The lowdown on notebooks

What is it? Notebook PCs in this guide are priced near or below $1,200. Many of them sell for less than $1,000. Most have Intel Mobile Celeron processors or the equivalent, 14.1-inch or 13.3-inch XGA TFT displays, at least 128M of RAM, 10G to 20G hard drives and 24X CD-ROM drives.

When do you need one? You need one on the road or at home for standard business applications such as word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail and Web browsing.

When don't you need one? If you use extensive graphics, engineering, digital imaging or video editing software, or if you require wireless connectivity, you're better off with a more powerful notebook.

Must-know info? The distinction between entry-level and midrange notebook PCs is blurring as prices for CPUs, RAM, hard drives and other components continue to drop. Notebooks will never be priced as low as similarly equipped desktop PCs, but $1,000 or so spent today will buy you a dependable, well-equipped system that should give you years of trouble-free service before you turn it in for another unit.

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