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Powerful portables

LaptopsTime was when 'desktop replacement' was a euphemism for 'big, noisy laptop that's too thirsty to run off its battery and too heavy to sit on your lap'. And if you could balance it on your lap, it'd probably be too hot to rest there for long. Thankfully, those days are now more or less over.

Thanks in no small way to Intel's push for more efficient processors, we now regularly see laptop computers whose raw performance truly rivals their deskbound brethren. Tested using WorldBench 6, for instance, most laptops were hovering around the 80- to 90-point mark just a few months ago. Now, with the help of Intel Core i5 and i7 processors in particular, we regularly see portables exceed the overall score of the WorldBench baseline system (100 points).

The baseline system WorldBench 6 uses for reference has an Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 processor clocked at 2.4GHz, with 2GB of DDR2 RAM and an nVidia GeForce 7900GS graphics card. It runs Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit, and takes two Western Digital Caviar WD3200KS hard disks in a striped Raid 0 array. That may look a little pedestrian by the standards of our latest power PCs, yet it represents a level of performance that’s truly quick enough for most PC users.

The fact that we’re now routinely seeing that computing power in a 2kg laptop is quite remarkable. But we can go further now without too much work. Take the fastest Intel Core i7-620M processor (nominally clocked at 2.66GHz before the Turbo kicks in), add in a solid-state disk (SSD) for unrivalled storage speed, and you have yourself an unflustered speed demon. HP did just that for its executive laptop – the EliteBook 8440p has conservative looks and the no-nonsense build of a mule, but the quiet pace of a racehorse. Like the Dell Latitude E6410, this simple combination of an i7-620M and an SSD will outpace practically any desktop computer built 18 months ago.

The race today is not just about speed. To make the personal computer personable, we must tame its antisocial noise and heat - a task that many laptops now achieve.

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