Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 140 / MAY 1992 / PAGE S1

Why go portable? (Compute's Getting Started with Portable Computing)
by David English

These days the question might be why go desktop? The current crop of laptop and notebook computers is nearly as powerful as the average desktop computer, so many computer users are choosing to make their portable computer their only computer.

Check out the mail-order discounters and you'll see 20MHz-386SX notebook computers selling for less than a similarly-powered desktop computer would have cost just 12 months ago. Companies such as Epson are offering removable--and therefore upgradable--hard drives, as well as upgradable LCD screens (transform your notebook's 64-shade gray-scale screen into one with 256 colors). NEC has a notebook with a built-in SCSI port that lets you daisy chain as many as seven CD-ROM drives, external hard drives, or other high-end SCSI devices.

You can buy docking stations for many notebook computers that offer standard drive bays and standard expansion-card slots. A new kind of miniature expansion card, called PCMCIA, is about to revolutionize notebooks by offering a standard way for manufacturers to offer credit-card-size modems, fax/modems, LAN connectors, and memory cards. It's no wonder that notebook computers make up the fastest growing segment of the computer market and show the greatest degree of innovation.

Using a laptop is more than just a matter of convenience. In today's business world, it's a matter of survival. With companies reducing their work forces in order to compete, the remaining employees must increase their productivity to pick up the stack. Most of us regularly take our work home where productivity depends on our being able to duplicate the workplace environment. With a laptop, you can have everything you need to complete your monthly report or update your mailing list. You can pick up at home right where you left off at the office.

What lies ahead for portable computing? If the past is any guide, we'll see machines that are faster, smaller, and less expensive. In 1992, we'll see more powerful processors--more 486- and 486SX-based notebooks--as well as the first wave of the long-awaited color notebooks. The era of the me-too notebook is over; computer manufacturers will have to be more inventive and will have to offer more bang for the buck in order to attract the savvy consumer.

On the one hand (or more precisely, in the one hand), we'll see a new generation of palmtop computers with tiny hard drives and megabytes of RAM. In the future, these palmtop computers will be equipped to run much more powerful programs than they can today. On the other hand, we'll see more compact notebook computers that combine a standard-size keyboard with a increasingly wide array of expansion options.

The 1980s goal of a computer on every desk is no longer relevant. The new goal is a notebook computer in every briefcase and a palmtop computer in every coat pocket.