The Heavyweight Blues

Wanted: A cheap laptop ready to ramble. Under five pounds, please.

Q. My laptop is great and all, but the sucker weighs in at just shy of eight pounds. I need something for traveling that won't rip my shoulder out of its socket, but—you guessed it—I'm super-light on cash. Find me a steal, man.

A.First off, Mr. Roboto prefers to be addressed as "machine." Secondly, there are lightweight bargains to be had, but they're surprisingly tough to unearth. The slimmer the laptop, the higher the price tag, usually. But if you keep an eye peeled for clearance models and obscure brands, you can dredge up a serviceable machine that travels well.

It's important to realize that, if you're going the budget route with ultraportables, you're going to lose out on lots of features. Forget about frills if your preferred specs are a laptop that's under both four pounds and the $1,500 mark. The best consumer-grade performer Mr. Roboto could find is the four-pound Fujitsu LifeBook S6000, which CaliforniaComputer.com is currently hawking for $1,430. It's got an impressive processor speed, a healthy 256 MB of RAM, and built-in wireless LAN networking—a real rarity among reasonable lightweight laptops. There's no CD or DVD drive (at least in the base model), and you should be wary of the one-year limited warranty.

But maybe you don't need quite that much power—I mean, are you really gonna be designing PowerPoint slides on the road? Or do you just want to word process and send e-mails? If you fit more into the latter category, the semi-antiquated IBM ThinkPad X series deserves a look. The X31 2672, for example, has enough oomph to handle most any basic computing task (1.4 GHz clock speed, 256 MB of RAM), and it's just an inch thick and 3.6 pounds. It's also pretty sturdy—Mr. Roboto will confess to having once dropped a pal's ThinkPad about three feet, and it was none the worse for wear. The latest shopping.com search reveals prices as low as $1,300.

Still too rich for your blood? The real pennysaver of the lightweight bunch is the $800 Lindows Mobile PC. Lindows, you might recall, is the company that gave the world its first sub-$200 desktop, powered by a user-friendly Linux variant. Aside from being a steal, the Mobile PC weighs just 2.9 pounds, and features such goodies as a FireWire port. There are big downsides, though: Windows apps don't always work, and the overall performance ain't grand. Mr. Roboto tends to give a thumbs down on this one, unless you're really hurting financially.

One new entrant worth keeping an eye on is the Sharp Actius MM20. CNet.com just got a sneak peek at the teensy (two-pound) laptop, which ships to the U.S. in April. The verdict is that it ain't no barn burner in terms of performance, but, hey, two pounds? Plus a three-hour battery life, expandable to six hours with a backup battery. A sweet deal if portability is your paramount concern, and you can foot the suggested retail price of $1,500.


Linux defanged

Admit it, you're alternately fascinated and intimidated by Linux. Sure, you'd like to join the open-source revolution and all that, but aren't those non-Windows operating systems just for eggheads? Of course not, and the good folks at No Starch Press are willing to show you why it's all very non-threatening. Their new Linux for Non-Geeks ($35), available at nostarch.com, has the full skinny on all the Linux basics: how to browse the Web, burn CDs, and do all those other modest tasks you've enjoyed as a Windows user. Lest you think the price is a bit steep, the book comes packaged with the ultimate teaching aid—a two-CD version of Fedora Linux.


Bagle and locks

Bad news on the security front: The devious Bagle worm, which made the rounds last week, can infect your machine without hiding in an e-mail attachment. Nope, just open an infected e-mail and blam! . . . you've got a bad case of Bagle. Quickly, update Windows, Internet Explorer, your antivirus software, and Outlook if you want to avoid Bagle's wrath. Mr. Roboto might add that you should close the preview pane in Outlook, just to be safe, and avoid opening anything that looks a smidge suspicious. Yes, that means those ads for counterfeit Cialis—sorry, dear reader.

 
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