HotHardware's Notebook Buyer's Guide
Which type of Notebook is for Me?
Desktop Replacement (aka DTR) – This category would include the honking big notebooks you see from Sager, Hypersonic, Alienware, VoodooPC, and Eurocomm. They are going to be in the 8 pound range give or take, and will most likely have good widescreen displays capable of a resolution greater than or equal to 1600 x 1200. Obviously, these are designed for people that need a a powerful computer but without taking up the real estate of a full blown desktop. Keep in mind that you shouldn't plan to carry their notebook or at most infrequently, as a roughly 8 pound notebook is a pain to bring to your meetings or classes everyday. Don't forget a big Notebook bag can also be a bit unsightly but if you need the power, you need that power.
Gaming –At least as far as the notebooks we have seen, gaming notebooks have primarily come from the DTR field, because of the heavy CPU and or GPU dependence of the "serious gamer." Most of them seem to be ODM from Clevo. Our personal opinion is to get an upgradeable gaming notebook if you can, because you won't need to be stuck with the same GPU on your 2 year old notebook, whereas the requirements of your newest game you picked up at Best Buy may have just anted up. Some crosses between a traditional notebook format, but most tend to be DTRs, so remember the weight restrictions. If you going to LAN parties and or want the cream of the crop in terms of power notebooks, these are the notebooks to shop for.
Multimedia –These are a new breed of notebooks with a focus no doubt on multimedia: the audio and video experience of movies [on DVD], MP3s or other audio formats, video files etc. They generally should have widescreen displays and dedicated multimedia buttons for play/pause, stop, fast forward/next, and rewind/previous. The first generation of these notebooks have been the larger DTR type notebooks, but we are starting to see more portable version of multimedia notebooks, i.e. Dell's Inspiron 700M and HP Pavilion DV1000. If you are more audio/video oriently, keep an eye out for these notebooks. Lately, these have become the favoriate of prospective notebook buyers.
Thin and Light –This would be a notebook likely with a 14.1" and 15.0" display, between 4 to 5 pounds or less. The best examples of this are some of the Centrino Sony Vaio notebooks. These are some of the best traveling notebook without sacrificing too much in way of power, but they tend to be a bit more pricey than "traditional" notebooks, so be prepared to pay a bit more. Of the main reasons they are thin and light, they go light-duty on just about everything to keep the weight scale down, which is why they can be more prone to damage if dropped due to thinner/lighter casing materials. If you are student or business professional and are willing to forgo a degree of power for easier mobility, these are the notebooks for you.
Traditional/Business –When most people refer to a traditional notebook, they are likely talking about the notebook format when most were owned by business folks and professionals. At that point, general users were just starting to pick them up. A good example of this would be the IBM ThinkPad T4X series or Dell's Latitude D600. A rough profile would be a notebook with a 14.1" SXGA+ display (native 1400 x 1050) and weighs about 5 to 6 pounds. This would be the flip side of "thin and light" notebooks in the sense that they are designed for students and business professionals with more of a focus on power. They still are smaller and lighter than desktop replacements. If you aren't into too much gaming or need a ton of power, you can get by in life with just one traditional or thin and light notebook as your only computer. The downside will be upgrading will likely involve the cost of an new notebook.
Ultraportable –This should be something in the 12.1" display variety, under 4 pounds. A good example would be IBM's X31 or Dell's X300. If you are going to buy one of these notebooks, you should make sure you already own or plan to own a desktop. These are ultraportable notebooks because they are willing to forgo the highest degree of power or options in favor for being lightweight and small, i.e. most ultraportables don't have optical drives.
Keep in mind that and the lines between "ultraportable," "thin and light," "desktop replacement," and "workstation replacement,"... are currently being blurred. So what you would call "thin and light" we might not. For example, some might call a Dell Inspiron 8600 a power "thin and light," despite the fact that it is a notebook with a 15.4" WUXGA display and is about 8 pounds, just because it uses Centrino parts. Others might call it a "desktop replacement" or "lightweight DTR." And we should point out, what we refer to as a "traditional notebook" now was often the only type of notebook available back when they were only in the hands of the business professional and in excess of 6 pounds.
The specs we are laying out are generalizations and the lines between many notebook categories are being blurred. It is really more about the feel of the notebook that lends itself into a particular category, which is why some manufacturers can have "duds" by marketing their notebook in the wrong market.