Consider the weight and stamina of a notebook contender

A power user isn't necessarily the one who has the fastest computer. Sometimes it's the
user who makes the most of what's available. Sometimes it indicates someone who uses
computers a whole lot, which brings us to the subject of portables.


Despite the flood of multimedia Pentium notebooks with their ever-climbing clock
speeds, the fact is that many users do exactly the same work on notebooks that they do on
desktop PCs--spreadsheet calculations and lots of word processing.


For these users, and I'm one of them, the glitter of fast multimedia notebooks can
obscure two important factors, namely travel weight and battery life.


When I say travel weight, I mean the total weight for computer, battery, case, charger,
extension cord and other essentials you tote through airport security. This weight can be
difficult to determine and bears little relationship to the advertised weight of a
notebook.


As for battery life, you often can lengthen it by selecting a slower processor with
less memory, but focus should be on the battery type you buy. And choosing a type is far
from simple, because it depends a lot on just how you use your notebook.


Road warriors, especially those who often run computers on airplanes where they can't
plug in a charger, might just find that a good old-fashioned nicad battery still is the
best choice.


The old standby rechargeable nicad, familiar to users of consumer products, has the
major advantage of being cheap. Its big disadvantage is the well-known memory effect: If
you fail to discharge it fully before charging, it quickly loses voltage capacity.


Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries store more power per ounce than nicad but also
cost more. A strong advantage for notebooks, however, is that NiMH batteries show
virtually no memory effect. You can recharge them at every opportunity.


Lithium-ion batteries, over their expected lifetimes, will cost about five times more
than nicads but weigh only about half as much. They're highly tolerant of deep discharge
and other abuse. Never was the phrase "our mileage may vary"truer than for
notebook batteries. Here are some guidelines to help you make the best choice.


There's another contender on the near horizon. See my next column for a look at
zinc-air batteries and the advances being made in "smart" battery technology.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. He welcomes mail from readers. Write to him care of
Government Computer News, 8601 Georgia Ave., Suite 300, Silver Spring, Md. 20910.


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