An Update on Notebook Computing

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In my last newsletter, I told you about my search for a new notebook computer (see "What Kind of Laptop Do You Use?"). Here's an update to that story.

After about two weeks of using the IBM A31p, I decided to return it. Unfortunately for me, even with its wonderful display, 60 GB hard drive, built-in DVD/CD-RW drive, and FireWire port, the unit ended up having two shortcomings and one strange freezing problem. Combined, those issues caused the unit to not fit my situation.

These are the shortcomings:

  1. No PS/2 mouse port--Even though I added the external Port Replicator to the unit for on-the-road situations, the unit still had no PS/2 mouse port; therefore, I could not attach my wireless Logitech Surfman presentation mouse. New mice with combined PS2/USB ports worked fine on the USB port, but they restricted use of the built-in TrackPoint pointing device when plugged into the Port Replicator's PS/2 port.
  2. No screen expansion during presentations--This was the straw that broke the camel's back. I could attach a new Microsoft "Blue" wireless mouse and improvise a presentation mouse via the USB port, but upon attaching the A31p to an 800x600 DLP projector, the A31p switched to 800x600 screen resolution. Okay, 800x600 on a 15-inch screen isn't as wonderful as the 1600x1200 native resolution of the screen, but it is good enough for use as a presentation teleprompter. However, the A31p for some reason cannot be in 800x600 resolution and have the so-called screen expansion feature enabled. In fact, with the unit in screen expansion mode, if you plug in an external projector, it forces screen expansion off. Therefore, you end up with an image on the 15-inch screen that is only 50% of the screen. Try reading that during a presentation from 5 to 10 feet away in a room with low lighting. It was just not doable.

I have to wonder if IBM even bothers to give these things to so-called "road warriors" to field test before releasing a new unit to the market. I suppose the A31p is a nice desktop machine for the take-it-home-at-night situation, but for presentations--such as those I give at COMMON, at seminars, or on-site at a client locations--it is just not the right choice.

The screen expansion issue is also a concern for me if I switch to the T30. The down side of the T30 is it has no FireWire port and no PS/2 mouse port. It does have a new screen that is something like 1400x1024 resolution, but if it switches the screen expansion feature off during a presentation through a projector, then it too will be a bad choice. Right now, I'm considering a Sony Viao with a Pentium III processor. They're small, and they have all the ports I need (USB, FireWire, PS/2 mouse port, etc.). The only down side is the 12-inch screen.

Maybe I should just get a bigger hard drive for my old ThinkPad 600E?