Law Office Computing December/January 1996 Winton Woods
Buying a Notebook Computer
have spent the last several months exploring Notebook computers. The only thing that I am certain about is that you ought not to buy a Notebook computer that doesn't have a 30-day return privilege for any reason. You need to work with and set up your Notebook before you decide whether or not you want to invest several thousand dollars of your hard earned money in it. Brand names don't always insure that the Notebook is usable. I will tell you a few stories about my experiences over the last months.
have had a Compaq Concerto 486 Notebook for years and I absolutely love it. Instead of a mouse it is driven by a light pen and it is terrific for presenting and annotating documents. The pen is an easy way to move around the Windows screen and basically I am very happy with the machine. It has two deficiencies however. First, it does not have the capability of running Windows 95 and I am slowly but surely moving over to that platform. Secondly, like everybody else, I have become enamored of colored screens, not only because they are prettier, but because they are more functional. Things that get smooshed together on a monochrome screen stand out clearly on a color screen. So with those goals in mind, in the middle of the summer I started to search for a replacement for my trusty old Compaq.
had a theory and a budget in mind when I began that search. I believe that the cost of high speed desktop replacement quality Notebook computers is going to drop very rapidly in the course of the next year or so. Indeed, my expectation is that a computer that today would cost around $6,000 will be available in 1998 for less than half of that. In addition, I am certain that the features of the high end Notebook computers 18 months out from here will be a substantial increase in functionality and usefulness. Because I believe that firmly, I set myself a budget of under $3,000 for the computer that would fill that interim gap.
he first Notebook computer that I brought home was an IBM 365 ED. It had a built-in CD ROM drive and 8 megabytes of RAM. Since Windows 95 just doesn't run very well with 8 megabytes of RAM, I was required to purchase an additional 8 megabyte chip for $250. The basic computer cost $2,000 and with tax and other things I was well within my budget. The computer came with Windows 95 and Lotus SmartSuite installed along with a bunch of other smaller applications. While I liked the computer very much at the beginning, I was bothered by the very low quality of the screen and the kind of flimsy construction that seemed to be inconsistent with what I thought IBM would produce. The computer functioned pretty well for several weeks, however, and then it died. I took it back to OfficeMax and they gave me back my money without any hassle whatsoever.
y next computer was a NEC 2200 from Circuit City. It was priced a little more than the IBM but only had 8 megs of RAM. The additional RAM cards cost about $400. The machine did not have a built-in CD ROM, but it came with a coupon that allowed you to get a docking station with a CD ROM built in to it free of charge. I sent in the coupon to get the docking station and heard nothing more from NEC. A few weeks later the computer completely died and I took it back to Circuit City. I learned two things from the NEC computer, however. First, I learned that I really like the touch pad mouse on the lap top. I also learned that I wanted to be careful about the quality of the screen since the one on the NEC was fairly dim. The next computer that I brought home was a Sharp 9000. It had a big 1.1 gigabyte hard drive and built-in CD ROM. It had a slightly better screen than the other two but it still was pretty dim. Basically, however, I liked working with the computer. It seemed to have a solid feel and generally gave me a sense of quality that had been lacking in the IBM computer. I had a court hearing coming up and I decided to put the documents that I needed to show to the judge on that computer. It was then that I discovered a fatal flaw in the Sharp 9000. When it is hooked up to an external monitor, the external monitor flickers badly when the machine is in the dual display mode. I had put a monitor up in front of the judge and in order to get it to display well, I had to turn off the screen at the computer itself. That required that I go through a little routine in which I used the computer screen to bring up and prepare the document for presentation and then to turn off that screen so the judge could look at it without the annoying flicker. No matter what I tried, I could not get the screen to stop flickering when it was in dual display mode. Since the whole purpose of buying a Windows 95 color lap top is to allow it to be taken to court and used there, the flickering problem was a deal killer.
was starting to get frustrated. I began to wonder whether the less expensive dual scan color screens were simply inadequate. I began to wonder whether anybody had put together all of the features that I wanted in a Notebook computer: Windows 95, a high-quality color screen, 16 megabytes of RAM, a large hard drive, a CD ROM drive and a touch pad mouse. I started skimming the PC magazines to see what kinds of machines were advertised. And while there were lots of them that had those features at a reasonable price, they had odd names and came from places I knew not where. There were several that seemed to have most of those features but they could not be purchased on a 30-day return plan and by this time I was totally unwilling to take a chance. I had about decided that my hope of finding a computer with all of the characteristics that I wanted for under $3,000 was not going to happen when I ran across an ad from Dell Computer Corporation. Now I had a bad experience with Dell several years ago and I basically had written them off my list. But the computer they had advertised had all of the characteristics that I wanted at the price I was willing to pay, along with the 30-day return privilege. I decided to take a chance and I am glad I did. It took them several weeks longer than they said to build the computer that they sent me, but it arrived the other day and it appears to have every characteristic that I want. The screen is bright and clear, the CD ROM drive works like a charm, the 16 megs of RAM make the machine reasonably fast. The Dell is obviously very well constructed. The output in dual display mode to a 17-inch SGVA monitor is sensational and the touch pad mouse is the best of any of the ones I tried. I thought I was set until I tried to use the Dell with my LCD based projector in the Courtroom of the Future. It conflicted in some way and since I need to use it there on a regular basis I decided to keep looking.
found happiness with a Toshiba Satellite Pro. It doesn't conflict with any of the displays I need to use on a regular basis. It has a terrific screen and I was able to add 16 megs of RAM for a little over $200. With 24 megs of RAM and a great sound card, you have a fully functional multi-media computer at decent price. It has very flexible video output capabilities and comes with a terrific set of basic software. One feature I really like is the fact that the Toshiba notebooks do not require an external power source. You simply plug them in with a normal line cord. You can buy the Satellite Pro 420 for around $2300 at Price Club and the Pro 425 for about a $150 bucks more at OfficeMax. The only difference is the additional software and if you can use a great video player and a basic set of office software the Pro 425 is probably the way to go. You will have "out of the box" functionality at a reasonable price. In fact, I like the Satellite so much that I purchased one for my daughter who is a sophomore in college and who had expressed endless frustration with her Mac notebook computer. Now she will have complete compatibility with my office set up and with the computers at the business school. Windows 95 has allowed us finally to bridge that gap and I guess I owe Bill Gates a vote of thanks for bringing my family together again!!
ave a great New Year. I hope to see you at the Courtroom of the Future in 1997!!