Notable Notebooks

3/15/2008 5:00:00 AM

from Technology & Learning

A rundown on the how, the why, and the latest in laptop computers.

A December 2007 study by market research firm IDC reported "the emergence of notebooks as the dominant PC form factor over desktops," predicting they would outsell desktops this year. With built-in wireless networking, mobile charging carts, and one-to-one programs, more schools are relying on laptops for access to computer networks and the Internet. Here are features to consider when deciding which laptops work best for your school.

Laptop or Tablet?

Some schools are choosing to purchase tablet computers as an alternative to standard laptops. These models allow you to rotate the screen, lower it on top of the keyboard, and use a special stylus to "write" directly on the screen. Handwriting recognition software interprets your writing as text. The stylus also allows users to create drawings and diagrams.

Battery life

Battery life is an important factor for school-based laptops, as we don't want students' machines to suddenly go dead during an Internet-based research assignment. Also, managing a set of classroom laptops—keeping them charged, distributing them, collecting them—are tasks to be minimized.

Weight and size

Each day, laptops are removed from their classroom storage or cart, distributed to students, and then returned for charging. This process can be a burden with larger, heavier laptops; if students have that responsibility, they may need lighter machines.


All standard laptops include both wired Ethernet and built-in wireless networking. Some are now also including broadband networking (requiring a subscription Internet service).

Walking laptops

If your school loans laptops to students or teachers, you may be interested in security features that help recover lost or stolen machines. CompuTrace and CyberAngel are two such services, both of which use the Internet to send information about a laptop's whereabouts to a central reporting location.

Mobile wireless cart packages

Although you can purchase mobile wireless carts from vendors such as Datamation and Bretford, laptop manufacturers (such as HP, Lenovo, Apple, Dell, and Toshiba) may offer affordable all-in-one bundles. Carts may include features such as printers, wireless routers, and displays in addition to secure storage and charging capability for your laptops.


Laptop prices range from $500 to $3,000. Factors determining pricing include choice of microprocessor, memory and storage size, and options. Additionally, many states have contracts with manufacturers, creating possible state-to-state pricing variations. You can frequently determine your state's pricing directly on a manufacturer's Web site or through your department of education or purchasing.

What does more money buy you?

Typically more dollars may buy you:

  • a faster processor
  • more memory
  • a larger hard drive
  • a lighter and thinner laptop
  • a longer battery life
  • additional features such as a card reader, broadband wireless networking, BluRay disc support, Bluetooth support, built-in Webcam or microphone, or a DVD burner. Note: These are optional and are not available on all brands or all models.
What can you get for $1,000?

The answer: It varies. I compared laptops from a variety of manufacturers, looking for a target price of about $1,000. I took basic configurations and added options with some brands, while others came in just at (or slightly above) the target amount. Looking over configurations and options shows that for $1,000 you could get anything from an 80 GB to a 160 GB hard drive; Windows Vista Business or Home for the Windows machines; Macintosh Leopard for the MacBook; Intel Core Duo processors from 1.6 to 2 GB; memory of 1 or 2 GB; a read-write DVD; and sometimes one or more of Microsoft Office or Works, a card reader, a built-in camera, or an antivirus subscription. The choice is yours. (Prices given do not account for periodic sales or specials, bulk purchase pricing, or purchase under statewide or regional contracts.) All Windows machines listed have 15.4-inch monitors; MacBook's monitor is a 13-inch.

Jeffrey Branzburg is a contributing editor and columnist for T&L.


mac book

The MacBook comes in a dollar below our target price, $999. It is the only laptop of the group with a smaller screen (13 inches), a different operating system (Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard), and its 80 GB hard drive is smaller than the rest (though Mac programs take up significantly less space than the same programs on a PC). It does have the same processor, the Intel Core 2 Duo, running a little faster at 2.0 GHz, and includes 1.0 GB memory, a built-in camera, and a combo DVD with a CD-RW drive.



From Dell, I chose an Inspiron 1525 for $899. It comes with a processor similar to HP's (Intel Core 2 Duo 1.66 GHz), with 2 GB memory, a similar DVD, an integrated Webcam, Microsoft Works, and a 15-month antivirus subscription.

Gateway (Gateway/ MPC)


The Gateway M-151S has a base price of $800; at that level you are buying Windows Vista Home Premium, the Intel Pentium Dual Core processor 1.60 GHz, 2 GB memory, a 120 GB drive, and a DVD-RW. In addition, it has a 5-in-1 media card reader for memory cards such as Memory Stick, MemoryStick Pro, MultiMediaCard, Secure Digital and xD-Picture Card, and an integrated 1.3 megapixel Webcam. Add Microsoft Office Home and Student for $150 to bring the cost to $950.



The Sony VAIO FZ VGN-FZ290 CTO ($789) has a built-in camera and microphone, in addition to technical specs similar to the others—Windows Vista Home, Intel Core Duo 2 processor 1.5 GHz, 1 GB memory, 120 GB hard drive, DVD-RW. In addition, this model is optimized for multimedia, with embedded A/V controls.



The ThinkPad line of laptops (formerly from IBM), is now offered by Lenovo (with IBM continuing warranty service and support). The ThinkPad R61 ($982) comes with Windows Vista Business, Intel Core Duo 2 processor 2.0 GHz, 1 GB memory and an 80 GB hard drive.



The Satellite A200-ST2043 for $783 arrives with Windows Vista Home Basic, Intel Pentium Dual- Core processor 1.73 GHz, 1 GB memory, and an 80 GB hard drive, which can be upgraded to 120 GB for $40. A Webcam and microphone are built in, as is a 5-in-1 card reader. Toshiba offers Microsoft Office 2007 Basic Edition for $149 or Small Business Edition for $229, but I would purchase Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 ($149) separately. Toshiba offers an upgrade to Home Premium for $20, bringing the total to $993.


HP Compaq

The $948 HP configuration consists of the HP Compaq 6720s model RM323UT# ABA ($799) plus either Microsoft Office Basic 2007 (media-less) for $149, offered by HP, or Office Home and Student, which can be purchased separately for $149, bringing the total to $948. It has Windows Vista Business, Intel Core 2 Duo processor 1.6 GHz, 1 GB memory, 120 GB hard drive, and a DVD-RW optical drive.

Note: Quoted prices are either "street" price or from the manufacturer's Web site. Special education pricing may be significantly lower.

comments powered by Disqus
Photo GalleriesView All Galleries >
Acer C720-2844 Chromebook

( The Acer C720-2844 Chromebook model delivers speedy performance, a quick boot time of seven seconds, and a matte anti-glare display tha...

Britannica ImageQuest

( Britannica Digital Learning has upgraded ImageQuest, a resource for schools and libraries that provides nearly three million rig...


( Promethean has released ClassFlow, a free, all-in-one, cloud-based teaching tool that lets teachers create and deliver interactive...

Adobe Voice

( Adobe has released Adobe Voice, an animated video app for the iPad that lets users create and share video stories. The app incorporate...


( The BOXLIGHT DeskBoard mobile cart adjusts both height and tilt for the P8 ultra short throw interactive projector on a white surfa...

Core 36M

( Bretford has introduced Core 36M, a 36-unit charging cart that is optimized for Chromebooks but which also supports most tablets, l...

Edmentum Sensei

( Edmentum Sensei is a mobile optimized solution that helps administrators visualize and track overall school, teacher, and student p...

HMH Player

( HMH has released HMH Player, a new native app for iOS and Google Chrome that streamlines the learning experience for improved digital ...

Juice Power System

( Bretford has unveiled an easy-to-use modular power system with exchangeable power components. The Juice Power System uses unique &#...


( LightSail Education has announced a literacy accelerator that combines books with in-text embedded assessments and real-time dat...


( myON has expanded its digital library to include a set of literacy tools to further personalize the reading experience for students whi...

Nervanix Clarity

( Nervanix has released Clarity, an application that monitors student attention levels as they study and guides them to revisit conce...


( RobotsLAB has introduced MathBall, a smart sensor basketball and tablet system that offers curricula in algebra, pre-calculus, phy...


( Wasp Barcode’s MobileAsset.EDU solutions include everything administrators need to account for their assets, from software...

OpenEd Assessment Creation Tool

( OpenEd has announced a free tool that lets teachers easily create assessments with the question types required by Common Core standard...

Panasonic TH-80LFB70U

( Panasonic’s TH-80LFB70U interactive LED display features high-speed, multi-touch, interactive capabilities to promote partic...

penveu interactive display system

( The penveu interactive display system is a handheld device that turns projectors and large screen displays into interactive whiteboar...


( Califone has updated its PresentationPro speaker. The PA310 readily connects with computers, LCD projectors, mobile devices, intera...

PowerSync+ Mobile Companion App

( Bretford Manufacturing, Inc. has announced the availability of the companion app for its PowerSync+ enabled charge and sync produc...

PureCharge Carts and Stations for iPad

( Bretford Manufacturing, Inc. has debuted the PureCharge family of iPad and iPad mini charging carts and stations. By offering pre-i...

ProQuest Research Companion

( ProQuest’s new information literacy product, Research Companion, offers videos that guide users through the research process,...

Sphere2 & Class Send Student Engagement Software Platform

( AVer Information has developed a Student Engagement platform, providing teachers and students with the tools to transmit document ca...


( AVer has released the TabChargeCT2 charge cart solution, which can hold up to 40 Chromebooks, iPads, Android or Windows tablets, lap...

VoiceLift with Instant Alert and Emergency Video Monitoring

( The Instant Alert function of the Extron VoiceLift Microphone, combined with a PoleVault, WallVault, or PlenumVault classroom AV sys...

SMART Board 6065

( The SMART Board 6065 is an ultra HD, 4K interactive flat panel that offers collaborative capabilities while ensuring lessons run s...

Gaggle Unity Partner Program

( The new Gaggle Unity Partner Program provides free data integration services for all educational technology vendors. Through the Gagg...

Waterford Early Learning, Reading, Math & Science

( Waterford Early Learning Cloud can be used at home or to supplement lessons in classrooms. It can also be used for individual adap...

NetSupport School

( The latest version of NetSupport School allows teachers to monitor and collaborate with any mix of technology. An enhanced ...


( TechSmith’s Camtasia gives teachers the tools to record lessons, create videos, and engage their audiences. Educato...

Panasonic 3E

( Intel has teamed up with Panasonic to announce the Panasonic 3E, which uses the Intel Education 2-in-1 reference design. Designed ...