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Topic: Buying a Computer: Laptops vs. Desktops

Speakers: Ivy Silverman & Jim Adams

The past month's TPC Meeting featured a lively discussion between the speakers and the members about the pros and cons of desktop and laptop computers. Originally, the two speakers were planning to take sides in a debate, but after finding out that both Ivy and Jim preferred their laptops to the desktops in most respects, they decided to make little of presentation and more of discussion. This format made it possible for many of the people attending to ask questions and to give input into the discussion, and it ended up being one of the most participatory meeting of recent memory. Many issues and questions were discussed at length. They included the following:
  • Failures and disasters involving laptops
  • Power issues
  • Need for docking stations, quick connect, and other devices for using peripherals with laptops
  • PCMCIA and LAN cards
  • Removable hard drives and other peripherals
  • Which desktop to buy, and where to buy (U.S., Japan)
  • Cellular modems, ISDN
  • Batteries
  • Screen Brightness
A careful observation of the list above reveals the fact that most of these issues are those pertaining to the special needs of laptop computers. Laptops, mainly as a result of the downsizing of the units, lack some of the power, connectors, and space to add connectors that are expected in any desktop computer. Thus, one needs to be careful about the battery power (length of use), the feasibility and cost of adding connectors for peripheral devices, memory expansion capability, screen brightness, and many other things to create the ease of use that is generally expected of desktop models.

However, a laptop does have the capability of actually going mobile. While one could lug a desktop from office to home in a car, anyone who did this more than a couple of times in a year would probably consider buying a second desktop computer or lugging a laptop instead. While a laptop will still weigh several pounds at least and, often, up to several kilos, it can be taken basically anywhere. Especially for someone who can leave an extra battery pack and recharger in several locations, the laptop becomes much lighter without the battery. Still, a laptop is a hassle to tote, and how much do you actually work on planes and in coffee shops around town anyway?

Desktops are, in general, very generic; this is their very great advantage. A generic computer can have parts exchanged and upgraded very easily and relatively cheaply. A desktop can go from being a 286 to a 386 to a 486 to a Pentium almost as quickly as you can say "Sayonara Motherboard", and peripherals and monitors and printers can be added at will (if the pocketbook can keep up with the expansion plans). However, a desktop computer, for all its advantages, is a big item, often taking up, well, your entire desktop. In an average Japanese "mansion" for a family of four, taking up the space of an entire desktop often means throwing out the bed and sleeping on a futon with your head tucked between the office chairs.

In a nutshell, while a great many TPC members, including the speakers, use laptop computers, there are many disadvantages to using laptops, which usually make a laptop an unwise choice unless the user will actually be using the computer in more than one location. Going one step further, it seems that many would agree that your first computer should be a desktop, and your second a laptop. With a desktop in the office, running on a LAN with a network server connected to a WAN, and a home laptop which can be connected by ISDN to the office desktop remotely, you'd basically solve most of your computing needs. However, unless your company will finance the system, such as if it's a bank with substantial capital expenditures for information technologies, your choices are still probably limited by your financial resources.

At the end of the discussion, Ivy and Jim invited everyone to look at their laptops, and many were enthralled by Jim's 16MB RAM/540MB HDD IBM ThinkPad with color display. His laptop, the lightest on the market with the brightest display and completely removable internal mechanisms, is probably the best laptop on the market today. It is also one of the most expensive and is priced higher that the cheaper Pentium power desktops. Still, the newest technologies in computers are all getting smaller, faster, and more powerful, and Ivy, Jim, and many of the TPC members agreed that the two product lines will narrow in the future. It is indeed quite likely that in the future all computers will be portable, and that peripheral devices will be much easier to attach and detach. I hope that this is true.

Future meetings:

February's meeting, on the 2nd, will feature a presentation on Japanese word processing on English systems. The discussion will include freeware and shareware WPs, as well as WinV. The presenters will be Greg Smith of Fast River Systems, and Michael Yoshii, a licensed foreign attorney at law. Michael, you probably all remember, wrote a well received article in these pages a few months ago about Japanese word processing.

Other meetings being planned this year include:

  • a computer games presentation
  • personal hand-held computing devices
  • Chicago/Windows 95,
  • virtual reality,
  • and a icon-based programming language.
Any ideas for programs are welcome, so please give me a call or talk to me at a meeting. Mike Kato, Program Director

Akihabara Shopping Tour

Sigi Rindler, the TPC's Membership Chair and resident expert on finding bargins in Akihabara, will be guiding a tour of shops in Tokyo's Electric Town. Come along and learn where to get the best buys in hardware, software, books, accessories, even audio CDs.

Date: January 21, 1995

Time: 11:00

Meeting Place: Akihabara Station

Information: Call Sigi Rindler

© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

January, 1995

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN