Correction to This Article
The comparison of laptop computers in the Aug. 13 Business section incorrectly said that none of the models included e-mail software capable of screening out spam automatically. None of the Windows machines had such a program, but the Apple MacBook did have one, Apple's Mail.

6 Ways to Go

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By Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 13, 2006

Laptop computers come in so many sizes, shapes and forms -- and trying to figure out which one is best for you can be challenging. We borrowed six machines with a variety of specifications and features: the Apple MacBook ($1,099), Dell's Inspiron E1405 ($1,160), the Gateway NX260X ($1,220), Hewlett-Packard's Pavilion dv2000t ($1,225 before a $50 mail-in rebate), the Lenovo ThinkPad Z61t ($1,399) and Toshiba's Satellite M105-S3064 ($1,150).

For each, we looked at pricing, weight and power issues such as battery life, heat and noise. We checked out the design and performance of each machine, as well as the included software and number of expansion and connection ports. Finally, we sampled the tech support provided by the manufacturers.

PRICE

The cheapest model in this bunch came from Apple, the $1,099 MacBook. That price, however, requires giving up the DVD-recording capability and extra memory offered by most laptops in this lineup.

Dell, Gateway, HP and Toshiba sell cheaper versions of the tested laptops for those willing to accept less processing power, storage or memory. For instance, an entry-level version of the HP Pavilion dv2000t (sold only online) goes for $800, while Dell's cheapest Inspiron E1405 costs $699.

WEIGHT

Apple and Lenovo rule this category. The tested ThinkPad and MacBook each weighed only about 5.1 pounds, with power adapters adding about 10 and 9 ounces, respectively. The Toshiba weighed a bit over 5.3 pounds -- plus nearly a pound for its power brick -- while the Dell, HP and the Gateway laptops exceeded the 5.5-pound mark. The heaviest setup of them all on the road? The Inspiron and its power adapter, just shy of 6.5 pounds together.

POWER

Apple and Gateway offered the best battery life. In a worst-case test -- DVD playback with the screen fully backlit and all power-saving options off -- the MacBook lasted 2 hours and 40 minutes and the Gateway ran for 2:53. In a best-case test -- digital-music playback with the screen dimmed to its lowest visible level and all power-saving options on -- the MacBook hit 4:32; the Gateway, 4:20.

The Dell lasted 4:08 in the music test but just 2:10 in the DVD test. The Toshiba, Lenovo and HP machines did the worst; they lasted no longer than 2:50 in the best-case music test. (Dell, Gateway, HP, Lenovo and Toshiba offer higher-capacity, heavier batteries.)

These machines had issues with other unwanted consequences of today's fast processors -- noise and heat. The MacBook's underside approached beach-sand-in-the-sun temperatures, and the Gateway and HP laptops weren't much cooler. Yet the MacBook was the quietest in normal operation.

DESIGN


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