Lightweight solutions for mobile professionals

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Today's mobile professional wants ultra-compact notebooks that bridge the gap between Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), which are light on functionality, and full-sized laptops, which are simply heavy. To save space and remain lightweight, single-spindle notebooks eliminate the standard internal bay devoted to a floppy or CD-ROM drive and rely on the hard disk as the sole internal storage device. This Buyer's Guide gives you a rundown of the latest single-spindle notebooks.

Because many single-spindle notebook manufacturers market their products to a broader range of buyers than just corporate customers, finding information about the products' manageability features can be difficult. Thus, you need to carefully assess how each product meets your support requirements and consider your end users' function and form-factor needs. Your organization's requirements will vary depending on your support infrastructure and policies.

Because single-spindle notebooks are so portable, they often suffer a lot of rough treatment. Some organizations might need a vendor that will immediately replace a notebook that dies on the road. Other organizations can afford an inventory of preconfigured hot spares that they can quickly ship to a mobile user to replace a broken notebook. In either scenario, you should compare all vendors' base and extended warranty coverage.

Maintenance and management are always important, so verify that the notebook you choose integrates into your current systems management solution. Look for statements of compliance or certification with open management standards. Any notebook that you choose should be Desktop Management Interface (DMI) 2.0—compliant to ensure a basic level of integration with a variety of inventory and management products.

The Wired for Management (WfM) 2.0 standard is a superset of the DMI standard and incorporates the Preboot Execution Environment (PXE), which is integral to Microsoft's Remote Installation Services (RIS). PXE gives you remote boot capability and enables OS installation from the network. This feature is particularly helpful if you use RIS or a cloning product to distribute corporate images for initial deployment or disaster recovery of single-spindle notebooks. Booting a notebook from anything but its internal hard disks can be cumbersome.

Unfortunately, standards compliance information isn't always readily available from product documentation or sales representatives. I've found that the safest bet for anyone concerned about maintenance and management is to choose from the offerings of well-known first-tier PC manufacturers, including Compaq, Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and IBM.

This Buyer's Guide highlights a handful of features that relate to portability and usability. The overall dimensions and travel weight specifications are undoubtedly a major consideration for single-spindle notebooks. The common compromise of the lightest and smallest notebooks is their smaller display. Aside from that, your end users' preferences about features such as the type of pointing device or the key pitch (standard key pitch is 19mm) will help determine which single-spindle notebook you choose.

Insufficient memory will noticeably impact performance. Don't purchase any of these Windows 2000 Professional laptops without at least 128MB of RAM. For notebooks whose base configuration has only 64MB of RAM, add a memory upgrade to the purchase price.

Finally, make sure you know what features your mobile users require to do their jobs, then match the hardware to the need. For example, if end users will use their notebooks for presentations, make sure the VGA port is in the notebook rather than in a port replicator. Keeping an eye on such details can eliminate headaches for you and those you support.