These are portable versions of desktop computers that typically weigh less and cost more than their larger counterparts. Originally named laptops when these portable computers were first introduced, the term notebook is also used heavily today. While some portable computers were around in the 1970s, commercial introduction for these machines did not ensue until the early 1980s. Compaq and IBM lead the charge into portable computers; entries from Apple and Toshiba followed with their laptops in the mid-80s.

These machines offer portability through two basic aspects: small size and rechargeable battery power. Due to the emphases on battery life and portability, laptops usually have smaller and slightly slower processors than desktop PC's. Additionally, components such as the 10-key number pad (a hallmark of desktop keyboards) are transitioned into function keys on laptop keyboards due to a lack of space. With so many components stuffed into a limited amount of real estate, hardware upgrades on laptop computers can be a difficult chore. Whereas upgrading a video card on a desktop PC is a relatively straight-forward task, it could be very difficult to do the same job in the tight quarters of a laptop computer.

Some computers function as both a laptop and a tablet PC. These convertibles (Gateway Convertible) provide the functionality of a full keyboard with the ability to use the computer with a stylus for input. This functionality is specifically useful in note-taking that involves non-standard input such as advanced math or scientific classes.

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Image of a disassembled IBM Thinkpad notebook computer. From Howstuffworks.com

Models for Educational Use


Laptops and other portable computing devices have proven popular for computer technology integration in education. In 1988, Drew University in Madison, New Jersey began supplying laptops to incoming freshman. Many Universities around the world began similar programs and a number of higher education institutions are requiring students to have laptops. Corporate America took note and started programs to support laptop usage in education. Microsoft began the Anytime Anywhere Learning (AAL) Program. Technology corporations, such as NoteSys Inc. , Apple and others are promoting the use of laptops in K-12 education, providing hardware packages for schools, and in some cases, software and technical support as well. In her article Laptop Computers in the K-12 Classroom Yvonne Belanger reported that Rockman in 1998 identified five models of laptop use in place at the K-12 level:
  • Concentrated-each student has his or her own laptop for use at home or in school (1:1)
  • Class set-a school-purchased classroom set is shared among teachers
  • Dispersed-in any given classroom, there are students with and without laptops
  • Desktop-each classroom is permanently assigned a few laptops for students to share
  • Mixed-some combination of the above models.

Used in coordination with wireless technology the laptop is a mobile, easily configurable computing solution that offers a great deal of options of integrating technology usage in the curriculum. Belanger goes on to document how research is illustrating that laptop usage is making an impact on the classroom:

"Several studies suggest educational benefits related to laptop use. Specific benefits noted include increased student motivation (Gardner 1994, Rockman, 1998), a shift toward more student-centered classroom environments (Stevenson, 1998; Rockman, 1998), and better school attendance than students not using laptops (Stevenson, 1998). In his study of a laptop pilot program in Beaufort, South Carolina, Stevenson (1998) also reported that students with laptops demonstrated a "sustained level of academic achievement" during their middle school years, as opposed to students not using laptops who tended to decline during this same period. He also noted that these academic benefits were most significant in at-risk student populations.

In their study of laptop use in middle school science classrooms, Fisher and Stolarchuk (1998) found that those laptop classrooms in which skills and the process of inquiry were emphasized had the most positive impact on student learning and attitudes. According to Rockman, a majority of teachers in laptop schools reported an increase in both cooperative learning and project-based instruction. Other research has not supported the educational benefits of laptop use.

Gardner (1993) found that the impact of laptops after one year was "at best marginal" on achievement in mathematics, science, and writing. Also, Fisher and Stolarchuk reported a more positive relationship between laptops and student attitudes than between laptops and academic achievement. Research into the educational use of laptops has only begun; relatively few K-12 schools have had laptops in place long enough to generate longitudinal studies of their impact on student achievement..."

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Intiative

Conceived as a means of getting modern educational tools into the hands of schoolchildren in developing countries, the OLPC (otherwise known as the "$100 laptop" and now known as the "Children's Machine" according to Wikipedia) is a small low-power laptop/tablet PC that runs the Linux operating system. It includes no moving parts (thus no hard drives, CD-drives, or floppy drives). This translates into a tiny 2-watt power consumption (compared to 10-45 of normal laptops). Below is a video of one of the first working prototypes: