Notebook Laptop Computers: How Are They Different From Laptops?
The terms “laptop computer” and “notebook computer” are often used interchangeably. In reality, there are major differences, and the latter can really be described as a notebook laptop, since it was initially created as a smaller and stripped down version of a traditional laptop. Here’s a rundown of the differences between the two types of computers, their history, and important details to consider if you’re making a decision of notebook vs laptop.
The two types of portable computer are basically the same in the way they’re constructed: they each have a screen and a keyboard which are connected to each other by hinges. Most people classify a specific model as either a notebook or a laptop by its weight and size. Generally speaking, laptop computers weigh anywhere from four to 18 pounds and require their own carrying case. A computer is usually called a notebook if it weighs five pounds or less and can fit into a briefcase or large purse; some even approach the size of a tablet or PDA. Many use the term “sub-notebook” to describe the smallest notebook computers.
There are other important differences, however. For the most part, laptops more closely resemble a stationary or desktop computer; they’re more powerful in terms of computing power (in terms of on-board RAM), with efficient cooling systems and DVD drives; notebooks usually don’t include those features, although external drives can easily be connected if needed. There are other accessories or extra features which usually can’t be found on notebooks – for example, you can easily buy a laptop with touchscreen capabilities while a similarly equipped notebook is more difficult to find.
To put it simply, laptops are more like computers as we’ve known them over the years, and you pay for that power in terms of size, weight and price. Notebooks, or notebook laptops as they could be called (along with their close cousins netbooks and ultrabooks) are much more convenient and have become more like “real computers” as time has passed, but still don’t have all of the functionality you can get in a laptop.
The first portable computers available to consumers debuted in the early 1980s, when companies like Osborne, Kaypro and Compaq released machines which could be carried on airplanes, a major development for travelling professionals. The Osborne is considered to have been the very first commercial laptop; it had a five-inch screen, weighed nearly 25 pounds and cost almost two thousand dollars. However, it quickly led to an influx of competitors into the newly-developing portable market. These early computers depended, of course, on floppy disks for storage. Some of the first models couldn’t even run on battery power.
Innovation came quickly throughout the decade. The first computer actually marketed as a “laptop” was the Gavilan SC, released in 1982. The TRS-80 Model 100, a very small portable machine designed by Microsoft and marketed by Radio Shack, quickly became popular; IBM released its own portable computer, the IBM PC Convertible; and Compaq came out with the first laptop to feature VGA graphics and an internal hard drive. The IBM was the most commercially successful of the group, even though it weighed twelve pounds and sold for a then-startling price of $3500. It was the first laptop to use the still-popular clamshell design and come with a rudimentary software suite, and although it only had two floppy-disk drives and no hard drive, its 256 kilobytes of internal memory was impressive for its time. Apple joined the fray in 1989 with its Macintosh Portable, which would morph into the ubiquitous Powerbook a few years later. By the turn of the 1980s, worldwide sales of laptops nearly reached 2.5 million units.
The 1990s saw more improvements in technology. In 1991, Microsoft announced their new trackball system for portable computers, Apple rolled out its first full line of PowerBooks, and Ethernet connections started to supplement the usual modem connectors found on units. The following year IBM released the ThinkPad series (often thought of as one of the first notebooks), and Microsoft teamed with Intel to unveil an advanced power management system for laptop computers which was in common use by the mid-90s. Around this time the release of better operating systems (such as Windows 95 and 98) and browsers (such as Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer) made the user experience vastly better, as did inclusion of features like USB and Pentium processors. Improvements kept coming over the next few years with the addition of color screens, universal bays for peripherals, and WiFi connectivity. As a result, laptop sales rose rapidly, reaching nearly 30 million units by the year 2000.
Over the following years, changes to laptop computers fell into two categories: more power, and less size and weight. Continuing increases in processor capability and the addition of all traditional peripherals allowed many people to give up their huge desktop computers completely, in favor of laptops. And engineering breakthroughs and components such as super-slim DVD drives allowed manufacturers to drastically reduce the weight of their machines making them easier to carry. Add to that the universal move toward WiFi hubs and connections, and the laptop continued to surge in popularity. In 2005, laptops actually outsold desktops for the first time ever, with nearly 70 million units sold.
Today, laptops often weigh less than a bag of sugar and have just about all of the capability and flexibility of a traditional desktop machine. The growing popularity of notebook computers, has cut into the sales of what have been thought of as “laptops,” but they remain a versatile and important computer with a large share of the marketplace.
Most industry observers cite the Compaq LTE, which hit the market in 1989, as the first real “notebook” computer. It was about a foot long, eight-and-a-half inches wide and just under two inches thick – around the size of a standard paper notebook, which is naturally where the name came from. Since it was so large compared to today’s models, it’s easy to see why some people thought of it as a notebook laptop. The IBM ThinkPad, previously mentioned, came out a short time later with one model around the same dimensions as the Compaq. One other competitor also mentioned as possibly the “first” notebook is the NEC UltraLite, unveiled that same year; it was around the same size and weighed only five pounds even though it had two megabites of internal memory.
It wasn’t until 1993 that more powerful processors were utilized in early-generation notebook computers. That’s when the Gateway Handbook was modified to use a 486 processor chip. It was also one of the smallest versions on the market at the time, with a length of ten inches, a depth of six inches, and a height of just 1 ½ inches.
Laptops continued to get smaller and lighter, and in 1996 a company called Psion actually trademarked the name “Netbook” for a line of what were called “sub-notebook” computers, finally introduced in 1999. They didn’t sell well, however, and were discontinued a few years later. When Intel eventually claimed the name for its own line of products, Psion decided not to fight for ownership of the brand name. Among the sub-notebooks released around this time were the Toshiba Libretto which weighed less than two pounds, and the Apple PowerBook Duo.
Technological advances in the 2000s meant that consumers had a wide choice of what were becoming popularly known as notebook computers, rather than notebook laptops. Most still weighed six pounds or more, and were a foot or more in length. The distinction between the smaller machines and larger laptops first came into real focus with the introduction of the Netbook Classmate PC by Intel and the Asus Eee PC in 2007, which sold more than 300,000 units in just its first four months on the market. They were each among the smallest machines available and proved extremely popular both because of their size and their lower cost.
It’s ironic that one of the biggest computer innovations of the decade was actually inspired by the work of the “One Laptop Per Child” project, which was trying to produce a sub-$100 machine to be used by children in developing countries (and which Intel was originally involved with). The construction of that machine, the XO-1, was being handled by Asus’s major rival in Taiwan; that’s what drove Asus to create and market the Eee PC
Other manufacturers quickly launched their own lines of smaller notebook computers, which all became known as netbooks. Lenovo, Acer, HO, Samsung, and finally Dell brought netbook offerings to the market in 2008 and the competition was on, although Asus continued to dominate for quite some time. The battle primarily centered around machine size and weight, as well as overall computer functionality. And sales soared. In 2010, more than 32 million netbooks were sold worldwide.
Unfortunately for companies who focused mainly on this market, however, 2010 was also the year that the iPad was introduced. A large group of consumers turned its attention to this new device (and tablets in general), which didn’t pretend to be a computer at all but provided the online interactivity which was really the goal of many users. As a direct result, sales of netbooks were down to around 14 million in 2012 and continued to fall after that, with many companies such as Toshiba, Dell and Samsung abandoning the market completely.
Ultrabooks: The Next Generation
This doesn’t mean that notebook laptop computers are a thing of the past – far from it. Intel was instrumental in furthering the concept, introducing its “ultrabook” idea in 2011. The ultrabook (which would be manufactured by a number of companies) was designed to compete in what was becoming known as the “sub-notebook” category, which also included the MacBook Air from Apple. The MacBook Air has led this market in sales for quite some time, largely due to much better performance than ultrabook-branded products.
These machines are surprisingly more like laptops than netbooks in terms of their dimensions (including screens of 12-15 inches), but they are very thin and lightweight, and have longer-than-normal battery life. They’re also much more expensive, in the $800-$1000 range as opposed to netbooks which are usually sold for half the price or even less.
Sales of ultrabooks did not meet initial projections; analysts believe that the popularity of tablets with consumers and the high price of ultrabooks were the main reasons. Many millions are still being sold, however, and new features continue to be built into ultrabooks such as touchscreens, voice command and USB 3.0.
Why Is The Term Laptop Disappearing?
It’s less and less common to see advertising for laptop computers these days, and that’s because most manufacturers are actually phasing out the term. They’re doing it for several reasons. First, the actual distinction between notebooks and laptops is rapidly disappearing, as notebooks take on most of the functionality of what have traditionally been called laptops. Secondly, marketing considerations come into play. Many consumers associate the word “laptop” with characteristics like “heavy,” “bulky” and “hot,” while they don’t have those same feelings toward the phrase “notebook computer.” Some also feel that laptop computers are always large enough so they have to fit on a lap. That’s led companies to label even their larger portable computers as notebooks – the type of machine toward which most buyers have positive feelings.
The Future of Laptops and Notebooks
While tablets have become almost as ubiquitous as smart phones, there is still strong demand for both laptop and notebook computers, particularly with continued improvement of the ultrabook and other innovations such as convertible laptops which can also be used as tablets, and a laptop with touchscreen for easy use.
Some business users have given up their computers completely and simply use Bluetooth to connect a keyboard to their tablet, relying on cloud storage instead of a dedicated hard drive. There are industry analysts who predict this will become the norm in coming years. But most professionals still rely on their portable computers for important work that must be done on the road, so notebook laptops will still prove to be a viable segment of the market.
When it comes to the consumer market the picture is cloudier. For example, most of the laptops currently being sold are used in the home as replacements for desktop models and not as portable computers. It’s likely that an all-in-one device which combines the computing power of a server with the flexibility of individual tablet-like devices will eventually be developed for home use, rendering the laptop unnecessary.
For now, though, manufacturers continue to produce and improve laptop and notebook computers – and it seems that won’t change for some time. So the choice of notebook vs laptop is one which still faces millions of buyers; with seemingly more options than ever, it’s a pleasant choice to have to make.