Many readers wrote in about my decision to purchase a Compaq Presario laptop, most of whom were concerned that I was choosing a consumer rather than business-oriented model. But like the Black Adder's Baldrick, I reply, "I have a plan . . . a cunning plan."
Well, it's not that cunning. If you wonder what I'm talking about, I waited more than a month for an IBM ThinkPad T20 to come in and finally cancelled the order because of the excessive time and IBM's less-than-credible ability to ship the thing. So I began to reassess other choices. I wanted something small and light—my old Toshiba weighs about 9 pounds—but I wanted the biggest screen possible, and I need a large keyboard because of my enormous hands. A few years ago, such a setup would have been impossible, but PC makers are starting to make an amazing variety of products, and I have several good options.
Surprisingly, Dell was immediately out of the running. The company's relatively small Inspiron 3800 features a 14" screen and the fastest Intel processors. But the 3800 starts at 6.4 pounds, much heftier than the ThinkPad's 5.1 pounds. And the 3800 features a bizarre combination trackpad and pointing stick. No thanks. Dell's other machines are behemoths: The 7.5 pound Inspiron 5000 and 9.6 pound Inspiron 7500 are practically desktops themselves rather than desktop replacements. I'm surprised to say that Dell offers no compelling choices for someone who needs a certain combination of power and weight.
With my number-one choice out of the running, I went into research mode: Sony offers compelling lifestyles branding and nice product designs but nothing that matches my needs. Gateway offers only two portables, and they're nothing to write home about: If ever a product line were in need of a makeover, Gateway's is. Ditto Hewlett Packard (HP), which doesn't offer anything for me. But Compaq . . . Compaq has varied offerings, some priced like IBM, some cheaper. And some of them definitely fit the bill.
Compaq makes many notebook computers, and they fall into well-defined product categories. The Presarios—which you frequently see in retail stores such as Best Buy—are designed primarily for consumers. They feature Windows 98 SE (Win98SE), with a free upgrade to Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me). The Armada notebooks—many of which look suspiciously like old Digital Equipment machines—are for enterprise businesses. For small businesses, Compaq offers the Prosignia line, which does indeed include a 5.3 pound model with a 14" screen, exactly what I need, although the fastest offering includes a 650MHz rather than 750MHz chip. (And the low-end Notebook 100 line is for budget-conscious shoppers.)
I looked at the Armadas first. The M700 features a 750MHz processor, 5.1 pound curb weight, and a 14" screen. It's boring and noncontroversial, like a 1980s Oldsmobile. But part of the allure of the ThinkPad I originally ordered was its style: The ThinkPad is sexy in ways that usually elude PCs. I realize that this factor isn't the best basis for a decision, but then again, if I'm going to plunk down five grand on a machine, I want it to be enjoyable and fun to look at. Too bad Apple doesn't make Windows PCs.
Two Presarios met those requirements, however, and both offer stunning designs: the skinnable 1400 and the 1700T that I eventually chose. Both offer Win98, not Windows 2000, but the 1400 is too big (6.5 pounds) and offers only a 13.3" screen. The 1700T, however, is a thing of beauty. It's $1500 less than the ThinkPad, and it matches my requirements to a T (pardon the pun), with one exception.
The Presario 1700T doesn't support Win2K. I understand that I will be able to use Win2K on this machine, although Compaq and many readers have pointed out that Compaq will have no role in making that happen. I'm OK with that because, as I said, I have a plan: My embrace of digital media this summer wasn't temporary, and—who knows—I might actually run Windows Me for a while. And we've got Whistler Personal Edition coming down the pike: I'm sure that will run just fine on my consumer PC. More important is a little feature that I'm sure many of you have built into your own purchase plans: a spouse. My wife, in this case, is a secondary market when it comes to computers. That is, she uses my old machines. She'll use the Toshiba, wirelessly, around the house for now, although she won't take it with her on the road because of its bulk. But she can have the Compaq as her main machine next summer when I get that PC-buying itch again. And who knows what kind of bumper crop of portables we can expect next year? I'm thinking about something in the 1.5GHz range.