More Laptop For Less Money



IBM ThinkPad 570
500 MHz Intel Pentium III
128 MB of RAM
12-GB hard drive
24X CD-ROM drive


Dell’s Inspiron 2600
1.2 GHz Intel Celeron
256 MB of RAM
20-GB hard drive
24X CD-ROM drive
Six months of AOL


HP Pavilion ze1210 Notebook PC
1.4 GHz AMD Athlon XP
256 MB of RAM
20-GB hard drive
24x/8x/8xCD-rewritable and 8X DVD combo drive
Productivity and Internet software


Gateway 600X
1.8 GHz Intel Pentium 4
256 MB of RAM
30-GB hard drive
One year of AOL
Software, carrying case

For years laptops have been the tool of choice for the on-the-go executive, but less so for most owner-operators. In recent years, however, price cuts and technological advances have made them more attractive to independent contractors.

Owner-operator Mark Portolano bought a refurbished Compaq laptop several years ago for about $1,000, a lot less than what laptops went for just a few years before that. He uses it for online banking, checking loads and sending e-mail to his wife. “It’s made things easier,” he says. “And the mobility helps.”

But Portolano, no doubt like some other truckers who embraced laptops early, says he expected to be able to explore the Internet at high speeds from his cab by now. “I was hoping that the wireless revolution would kick off a little faster than it has,” he says.

A lesser limitation is pricing. A top-of-the-line laptop still goes for more than $2,000, but Dell, Gateway, Sony and other computer makers offer functional laptops for less than $1,000. Off-brand models go for even less at large computer outlets. Refurbished models, too, can be had for less than $1,000.

More money usually buys a bigger screen, larger hard drive, faster processor and recordable CD-ROM drive. The big money also can get you a brand name, a lengthy warranty and technical support. Even so, most $1,000 models pack enough power to run the business applications owner-operators need.

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If you’re treating yourself to a laptop this holiday season, make sure you’re up on current specs and consider these factors in addition to price:

PORTABILITY. If you’re going to be taking the computer in and out of your truck, get a heavy-weight case or pay extra for a ruggedized laptop, which is designed to aborb the shock of off-road driving. A lightweight model will help keep your shoulder from aching on those long marches across the parking lot.

ACCESS. It can be expensive and difficult to get Internet access unless you’re visiting the right truck stop or hotel. Most connections at those locations are 28k or 56k – a slow speed if you’re used to connections such as cable or DSL modems. Wireless service is expensive and usually slow.

HARDWARE. Laptops, though much faster than before, are still slower than most equivalent desktops. If you want to burn CDs or play complex 3-D video games, you may have to fork out big bucks for a fast processor. However, you should have no problem with e-mail, accounting software and Web browsing, even using a refurbished laptop.

UPGRADING. Laptops are harder and more expensive to upgrade than desktops. Sometimes you can’t add much more than memory and external drives. Buy what you think you will use now and consider replacing your laptop down the road.