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The Ever-Changing Laptop Landscape

written by: •edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 4/28/2014

This article will help explain the various forms laptops come in today and in which scenarios each type may be most useful.

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    The Ever-Changing Laptop Landscape The first portable computer was introduced in the mid-1970s. Since then we have come a long way, from gigantic suitcase sized laptops back then to tiny ultra-portable laptops available today. When words such as ultrabook, smartbook, netbook, convertible and the like are thrown around, it is easy to be confused.

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    Traditional Thick Laptops

    When you think of a traditional laptop, you are likely thinking of a book-sized machine with a hinged display. The displays typically come in sizes between 12” and 17” and the laptops weigh anywhere from five to nine pounds. These laptops are great general-purpose machines, but as technology has grown more advanced, components are becoming smaller and more efficient. The traditional laptop as we know it will soon be extinct.

    If you are in the market for a new laptop, you can certainly still find traditional thick laptops at reasonable prices. These general purpose machines will eventually be replaced by thin and light laptops that we’ll discuss a bit later.

    Workstation class machines are one area in which we will see some growth in the thick laptop space. Again, due to efficiencies made in the components used for a laptop, manufacturers are able to cram desktop quality components into standard laptop bodies.

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    Ultra Portables

    Although the traditional laptop market was very healthy, manufacturers realized that people desired smaller, more portable devices –primarily for browsing the internet and checking email. Manufacturers released the first ultra-mobile PCs in 2006 to little fanfare and although they never really took off, they did pave the way for the additional classes of small, lightweight laptops.

    Next up was the netbook, which was a small, fully functional computer ideal for browsing the internet. Whereas the ultra-mobile PC may only have a small 4-5” display, netbooks were designed to compete with traditional laptops and offered slightly larger displays. The main issue with netbooks was the lack of horsepower, making this a device for a niche market.

    With significant advanced in power consumption and circuitry, the current ultraportable standard is the ultrabook. Although Intel has trademarked the Ultrabook moniker, most people use the term to refer to a thin, lightweight, laptop running a traditional operating system. For general use, ultrabooks will (and have already started to) replace thick laptops. Ultrabooks today can run on battery for 8 to 10 hours and weigh a paltry two or three pounds. These devices are affordable, with many options under $1000, and enough horsepower to tackle most general-purpose workloads.

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    Touch-Based Offerings

    Manufacturers have started getting creative with their product designs now that components are drastically smaller and more power efficient than ever before.

    Convertible Laptops

    These laptops have touch-enabled screens and can be used as traditional portable laptops or convert into touch only devices by either rotating the screen, laying it over the keyboard or simply detaching the keyboard. Although the usefulness of this is somewhat limited to certain vertical markets such as healthcare, the devices themselves are pretty neat.


    Slate PCs are similar to convertible laptops, but don’t offer a keyboard. They are strictly touch- or pen-based computers. These are especially useful for workers who need to do a lot of writing or drawing but don’t want or need the extra bulk of the keyboard.

    Traditional Laptop with Touch

    I’m not sure who would find a traditional or ultrabook coupled with a touchscreen useful, but manufacturers typically support this option.

    In looking at touch-based computing, make sure the computer you want to purchase supports multi-touch, meaning that you can use multiple fingers to control the screen. Most touch computers also support the use of a stylus. Some are more advanced than others, so be sure to test some out in person if you think of going this route.

    I hope this overview has cleared up some of the mystery surrounding the types of laptops available today. Be sure to leave feedback at the end of this article if you have any unique uses for touch computers in a workplace.