7. The First Laptop to Use a Lithium Ion Battery: Toshiba's Portege T3400 (1995)
When the Toshiba Portege T3400, an ultraportable, made its debut, little was made of its lithium ion battery, the first ever used in a laptop. But the notebook's introduction signified the beginning of a new battery era, one that has generally been good for notebook fans.
In 1995, the nickel-metal hydride battery, always considered an interim technology, was on its way out. Lithium ion batteries lasted longer and were lighter, both very important qualities for mobile computer users. They were also virtually maintenance free, unlike nickel-metal hydride, which had to be completely run down every couple of months.
However, because they are prone to overheating, lithium ion batteries have set more laptops ablaze and resulted in more recalls by notebook vendors than any previous type of notebook battery. (Most recently, Lenovo recalled more than 200,000 notebooks.) Millions of batteries have had to be replaced, inconveniencing untold numbers of notebook customers.
But most users have been unaffected, and continue to benefit from a technology that improves every few months. Lately, lithium ion batteries have had to keep pace with new power-guzzling laptop features such as dual processors, RAID-enabled hard drives, and 20-inch screens. The Toshiba Portege T3400's battery life 12 years ago? About 4 hours. Not bad, even for a 4-pound laptop with a dual-scan monochrome screen.
8. The First Wireless-Enabled Laptop: Apple's iBook (1999)
In 1999, Apple introduced Airport--a ground-breaking technology that enabled the company's iBook to become the first laptop capable of sending e-mail and surfing the Internet wirelessly. Apple beat other notebook makers to the punch by more than a year with its implementation of the 802.11b Wi-Fi standard.
First out was Apple's $299 AirPort base station and $99 plug-in card for home and office users. That same year, Apple began selling the iBook, which could be outfitted with an optional, internal AirPort wireless card, another first. The 12.1-inch-screen laptop, which came in blueberry or tangerine, was the first one ready for Wi-Fi hotspots.
9. The First Gaming Notebook: WidowPC's Sting 917X2 (2005)
Until very recently, laptops were such lousy gaming rigs that Doom aficionados were only too happy to lug 30-pound tower desktop systems to Friday night LAN parties. Hard-core gamers still sniff at laptop gaming as inferior to gaming on the latest high-end desktops, but notebooks gained new respect and a fair number of converts when they finally got dual-core processing, and 3D shooters became faster and better looking.
WidowPC's Sting 917X2 was the first out of the gate, with an AMD Athlon 64 X2 dual-core processor. At a time when most notebook manufacturers offered perhaps one brand of video card with, at most, 128MB of RAM, the Sting gave buyers a choice of three industry-leading, desktop-worthy 256MB graphics adapters. The 11.3-pound Sting, with its black-widow-spider graphic, soon gave way to models like Alienware's green Area-51 notebooks, but its status quo-busting debut gave notebooks something they'd never had before among gamers: street cred.
10. The First Serious PC Killer: Apple's MacBook Pro (2006)
The Hatfields and McCoys. Trump and O'Donnell. Apple and Microsoft. In the last grudge match, at least, a clear victor may emerge--and even many PC users might not mind seeing this underdog win. Last year, the MacBook Pro notebook became the first Apple PC to make the switch to Intel processors, and the first Apple notebook to run Windows.
Shortly after Apple introduced the MacBook Pro, it introduced Boot Camp, an easy-to-use utility that lets users switch between Mac OS X and a Windows operating system.
With the final barriers to running Windows apps on a Mac falling, will Apple at last win the converts it needs to give Microsoft a serious run for its money? The jury is still out. But the winners in the meantime? We, the users.
Contributing Editor Carla Thornton regularly covers notebooks for PC World.