Super Light Laptop Choices

For years, I've been lugging an aged and heavy Dell around, hoping it would break so I could replace it with something lighter. But they build them tough. And I had a good warranty. The first major collapse came a month before the 3-year warranty lapsed, and they came and fixed it almost as good as new.

Then one of the Alt keys died. But you can't replace a laptop just because one redundant key goes.

But now, finally, I've run into a problem I can't solve, which means I need a new laptop.

Even stripped down to the minimum software I need to feel equipped for foreseeable contingencies, the hard drive is full. Mostly this is due to bloatware, but sometimes you need to use the bloatware to be compatible with your editors.

I could strip out the win98se operating system and replace it with something nicer and smaller, but it turns out to be remarkably hard to run my favorite wordprocessor—WordPerfect—under linux. So although once supplanted, the Dell may become a linux machine, it won't do for my work-travel machine.

So I need a new laptop. And as a recovering sufferer of a repetitive strain injury caused by too much typing, I want a decent sized keyboard, and I want it light. To keep down the weight, I'll sacrifice processor speed, video card, size of screen, pretty much anything, except I need a decent keyboard, 20mb hard drive and at the very minimum 256 MB of RAM.

What I can't decide is whether to get a machine that I hope will last four or more years, or get one with a shorter obsolescence trajectory. After all, it could be that my next 'laptop' after this one won't be a laptop at all. It might be a PDA with a keyboard. [I don't yet have a PDA. I'm convinced I would lose it. But I've thought about it.] Already I have some students who take their notes on them, and wireless connect to look up definitions of words, even find cases illustrating something we're talking about — quite a weird sensation when it happens. But, even with this innovation the browser capabilities of the tiny screens are too off-putting for now.

If money were no object, I'd go for the Toshiba Portége R100, which weighs in at 2.3 pounds, using a Pentium M Processor at 900Mhz. Throw in a CD-Rom, and you are up almost another pound. Add maybe a small memory upgrade, a carrying case, a USB flash drive so you don't have to carry the floppy drive, tax and shipping, and it's $2,800. Plus any fancy warranty extensions.

A second nearly as expensive top of the line choice would be Dell's Latitude X300, which weighs almost 3 pounds, and sports a Pentium M Processor at 1.2GHz. Throw in the same upgrades, and it's about $2100…and it comes with an amazing “complete care” warranty that protects against spilling a drink on it. Which I am capable of doing.

But this sounds like an awful lot of money. I have desktops at home and at work, but I go through occasional periods of work related travel for which I really want a laptop. Plus we tend to go away for several weeks in the summer, and then I want a portable office. So this is something that I'll use most intensively for a chunk of the summer, plus the occasional conference. At home, I'll most use it when the kids take over my desktop to do their homework, as they increasingly do on a daily basis….

At the other end of the spectrum from the fancy toys are the refurbished and repossessed toys of yesteryear. An attractive example is an old Dell Latitude once listed at $3299. It has a Pentium III at 500 Mhz — so it will have much less battery life than the newer models. It weighs in at a bulgy 3.4 pounds, although this is still much better than what I have now. With 256 MB of RAM, a 20GB drive, and a 90-day warranty, is $729, plus tax, shipping, and the cost of wireless card (wireless is built into the two fancy models above). It comes with Win 2000 Pro, but I can get XP for nearly free via the University. Call it $850 all in with the card.

So, there is a workable solution, although it's a bit light in the warranty department, that should last me at least two years for $850. Or I can buy a really cool, really light, really shiny toy, for three times that.

In the past, I was keen on the toys. Now, with visions of college fees dancing in my head, I'm leaning to the refurbished model. Am I getting old?

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5 Responses to Super Light Laptop Choices

  1. Brad DeLong says:

    The Apple 12″ Powerbook is the perfect computer.

    Need I say more?


  2. Larry Staton Jr. says:

    I second Brad’s recommendation for the 12” Powerbook and the newest OS release, Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther), is excellent.

  3. Michael says:

    Down, guys. As Brad knows, I’m an old Dos hand (and was in the early 80s employed to do some unix work once, but now have to relearn it). I am not a Mac guy. None of those ‘intuitive’ things make any sense to me.

    But anyway, despite the nice specs it weighs 4.6 pounds! (OK, that includes the built-in optical drive, but stil.l) And starts at $1599! This maximizes neither portability nor thrift. And does it run recent versons of WordPerfect?

  4. Matthew says:

    I have a Compaq/HP tablet that has the added benefit of handwriting recognition built in. I think it’s about 3 lbs. or so. (There’s also a Toshiba one that another law student has, but it looks slightly bulkier than mine.)

  5. As a Wordperfect user with RSI, here are suggestions:

    (1) Forego Wordperfect 9on your laptop (you can still use it on your desktop) for superior reliability, instant on-off, and what many people find to be the best keyboard othey’ve ever used on any computer, period: the Psion netBook. See for some notes on my experience with a netBook. The Windows syncronization software does good conversions between Wordperfect and EPOC Word files.

    or (2) Using voice recognition (I do most of my first drafts and e-mail that way) may reduce the importance you place on keyboard size. Current subnotebooks have ample hardware capabilities to run Dragon Naturally Speaking. If you are willing to consider substandard keyboard sizes, you could look at the Windows subnotebooks at

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