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Anatomy of a laptop

18th May 2009
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When published its top 10 laptops recommended by and for accountants in January, several members asked for a bit of technical background. Not long after, Toshiba's European product marketing manager Emmanuel Guerritte took us on a detailed tour of the innards of one of the company's latest models, the ultra-light Portégé R600. Starting from around 779g, it's claimed to be the "lightest fully functioning laptop in the world".

The light weight is made possible partly by the use of Intel's range of ULV (ultra low voltage) microprocessors. As the illustration below shows, the manufacturer has also achieved a remarkable degree of miniaturisation of the motherboard electronics, which are squeezed into the compact space between the battery and disk drives. This configuration is designed for a serious business user - a serious gamer, for example, would probably prefer a bigger screen and a more powerful specialised graphics subsystem.

The short captions that follow give a brief description of the main components within the laptop and what they do.

For most users, battery life is probably a more important practical consideration than the machine's processor speed and storage capacity. Using a Lithium-ion battery rated at 5800 milliampere-hours (mAh), this battery is claimed to run the laptop for almost 8 hours.
One gigabyte (1GB) of random access memory (RAM) is contained on the four small chips shown here,with slot above them for either an extra 2GB or 4GB module.
Central processor
An Intel SU9400 Core 2 Duo Processor (3M Cache, 1.40 GHz) powers this PC, but is obscured here by the heat-dissipating fan. Intel's website offers a detailed rundown of its processors and their capabilities.
Optical drive
Aside from the battery, the biggest element underneath the Portégé R600 bonnet is a 24x DVD optical disk drive, capable of reading and writing to CD-R and DVD-R disks. This is probably one of the smallest laptops to include an optical drive - if any smaller mini-notebooks have such a device, it's likely to be an optional, external drive.
3G modem
In the past year or so, mobile network operators have become a major channel for laptops, and their mobile "dongles" have become a common sight. But why bother with an easy-to-lose piece of plastic? In this model, the 3G dongle and aerial are built into the laptop
Hard disk
160GB available on this hard disk, which is a spinning magnetic platen, read by delicate disk heads. This Toshiba model includes a built-in sensor to protect the heads if it detects rapid movements such as a fall. Hard disks take up space and are likely to be superseded by RAM-like solid state drives.

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John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
21st May 2009 12:54

Thanks for the warning, Roger
We asked Toshiba to provide the picture so we wouldn't have to mess with the innards of one of our laptops. And to be frank, their machine is a little more exciting to look at than the clunky old laptops we use.

You are correct to warn other members about the warranty issue, but it puts me in mind of the overpriced aftercare arrangements you get with many car dealers. As Stewart Twynham has written in the past, forbidding laptop owners from opening up their machines perpetuates the hardware upgrade rip-off.

If you compare the price of a PC or Mac with a bigger disk drconfiguration, it will usually be significantly more expensive than buying extra RAM or a bigger disk and fitting them yourself. This is accepted practice with desktop machines, and while laptops are smaller and more fiddly, they have similar snap-fit connections that someone with a tiny bit of experience should be able to cope with. There's plenty of advice how to do it out on the Web - and in many organisations there may be someone who has experience carrying out such tasks.

In our Top 10 laptop guide, we suggested bargain-hunters look for machines that have been superseded by bigger/faster/better models with the intention of upgrading them later to extend their life. Perhaps we could agree on a compromise approach, by suggesting users leave the inside of the laptop alone for the first year or two (depending on the warranty period). By the time the storage capacity is coming under strain, or you're getting frustrated by the slow performance, it'll probably be out of warranty anyway and you can consider undertaking a DIY upgrade.

John Stokdyk
Technology editor

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By lawmaniz
21st May 2009 11:36

Buying a laptop or any other expensive goods.
Don't forget that under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, goods have a statutory six-year guarantee period - the best in the European Union. So no need to buy expensive product fault guarantee insurance from the trade sellers who often offer a mere one-year or two-year product fault contractual guarantee period. If a fault arises, you'll need to show that it was an inherent one that occurred in the manufacturing process. Faults which develop through mis-treatment, such as dropping a laptop, are not covered by the six-year statutory gurantee period (but such damage may be covered by your household insurance policy).

Thanks (1)
By RogerNeale
20th May 2009 11:36

BEWARE - Don't Void Your Warranty

It's all very well describing the anatomy of a laptop but whatever else you do with it, if it's under warranty, do not open it yourself !!!


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