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SPEEDIER PERFORMANCE and extended laptop battery life are among the improvements in several new models in our latest tests of computers. Yet other models fell short in those areas.
We found plenty of laptops and desktops, from basic to high-end models, that would be fine choices for most people. We also identified the best places to shop for computers, whether your priority is price, selection, or service.
Here are some highlights from our tests, along with the latest news about computers:
Intel and AMD offer new circuitry. Intel promised that its new Centrino 2 chipset would deliver "blazing performance" and "amazing battery life." We tested the Centrino 2 on six new laptops equipped with the Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 processor. Speed was excellent overall, beating Intel's previous Centrino offerings. But the most impressive improvement was in battery life. Two of the Centrino 2 systems with a standard battery had a battery life of 5 hours or more, which is the best we've seen in laptops running Vista.
Laptops with Centrino 2 technology cost more than other models, so stick with established technologies unless you require longer battery life, play 3D games, or need to do video editing.
We were disappointed with AMD's next-generation notebook platform, which is based on the Turion X2 processor. Laptops with those chipsets, including models from HP and Toshiba, scored significantly lower than models with the Intel Centrino 2-based platforms, taking hits for slower speed and shorter battery life.
Tiny laptops are big. Demand for pintsized laptops, commonly called netbooks, is increasing, driven in part by their wallet-friendly price that starts at about $250. They weigh just 2 to 3 pounds and have a 7- to 10-inch display, so their primary role is for Web surfing and e-mail on the go or as a secondary PC for students. While they're lightweight and low-priced, the first such models we tested suffered from cramped keyboards and sluggish performance. We'll be taking a closer look at the $350 Dell Inspiron Mini 9 that arrived at press time.
More computers get 64-bit Vista. This souped-up version of Windows, offered on some new desktops and laptops, lets a PC take advantage of 4 or more gigabytes of memory. That can potentially improve multitasking capabilities and speed up demanding applications such as video editing. But it has its …