Notable Notebooks

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.