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Five things to consider if you want to buy a laptop in 2007

Buying a laptop is a hard decision at the best of times, but with the release of Vista and the pending release of new mobile technology the task is that much more difficult. We help you sort through it all.

With school going back and Uni about to start, many people are looking to buy a new laptop. But, this year, more than any in recent memory, is a fairly confusing time to invest in new technology. Not only has Vista launched, but major technology changes are just around the corner.

Intel plans to release a new mobile platform in the coming months, and faster wireless connections are promised at the end of the year. Here are five questions which should help you decide whether to invest in a laptop now.

Windows Vista or Windows XP?
Most new notebooks are now shipping with Windows Vista, but hardware compatibility is still a problem. Some vendors, such as Creative and NVIDIA still only have beta drivers available, which means lower stability and less functionality than with XP drivers.

In an unexpected move, Microsoft has announced it will continue to support Windows XP until 2009. So there is really no urgency to upgrade quite yet. Also, a Vista machine will end up costing you more -- not only is the software more expensive, but Vista machines need at least 1GB of RAM, where Windows XP can survive on 512MB.

Try and get a Windows XP notebook if you need one right now, as they'll be going a lot cheaper, and you have the option to upgrade later if you wish.

Intel or AMD?
While Intel is currently the first choice among the performance conscious, AMD has always been friend to the budget-minded. Many new laptops now feature the AMD Turion dual-core chipset, and can help you save a few hundred dollars if performance isn't a priority.

But if you want the latest and greatest, there is no competition -- Intel Core 2 Duo is the one to get. While the desktop version is ramping up to quad-core (four processors in one), the laptop range will remain dual-core for the time being. There are price drops rumoured once the Santa Rosa chipset is announced.

Should I wait for the next version of Centrino?
Intel's "Santa Rosa" chipset is due to launch around April of this year, which promises to boost the capabilities of the Core 2 Duo processor. It will feature enhanced Vista-ready graphics (Direct X 10 compatibility is rumoured), 802.11n support (see below), and a faster bus speed -- which means all the internal components such as RAM run quicker and make the machine faster. You can expect some price drops at this time on older, but still capable, technologies then.

Should I wait for 802.11n?
The latest wireless "standard", Draft-N, is upon us now, but it's far from impressive. Speeds are mostly slower than existing Super G/Pre-N devices and they're up to twice the price. As with any technology, you can wait forever and meanwhile it will continue to improve.

Apple is boasting 802.11n support with its new Macs and so is Intel with the upcoming Santa Rosa board, though in both cases it's Draft-N. There is no guarantee that the final version of 802.11n will be compliant with this hardware, because it may require additional changes to the chipset. But a guarantee is exactly what Taiwanese manufacturer Asus is offering with its networking products. Our advice: don't wait for 802.11n. Get a laptop with 802.11g onboard, and upgrade via ExpressCard or PCMCIA card later if you need to.

Ultraportable or desktop replacement?
Do you want to use this notebook on the go? Then try for a machine under 2kg. Companies such as Asus, HP, Sony and Fujitsu offer full featured laptops which can handle a diverse range of tasks -- eg gaming, video editing, and video chat -- but are still portable. Prices start from as little as AU$1850 for Dell's M1210.

If you don't need to use it outside the house then some "desktop replacement" models can be just as powerful as desktops but still offer the flexibility of moving it from room to room. Though laptop prices start at around $800 now, it is worthwhile paying a lot more to get better battery life and performance. has compiled a list of our favourite notebooks, big and small.

Prices are always dropping and technology keeps on advancing. It's always better to go for the best deal now, than to put off buying while waiting for the next thing. While 2007 will be seen as a year in which a couple of significant pieces of software and hardware were released, most will still be relatively unstable. Buying older and proven technology will last you longer and will work better out of the box.