Buyers' Guide for Notebook PCs

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

Secure Digital Cards

Some notebook manufacturers have introduced secure digital (SD) card slots in their products. SD cards are particularly attractive for their small size. They enable a high level of interoperability among all kinds of devices, such as digital cameras, handheld devices and phones.

The SD I/O slot supports cards for peripherals, such as Bluetooth, cameras, Wi-Fi, GPS receiver cars and other devices. In general, SD cards, including microSD, are the most popular flash cards available, but other flashcard formats have been used in notebooks. Traction has been limited, however, to PCs that support particular vertical applications where a camera, PDA or other peripheral is sharing data with the notebook.

USB flash drives

The relatively high speed of USB 2.0 ports and the debut of USB 3.0 capable flash drives enables the uses of external storage options, including the extremely popular USB flash drives. These USB flash memory storage devices plug directly into any USB port and can be used for storing virtually any digital data. Flash drive memory keys range in size from 64MB to 256GB. As higher-capacity USB flash drives of 4GB and greater have become affordable enabling users to create a “portable personality” allowing them to customize and store their preferences for use across multiple computers.

Docking stations

Another way to add peripherals to a mobile computer is through an expansion chassis that might be a fully loaded docking station or a minimal port replicator. Most notebooks, but not all, have a proprietary bus that enables them to plug into the expansion chassis.

Docking stations are geared for users who want to keep the travelling weight of their notebooks low when on the road, while maintaining the full functionality of a desktop PC in the office. Users can plug their keyboards, monitors, network connectors, printers and peripherals into the docking station, rather than the notebook. That way, users can simply remove and replace the notebook in the docking station without detaching and re-attaching cables.

Port replicators are a lower cost expansion option. For most applications, Gartner said port replicators are all that is needed. Major business class systems provide docking station and port replicator compatibility across most of their product lines for at least two generations of notebook products.

If the docking stations are compatible with multiple models, then users can more easily move from one location to another, and IT can upgrade some or all users without replacing some or all docking stations. Gartner said this level of asset protection can mean considerable cost savings, because docking stations may cost up to one-third the price of the notebook.

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