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Notebook & Laptop Computers

Definition:   A laptop computer, or laptop (also called a notebook computer, or notebook) is “a standalone computer, designed expressly to be used as a portable computing device, which possesses most or all of the functionality of a desktop computer.” [author’s definition]

Because of the requirement for portability, which necessitates reduced size in comparison to desktop computers, laptops do not pack the performance of desktops on a dollar-for-dollar basis. This cost differential is due primarily to component miniaturization, which is expensive because it requires a higher level of technology, and the necessity for a flat-panel display such as a liquid crystal or plasma display, essential for weight reduction. (Can you imagine hauling a CRT monitor around with your laptop?).

In recent years laptop and notebook computers have narrowed the gap in computing power as technologies involving miniaturization, cooling and power consumption have advanced. At the same time, the increase in mobility of today’s society, including the advent of the mobile workplace, and a subsequent desire on the part of consumers to take their creature comforts, such as music and DVD players, with them when they travel has led to burgeoning laptop and notebook computer sales. This explosion in demand has fueled competition, which has further reduced the price point. Simply put, laptops have gotten cheaper, and are now within range of nearly all consumers of computing products.

Of all the hurdles involved in making laptops viable as mobile computing devices, overcoming the power consumption issue has been perhaps the greatest problem to surmount. (We must, of course, remember the defining moment when the flat panel display was introduced, without which laptop and notebook computers would never have been possible.) Chip makers have scrambled to reduce power consumption in CPUs, memory chips and video display chipsets as they sought to grab a piece of the mobile computing pie.

AMD (Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.) and Intel® (Intel Corporation) have marketed multiple incarnations of power-saving CPU chips which feature power management technology to reduce power consumption and heat output, albeit a corresponding loss of performance can be incurred if power management is too aggressive or if processors are not properly matched by notebook and laptop manufacturers to the devices for which they are intended.

The power sources available for notebook and laptop computers have likewise advanced in sophistication and become more plentiful over the years, although battery life is still a critical issue. New laptop batteries such as lithium ion and lithium polymer batteries have replaced older nickel metal-hydride battery technology. This may be viewed as a step backward by some due to the danger of lithium-ion batteries melting or catching fire when overheated, as exemplified by the now infamous Sony “exploding” battery debacle and recall in 2006 which left numerous laptop manufacturers running for cover as the Christmas selling season approached. Fuel cells, which can power electronic devices for much longer periods, are on the verge of replacing laptop batteries, holding the promise of making your cross-country flight a lot more tolerable.

Authored by Kenneth L. Anderson.  Original article published 16 February 2007.

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