Fri. Jun 14th, 2024
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Laptops and Notebooks – Is There a Difference

If asked, the greatest number of people consuming mobile (or portable) computers would not know how to tell the difference between a laptop and a notebook computer. In case they decide to go shopping for a notebook, they will end up choosing a laptop, since now all mobile computers are considered likewise.

Traditionally, the difference between the two was mostly in terms of size and weight, but today this is not so, thanks to the technological improvements that led to the production of much smaller and lighter components. So, they are only called ‘a laptop’ or ‘a notebook’ based on the manufacturer’s choice.

The advancements in the information technology and the supporting infrastructure resulted in these two devices being indistinguishable today. The options that once defined the dividing line between them have been considerably reduced.

Both of these terms refer to mobile computing platforms that were originally used for different purposes. However, nowadays they are almost interchangeable and the distinction is not apparent anymore. In order to comprehend the difference between laptops and notebooks, a closer and more detailed glance through their history needs to be cast.

What is a laptop computer?

A laptop computer, or simply a laptop, is a small portable computer (small enough that can sit on your lap), which usually weighs two to four kilograms, depending on hardware, display size and other factors. Today it is more and more frequently being called a notebook, though moderately bigger in size, both in thickness and weight. They were initially created to emulate the functions of desktops, but their adequacy for entertainment goals increased the demand for further technological progress and led to the development of more compact devices, such as netbooks and tablets.

So, laptops were made to imitate the capabilities and extensions of the ordinary PC, though mobility was not the main priority, but portability. Namely, back in early 1990s the ordinary PCs were sufficiently large to move around the room, for example conference halls. Thus, laptop computers’ primary role was to fill in this hole in computer use, since they are suitable for taking from one place to another inside closed spaces, without tangling any wires or cables.

They had more features than notebooks and were more similar to the ordinary PC with extendable ports and peripherals. The hardware parts also resembled the PC as much as they could, though being quite restricted in regard to battery power. A good example of a laptop from the end of 1980s could be Compaq SLT/286, which weighed around seven or eight kilograms and was rather thick.

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A great advantage of a laptop nowadays is the ability to be arranged in many different ways, depending on the needs and tasks to be delivered. For instance, a typical configuration for playing games would include expanding RAM, adding high-end graphics and video card, and removing limitations (‘overclocking’) on the hardware for faster response times.

What is a notebook computer?

Notebook computers are designed for working while on the go, but they also meet the requirements for all sorts of entertainment. They are not quite cheap; nonetheless, the top of the class notebooks can be very expensive. A variety of techniques, called flat-panel technologies, are used to produce a lightweight and compact display screen. Their computing power is nearly equivalent to that of personal computers, having the same CPUs, memory capacity and disk drives. Thus, it comes as no surprise that their price is not so low, as you get all of this in such a small package.

Notebook computers are extremely lightweight, typically less than three kilograms, and are very small in size (‘notebook sized’), so that they can easily fit in a briefcase. Notebooks were also created to resemble desktop computers in terms of functioning, but were aimed towards personal rather than business use. When first released, they did not even have a replaceable hard disk or other peripherals.

This difference in physical appearance when compared to laptops is what made them more adequate as mobile computing platforms than as portable ones. Thus, consumers obviously voluntarily traded performance capabilities for mobility. A fine example of an earlier notebook, which is largely considered as the very first to be created, is NEC’s UltraLite revealed in 1989. It weighed something less than two and a half kilograms and had almost all the extensions of a laptop, though relatively less powerful. However, it was more expensive, as expected.

What is the difference between a laptop and a notebook?

So, how to make a difference between them today? As we said, laptops were created to mimic the functionality of desktops, with the addition of portability. For this reason, they used to have more features than notebooks, but were also larger and heavier. On the other hand, the main focus of a notebook was mobility, instead of portability. In order to be more suitable as a mobile device, or many other modern gadgets you can find on, it had to be thinner, weigh less and not have features, multiple devices or drives.

Laptops were initially meant for business purposes, since they were suited for presentations, spreadsheets, financial software packages, just like desktop computers; whereas notebooks thrived in personal use, primarily including writing, e-mailing, entertaining, file management.

In the beginning, hard drive capacity and RAM were much higher in laptops, and many of them had CD or DVD drives that matched those of desktops. However, as hardware components and capabilities have developed, the once clear-cut boundary between these two mobile computing platforms has become blurred, both in terms of functionality and size.

Notebooks had a smaller display than laptops at first, fewer internal drives (hard drive, floppy or CD-ROM), while the sound and modem were integrated, not separate and upgradable hardware devices. Thus, the biggest contrast seemed to come down to size and weight, but with constant technological progress over time computer devices and peripherals have become much smaller, so the difference is now even less noticeable.

With the increase of hardware potential, the computing power and functionality of laptops allowed for them to become primary computers for a great number of users, despite being more expensive than desktops. As portability was their chief virtue, their use spread beyond simple office or school work. The emergence and popularity of tablets and smartphones reduced the need for desktops or large laptops. Notebooks also started developing high-resolution screens, while the solution for the DVD drive issue was found in wireless networking and services like Netflix or Sportify. The flourishing of the use of portable computing devices resulted in laptops being the most common choice among graphic artists, freelancers, executives; notebooks predominantly among students and highly-mobile workers; whereas tablets are mostly used by the general public.

Still, what are the main technical differences between modern laptops and notebooks? Apart from the already mentioned general size and weight, they also differ in screen size: laptops are able to display a full keyboard, as their screens are usually thirteen to eighteen inches wide, while notebooks are less likely to do so, as theirs range from eight and a half to twelve and a half inches. Then, laptops have one terabyte (TB) drive or a solid state drive (SSD), their RAM capacity is often 4-12 GB and they have large screen resolutions. Average notebooks, on the contrary, have 512 GB on the hard drive, though some are now providing an SSD option of up to 1 TB. Their RAM capacity is typically 2-4 GB, while screen resolution can vary. DVD drives and other accessories of a desktop can be integrated in a laptop, but not always in a notebook, though they can be externally attached. When it comes to cooling systems, laptops have fans like desktops, while notebooks do not, as their processing power is lesser. Nevertheless, the biggest difference between current laptops and notebooks besides weight seems to be battery life, where notebooks show themselves more lasting, being able to endure five to fourteen hours, in comparison with laptops, whose battery life is usually six to ten hours.

The most well-known notebook manufacturers are HP, Apple, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, Dell; for laptops are these as well, but also Acer, Asus, Lenovo, MSI, AlienWare and Microsoft. The cost of new laptop models varies to a great extent depending on the screen size and hardware, but notebooks are still less expensive. However, both laptop and notebook sales have declined with the growth of smartphone and tablet consumption.

There are also hybrids of extremely lightweight portable computing devices, which offer full-sized keyboards, but rather low hardware capabilities: for example, the MacBook Air, which has a screen of thirteen and a half inches, a 360 GB hard drive and seven to thirteen hours of battery life. It weighs less than one and a half kilogram and has no DVD drive.

In conclusion…

Along with other computing devices on the market, laptops and notebooks have evolved both in functionality and appearance. Although at first they were meant to serve two separate purposes, laptop and notebook computers were designed according to the desktop model, and today, despite the obvious differences, their undeniable similarities seem to be what matters more when defining them. They were not invented for the same reason to start with, but at one point during the technological development these two practically merged into one, making it difficult to draw a distinction and describe a portable or mobile computing platform as a laptop or as a notebook. So, currently it is completely up to the manufacturer whether a product will be called one way or the other; for example, HP has decided to produce notebooks, while Dell still continues to call them laptops. However, for most users these two terms are interchangeable, even though there are differences in weight, thickness, performance, etc. The term ‘laptop’ has been in use for so long now mostly due to the high performance attributed to these devices, though some are not really that suitable for sitting on your lap, considering their weight.

A decade ago, a sharper contrast could still be noticed between the two terms, but gradually the frequency of ‘laptop’ use has decreased. About a few years ago, numerous manufacturers, like Acer, Gateway, Sharp, Sony, NEC, IBM and Fujitsu used exclusively ‘notebook’ in referring to their products. However, at present, many call them laptops, so as to make a difference between portable computers and similar ‘book-like’ devices, such as tablets and Chromebooks. Acer, Dell and HP now offer lists of home, business and gaming laptops. Additionally, shopping websites, online vendors, ecommerce shops and the like also display categories of laptops and not notebooks. Thus today, contrary to some years ago, laptops seem to be gaining more popularity on the market, while notebooks as a term are slowly disappearing.

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