Laptop Era Dawns

Once considered poor choices for serious computing, notebooks are earning new respect from hard-core fans of desktop PCs.

Why the change of heart? Today's notebooks offer powerful processors, dazzling large LCD screens (see "Displays Get Big, Really Big"), improved upgradability (see "New Upgrade Options Abound"), and features as potent as those you'd get on many desktops--all at attractive prices. Couple that with the siren song of ubiquitous wireless connectivity, and more buyers are seriously considering a notebook for their next business or home PC.

Notebook sales reflect this trend. This spring, according to NPD Group, retailers for the first time made more money selling laptops than desktops: Portables accounted for 54 percent of May's nearly $500 million in PC sales. Based on unit sales, desktops remain the retail king, accounting for about 60 percent of the May purchases, NPD says. Still, while in 1999 one in ten home computer buys worldwide was a laptop, these days it's one in five, points out Roger Kay, vice president of client computing at IDC.

Plunging prices help set the hook. A notebook still typically costs half again as much as a similarly equipped desktop. But this year for the first time, you can buy a portable with a 2.2-GHz Celeron CPU, a CD burner, a 30GB hard drive, and a 14-inch LCD for under $1000.

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