you could benefit from a good-quality set of lightweight supra-aural headphones because they are not tiring to wear and you can still be aware of the traffic and other sounds around you.

A pair of closed-back circum-aural headphones, perhaps equipped with active noise cancelling can come in handy if you use public transport, especially planes, buses, diesel-powered trains or underground trains (subways) frequently. This can cut out the droning noise associated with these public-transport options and let you focus on your programme material.

Similarly a DJ or someone who likes to do a lot of recording could benefit from a good-quality pair of circum-aural headphones. Some of these headphones that are targeted at this application may be described as “monitor” headphones because you are after the high-quality sound that you want to use as a reference while not hearing outside noises or allowing sound to leak out thus causing a feedback loop with a public-address or broadcast application.

When you want to hear an accurate sound while listening to music or other content especailly when alone, you could benefit from a good-quality pair of supra-aural headphones that have large drivers like the Sennheiser range. This may be of importance with classical-type music, some kinds of jazz music or a lot of the down-tempo music classes like easy-listening / lounge or ambient / chillout music.

On the other hand, closed-back headphones can yield improved bass response which is important for popular up-tempo music, especially jazz, funk / soul, dance music or rock.They can also be handy if you want a distinct weighty impact from sound effects in video or games content.

What to look for with headphones

Things to look for to see long service life

When you buy a set of any headphones that you use a lot, make sure that you can purchase replaceable earpads or foam rings for the headphones. This is important that as you use a set of headphones, the earpads or foam rings do tend to tear or come apart over the years of use and you still want to have your headphones comfortable to wear.

Headphones that have a “single-sided” cord have an advantage because the cord comes in to only one housing with the other housing being serviced by a cable that passes through the headband. This cuts down on cable entanglement and can avoid the situation where you could ruin one earpiece due to the cable being tugged on that earpiece.

Some premium headphones do have the cord detachable from the earphone housing. The advantage here is that you can replace the cord if it gets damaged, which is something that can easily happen as you use the headphones out and about.


When you choose the right sets of headphones for your private-listening or communications needs, you will be in a better position to enjoy them better in the application you have bought them for.

This article was published on August 2012 and has been updated on May 2020 to cater towards newer headphone and earphone trends. Expect this to be regularly reviewed as new headset trends come about.

Buyer’s Guide–Buying a laptop or notebook computer


You might be moving away from a desktop computer as your main conputing device so you can have a compact workspace. On the other hand, your existing laptop or notebook computer might be at that point where it is painfully slow and you are staring at that “doughnut ring” or “beach-ball” cursor for too long while the hard disk is chattering away. Similarly you may be wanting to use a portable computer as an auxiliary computer while you travel but use your favourite desktop computer when you are back at your home or office.

Sony VAIO Z Series ultraportable

Sony VAIO Z Series premium ultraportable laptop

This buyer’s guide is about the “clamshell-style” portable computers commonly known as laptops or notebooks. Here, it is to update the information that existed in the previously-published buyer’s guide in order to encompass the newer technologies that have affected this product class over the last two years such as the Ultrabooks; as well as my reviewing of laptops that encompass these new technologies.

A common practice with computer purchasing is to buy the cheapest laptop available without working which kind of laptop computer will suit the target application. Here, you may end up buying a machine that is too heavy or with computing credentials (processor, RAM, secondary storage) that don’t really match the targeted use.

Notebook computer classes

Netbook (10”-11” screen)

HP Mini 210 netbook

HP Mini 210 netbook

This class of computer was inspired by the “One Laptop Per Child” computer-education project and was based around a low-cost low-power computer model for Third-World countries. They have primarily been sold as auxiliary computers for home or travel use, nut their function has been supplanted by the 10” tablet which runs a mobile operating system such as Android or iOS and can be connected to a small external keyboard either directly or via USB or Bluetooth.

Here, these computers have a 10”-11” screen and use a low-capacity hard disk or solid-state drive as their secondary storage. Most of them run on the Intel Atom processor but there are a handful which run on full-system processors.

Subnotebook / Ultraportable (12”-14” screen)

These computers are the smallest size of portable computer that have a full-width keyboard which allows you to touch-type comfortably on them. They also have a footprint similar to the older small portable typewriters that journalists loved using before portable computers came along.

They end up in two classes – a fully-functional unit; and a reduced-functionality highly-portable unit.

Sony VAIO S Series

Sony VAIO S Series

The former class will, in most cases, be thick and have a range of functions like an optical disk drive, large hard disk and plenty of sockets along the side. The latter class is typically very thin and engineered with a long-lasting battery. They will typically have a small hard disk or solid-state storage and eschew integrated optical drives and extra connectivity options.

This encompasses the new class of “Ultrabooks” which are intended to be very thin and light as well as starting up very quickly. They are modelled on the Apple MacBook Air lineup of computers and emphasise an accessible beauty about them.

On the other hand, most manufaturers are supplying 14” fully-functional notebooks that have the functionality of a regular laptop computer but use a smaller screen. They are really positioned as a “bridge” between a highly-portable unit and the fully-functional regular laptop.


Regular laptop computer (15” screen)

Toshiba Satellite L750 laptop

Toshiba Satellite L750 consumer laptop

The most common class of laptop computer is a thick unit that has a 15” screen, a mid-tier processor, a hard disk of at least 500Gb, an integrated DVD burner and plenty of connections. These typically can perform most computing tasks adequately and often spend some of their time as entertainment machines.

They can be used on public transport but do take up room in this scenario and the battery typically may not last the distance. Typically these computers work as a “transportable” class of computer that is stowed in one’s briefcase, laptop bag or backpack during travel and used primarily at fixed locations.

Desktop-replacement computer (17” screen)

These computers are very large and typically have a 17” screen. Most such units will have functionality that is close to a desktop computer such as a hard disk in the order of 750Gb or above; discrete graphics chipset as well as the connectivity that is expected of a 15” regular laptop. Some of these units may not come with a battery and are thus pitched as transportable “desknote” computers that are just used at fixed locations.

Sony VAIO EJ Series 17" desktop replacement

Sony VAIO EJ Series desktop replacement

Here, I would recommend them for use as a quick-stowaway alternative to a desktop computer; especially if you always need to set up and pack up your computing environment. They can also earn their keep if you are in a situation where your workspace at home is the dining or kitchen table.

Product Positioning


The typical consumer-grade laptop has a design that is focused on aesthetics and is typically optimised for multimedia. It will typically run a consumer-optimised software package that is focused around entertainment and basic office tasks and the operating system will typically have functionality that is suited for a small network.

They will typically be sold through large consumer-electronics and home-appliance stores or the electrical departments in department stores.


Business-grade laptops are typically pitched for office use in the large business and are sold through value-added resellers or independent computer stores. Yet they are still of value to the small business owner and some consumer groups.

Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop

Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop

They are typically finished in a conservative dark-grey finish and have a software package that is optimised for manageability and data security. The operating system may be a “professional” or “enterprise” variant that can integrate with sophisticated business networks and support this same management. There is also a greater chance that these computers will be equipped with security-enabling hardware like a fingerprint scanner, smart-card reader or “trusted platform module” chipset.

<Dell Vostro, Toshiba Tecra >

Premium / Multimedia / Gaming

Just about all of the laptop manufacturers will run a few model ranges that are focused at the top end of the market or are tuned for multimedia work or enthusiast-grade gameplay. The computers in these ranges will typically command top-dollar prices and there are customers out there who are willing to pay this kind of money for their portable computing experience.

These computers place importance on aesthetics and performance and are sold at a price that fits this market position. Typically, they will offer the high-performance processors and discrete graphics chipsets and will most likely have the sound subsystem “worked” be someone in the music recording and reproduction industries.

HP Envy 15-3000 Series laptop

HP Envy 15-3000 Series Beats Edition multimedia laptop

It is also known that the multimedia class of Windows-driven laptop computer is being pitched as a way to “snap at the heels” of the Apple MacBook Pro series, a computer considered to be the graphics and multimedia standard. As well, these computers will come with hardware and software that is optimised for the creation and playback of audio-video content.

Most of the premium computers will typically be styled in a manner that makes a user think of luxury, such as implementing styling cues from luxury cars, premium clothing and accessories; and similar products. This may include the product being named after one of the exotic Italian sports cars. Gaming computers may implement an aggressive styling to match the desktop “gaming rigs” and not look out of place at a “LAN party”.

What to watch for

Touchscreen laptops

Fujitsu Lifebook TH550M convertible notebook

Fujitsu Lifebook TH550M convertible touchscreen notebook

There are a few portable computers like the Fujitsu Lifebook TH550M reviewed on this site, that are equipped with a touchscreen and most of these are sold as “convertibles” where the screen can be swivelled so they become a tablet computer. Some newer variants may use a detachable keyboard or have the screen fold over the keyboard in a pantograph manner. But they are typically sold to the business market and are very hard to come by.

The situation may change with Windows 8 where the touch-optimised user experience may bring this feature in to the mainstream for consuner and business-class computers.

<Fujitsu TH550M>

Dual-mode graphics

An increasing number of standard laptops are being equipped with dual-mode graphics where there is a discrete graphics chipset as well as the integrated graphics functionality offered by the newer Intel and AMD processors. These are able to switch between the graphics chipsets as a way of allowing for increased power economy or increased graphics performance.

This is either done using a hardware or software mode switch or the ability to have certain applications enter a particular graphics mode. But computers implementing the NVIDIA Optimus functionality and some that will use the next generation of the AMD graphics chipset use an automatic changeover mode that doesn’t require any rebooting or other hands-on procedures to perform this changeover.

Issues to consider

Primary usage scenario

It is important to think of how you intend to use this laptop computer so you can choose the right amount of functionality.

Main or sole computer

This kind of use may include the “new computing environment” where the laptop is the preferred home or office computer; or can encompass a student’s “college” computer, a work-home laptop or a highly-mobile worker who often is out of home.

Here, the purchaser must place importance on capacity and functionality. This includes looking towards high-capacity secondary storage, an optical disk burner, and plenty of connections like USB ports.

This would primarily cover most 15”-17” laptops like most of the computers reviewed here. On the other hand, you could prefer one of the highly functional 13” – 14” computers like the Toshiba Satellite L730, the Toshiba Portege R830 with higher-capacity hard disks, the Sony VAIO S Series or the HP Pavilion dm4 Series Beats Edition. These could be used with a large-screen display, large accessory keyboard and regular mouse for a better working environment at your main home and/or office location and I have seen some people have these computers on a laptop stand in order to have a dual-screen setup.

Secondary computer

Here, there is assumed to be a primary computer, typically desktop or high-end laptop, in place at one or more locations where most work is done and data is stored. The secondary laptop computer is used primarily as a “travel” or “portable” computer when away from this primary location.

The purchasing focus for these computers is to be on portability with less worry about functionality or capacity. Typically the data created on these computers would he held on their secondary storage (hard disk / solid-state drive) then shifted to the primary computer’s secondary storage when the user returns home with these computers. This is in addition to the user using their email, their cloud-driven Internet services or their remote-desktop services with these computers.

Travel with computer

Another question to raise is the kind of travel the user would be performing with this computer. It would also include the likelihood of the user using this computer while travelling. This would determine whether or not it is important to purchase a small lightweight computer.

Primarily public transport including air travel

Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook on tray table

Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook - suits air travel very well

A person who flies a lot or makes heavy use of commuter public transport will more likely be wanting to use the computer through their journey. They also will be needing to carry the computer around with them while they complete the journey, especially as there is an increased likelihood of the user changing between different transport vehicles or modes of transport.

In the case of long-distance air travel, there will be the requirements to carry other luggage, deal with security checkpoints and, in the case of international travel, deal with passport control and customs.

Here, I would recommend a lightweight computer like a netbook, subnotebook / ultraportable or a “thin-and-light” notebook. Netbooks, including 10” tablets with detachable keyboards may be good for increased reading and ad-hoc email work. But the 13”-14” computers, including the Ultrabooks, would work well if you intend to create a lot of content.

Toshiba Satellite L730 ultraportable on coffee bar

Toshiba Satellite L730 full-function ultraportable

The “standard” 13”-14” notebooks which have the full functionality like integrated optical drives, especially the 14” varieties can be of value if you do place importance on functionality while you travel or you intend to be away for a long time. These may also work well when it comes to playing DVDs on those long flights with low-cost carriers.

Primarily Car travel with occasional public transport and air travel

You most likely will be driving between locations and may occasionally engage in some public-transport travel or air travel.

On the other hand. you may be buying a laptop computer because it is the kind of computer that you can quickly stow away in to a cupboard or drawer at home or work. Similarly, your desk may be one of those types that can be easily closed up in to an elegant piece of furniture, and you may want to store the laptop there.

Here, you won’t need to care about portability; and you could prefer to buy any of the 15”-17” laptops. They will excel on the functionality and connectivity; and you could even go for the 17” desktop-replacements if you valued the large screen.

Application Guidelines

Student’s first notebook

Your child may be doing their senior-secondary or tertiary studies and it may be time to consider a decent laptop computer for them.

Dell Inspiron 15r laptop

Dell Inspiron 15r laptop

The computer will typically undergo a fair bit of rough treatment at the hands of students as they take it between classes, study opportunities, parties and home. This will include travel in older cars which will be likely to have worn-out suspension, As well, the hard disk will typically be the place where school-related data shares space with music to have playing at the next party as well as plenty of digital photos.

Of course, cost will be an issue especially if the student is buying the computer themselves or you are unable to subsidise the purchase of the system in a significant way.

I would recommend a good-quality 15” midrange consumer or low-end business laptop for a student’s computer and prefer those computers that implement any “shock-proof” hard-disk technology. This is a feature that most newer laptops are being equipped with as manufacturers consider the realities with these machines,

If you have to place weight on features when choosing a laptop, place the weight on hard-disk capacity due to the fact that a lot of data would end up being stored on these computers.

If the student is doing a course that is centred around the creation of graphical works or multimedia works, you should look towards a multimedia-specified computer with a discrete graphics chipset. This allows the computer to perform properly when turning out the graphics elements and doesn’t bog the student down when they create their graphics or multimedia assignments.

Refurbished ex-business equipment

HP ProBook 4520 Series laptop

HP ProBook 4520 Series business laptop - you could find this as a refurbished ex-business machine

If the cost is an issue to you, you may want to look for recent-issue refurbished or rebuilt ex-business hardware. These are hardware which a business has done away with as part of their IT-upgrade process, ex-demo / ex-review computers that a manufacturer has taken out of the review and promotion circuit, or ex-lease computer equipment that computer financiers have previously leased or rented to businesses.

They will typically be available online or through independent computer stores. Similarly, if you were leasing your business laptop and have come to the end of that lease, you could pay out the residual in order to own the equipment; then have it overhauled by a computer-repair specialist. This could then be a possible solution for providing a student with a decent laptop for their early years at college / uni.

But with these deals, it would be worth finding out whether there are new batteries available for these laptops and whether the hard disks in them can be upsized for larger capacities. Similarly, you should also find out whether you can have the latest version of the operating system and office productivity software installed on these computers.

Travel-dependent and nomadic working environments

This class of user; which includes air or sea crew, oil-rig workers, overseas charity volunteers or business people involved in project-driven establishment work; are often asked to live and work away from home for significant time periods. Typically their home may be the cabin on a ship or oil rig, a hotel room or short-let house / apartment or camping-style accommodation; and they only stay in these areas for the duration of their placement or layover.

What they desire is a computer that is easy to pack away and something that is expected to be a computer, music player, video player or whatever. A lot of these users won’t be likely to use the computer through travel except if they are on a ship and are “off watch”.

HP Pavilion dm4 BeatsAudio Edition laptop at a Wi-Fi hotspot

HP Pavilion dm4 Beats Edition - a 14" full-function laptop

The emphasis here would be on portability and functionality and they should look towards a 14”-17” standard laptop with the integrated optical drive. This class would allow the user to cut down on the number of accessories they have to put away when they shift location yet would be able to play optical media they acquire from local sources. The Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity on these computers would let the travellers connect to any network that provides broadband Internet on site. Of course, they would have to make sure they have a high-capacity hard disk and specifications commensurate to their preferred activity.

Bloggers, journalists and other content-creators

These are people who are expected to create content while they travel. It can also includes those of us who are writing books or constantly preparing manuscript for material like catalogues or newsletters and want to do this work while travelling.

It is so easy to think that a netbook or a 10” tablet with accessory keyboard could answer a content-creator’s needs but the main problem with these solutions is that the keyboard doesn’t really allow for fast comfortable typing. This is something of importance when you are creating a lot of text and, in the age of the blog, you may be required to “live-blog” an event i.e. type up details about the event as it happens and publish those details to a blog post or social-media feed immediately.

Toshiba Z830 Ultrabook in cafe

Toshiba Z830 - An Ultrabook with full connectivity options yet can be taken on the road

The 13”-14” subnotebooks / ultraportables, including the Ultrabooks offer the ideal of a compact travel-friendly computer yet have a large screen and a keyboard that allows for the fast and comfortable typing. Typically they can be accommodated on your lap without overwhelming you and can occupy the economy-class airline tray table with room to spare for a drink or notes.

Here, you could go for a full-function computer like the Sony VAIO S Series or the Toshiba L730 or R830 if you use this as your main computer or are likely to place emphasis on functionality. On the other hand, one of the new Ultrabooks can suit your needs better if you have a primary computer at home or work and you intend to just use it for travelling.

The laptop’s secondary-storage capacity is very important if you do take photos or video footage as part of creating your content. Here, you could go for a unit with a hard disk in the order of 320Gb to 500Gb whereas if you are thinking of primarily text-driven work, a solid-state device in the order of 128Gb to 256Gb can suit your needs better.

Work-home laptop for small business

These users will typically be taking the computer between their home and their workplace, usually by stowing it in a briefcase that is slung over one’s shoulder or thrown in to the car boot for the work-home journey. This may include some users who use the computer at the client’s location when they visit their clients.

A 15” business laptop could suit this kind of user because these computers offer better protection options for the data held therein. It may be also worth investigating a 17” business “desktop-replacement” if you just simply take the computer between the office / shop and home; and value that extra screen size.

Moving towards the “new computing environment”

Toshiba Satellite P750 multimedia laptop

Toshiba Satellite P750 multimedia laptop - an example of one that can suit the new computing environment

If you are moving away from the traditional desktop computer towards a laptop-based “new computing environment” where portability is the focus, I would suggest that you look towards a unit that has capacity and performance that answers the original desktop’s main functions.

Here, most 15”-17” laptops would fulfil this need, with the 17” desktop-replacements satisfying this need closely. Most householders could get by with a mainstream consumer laptop or a low-end business variety for their household’s use while a mainstream standard business laptop can satisfy most small-business owners’ needs especially where business security and continuity is imperative.

But I would recommend that anyone who is dabbling in heavy graphics and multimedia work prefer a multimedia laptop. This also includes people who are using their computers as part of DJ work. It is because these computers are typically optimised for the workload and expectations that heavy graphics and multimedia work can ask of a computer.


Once you have gone through this buyer’s guide, you will be able to choose the right laptop that will work perfectly to your needs.

HomeNetworking01.info’s guide to the Boxing Day Sales

Hi everyone!

I am writing this special article which will help you get the most out of your visit to the stores during the Boxing Day Sales. No doubt, you will have enjoyed your Christmas celebrations with your family and friends and are about to see the New Year in. Concurrently, you will be bombarded with print, TV, radio and online advertising by the big consumer-electronics stores and department stores concerning the deep discounts that are offered on computer and consumer-electronics equipment during the Boxing Day sales that will be on this week.

Here, the usual price ranges that you expect for certain classes of equipment may change due to the deep discounting that these retailers do but it is worth paying attention to the features that the equipment offers.

Beware that the “doorbuster specials” and other highly-promoted specials may not offer a good return on their value because they may be low-end equipment that doesn’t have the necessary features that you want out of the equipment. In the case of printers, you may find that you have two ink cartridges that are costly to replace when they run out.


I have started with this class of equipment here because most people end up making mistakes when they buy printers on price alone. Here, the very cheap multifunction printer will typically end up being costly to run and may need new ink very frequently.

When you buy an inkjet printer, look for printers that use four or more ink cartridges. Here, there is one cartridge per colour and if you run out of one particular colour, you just need to replace that cartridge.

As well, some printer manufacturers, most notably HP and Brother, sell multi-cartridge inkjet printers that can take high-capacity cartridges. Here, you benefit from the fact that during low-demand periods, you could get by with standard-capacity cartridges but can run high-capacity cartridges during the high-demand periods like end of school term for example.

A printer that is fully network-enabled can be worth its salt in situations where you have multiple computers or a laptop connected to the Internet via a wireless network. This is more important for a multifunction unit because the network-enabled multifunction units provide network access to the scanner as well as the printer with nearly all of them offering the ability to scan a document to a particular computer from the machine’s control panel. In the case of most of the recent HP (Hewlett-Packard) printers, you gain extra functionality like email-to-print or "print-app” functionality because of the fact that you have network functionality.

Network Infrastructure

Be careful when buying a router for your home network. There are two major classes of routers – a router, sometimes referred to as a broadband router, which only has an Ethernet connection on the Internet side and is designed to connect to a broadband modem; and a modem router, which has an integrated broadband modem, typically an ADSL2+ modem, or, in an increasing number of cases, a wireless-broadband modem for the Internet side.

If you are buying to replace an ADSL modem or older / failed ADSL modem router, it would be preferable to buy an ADSL2+ modem router. Similarly, you could buy an ADSL modem router as the core piece of equipment when you set up a new broadband service in a built-up area and have that service as a “BYO modem” or “wires-only” service, which attracts cheaper setup charges.

If your Internet service uses cable-modem, fixed-wireless, fibre-optic or similar technology and the provider provides a modem or “ONT” as the customer-premises equipment, you could get by with a broadband router connected to the modem’s Ethernet port as the network-Internet “edge”.

As for wireless routers, you may gain a better deal by looking at the 802.11n equipment because you can have them run with existing wireless-enabled network devices by using an 802.11g “compatibility” mode. This may not achieve the full high-speed throughput that 802.11n is designed for but still has a very good operating range for wooden or brick-veneer houses. You will still need to consider the second access point and wired backbone for houses with double-brick or masonry interior walls, including interior fireplaces and brick-veneer extensions built on to double-brick or masonry houses. 

Speaking of which, if you are buying HomePlug powerline equipment, it would be preferable to go for equipment that is based on HomePlug AV standards. Here, this equipment will comply with IEEE 1901 powerline-network standards and work properly with the newer HomePlug AV2 standards. As well, you will get higher data throughput and improved reliability across the powerline network.

Games consoles, TVs and consumer AV

The Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft XBox 360 can work beyond just being a games machine that is hooked up to the TV. These consoles, especially the PlayStation 3, can become very powerful networked media terminals that can benefit from media held on your computer’s hard disk, a network-attached storage device or the Internet.

It is also worth paying extra attention to DLNA-compliant network AV equipment. Here, you can start slowly towards the networked-AV world yet be in a position to play your pictures, music and video collection from your Windows or Mac computer through the use of cheap or free software. You may be able to use your smartphone or tablet computer as a media controller even if the media files are held elsewhere on the network. This can be achieved through the use of DLNA / UPnP AV media-controller software that is ether supplied on your phone or available through the phone’s application store for a modest sum of money or, in some cases, for free.

As well, you may find that an Internet radio may be an entry point in to the world of networked AV and also give you a chance to hear radio from distant lands. This is especially more so if you “cottoned on” to a radio station that you had heard on your travels and were enamoured by its programming. There may be some bargains out there that are worth considering as manufacturers move towards newer models of these radios.

Laptop, Notebook and Netbook Computers

Make sure that you buy the right computer for its role in your IT lifestyle rather than on the price. A 14” or larger laptop would work well as an easily-transportable alternative to a desktop or all-in-one whereas a netbook or 13” notebook would work well as a secondary computer that you use when you travel.

If the computer is expected to be the primary computer, look towards increased hard-disk capacity and RAM memory. Dedicated graphics may be important if games, multimedia and graphics are important to your computing life. Conversely, a 15” laptop with low-tier processor specifications may be useful for retirees who are going to use it primarily for word-processing, email or Web-browsing.


When you plan to take advantage of the Boxing Day Sales to buy your computer equipment, it always pays to know what you want and where you envisage your use of the equipment over the next two to three years.