RT Cunningham

Laptop Computers – Notebook, Netbook and other Laptop Differences

When you see words like “netbook”, “notebook”, “mini-notebook”, “chromebook”, “ultrabook”, “laptop” and “mini-laptop” being used for laptop computers, especially if you’re a new computer buyer, 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 desk, freeing up some room on the top of desk. All monitors started out as CRT, just like televisions. LCD and LED 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 (horizontal case) 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.

Laptop Computers

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, but not for very long because of how much heat they generated. 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 introduced. They were basically the same thing as notebook computers, scaled down and focused 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-notebooks” instead. In fact, I bought a netbook in 2009 that said “mini-notebook” on everything even though it was a low-powered laptop without an optical drive. I still have it and use it for watching movies and listening to music.

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 or a smart watch, it’s a laptop.

How to Shop for Laptop Computers

You can no longer shop for laptop computers by the names they’re given. Once you’re near the 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, 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:

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. They’re not going away, even if news articles say they are. Smartphones and tablets can’t do everything they can, at least not yet.

Originally published in July, 2013 – some information has been updated and some irrelevant information has been removed.

May 22, 2016

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