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Q: Desktop Replacement Notebook: I am buying at the right time, or should I wait? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
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Subject: Desktop Replacement Notebook: I am buying at the right time, or should I wait?
Category: Computers > Wireless and Mobile
Asked by: dysan99-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 30 Sep 2003 02:30 PDT
Expires: 30 Oct 2003 01:30 PST
Question ID: 261467
Hi there, 

This question is split into two parts – queries about how fast
notebook technology is changing and some basic performance advice
requirements.


I am shortly about to buy a new laptop PC (in the UK).  My predicament
is fairly straightforward – I do not want to buy something today to
find that in a month so’s time there is a step change in the notebook
market and the machine I have is outdated or that I could buy a
machine with the same power for two thirds the weight and twice the
battery life.  The window that I am prepared to wait is perhaps Q1 of
next year.  I am pretty PC-literate, understand the difference between
Pentium Mobile and Centrinos etc. but have not been keeping up with
developments as closely as I should.

I am currently looking at a Centrino 1.7GHz with 512 RAM / 80GB HDD as
the basic system.  My alternative is a 3.06 GHz P4 Mobile (same RAM
and HDD).  So the first question is:

1/.   What technical improvements/advancements can I expect in the
next three-six months with regard to notebook HDD capacity or
Centrino/Pentium Mobile 4 chips or in fact any other relevant factor
that might well prove to be a significant change in the notebook
market?


2/.  Performance is naturally a major criteria for me and this leads
me to the second question – in both of these systems I can buy another
512 RAM (taking it to 1024MB) for about 175.  Is this generally seen
as a worthwhile upgrade?  Will it improve the system performance
measurably?

3/.  Weight and battery life aside, is there a general feeling that a
P4 (or Mobile P4) is a much more powerful desktop replacement than a
Centrino?  How long might it take for the Centrino chips to catch up
with other notebook processors?

4/.  I am now on my 4th laptop and each time I buy one I am assured by
some sparky sales guy that I will be able to upgrade the processor in
the future.  Is there any inherent “upgradability” in the Centrino
architecture that is going to make it really an upgradeable
opportunity in any laptop I but now?  In other words, what are the
chances that I can upgrade a Centrino 1.7 to a Centrino 3.4 (or
whatever it may be at that time) a year down the line.

Not being a literate heavyweight when it comes to trying to describe
things, could any researcher please bear in mind my major query "Am I
buying at the right time?".  If there is something you think is
relevant to this topic, but I have not asked, please do let me know.

MANY THANKS TO ANY TAKERS!

Request for Question Clarification by chromedome-ga on 07 Oct 2003 22:23 PDT
Hello, Dysan!

Your question is a perfectly reasonable one, and as a former computer
salesman it's one that I heard every day for years.  You've left out
one vital piece of information, however...what do you use your
computer for?  This has a pretty direct bearing on the advice we offer
you, since some applications are more demanding than others.

Given that, I'd be happy to make a recommendation (context...I started
selling computers when DOS 3.2 was brand new, and have only recently
left the field).

Regards,

-Chromedome

Clarification of Question by dysan99-ga on 08 Oct 2003 03:23 PDT
Hi Chromedome, 
 
I use a laptop daily (10 hours plus) and pretty much for the gamut of
Office applications (Word, Excel, PPT etc.) as well as doing extra
stuff with various graphics programs such as Photoshop.  Thus, I want
a desktop replacement machine but really don't want to go down the 4-5
Kg avenue. I have a 2.5 Kg P4 Mobile 1.8 (40GB HDD, 374MB RAM)
currently.
 
I am looking at a Mobile Intel Pentium-M 1.7 GHz /1024 MB DDR RAM /
Geforce GO FX5200 64MB + usual other bits.
 
As I mentioned, my fear is that in Jan they will launch a Mobile Intel
Pentium-M 2.0GHz or whatever with a 2MB cache which is much faster, or
find a 140GB HDD is the spec of the day etc.  I totally take on board
Scotew's comments, but a few months back wouldn't it have been better
to wait a couple of months for the launch of the Pentium-M?
 
Thanks!!
Answer  
Subject: Re: Desktop Replacement Notebook: I am buying at the right time, or should I wait?
Answered By: chromedome-ga on 08 Oct 2003 08:02 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
 
Hello, Dysan, and welcome back.

I'm going to briefly touch on each of the points you've raised in your
question:

1)  The Ziff-Davis website reports that the new Centrino/Pentium M
processor, codenamed "Dothan", will be released in the fourth quarter.
 This will be running at the same 1.7Ghz clock speed, but will be a
90-nanometer design rather than a 130-nanometer design, allowing them
to pack a 2MB cache on board, with the accompanying improvement in
performance.

From chip roll-out to system availability, of course, there is usually
a gap; and as I've heard UK researchers gripe about a delay before
things show up on your side of the pond, you might not see these until
the New Year...and they'll quite likely be at a premium price for the
first month or two.

Higher-speed versions of the Dothan are projected to arrive in Q1
(1.9G) and Q2 (2.0G).

I did not look into the P4 Mobile situation as deeply, since your
predilection seems to be for the more power-efficient Centrino. 
However, the next-generation P4-type chip (codenamed "Prescott") is
due to arrive in Q4 of this year (1mb onboard cache vs 512k, and other
enhancements); and we might reasonably expect some incremental
advancements to the P4 mobile to percolate down through the system by
the second quarter of next year.

The article:

http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1103_2-1024237.html

2)  Are you familiar with the aphorism that "You can never be too rich
or too good-looking"?  In the computer world, you can never have too
much processing power or too much RAM.  You may not notice a speed
difference (as such) on a day-to-day basis, but when you're performing
more memory-intensive tasks (graphic work, etc) it's good to have the
extra.

My recommendation?  I've you can conveniently spare the extra few
quid, go for it.  If the price difference becomes a bit of a stretch
for  you, leave it.  In short, be pragmatic.

3) The Centrino/Pentium M processor is, at bottom, still built on the
Pentium 4's core technology.  Each advancement in the technology needs
to be re-worked for mobile use, and then (in the case of the Centrino
bundle) integraged into smaller packaging, and furnished with a
suitable supporting chipset.  The Centrino, then, will never "catch
up", in the same way (and for the same reasons) that a younger sibling
will never "catch up" to the older.

Both will, of course, continue to get faster, until the P4 technology
itself is superseded by a new architecture.

4)  Processor upgrades have no place in your decision-making process. 
As a former "sparky sales guy", I can tell you that processor
upgradeability helped me sell a lot of computers.  That's what it's
for.  It has nothing to do with keeping your computer up-to-date (that
may sound cynical, but bear in mind that I earned my cynicism in the
trenches); the whole idea is to hold out *the promise* of keeping your
computer up-to-date.

I've seen several generations of processor upgrades, like the
Overdrive chips for the old 486's.  In the main, by the time you're
thinking of upgrading, the architecture of the processors will have
changed, and the available upgrades will not be overly appealing. 
With my 400Mhz desktop, for example, the most potent upgrade available
was...500Mhz.  For $499 Cdn.  Not too compelling, at a time when $1000
Cdn. or so would have gotten me a 1.2 or 1.4Ghz machine.

5) Other: Hard drives, and other peripherals, will of course get
larger, faster, cheaper, and physically smaller with time.  That's a
given, and you've bought enough machines to already know that.  I
won't belabour the point.

Recommendation:

If your current machine is still adequate to the task (ie, processor
speed is no more than mildly annoying, hard disk space is low but not
critical, no physical breakdowns have occurred/are occurring); you
have nothing to lose by waiting a few  months.  In fact, January is
always a strategic time to buy: new models will arrive, and old models
will be marked down post-Christmas.

If, on the other hand, your current machine fails any of the above
tests, it will not hurt you significantly to buy now.  In another 2-3
years, when you're buying your next machine, the forthcoming
"Dothan"-based system will feel just as old and creaky as the current
Centrino system.

To reiterate: the best computer to own is the one that meets your
needs.  Ten hours a day is a long slog, if your current machine no
longer does the job...so buy now.

If your current machine meets your daily needs...hold off.  They'll
only get better.  Buy when your current machine borders on becoming a
daily frustration.

Search strategy

Visits to resources I regularly use:

Ziff-Davis
http://www.zdnet.com

Intel's company site (beware the charts comparing P4 mobile to the
Centrino: they use a "blended" set of criteria mixing processor power
with battery life):
http://www.intel.com

Tom's Hardware Page:  More than you ever wanted to know about the
differences between desktop and mobile P4's.
http://www4.tomshardware.com/mobile/20030212/index.html

I hope this helps you to crystallize your thinking.  If you need
amplification on any of the above points, by all means please ask.

Regards, 

-Chromedome
dysan99-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Excellent answer, many thanks Chromedome!

Comments  
Subject: Re: Desktop Replacement Notebook: I am buying at the right time, or should I wait?
From: scotew-ga on 30 Sep 2003 16:12 PDT
 
Dude, laptops are just the same as desktops - in a months time they
will be outdated by the next model which in turn will be outdated.
their is no better or worse time to buy. the rules are simple - if  a
1.7 ghz computer is going to do what you want then get it - if you
need 3 ghz then get that. As a general rule the value of laptops will
halve every 12 months as each aspect is continually improved upon,
thats just the way it works. if you wait 3 months then of course your
money is going to get you something a bit better than it would today.

for most people an entry level computer is ample and the price
descrepancy between the fastest processor and those just below it
would in most cases not justify the cost unless you really need the
best which i gather you dont.
Subject: Re: Desktop Replacement Notebook: I am buying at the right time, or should I wait?
From: dysan99-ga on 01 Oct 2003 01:09 PDT
 
Thanks for the comments, scotew.  I guess my fear is buying a
non-Centrino that is faster now, only to find that the Centrino chips
catch up by Christmas!

Cheers.
Subject: Re: Desktop Replacement Notebook: I am buying at the right time, or should I wait?
From: dysan99-ga on 08 Oct 2003 02:39 PDT
 
Hi Chromedome,

I use a laptop daily (10 hours plus) and pretty much for the gamut of
Office applications (Word, Excel, PPT etc.) as well as doing extra
stuff with various graphics programs such as Photoshop.  Thus, I want
a desktop replacement machine but really don't want to go down the 4-5
Kg avenue. I have a 2.5 Kg P4 Mobile 1.8 (40GB HDD, 374MB RAM)
currently.

I am looking at a Mobile Intel Pentium-M 1.7 GHz /1024 MB DDR RAM /
Geforce GO FX5200 64MB + usual other bits.

As I mentioned, my fear is that in Jan they will launch a Mobile Intel
Pentium-M 2.0GHz or whatever with a 2MB cache which is much faster, or
find a 140GB HDD is the spec of the day etc.  I totally take on board
Scotew's comments, but a few months back wouldn't it have been better
to wait a couple of months for the launch of the Pentium-M?

Thanks!!

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