When you see words like “netbook”, “notebook”, “chromebook”, “ultrabook”, “laptop” and “mini-laptop” being used to describe similar devices, especially if you’re a new computer user, it can be quite confusing. Similarly, the difference between “desktop PC” and “tower PC” can be confusing for some people.
I’ll start with the desktop and tower PC terms because that’s where all this nonsense started.
Desktop PC or Tower PC
Originally, a desktop PC was one in which the case laid out horizontally on the desk. Eventually, a vertical tower was introduced so that the PC case didn’t have to be on the desktop, freeing up some room on the desktop. All monitors started out as CRT, just like televisions. LCD monitors have squeezed out CRT monitors, but you can still see CRT monitors being used in some places, especially developing countries.
There are very few “old-fashioned” desktop PCs being made and used but they are still being made. Would you like more confusion? Now we have keyboard PCs, where the guts of the computer sit beneath the keyboard (kind of like a laptop, but without a monitor being involved) and we have “all-in-one” PCs where the guts of the computer sit behind the monitor (quite unlike a laptop and without a keyboard being involved). The term “desktop PC” now means any PC that isn’t mobile.
The first laptop computers weren’t laptop computers at all. They were considered portable, but they were way too bulky to be used on anyone’s lap. If you’re old enough, you may remember one or more of the kind I’m talking about (think Commodore SX-64 and IBM “Green Machine”).
Laptop computers eventually progressed to the point where they could actually be held on your lap. By that time, they started calling them “notebook computers”, presumably because they opened like notebooks if you turned them sideways. Some people still call them laptop computers and they’re not wrong in doing so.
To confuse things even more, “netbook computers”, “ultrabooks” and “chromebooks” were recently introduced. They’re basically the same thing as notebook computers, scaled down and focusing on Internet-based applications over client applications on the laptops themselves. The manufacturers didn’t like the “netbook” terminology because of the low power connotations, opting to call them “mini-laptops” instead. In fact, I bought a netbook in 2009 that said “mini-laptop” on everything even though it was a low-powered laptop without an optical drive. One of my nieces in the Philippines is still using it, although the battery died long ago and she has to keep it plugged in.
The term “laptop” now encompasses everything from a netbook to a full-sized notebook and everything in between. If it’s a mobile computer, which isn’t a tablet or a smartphone, it’s a laptop.
My Laptop Computer
I mentioned at one time (on some other website) that I’d never buy another notebook computer. My laptop computer is a notebook computer, but I didn’t buy it. I would have bought yet another desktop PC before buying a laptop of any kind ever again.
The only notebook computer I ever bought (back in 2005) was one of the HP notebooks. After about two years, the fan stopped working and the monitor developed vertical red lines. I could have fixed it myself if I could have found the parts I needed at the time. I was in the Philippines and there weren’t any computer parts stores local to me.
Like my earlier laptop computer, I don’t expect this one to outlast the hard drive that’s inside of it. The hard drive in the previous laptop lasted more than five years before it stopped working (after I converted it to an external drive), three years longer than the laptop itself.
How to Shop for Laptop Computers
You can no longer shop for laptop computers by the names they’re given. Once you’re in the vicinity of laptop computers in a store or while searching online for laptops, you have to go by the specifications to find exactly what you’re looking for, or something close to it.
The “ultrabook” and “chromebook” laptop computers can be found separately from other laptop computers, but you need to know what each of them offers that’s different from the rest of the laptops.
As for all the other laptop computers that aren’t tagged with some special name, you have to check what kind of CPU it has, how much memory is included as well as how much memory can be added, what kind of storage drive it uses (hard disk drive or solid-state drive) and how big it is and even the size of the keyboard (including how many keys it has on it).
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what to look for when you’re shopping for laptop computers. One thing I can tell you that will help you make your decision is something I really don’t want to tell you. If it runs Windows 8, it should work out for you. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re getting the best laptop for your money.
I have my opinions on what to look for and I’ll list them for you:
- A monitor size greater than 14 inches
- A dual or quad-core CPU
- 4 or more gigabytes of memory (preferably more)
- 200 or more gigabytes of drive storage
- Multiple USB ports
- A DVD drive
- A keyboard with or without a number pad, preferably without (with bigger keys)
- Runs Windows 8 (or the latest version)
The laptop computer I’m using, that I didn’t buy, has a slightly underpowered CPU. It’s okay for me because I don’t do much more than write articles with it. I don’t play games on it – not even Facebook or Google+ games. I’ll watch a DVD movie on occasion (from Redbox), but that’s the extent of my entertainment. Some people like to use laptop computers for everything they use desktop computers for, but I’m not one of them.
I don’t know what the future holds when it comes to what I consider traditional computers, whether they’re desktop PCs or laptop computers. Perhaps I’ll offer my opinions on how they’re being affected by other computing devices, like tablets, in a forthcoming article.