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Blurring the Line Between Laptops and Desktops 176

Posted by timothy
from the large-smallness dept.
bart_scriv writes "BusinessWeek looks at the latest offerings in ultra-portable PCs, offering up some specs and pictures. Some of the highlinghts: removeable 19-20 inch LCD dispays, dual NVIDIA cards and customizable exteriors. On the downside, some of these machines weigh almost 20 pounds and all of them sport a pretty high price tag — they probably won't be replacing desktops or laptops anytime soon."
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Blurring the Line Between Laptops and Desktops

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  • weigh 20 punds? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ScottLindner (954299) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:10PM (#15564469)
    That's not a portable! My laptop is heavy at 8lbs and it sucks to carry around with all of the gadgets and gizmos. Heck... even my SFF is lighter than 20 pounds. I love the concept but the weight has to improve big time.
    • by Cleon (471197) <cleon42@@@yahoo...com> on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:14PM (#15564501) Homepage
      Oy, you kids. When I was young, in the heady days of 8088 processors, the laptops weighed ten pounds at LEAST. And we were THANKFUL!
    • Re:weigh 20 punds? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by stratjakt (596332) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:16PM (#15564520) Journal
      You're a wimp!

      I'd love to be able to carry, or cheaply ship a real computer to sites when I have to travel, or even set it up back at the hotel rooms so I can squash bugs, compile, and do database stuff on a *real* computer.

      It really sucks trying to do some sort of data manipulation involving millions of records, tens of gigabytes at a time, on a pentium M laptop with 512 megs of ram and one of its rinky-dink little hard drives. And many times the space is so tight on the clients server, I really have no choice during an upgrade to migrate the whole thing to the laptop (or usb drive) and watch the poor thing suffer overnight.

      I've been trying to talk the boss into letting me put together a high-specced shuttle cube PC that I could ship out with a 15' LCD for just such an occasion. Once I had them overnight my office desktop to me, because it was apparent that my laptop just couldnt cut it.

      So, like plenty of technologies, just because it's not useful to YOU doesn't mean it isnt useful to anyone.

      • Re:weigh 20 punds? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ScottLindner (954299) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:21PM (#15564573)
        True.. .but if disk performance is your problem for that amount of data... why not use a portable drive? Laptops are powerful enough.. the only limitation is the disk performance.

        Plus.. making the point that this isn't really portable is still valid. My SFF is a desktop just like anyone else's.. yet it's a lot lighter than this hybrid they are referring to. What's the purpose? I think the innovation is great, but it needs work.

        Why are you so ornery? Is there something wrong with making valid points?
        • ... processor performance is still gimp and in general the video cards in laptops (vs luggables) suck. Those are 2 big points for developers. The rest is just gravy :)
          • by ScottLindner (954299) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:30PM (#15564650)
            What?! Laptops awesome performance. There are lots of gamers that use laptops and at work we use high performance laptops as our demo road show that are more powerful than our blade server clusters. What you smokin? The only performance dig we've ever measured are the hard disks. I think you are buying cheap laptops and expecting the performance of expensive workstations. Or are looking at the wrong laptops for your needs.
            • I know not a single gamer who uses a laptop as a primary device. Desktops are much, much cheaper for comparable performance, offer greater options in terms of overclocking and cooling, and can be custom-built and easily upgraded. There aren't very many reasons for a gamer to use a laptop instead of a desktop; in fact, the only one I can really think of is the obvious portability that a laptop offers, which isn't demanded in most applications.
      • Sounds like you need a server or workstation.

        Can you setup SSH aka putty and just log remotely into a real machine for work?

        If its a unix or linux box you can even do X11 remote port forwarding if you want a desktop.

        Manipulating mass pieces of data is unusual for a portable system designed to get powerpoint presentations and read email?
        • I too thought that was the obvious solution. When you need a real computer, ssh into one.
          Not much help when you're on the move of course, unless you want to pay the insane connection fees most places ask for WiFi nowadays...
      • Re:weigh 20 punds? (Score:4, Informative)

        by roman_mir (125474) on Monday June 19, 2006 @05:08PM (#15564930) Homepage Journal
        Well, I have a real laptop computer in front of me and I do all my work on it. It is a DELL Latitude D810. 2GB 533MHZ DDR2 RAM (2x1GM modules,) 2.13GHz Centrino CPU, 100GB 7200RPM HD, 128MB Video memory (ATI,) 15.4"WU 1900x1200 screen, removable DVD+/-RW 8X IDE NEC, removable second battery. It has all the ports that I need, including some ports I don't need. Everything weighs under 2.3Kg. It's a lease, I pay 208CAD/mo for 2 years (I got this laptop a year ago now,) and after 2 years I will buy it out for 1 dollar.

        It is all I need in a computer, really.
      • The Shuttle sounds like a good idea but why bother with a monitor, presumably you have your laptop with you just remote in with that. a wireless G card and a carrying strap screwed to the top of the shuttle and your good to go.
      • I'd love to be able to carry, or cheaply ship a real computer to sites when I have to travel, or even set it up back at the hotel rooms so I can squash bugs, compile, and do database stuff on a *real* computer.

        With a 20lb laptop you should have no troubles squashing any size bugs in your Hotel, granted if you have to squash bugs, maybe you should find a new hotel?

      • I'd love to be able to carry, or cheaply ship a real computer to sites when I have to travel

        I did that a few years ago - put together a surprisingly cheap dual CPU machine with a pile of ram and a couple of 200GB disks in a small tower case with an LCD screen and a UPS, then had a wooden shipping crate made for it and packed it off to Africa for a couple of months. All went well until Fedex lost the customs paperwork on the way back and refused to take any responsibility - now we're hit with six figure dep

    • Re:weigh 20 punds? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Zzyzygy (189883) *

      That's not a portable! My laptop is heavy at 8lbs and it sucks to carry around with all of the gadgets and gizmos. Heck... even my SFF is lighter than 20 pounds. I love the concept but the weight has to improve big time.

      Methinks you are missing the point of TFA. They're comparing apples-to-oranges; like comparing Compaq Portable PC, or luggable [oldcomputers.net], to the laptops (or "ultra-portibles") of the time. I can't cite specific articles, but I do remember reading about the luggable-portable debates in early issue

    • Re:weigh 20 punds? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by NanoGator (522640) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:29PM (#15564642) Homepage Journal
      "That's not a portable! My laptop is heavy at 8lbs and it sucks to carry around with all of the gadgets and gizmos. Heck... even my SFF is lighter than 20 pounds."

      It's a lot more portable than the case, kb, mouse, monitor, and speakers I have attached to it. Gotta put it into perspective. Some people read 'portable' as "I don't mind flying across the country with it", and some read it as "I can fold it up and take it to the office".
    • Re:weigh 20 punds? (Score:5, Informative)

      by trb (8509) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:33PM (#15564674)
      It may be argued that a 20 lb PC is portable. It may not be argued that it is "ultra-portable." "Portable ultra-PC," maybe. "Ultra-portable PC," no. (Note that this phrasing is an error in the slashdot lead, not in the article itself.)
  • Try "luggable" (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    What's "ultra-portable" about a 20" form factor and 20lbs of weight?
  • Well (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Moby Cock (771358) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:13PM (#15564487) Homepage
    The worst of both worlds. Big and heavy, thus hard to move around. Performance hit and battery life woes too!
  • Prior art (Score:5, Funny)

    by Mensa Babe (675349) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:14PM (#15564493) Homepage Journal
    I've heard this guy [chadhorn.com] has just filed a lawsuit. Apparently he holds the patent for method and aparatus for blurring the line between laptops and desktops.
    • Were I a patent attorney, I would argue that that is prior art for a shouldertop. He might have something on wearable computers, though.
  • Ultra-portable? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    What the hell gives those things the name ultra-portable? For that matter, who would actually want any of these things? It has none of the advantages of a laptop, so basically it's a desktop that costs more than most laptops, with mid to high-range performance.
    • It would be good for lan parties, but I suspect it's really a way to get people to take their work PC home.

      That being said, I'm sure that since the margins for these things are higher it will soon become unfashionable to carry around a lightweight computer and have an absence of lower back problems. Long live marketing!
      • >>It would be good for lan parties, but I suspect it's really a way to get people to take their work PC home.

        2Gb Pen drive. 4 ounces vs 25 pounds.

        I agree with your sentiment. These luggables are a solution in search of a problem.
        • Not everyone has the same priorities. So long as it fits in my pack, it's portable enough, beyond that I want a large screen and useful keyboard, so bigger is better, and I don't mind carrying 20lb.
  • by l3v1 (787564) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:18PM (#15564537)
    There would probably be a market for such PCs in offices, hospitals, etc etc, still for us this just means hard or impossible to customize, expand, personalize/tweak/mod. So far only Apple managed to sell such hardware to a somewhat considerable average user base, this IMHO should be a sign to care about. And there are also what you would call zealots - and if you wish, I'm also one - who'd never buy a desktop PC for home use pre-built. Of course at work we always order Dells and the like, as any other sane human would do, and this is one of the possible target market - which I was talking about in the beginning - and these places will probably drop really big money for these smaller machines.

  • Depends on the use (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FiveDollarYoBet (956765) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:19PM (#15564544)
    I think it depends on the use of the laptop. I just got a new rig with a 17" screen and while it does weigh in at 9lbs. it fits my usage. I needed a good machine that I could stare at for long periods but once a month or so I could toss it in the car and go on-site. People just need to realize that these aren't for the salesman who spends 340+ days a year on the road and they're not for the data entry temp's cube.

    Of course knowing that didn't stop me from cursing about how heavy my bag was while lugging it around the subway on the way to the clients!

  • by nko321 (788903) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:19PM (#15564554) Homepage
    How many people here are looking for a 15+ lb. machine to replace their desktop priced at $2000+ USD?

    Okay, now how many people are looking for a sub-5 lb. machine in a laptop form factor that can run basic productivity software with excellent battery life priced at less than $800 USD?

    Why are there so few options for the latter scenario? And an even better question: why are there so many options for the former scenario!?
    • It's a mystery to me. There must be some solid marketing behind why Apple don't offer a truly portable machine, for example.

      Sony have some nice portables. If only they had a decent operating system...
      • Sony have some nice portables. If only they had a decent operating system...

        And decent management. I refuse to buy any Sony equipment due to the Rootkit fiasco.
    • How many people here are looking for a 15+ lb. machine to replace their desktop priced at $2000+ USD?

      My stepfather just bought one. I don't know if it weights 15 lbs, but it's a beast by portable standards. It's purpose isn't really desktop replacement, but to showoff their cpu-intensive software to customers with a setup that is relatively easy to take on a plane. It is not intended to be used while on the plane. I'm pretty sure this is a fairly uncommon requirement.

      Okay, now how many people are lookin
      • My guess? Margins on the latter are much better than the former.

        Oops, I got that backwards. Hopefully it was clear that I meant that the margins are higher on the expensive desktop replacements.
    • There are tonnes of laptops in the latter scenereo: Used laptops.
    • Why are there so few options for the latter scenario? And an even better question: why are there so many options for the former scenario!?

      You just answered your own question; obviously more people care about high performance than super light weight. My manager has both a tiny, light laptop and a pretty big honkin fast one. He travels all the time, and he seems to use his larger laptop a lot more. I think he just likes the full-sized keyboard and big screen, and it's a pain moving data back and forth to

  • Good and bad parts (Score:2, Informative)

    by WillAffleckUW (858324)
    1. Cost in the more than $2000 range, up to $5000.
    2. Adopted in developing countries, where power is much more unstable or harder to get - easier to recharge this from solar cells or power that's only on a few hours a day.
    3. Reminds me of the old "luggable" portables one hated having to lug around, especially give the 20 lb weights.
    4. Might be good for someone off the grid, with a portable high-speed connection (satellite dish or long-range WiFi?)
    5. Might also be good for someone who is retired and moves in
  • Hardware Upgrades (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MarkByers (770551) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:21PM (#15564572) Homepage Journal
    Laptops are great, they are so handy. I am sitting on the sofa writing this, something I can't do with my tower PC. The price of laptops is reasonable these days too.

    Frome TFA: 'LIMITED CAPACITY TO CUSTOMIZE'

    Agreed! The one thing that makes me still want a tower PC at times is that it is much cheaper and easier to upgrade a tower PC with the latest gadgets. Try upgrading the graphics card in a laptop computer, or installing a TV card... Ugh!
  • Didn't we used to call these luggables back in the day?

    You hauled around a big honking box which had the monitor and everything built it. They were utterly immense.

    A 20lb 'laptop' is kind of a scary thought.
  • >>"ultra-portable PCs..." "...20 pounds"

    Excuse me? What's that word again? "ULTRA-portable?" Compared to what, exactly, a steam powered Babbage Difference Engine? That's 20 pounds PLUS the weight of the bag PLUS all the shit you carry around with it including a charger, probably an extra battery (if battery life is as bad as the article says), CDs, mouse, books, etc.

    Who would this appeal to? I just don't get it.
    • Somebody who doesnt carry their computer around all the time, but maybe a few times a year needs to take some real computer power with him on the road.. Like me.. A laptop is too weak for what I try to do on it, and a traditional tower desktop is too unweildly.

      Or you have the folks who want a simple, slick shiney package for the home/office, without giving up functionality.

      I like the concept. One plug to AC power, one to the 'net (if no wireless available), built-in UPS, and a small footprint.
    • College students who change dorms/apartments every year, move home to their parents for the summer, and have a month off at Christmas. It would be much easier to carry than a desktop.
  • by caudron (466327) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:24PM (#15564598) Homepage
    I know what "ultra" means. Do they? I believe the phrase they are looking for is Semi Portable, not Ultra Portable.

    That's like saying Windows is Ultra Stable or Linux is Ultra Simple!

    Tom "Ultra Brilliant" Caudron
    http://tom.digitalelite.com/ [digitalelite.com]
    • Better yet: pseudo-portable
    • That's like saying Windows is Ultra Stable or Linux is Ultra Simple!

      Good flames, but for the win you need to insult Windows, Linux and Mac all in one sentence. You only managed two out of three.
      • Well, if he didn't get the win, then I'll take I'll take Paul Lynde for the block!
      • Good flames, but for the win you need to insult Windows, Linux and Mac all in one sentence. You only managed two out of three.

        Easy. Add: "... or Macs are Ultra Cheap!!!" (or "Ultra Powerful")

        To return perfunctorily to the topic... these things are for the same brainiacs who think bigger is better everywhere else and buy Ford Excursions to drive Super-Size combos home to their empty 6000-square-foot McMansions in wherever the newest, biggest suburb is. Somehow in America we're afflicted with a dispropor

  • but I'm realizing that there's a lot of people don't really need a lot of the features of their laptops - they're not moved often, they don't ever use them without plugging them in - but they do want some kind of portability and the tidiness (no mouse, keyboard or video cables, just one power thing). Seems to me an updated version of those fold-up-into-a-briefcase computers would do well, especially if they were easy to upgrade, but then what do I know?
    • Exactly. Sounds like what the target audience for this kind of thing really wants is an iMac clone. All in one hardware with minimal cable clutter. Moveable, without being truly portable. And cheaper than an iMac, not more expensive, which going for a laptop form factor is likely to make these things.
      • exactly. I was going to mention the iMac, but I didn't want to drag in the Apple drama.

        The only thing missing is a decent way to carry it - it needs a cover that folds over the screen and some kind of rubber bumpers or some goddamn thing on it to make it at least vaguely durable while in transit.
      • All in one hardware with minimal cable clutter.
        Heh. You haven't seen the USB hubs and resulting cable rat-nests and the additional monitor and external speakers and the cat5 Ethernet and the firewire iSight attached to my 12" iBook right here. ... Wait a minute, did I just say "firewire iSight"? ... There you go [flickr.com]. You can see a bit of this post on the screen. ... 'Minimal cable clutter' ,*ts*, my ass.

        (That purple thing is the most expensive USB device in the picture, btw. It's a dongle for Lightwave [newtek-europe.com].)
  • by buddyglass (925859) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:45PM (#15564771)

    Here is what I'd like to buy: a laptop, but without the keyboard, monitor, touchpad, speakers, and optical drive. Basically a little brick I could carry back and forth between work/home and drop into a docking station that's hooked up to a full-size keyboard, mouse and 21" LCD monitor. If you ditch all the human I/O devices (keyboard, touchpad, monitor, speakers) and commit to using an external optical drive, the thing shouldn't be much bigger/heavier than a portable hard drive.

    Alternately, I'd be happy with a "very fast" portable hard drive that has an elegant plugin interface to a desktop box. Then I could install everything on that drive and just lug it back and forth. The issue there is that I'd need to have "very similar" hardware in the two locations.

    • "Here is what I'd like to buy: a laptop, but without the keyboard, monitor, touchpad, speakers, and optical drive. Basically a little brick I could carry back and forth between work/home and drop into a docking station that's hooked up to a full-size keyboard, mouse and 21" LCD monitor. If you ditch all the human I/O devices (keyboard, touchpad, monitor, speakers) and commit to using an external optical drive, the thing shouldn't be much bigger/heavier than a portable hard drive."

      OK, so it's got an optica

    • heh, i have been toying with an idea like that for some time (i think i even have a journal entry about how i envision it here on slashdot.

      you dont realy need that much similar hardware, but licencing issues will show up when going windows...

      in windows you can set up diffrent hardware profiles, and linux never have a big problem detecting and loading the right drivers at boot-time.

      btw, i belive i spotted a entry on engadget where some company was planing a imac-clone with a replaceable hardware box. the har
    • You want either a Mac Mini, or an USB drive.
      • Neither's exactly right. The mini isn't designed to be portable, so there's no docking interface. It's also bigger and heavier than some ultra-ligth laptops, and it has fans. Because it's not designed to be portable, the ergonomics aren't 360 degrees. Turn the thing upside down and that's obvious. I was imagining something like this [geekstuff4u.com], but without the display, keyboard, touchpad and battery. It weighs 2.2lb with all that stuff, so fiture maybe 1.5lb without.

        A USB drive would work, except that the USB i

    • More or less, as others have commented, such machines exist today. What is interesting, though I have never found a web page on them, and none are available on eBay, is that in the early 1990's there was a 286 or 386 PC that was pretty much the same thing, and the company that made it (can't remember their name) called it the "Brick PC". It was very small for a "full power" (of the time) PC, and it had all the needed ports (serial, parallel, video, etc). It was smaller than the laptops of the time, slightly
  • by billstewart (78916) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:52PM (#15564821) Journal
    Your basic Shuttle PC weighs about 4kg before you add the disk and CPU, takes standard PCI cards, has an optional handle for the top, and costs about $200-300 empty, maybe $700 heavily loaded, plus you'd need an LCD monitor of whatever size is convenient and a little keyboard. That'll weigh a lot less than these misnamed monster laptops, use standard parts so there's a viable upgrade path, and cost 1/4 as much.
    • Your basic Shuttle PC weighs about 4kg before you add the disk and CPU, takes standard PCI cards, has an optional handle for the top... plus you'd need an LCD monitor of whatever size is convenient and a little keyboard. That'll weigh a lot less than these misnamed monster laptops, use standard parts so there's a viable upgrade path

      I agree that Shuttle SFFs are more upgradable, but they weigh much more and are not nearly as portable.

      A light dual-core Shuttle SFF like the G5 2000 Series [shuttle.com] weighs 3.2kg net

    • Not to mention it can be optionally doubled, I have a shuttle box which I can take home to my parent's place, hook up to a monitor and keyboard there. Suddenly the bulk size is basicly down to the Shuttle box (+ mouse). The really inconvienient part about a Shuttle box is if you need to pack down an LCD screen as well - you need to protect the display against scratches/damage. Easy enough if you got a car and can make sure it's against a soft surface - very annoying if you're using a suitcase. I wish the on
  • I consider my iMac G5 a portable desktop. It weighs about 20 pounts, and I even bought a custom case (with backpack straps) that makes it easy and pretty safe to carry it around. It sets up in seconds, and the new iMacs are even lighter.

    I took it carry-on on a flight to Hawaii (for work) and had no problems, TSA was way interested, oohs and ahhs.

  • Fan noise (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 2centplain (838236) on Monday June 19, 2006 @05:49PM (#15565173)
    One of the problems of a so-called desktop-replacement notebook is fan noise.
    IMHO, a notebook sitting on my wheezing high-pitched hot air at me is annoying. I'd rather have a deskside CPU box, with a larger, quieter fan.

    I wonder if there are any desktop replacement notebooks that don't have fans? (Or, if they do, have very quiet fans...)

    As far as I know, all the Dell notebooks have fans. Sure, when the machine is idle, the fans don't run. But, once you start doing some amount of work, expect the "wheeeeeeeee".

    • I just bought a new PC, and it has those new huge diameter fans. It doesn't even sound like it's on most of the time. You'd think that going to a more powerful machine with more fans would make for a louder machine, but no, this thing in ultra silent.
  • Here's my idea for a portable desktop: The computer and storage can be in a backpack, with a laptop shaped screen and keyboard that wirelessly hook up to it. That way you can have a lot of computing power, but still be able to carry it around, and have a lightweight, ergonomic device to hold and use. You could plug the backpack in, and carry around the laptop-like I/O device, which would have plenty of space for batteries. A battery for a fully powered desktop computer would probably be too heavy to every c
  • Big laptops are nothing new - what's interesting is the Samsung M70 with a detachable screen. Finally!

    Consider the potential options:
    - LCD dies -- go buy a replacement screen instead of sending in your entire notebook for repair
    - keep a backup LCD
    - Laptop motherboard dies - keep the screen and buy the notebook without the LCD, saving $100's
    - buy a lower resolution LCD screen and upgrade later
    - Detach and use on a stand for a more ergnomic fit -- or use 2 LCD screens.
    - keep two screens at home and work. tr
  • My distinction between laptops and desktops is that one can be carried, and one cannot. My desktop cannot be carried. If you make a 20 pound computer with a handle, there is no way that's blurring the line - it's still in the desktop area firmly by my standards.
  • by DoctorPepper (92269) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @08:16AM (#15568396)
    Reminds me of my TRS-80 Model 4P I used to lug back and forth to work, back in the mid-80's.

    Except it's probably a billion times faster, has way more colors (the Model 4P just had green), and boots slower! ;-)

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