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Picking the Perfect Notebook

I received an interesting question this last week from a guy trying to choose between two brand new notebooks in HP’s line: the DV2 and DV3. In answering his question, it occurred to me that people often don’t think about what they want to use a notebook for before making their selection. While Windows offers consumers more choices, that can also be one of the problems, because folks don’t know how to choose. Let’s use these two notebooks as a way to help pick the notebook that will best serve you. We’ll start by introducing you to the DV2 and DV3 and then go into how you might choose between them.

HP DV2Mini Blu-ray Machine: The DV2

I’m actually in Malta this week using HP’s DV2, and can say that it’s a unique product. It has a 12-inch screen, a 1.6GHz single-core, high-efficiency processor, discrete graphics subsystem, four-cell battery (with six cell versions optional), external optical drive (Blu-ray optional), flash card reader, 320GB drive, 2GB of memory, HDMI out, and an LED-backlit display. Starting price is around $750, but it costs around $900 with the Blu-ray drive.

Besides being portable, the DV2 will play most games well enough to get by, and shines with titles like World of Warcraft. It is the most portable Blu-ray player in the market at the moment, one of the thinnest laptops, and weighs less than four pounds. You don’t really appreciate the Blu-ray performance until you plug this into a big screen TV.

HP DV3A Real Workhorse: The DV3

The larger HP DV3 offers a 13.3-inch screen, 2.2GHz to 2.4GHz processors, similar hard drive, graphics, and ports. You can equip it with up to a nine-cell battery, but while it has a built-in optical drive, there is no Blu-ray option. It also has a lighted keyboard. Weight should be around five pounds fully configured with the nine-cell battery, and price runs about $50 more than the base DV2 configuration – $799. The fact that these two products are actually very similar helps us in this effort.


Sizing Them Up

If small, sexy, and high-tech is important, then the DV2 is the better product for you. It’s considered a hybrid between a netbook and a notebook, with vastly better graphics performance, battery life similar to a netbook, and it’s the only product in its class with Blu-ray as an option. This is a technology showcase product, from its size, to the technology that is visible on it (at least when it is bundled Blu-Ray), and it may be one of the least costly ways to take Blu-ray on the road. Traditionally, products in this 12-inch class sold for over $2,000, because making things small used to cost a huge premium.

If productivity is important, then the DV3 is for you. The 13.3-inch screen size and dual-core processor should make working on the DV3 much more enjoyable, and with the optional nine-cell battery, you should have nearly five hours of battery life (while the DV2 is closer to three hours). Having a larger, backlit keyboard will allow you to be more comfortable typing on the product, day or night. You can still watch movies, just not Blu-ray movies, and as with the DV2, you can bring an HDMI cable with you to watch them on most hotel TVs.

HP DV2 & HP DV3

HP DV2 & HP DV3

Decision Time

If you were thinking about a netbook, but considered them too small and limited, if you wanted a very portable Blu-Ray player, or if you’d always wanted something small but were turned off by the higher price, you’d drift toward the DV2. If what you wanted was something you were going to live off of as your primary computer, or needed something with longer battery life and didn’t care about Blu-ray, the DV3 would be the better choice. In reality, if you thought about your priorities first, you would never have to decide between these two products any more than you’d ever need to choose between a Miata sports car and an SUV.

Once you know what you want, you can reduce the choices you have to make, and simply chose the product out of a class of machines, rather than the entire population of them.

Which Sizes Work for What?

The smallest size screen you can actually live on is 12 inches. A 14-inch widescreen is the largest size that will fit comfortably on the tray in most coach airline seats, but 13.3 inches feels more ideal in this use, and it is also one of the most popular sizes. Also, 13.3-inch screens typically give you a full-sized keyboard, which can be important for those of us that have big hands. Anything larger than a 14-inch widescreen is very difficult to comfortably use in a coach airline seat. If you do a lot of productivity work, then you will want more than one processor core, and if you do any graphics work or want to watch HD movies, you’ll need discrete graphics (though it will cost you battery life). On the road, you’ll want something that will take a nine-cell or better battery, to get the required battery life. I’m personally not a fan of large hard drives on laptops, because they encourage people to put a large amount of company information on them, which can be problematic if the thing gets stolen. However, if given a choice, I’d pick speed over capacity in almost all cases, when it comes to hard drives.

MacBook AirWrapping Up

Before buying your next laptop, think about what is important to you. Cool does count, which is why products like the MacBook Air sell well. Don’t forget to set a budget, and realize that you can actually get, as these offerings demonstrate, some impressive technology for under $900. Also remember to check the return policy, and make sure that if you take a notebook home and realize it isn’t right for you, that you can return it. When you fire up a new notebook, both the antivirus and the search programs will need to index your files, so applications may open and close slowly, particularly on single-core products like the DV2. It may be wise to just let the computer burn in for a few hours after you first set it up, so that it can complete these tasks when you aren’t using it, and you’ll find it much faster when you are done.

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