Like many others, I switched to using notebook (or so-called “laptop”) computers years ago after realizing that having a computer I could bring with me anywhere meant I’d never have to decipher my own chicken scratch in a paper notebook ever again. That was the clear distinction between a notebook and a desktop computer: portability. Sure, you could throw your LCD monitor, 20-pound desktop tower, keyboard, and mouse into a large backpack and take it anywhere you like, but the idea of hauling around something in the sub-six-pound range was a lot more appealing.
My current notebook has a screen that’s roughly 14 inches wide. (As with TVs, the width of a computer screen is measured diagonally from one corner to the opposite.) When I first got it nearly five years ago, that was a relatively standard size for notebook screens. Today, notebooks are much more commonly found in sizes ranging from 15 to 17 inches, and there are already several notebooks on the market above 20 inches! These monsters won’t fit into most standard notebook carrying bags… or most non-standard bags. In fact, your best bet for hauling around these giants is stealing a pillowcase from your bedroom and shoving it in that!
While the 20-inchers are typically priced at the high end ($2,000+), an alarming trend has appeared in recent months: wider notebooks are actually cheaper than their smaller counterparts. Most of the major manufacturers—Dell, HP/Compaq, Gateway, Sony, and others—offer customizable screen sizes for the same notebook configuration, and you’ll generally have to pay anywhere from $50 to $200 more to downsize from a 15.4-inch screen to a 14.1 or 13.3. The reasons for the price premium are many:
- Smaller screens mean smaller parts needed. The extra inch or two provided to wider notebooks means you can cram bigger parts in that are easier and cheaper to manufacture.
- Smaller screens are often viewed as more desirable. People really do want the smaller notebooks, but since notebook makers aren’t really listening to that demand, they can charge more for the smaller ones because people will buy them right up.
- Businesses are willing to pay more for smaller screens. Companies with lots of money to invest in notebooks for its employees are usually first in line for the smaller-sized notebooks. Smaller notebooks work best for companies because they take up less office real estate and won’t cripple their workers who carry them to and fro.
The funny thing about these 17-inch+ notebooks is that the classic “laptop” designation given to notebook-sized computers really no longer applies to them unless you’ve got an extra-large lap. And I doubt there’s anyone with a 20-inch lap who has fingers small enough to use a notebook keyboard. A new phrase was coined to describe these big machines—”desktop replacements,” meaning they’re as powerful as your three-year-old desktop computer, but you can probably still tote it around if needed.
So the next time you’re in the market for a notebook computer, you’ll definitely want to give ample consideration to the appropriate screen size and weight for your needs. All too often, I’ve run into people who only paid attention to things like processor speed and disk drive space when purchasing their notebooks, and they’re always complaining that they hate lugging around their 17-inch, nine-pound monstrosity.
As for me, since my notebook is still in Stage 3 of its lifecycle, I’m hoping a good deal on a sub-15-inch notebook will come along this summer because I absolutely refuse to buy one that’s bigger than what I have now. In fact, I might try to hold out for Dell’s upcoming mini-laptop offering, shown here at almost actual size! Okay, at nine inches, it’s slightly bigger than pictured, but it’s still a far cry from those 20-inch behemoths that’ll keep chiropractors in business for the next half-century.