Buyers' Guide for Notebook PCs

Your guide to choosing the best notebook PC for your small or medium business

Shopping Checklist

The following checklist covers a range of features to consider when making your purchase including processor type, memory, storage, graphics and peripherals.

Processors

Although the processors in all PCs use the same instruction set, notebook processors are designed with lower power requirements and more aggressive power management capabilities that extend battery life and improve thermal characteristics.

Most notebooks aimed at the corporate market are based on Intel processors. Intel’s current family of mainstream notebook processors are the Core i3, i5 and i7 processor families, which have replaced the older Core 2 processors.

Although AMD processors are gaining some traction in corporate notebooks, its largest mobile presence is in the consumer and small to medium business (SMB) markets with the AMD Phenom II dual-Core, AMD Triple Core and Quad Core Mobile Processors, AMD Turion II Dual-Core Mobile , and AMD Turion II Neo Dual-Core Processor for Ultrathin

Notebooks

Earlier this year Intel introduced another processor generation (second generation Core processors) based on the Sandy Bridge architecture. IT research firm Gartner said these new processors contain significant improvements in the areas of a better fully integrated graphics controller, a new ring bus architecture and improved turbo mode. Gartner recommends the new Sandy Bridge processors for all new corporate notebook purchases.

Stable Image Programs

Intel and AMD have introduced stable image platform programs that batch processor and chipset driver changes. These programs are targeted at corporate systems and help minimise the number of system changes that large organisations have to make during the life of their systems. Usually, the changes are batched at predictable intervals to assist notebook OEM and user planning cycles.

Even with a stable image platform, the only absolute guarantee of system stability will come from the notebook OEM, not the processor vendor. Stable image platforms make it easier for OEMs to maintain system image stability for their customers.

Gartner said organisations are advised to check with their notebook suppliers about actual notebook image stability.

Memory

Notebook memory is slightly more expensive than desktop memory. Since 2008 notebook systems have moved to DDR3 which consumes less power and delivers higher bandwidth. Gartner does not expect a shift to DDR4 memory for several years.

Gartner’s minimum memory recommendation for all classes of notebooks is now 2GB, although most systems are being configured with 4GB. While 2GB is enough to support the growing complexity and variety of applications used simultaneously by mainstream knowledge workers, moving to 4GB provides greater headroom and supports a move to a 64-bit version of Windows 7.

Gartner analyst, Federica Troni, said even applications that run with less memory benefit from the performance boost that additional memory usually provides for notebooks.

Troni said the key is to buy sufficient memory upfront and avoid the additional $100 cost, on average, for an upgrade during the product’s life span.

He said organisations looking to leverage virtual machines on their notebooks will want to install at least 4GB of memory and should run a 64-bit installation of Windows 7.

Graphics

Modern computing devices use a graphics processing unit (GPU) to generate images on the display. Graphics devices can be discrete processors or integrated into the chipset or the CPU.

Discrete graphics provide greater performance and support more capabilities (better level or 3D acceleration, higher resolutions and multi-display support). A separate graphics processor can be scaled up to a level of complexity that would be impossible to match in an integrated part, Gartner said.

However, with additional performance comes additional cost. On the other hand, Gartner said integrated graphics processors have less complex designs and use a Unified Memory Architecture. Also, integrated graphics are less expensive and consume less power which results in slightly longer battery life.

The largest providers of discrete graphics are AMD and Nvidia while Intel is the largest provider of integrated graphics as part of its chipsets and CPUs. Intel chipsets that contain integrated graphics usually have the prefix G. Sandy Bridge processors are the first to combine the GPU onto the CPU die.

For the most part business users seldom require the performance of a discrete graphics adapter, unless they are attaching multiple external monitors, using very high-resolution displays or have graphically intensive application needs.

The drivers associated with discrete graphics adapters tend to be upgraded frequently. But overall enterprise PC makers have demonstrated a good ability to maintain reasonable consistency in their drivers.

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