In the automotive world, the real money is made in the options packages. Fancy hubcaps, satellite radio, two-tone paint? Thank you very much, dealers will say, as they pocket sometimes more money than they made selling you the car.
Though buying a new laptop online doesn't involve engaging in negotiations with a dealer, you still have a number of options to choose from. And with business laptops costing as much as $2,000, adding a few extras can push the price quite a bit higher. Some features are decidedly optional, while others are becoming de rigueur. Which are worth the money? Let's take a gander.
With no moving parts, flash-memory solid-state drives (SSDs) operate silently and eliminate any risk to the drive from vibration or a sudden drop. SSDs are stunningly expensive at the moment. The largest capacity is just 64GB, and choosing one for your laptop can add from $900 to $1600 to the cost, depending on whether you select it as an option (such as on the base model of Apple's MacBook Air) or if it's available only with certain pricier models (such as with Lenovo and Sony laptops).
Our tests of SSDs showed mixed results. SSDs have exceedingly high read speeds, making system boots, application launches, and document loads much faster than with a conventional laptop hard drive. Write speeds aren't any better, however, and the overall performance is just a few percentage points faster than that of regular drives. Battery savings appear to be minimal, as well.
The value of an SSD may change dramatically in 2008, however, as 256GB and larger drives hit the market. The first 256GB drive will wholesale for nearly $6,000, but like all storage costs over time, SSD prices should plummet as volume and capacity increase. In 2009, a 64GB drive might run just $200 to $300 over a 5,400-rpm standard hard drive, and may boost performance and drop power use further.
Our verdict: Wait, unless you're in an industry in which vibration, read time, or the slightest noise matter.
Special Screen Coatings
Dell's TrueLife screen, with its promise of a bright, vibrant display, might seem a good option at the time of purchase, but at about $160 for an upgrade to a 17-inch LCD on a business laptop, its benefit is unclear.
Dell claims that TrueLife produces a 10 percent boost in contrast, as well as more vivid colors. Other manufacturers' options, such as Gateway's UltraBright, HP's BrightView, and Toshiba's TruBrite, are similar. (The names seem reminiscent of toothpaste advertising, but we digress.) See "Vibrant Notebook Screens" for an overview of what such displays have to offer.