Invasion of the large-screen notebooks: Bigger really can be better

Entertainment and business multimedia go hand in hand with these three big notebooks, but which one is a true blockbuster?

From the beginning of the age of mobility, we've been trying to squeeze more computer into smaller, lighter and more mobile notebook cases. A new generation of large notebooks with impressive displays, however, turns that idea on its head.

Forget about those anemic notebooks with tiny screens, cramped keyboards, underpowered processors and miniscule hard drives. Full figured and proud of it, large-screen notebooks are for when a 14-, 15- or even 17-in. screen just isn't big enough. We're talking about an 18-in. or bigger display, a fast processor, multiple hard drives and a TV tuner -- in other words, everything a desktop has to offer, except the desk.

These systems on steroids let you work and play on one system. If you need to justify the excellent DVD and TV capabilities, think instant presentations. You won't waste any time setting up a projector -- just open the massive lid and start the show. With powerful processors, these monster notebooks are also perfect for a variety of heavy data lifting, like video editing in the field, on-site CAD engineering and design work, as well as turning seismic data into underground maps of where oil might be hiding.

Bob O'Donnell, vice president for client and displays at IDC, estimates that notebooks with 18-in. or bigger screens add up to just over half a percent of the world market today, or something like 750,000 units. By 2012, he thinks that could grow to 1.3% of notebooks sold, or 3.9 million units.

"They're great for their intended uses, but they're not for everyone," O'Donnell warns. On top of weighing about the same as five MacBook Air notebooks, these behemoths are bigger than the typical airline tray table. You'll need a special notebook bag, if not a hand truck, to get from point A to B. Plus, the cheapest one sells for about what four basic notebooks go for.

Then there's electricity. These notebooks use huge AC adapters that suck down three times the power of the typical notebook. Expect to pay up to about $80 a year to power one of these machines, about four times what the typical notebook requires.

The latest in large-screen notebook technology comes in two sizes. First, there are those with 20.1-in. displays, like Hewlett-Packard's Pavilion HDX and Eurocom's M590KE Emperor-X, both of which weigh more than 15 pounds each. At the other end is the Acer Aspire 8920, a 9-pounder with an 18.4-in. screen.

Features/specs

Acer Aspire 8920-6671 Eurocom M590KE Emperor-X HP Pavilion HDX
Thickness (front/rear) 1.6/1.7 in. 1.0/1.9 in. 1.5/2.5 in.
Height/width 17.4 by 11.5 in. 18.7 by 13.4 in. 18.7 by 13.3 in.
Base weight/travel weight 8.9/9.7 lbs 15.1/17.6 lbs 15.3/17.2 lbs
Screen size/resolution 18.4 in./1,920 by 1,080 20.1 in./1,680 by 1,050 20.1 in./1,920 by 1,200
Graphics engine/memory nVidia GeForce 9650M GS/512MB nVidia GeForce Go 7950 GTX/512MB nVidia GeForce 8800 GTS/512MB
Processor model/speed Intel T-9500 Core 2 Duo/2.6 GHz AMD TL-66 Turion 64X2/2.3 GHz Intel T-9500 Core 2 Duo/2.6 GHz
RAM installed/max. 4GB/4GB 4GB/4GB 4GB/8GB
Hard drive capacity/speed 320GB/5,400 rpm Two 200GB/7,200 rpm Two 250GB/5,400 rpm
Ports 4 USB, ext. monitor, HDMI, mic, headphone, SPDIF, LAN, modem 5 USB, FireWire, DVI, mic, headphone, SPDIF, S-Video in/out, TV, LAN, modem 4 USB, FireWire, ext. monitor, E-SATA, mic, 2 headphone, SPDIF, S-Video in, TV, HDMI, LAN, serial
PC card/flash memory card Xpress/ SD, MS, xD PC Card/SD, mini SD, MS XPress/SD, MS, xD
Optical drive XBlu-ray player with DVD+-RW/ LightScribe Multi DVD+-RW Blu-ray player with DVD+-RW
Audio/speakers Realtek with Dolby/5 Realtek with SRS WOW/4 IIDT High Definition Audio/5
Webcam/fingerprint scanner 300KP/Yes 1.3MP/Optional external USB 300KP/Yes
Battery capacity 4,800 milli-amp 6,600 milli-amp 7,680 milli-amp
Operating system Windows Vista Ultimate Windows XP Professional Windows Vista Ultimate
Warranty/3-year upgrade 3 years/not applicable 1 year/$223 1 year/$270
Price (as reviewed) $2,599 $4,310 $3,200
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