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Fast Forward by Rob Pegoraro

The Rightness Of Lightness

By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, July 11, 2004; Page F01

The laptop computer business is doing better than ever, but the idea of the laptop computer is getting scrambled in the process.

Instead of a lightweight computer that's meant to be used on the go, many laptops these days weigh too much to be toted any farther than from a desk to a sofa. Weirder yet, some manufacturers act as if consumers don't even care what a laptop weighs.

_____Live Online_____
Transcript: Rob Pegoraro was online on July 12 to discuss the 2004 laptop guide.

HP doesn't make a single consumer laptop lighter than 6.5 pounds, and its print ads fail to list the poundage of any of its portable models -- even those in the thin-and-light category. At Toshiba's Web site, you must download a spec-sheet document, thick with fine print, to see what kind of dent each machine will put in your shoulder.

The underlying trend here is that so many laptops are bought to take the place of desktop machines. As the cost and performance gap between desk-bound and portable machines has steadily shrunk, consumers have started going with the computers that take up less space. (The scarcity of desktop systems that aren't built around bulky tower cases also may be a factor.)

Computers bought along these lines are best thought of as all-in-one desktop systems with built-in uninterruptible power supplies. They won't rack up any travel miles, nor are they even likely to spend much time on laps -- 10 pounds of warm computer quickly becomes uncomfortable in that position.

Some vendors, however, seem to be taking the popularity of this "desktop replacement" concept a little too far -- as an excuse to give up on portability entirely.

They appear content to forgo even minimal attempts to trim the weight of their products, shipping eight-, nine- or 10-pound behemoths (even while some competitors offer lighter machines at the same price and with the same capabilities). It's hard to escape the feeling that some folks in the industry have just gotten lazy.

Many customers, in turn, have obliged this practice by continuing to buy machines on clock speed alone, even though the slowest new chip is more than fast enough for most uses.

This is a big mistake all around. The history of computing is one of unexpected uses -- consider, for instance, how the MP3 format, an obscurity seven years ago, has made the PC many people's stereo system.

Today, WiFi wireless networking is having a similar effect, inviting customers to pick up that laptop and move it around the house -- and outside, thanks to the growing number of cheap or free WiFi hot spots at coffee shops, bookstores and libraries.

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