Tools: Desktop or laptop?

Subject: Tools: Desktop or laptop?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, "'Fisher, Melissa'" <Melissa -dot- Fisher -at- delta-air -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 7 Sep 2000 10:01:10 -0400

Melissa Fisher <<...will be getting a new computer and have the luxury of
choosing between a laptop and desktop. I'll be working from home from here
on out and I'd like your opinions regarding the reliability of a laptop.>>

Laptops obviously offer far greater flexibility than desktops, since you can
obviously move them around much more easily; even better, the newer ones
often have screens that make standard monitors look entirely inadequate. The
tradeoffs (disadvantages of a laptop)? Substantially greater cost (you could
often buy both a gently used laptop _and_ a fast desktop for the cost of a
high-end laptop), a slower hard disk, typically slower system performance
than a desktop with the same processor speed, much more difficult and
expensive expansion and upgrading, an inferior keyboard, a smaller screen (I
consider 17 inches a practical minimum these days and 19 inches), and
(generally) lower level of reliability (see below). Repairs can also be a
problem; most good computer stores can fix a broken desktop in a day or two
with in-stock parts; when a laptop dies, they generally have to return it to
the manufacturer (in my experience), with all the cost and delays that
entails. If you do buy a laptop, seriously consider investing in a separate
keyboard and monitor for use while you're tied to the desk. And if you're
almost always going to be tied to a desk, consider a desktop computer
instead.

<<Do you find laptops to be less reliable than desktops, or more prone to
failure?>>

The surveys I've seen (e.g., PC Magazine's annual service and reliability
survey, probably online at www.pcmag.com) generally show much greater
frequencies of problems with laptops. The most obvious cause of this is
mishandling (I've seen people treating their laptops like frisbees), but the
nature of the beast also contributes to the problems: to shave weights to
less than the magical 7-pound limit* (maybe George Miller was onto something
after all! <g>), laptop manufacturers often end up using smaller or lighter
and less robust components, and this increases the risk of breakage. The
hinge that lets the screen fold down seems to be a common point of failure.

* Is it just me, or shouldn't we expect an average healthy adult to be able
to lug a 10-pound weight without complaining? Yet so many industry
columnists lambaste a manufacturer that dares exceed the 7-pound limit.
Maybe we Canucks are just a heartier breed than you Yanks? <gdrlh>

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Technical writing... requires understanding the audience, understanding
what activities the user wants to accomplish, and translating the often
idiosyncratic and unplanned design into something that appears to make
sense."--Donald Norman, The Invisible Computer




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