Travel | Travel Tips

Portable Computers FAQ

What is the preferred configuration for a laptop or notebook computer?

Laptop or notebook computers are really very subjective and it depends on what programs you use to how it should be configured. My preferred configuration is overkill for students writing papers, surfing the Internet and/or sending and receiving e-mail. I outfit the laptop/notebook to be able to use as my main Photoshop computer while on the road which means it has to be able to handle the processing load that comes with Photoshop and the rest of the Adobe Creative Suite 2 along with traditional office software suites. It is important to note that my laptop is maximized for power – often called a desktop replacement – which means it has a relatively short battery life (I keep it plugged in most of the time) and weighs a lot (right at 8 pounds without accessories).  

I am platform agnostic. I like MAC and PC equally. I personally use a PC, but am equally proficient on a MAC. If you want stylish design then MAC is really your only choice so look to the Apple web site store ( or the Ai Student Store ( and dive into the new MacBook Pro. If you want power at a slightly lower price then a PC it is and there are a lot of reputable vendors – Dell, Gateway, HP, Alienware (now Dell), Vodoo (now HP), Asus, Acer, Toshiba, Fujitsu, etc.

If you have any questions or only need the office capabilities of a computer please e-mail or call me and I’ll let you know how much you can cut down your configuration and software purchases to save money.


All I want to know is what the total cost is…

For the configuration below the hardware will run $1,700 to $2,500. The software can be $80 to $700 and up depending on what you buy or the programs you need. Can it be done cheaper, the answer is yes, depending on what you need to do and how fast you intend to do it. This is a rough outline of what I use, but it is not by any means necessary for everyone.


Optimal Laptop/Notebook Configuration:

1. 15.4-inch or preferably 17-inch high resolution screen.

2. Dual Core processor (Intel 32-bit T7x00 Core Duo series or AMD 64-bit Turion X2 series)

3. A minimum of 1.0 Gig. (1024 Meg.) RAM, preferably 2.0 Gig. (2048 Meg.) RAM

4. A 5400 RPM disk drive (preferably a 60 gig. or larger 7200 RPM hard drive). Some configurations are only available with 5400 RPM hard disk drives to help mitigate the heat factor caused by the faster components. A 7200 RPM hard drive can speed the system up considerably and is recommended, but is not always an option on portable, notebook, laptop or thin and light computers.

5. 8x DVD and 24x/10x/24x CD-RW optical drive or similar. A lot of people are now moving toward the DVD-R / DVD+R standard which means they can watch DVDs, read data DVDs and  write data to DVD or make data backups to DVD. The DVD writer option is available, but not necessary for most people.  

6. 64 Meg. or larger graphics card / graphics processor. Preferrably 128 Meg. or larger, but 64 Meg. usually gets the job done for a laptop with a 17-inch or smaller screen. The choices are generally ATI Mobility Radeon, Nvidia GeForce Go or some type of Integrated Graphics. I recommend ATI or Nvidia. MAC comes with ATI.

7. Built-in Wireless A/G and Built-in Bluetooth. Various manufacturers make the wireless cards. The brand does not matter... it is about functionality and the ability to use wireless Internet and network connections. The Bluetooth module is for accessories such as wireless mice, PDAs, etc. Some manufacturers are also offering wireless N, but it piggybacks on Wireless G connection at the moment because thre are very few Wireless N networks out there. Many wireless connections will work through cell phones as well such as Verizon, Cingular and Sprint via PCMCIA cellular cards for approximately $80 per month, but the reception is spotty outside major cities and very costly if traveling internationally.

8. Built-in Ethernet network connection 10/100 Fast Ethernet or preferably 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet.

9. Something to think about for students and frequent travelers is the warranty and/or Accidental Damage replacement policy. This means that if you sit/step on it and crush it, spill a drink on it, have it fall off the table and break then the company replaces the computer for free, you only pay shipping costs. 


Accessories – not necessarily in order

1. Carrying Case – something that does not scream I am an expensive laptop computer, please steal me. It must be able to fit the specifications for airline carry on luggage.

2. Separate full-size USB keyboard (because typing on laptop keyboards is very hard with big fingers and it allows the monitor to be a foot or two away from your face).

3. Separate USB or Wireless or Bluetooth mouse – I have never used a touchpad with any degree of proficiency and I love the extra productivity features good mice provide. I personally use a full-size multi button USB mouse with scroll wheel.

4. 6x8 or 6x11 WACOM tablet. Wacom tablets are not for everyone, but I love them. They are bulky on the road, but so is most of the other stuff I carry when I’m on the road for three months at a time. 

5. USB Key or Flash Drive (USB 2.0 only) – an easy way to exchange smaller files.

6. Separate 15-foot or 25-foot Category 5e or Category 6 Ethernet Cable

7. Media Card Reader – For most photographers, especially those that do digital imaging, it is important to have a Card Reader or Compact Flash Card Reader. I recommend a good USB 2.0 Card Reader or Media Reader that can read several types of Card Media. Most importantly, make sure it reads your card media or camera media.

8. Portable Hard Drive – I recommend this to every photographer and graphics person. Files sizes build very quickly in photography and graphic design. This is not an option for me. I have to use it to store my files/data – not to mention it makes data transfer for both small and larger files quick and easy. I recommend a 160+ Gig. 7200 RPM external portable hard drive with both USB 2.0 and Firewire (IEEE 1394) interfaces. Most larger portable hard drives have to have a separate power plug, so be careful if traveling overseas and get the right power adaptor.


Operating system

1. MAC – MAC OS X, currently 10.4.5  (the latest version of Panther)

2. PC – Windows XP Pro or Windows XP Media Center Edition or Windows XP Home – I use the Pro version for office connectivity and office networking features, most students can save a little cash and get the Media Center Edition.


Application Software

Now that we have our computer and operating system we need to put software on it so we can get our studies or job done. Software choices are subjective and I am only giving recommendations. Only buy the software you need to do your class work.

Most of these suites or products can be ordered or bought at reasonable prices if you do some comparitive pricing. Otherwise look to my web site ( and go to the Computer Software section then expand Academic Software to see other places you can buy educational software priced for students and teachers. If not an educational purchase then consider the pricing search engines.

1. Anti-Virus – I tend to like Norton SystemWorks and/or Computer Associates, but a lot of People like McAfee and/or other Utility and Anti-Virus suites. If it is a Windows computer I would not get near the Internet or e-mail connection until I had installed an Anti-Virus program and updated the program. If it is a MAC, the Anti-Virus is optional, the only reason for the Anti-Virus software is to scan your e-mail. There are very few viruses or attacks on MACs.

2. Microsoft Office – Word, Excel, Outlook and/or PowerPoint.

I also have Corel WordPerfect Office X3, Lotus SmartSuite and Open Office, but the Microsoft Office is by far the most popular office suite.

3. Adobe Creative Suite 2 – Acrobat Professional, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Go Live and Version Cue. Adobe Creative Suite CS3  makes its debut for  Apple OS X and Windows Vista in March 2007.

4. Macromedia (now Adobe) Studio 8 –  DreamWeaver, Flash, Contribute, FireWorks and Flash Paper.

5. I recommend Nero Burning ROM or the Sonic Recording Suite for Burning CDs and DVDs, but many schools prefer Roxio Toast. The software choice is yours, but it is recommended to have CD/DVD burning capability.

6. Software utilities to consider for the PC are Techsmith Snag-It for screen copying or screen grabbing software, Raxco PerfectDisk for defragmenting/rearranging the hard drive to keep the PC running faster, PC Tools Registry Mechanic to fix Windows Registry errors, PC Tools Spyware Doctor to help keep spyware and malware off your computer, etc. All have additional costs attached to them. For example, Snag-It is $30 and PerfectDisk is $40. And last but not least is something like WinZip for PC or Stuff-It for the MAC for the ability to compress files to send over the Internet or to open Zip and other compressed files. WinZip or Stuff-It will generally cost around $30.

7. Other software – games, specialized CAD software, etc. is at your digression. I do recommend some of the free downloads such as JAVA, Mozilla Firefox Internet browser, and iTunes/Quicktime for video files/music.

8. Free maintenance utilities for the MAC are:





Everything except the Anti-Virus, Utilities and CD/DVD burning software can be had in one package called the Creative Cast for Ai Students. The Creative Cast software suite is extremely well priced for Ai students.


Last updated Sunday October 1, 2006