Marketing rep or chip designer: we all need the right tools to create a winning presentation. Start with a solid notebook computer -- the presenter's equivalent of a digital Swiss Army knife. It's the presenter's toolbox -- storing slides, software, communication systems, and enabling you to play music, animation, even video clips.
The notebook computers recommended here run from $4,000 to $8,000 and add seven to nine pounds to your luggage. Yes, you can certainly get cheaper notebooks. But anything under $3,000 is just not rugged enough for the road. So if you're thinking of going the inexpensive route, don't.
Your Title: Road Warrior
Assignment:: Seven meetings, six states, five days.
Powertool: IBM ThinkPad 760CD
Features: A 12.1-inch color screen that's bigger and brighter than anything else on the road. Ergonomic touches like a full-sized, flip-up keyboard make it finger-friendly.
For putting multimedia touches on presentations, the 760CD has built-in stereo sound playback and recording capabilities. It can also directly record video from a camcorder or VCR onto its hard disk -- a unique feature. Standard equipment also includes your own voice-mail system.
Vital Stats: The machine tips the scales at 7.4 pounds. Inside there's a 90MHz Pentium processor with a 28.8 kilobyte-per-second (Kbps) fax/modem, wireless IrDA ports front and back, a 1.2 gigabyte (GB) hard drive, and 8 MB of RAM. There are two Type II card slots for expanding the 760CD's capabilities. A front drive bay handles either an internal quad-speed CD-ROM drive, a second hard drive, or an additional internal battery. Don't count on more than about 7 hours of steady work, even with both batteries.
Geek Factor: It's a cool, black techno-tool that'll generate more road-warrior envy than a Porsche.
Weak Factor: The price will blow your department's IS budget.
Coordinates: $6,000-$8,000. IBM PC Direct, (800) 426-2968; http://www.IBM.com
Your Title: Department Head
Assignment:: Deliver pep talks to the troops and weekly progress reports to the CEO.
Powertool: NEC Versa 4050H CD
Features: It comes with an internal double-speed CD-ROM drive that can be swapped out for a floppy drive, an extra hard drive, and a second lithium-ion battery. At 10.4 inches, Versa's new Super VGA color screen is smaller than the ThinkPad's; but it's still sharp and bright.
Versa 4050H is best for in-house presentations. It doesn't include voice mail, for example, or video-recording skills or a fax/modem. The last two are available as options: a 28.8 Kbps fax/modem PC Card is $342; an external TV-tuner device with a PC Card adapter for recording or displaying your presentation on a standard television monitor is $798.
Vital Stats: Standard package: 90MHz Pentium processor, IrDA wireless ports, an 810 MB hard drive, two Type II PC Card slots, and 8 MB of RAM. An additional 8 MB runs $475. It weighs 6.4 pounds with the floppy drive installed.
Geek Factor: Friendly underdog with the look and feel of an Apple Powerbook -- but faster.
Weak Factor: Lacks a fax/modem; adding other necessary options could place it in the ThinkPad price range.
Coordinates: $4,799 plus $349 for a CD-ROM upgrade. NEC Technologies Inc., (800) 632-4636; http://www.nec.com
Your Title: Red-Eye Flyer
Assignment:: Coast-to-coast sojourns seeking venture capital for your startup.
Powertool: Toshiba Portege 610CT.
Features: It squeezes a 90 Pentium CPU into a package that weighs just 4.8 pounds and is at least two inches narrower than the full-sized IBM and NEC notebooks.
No CD-ROM drive for multimedia demos; the Portege's smaller keyboard will make touch typists feel uptight. Its 9.5-inch Super VGA color screen is razor sharp. Also comes with a built-in microphone and stereo sound. A $499 PC Card option lets you display your electronic slides on standard TV projectors or monitors.
Vital Stats: Uses the same mouse substitute as IBM's ThinkPad, but Toshiba's version requires a little more practice. The lithium-ion battery is realistically rated at 2.5 to 5 hours on a single charge. Comes with a 686 MB hard drive, two Type II PC Card slots, and 8 MB of RAM.
Geek Factor: It's a bantamweight with Pentium power.
Weak Factor: Retains most of the drawbacks of subnotebook designs.
Coordinates: $4,649. Toshiba, Inc. (800) 334-3445; http://www.toshiba.com/tais/csd/products
Your Title: Iconoclast
Assignment: Deliver hip, offbeat presentations to clients who want a different point of view.
Powertool: Apple PowerBook 5300ce/117
Features: Wields a 117 MHz PowerPC 603e processor and comes with a 10.4-inch color Super VGA display. Boasts silky stereo sound so you can record narration or blast out new jingles. But there are no options for directly recording video clips on the machine. It also doesn't accept a CD-ROM drive -- even when the floppy drive is removed.
One recommendation: get new software. Older Mac applications slow the system; using older software is akin to attaching $200 speakers to a $10,000 stereo system.
Vital Stats: With a 1.1 GB hard drive, there's plenty of storage room. And with 32 MB of RAM, even the most artistically rendered graphics won't bog down. Weighing in at just over 6 pounds, this PowerBook has an internal floppy drive that can be swapped out for an additional hard drive or an optical storage device.
Apple's new PowerBook offers two industry standard Type II PC Card slots, which will open up more cost-effective options for users. One slot will go for a fax/modem. For cordless use, the notebook now uses older nickel-hydride battery technology, which gives you two to four hours of working time. Apple hopes to move up to longer lasting lithium-ion battery technology soon.
Geek Factor: It's hipper than cool -- it doesn't use Windows 95!
Weak Factor: Darn expensive for a notebook that doesn't even include a fax/modem or a CD-ROM drive.
Coordinates: $6,500-6,800. Apple Computer Inc., (800) 776-2333; http://www.apple.com
John R. Quain (email@example.com) is a contributing editor at Fast Company and appears regularly on the CBS News program "Up to the Minute."