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The Birth of the Optimized PC

It is April which means we are fast approaching Dad’s and Grad’s buying season and for some of you it will be time for a new PC and, given trends, most of you will probably be getting laptops.

Life has historically sucked for laptop users that like to play games, and if you are someone that is thinking “green” but likes performance, it has kind of sucked for you too. The problem has been if you want long battery life or an electric bill that won’t be like an extra car payment you need to buy an underperforming laptop or desktop PC.

For me that has traditionally meant I couldn’t travel with a gaming laptop because not only did it weigh a ton, after about 45 minutes it was as dead as a doornail. Even if you had DC power to the seat plugging it in would likely either blow a breaker or other system failure. Those things aren’t designed to put out 120 watts of power. 

This is all about to change and both NVIDIA and ATI/AMD are starting to bring to market products that will truly allow you to game and have long battery life in the same product, just not at the same time.

The Birth of the True Hybrid Laptop/Desktop PC 

A few weeks ago I spoke about my then new Alienware Area-51 M15x and how it was the first of two hybrid PCs I would test that month. The other was the HTC Shift and it was a different kind of hybrid, crossing the line between a Smartphone (data only) and a very small form factor PC. While these were first generation attempts both products actually did their assigned tasks surprisingly well. 

However the Alienware product, while it could shift from very high power to lower power mode, still had only 3 hours of battery life with the extended battery though it kicked serious butt when it was on AC power. The problem was you couldn’t shift from high power mode to low power mode without rebooting which was a time consuming process and particularly painful if you were in a hurry to run to a meeting or move from the terminal to a plane.

Both ATI and NVIDIA have announced their own hybrid offerings which will show up in hardware later in the year allowing you to switch on the fly from high power graphics to low power graphics and maybe even better approach the best of both worlds. But while this may be an idea of a more flexible PC it is only a step on the path to the truly Optimized PC.

The Birth of the Optimized PC 

At the center of the Optimized PC, is the user because that is who the PC should have always been optimized for. Not for the processor company, or the OEM, or even Microsoft, but you the user. For most of the life of the PC we have focused on the processor (bigger is always better) and to a large extent (particularly on laptops) graphics have sucked. Recently they sucked so much with Vista that a bunch of folks attempted to start a class action suit against Microsoft. But generally this lack of performance on the graphics side has been attributed to dissatisfied gamers and folks feeling they don’t really need to upgrade or update their PCs because the graphics part just didn’t seem to improve that much. 

Now just as you wouldn’t put 160MPH Tires and Brembo Breaks on a Toyota Prius, or pop a 440 HP blown V8 in it either, the idea of the Optimized PC is to match both the processor and the graphics system to your needs and configure accordingly.

Particularly if you are gaming it is on the graphics side you will likely bottleneck and many of have known for some time that this is where you should probably spend your performance dollars. But you don’t want to put in more graphics capability than your power supply can handle either and realize that the graphics card(s) are often pulling more power than the processor now so thinking ahead to those hybrid offerings that are coming is becoming ever wiser if you want to take the growing grin off your power company’s face or have a enough battery life to get through a short plane flight. 

Making Smart Choices 

You are going to be seeing more choices in terms of desktop and laptop gear than you have ever seen this year ranging from the Netbooks like those from Asus and announced earlier this week from HP that are light in terms of weight and performance but will have good battery life and be focused on unique market segments like education. You’ll see the MIDs we spoke about last week focused on entertainment, connectivity and email, and you’ll see a host of new gaming laptops and desktops trying to blend battery life, energy conservation, design and smaller sizes into unique offerings. The key to buying any one of these intelligently is to have a clear idea what you want and carry that idea with you through purchase. 

No one machine will be for everyone and with these near endless choices spending a little time understanding where your own needs reside will pay big dividends over the life of the PC. Too small and it may lack the power you need, too large and, if it is a laptop, it won’t travel when you do, not large enough and you won’t be able to do your work effectively. Ask lots of questions and make sure you know what you really want and then buy a machine optimized to your needs not anyone else’s.

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