The expression, "jack of all trades, master of none" is traditionally used as an insult. As more consumers look for a blend of usability and mobility, however, an all-purpose notebook is probably the best option for work and play. A good all-rounder can cost between $1500 and $3500, with some exceptions running above and below this.
The main points to consider in an all-purpose notebook are the price, the speed of the CPU and the amount of RAM, the available port connections, storage space and unit size.
CPU: These days a dual-core processor is essential: running multiple programs simultaneously is a must for the busy user. The CPU doesn't need to be a powerhouse, but it does have to provide enough grunt to run office applications and play/display media files. Ideally, this means you should buy a notebook with a Core 2 Duo CPU.
RAM: If you'll be running Windows Vista — and lets face it, almost all new notebooks ship with Windows Vista now — you should also look into getting a notebook with 2GB of RAM. This will give you enough capacity for the operating system, as well as any programs that you load.
Ports: The right port connections are also vital for an all-purpose notebook. You don't want to be stuck without a FireWire port if you have a camcorder, or without HDMI if you have a newer TV you want to connect to. In general, a good all-rounder will have at least three USB 2.0 ports, a D-Sub port for a monitor, and it will have built-in wired and wireless networking.
Storage: A hard drive with enough space to store movies, music, documents and pictures is needed and a minimum of 150-200GB generally covers this. Most all-rounders also have a DVD burner and a card reader.
Size: And finally there's size. An all-rounder should be large enough to house a fair-sized screen with a good resolution and a keyboard that is comfortable and promotes ease of use. This means you will generally want a screen larger than 14in and a keyboard that is close to full-size.
Here are five all-purpose notebooks that have impressed us recently. Click on the links to read the full reviews.
5. Acer Aspire Gemstone 5920G (302G20N)
The style may not appeal to everyone, but the features certainly will; great battery life and a range of connections, including Gigabit Ethernet, make it a versatile notebook.
4. Toshiba Satellite P210/J00 (PSPBQA-02J001)
It may not have the fastest processor on the block, but the 17in screen, HDMI output and wide variety of ports with the fastest connectivity options means that this device is a great all-rounder.
3. NEC Versa P8310-2402DR
This very stylish notebook features Bluetooth 2.0 as well as the latest networking options. The T8300 Intel Core 2 Duo runs at 2.4GHz, so it's definitely a fast notebook.
2. Lenovo IdeaPad Y510-300
A very stylish step away from the ThinkPad range, this unit has an efficient 2.5GHz T9300 Intel Core 2 Duo CPU and a 4.1 speaker system that boosts the soundstage.
The 2.5GHz T9300 Intel Core 2 Duo CPU in this notebook works very well with the 3GB of DDR2 RAM, making most programs run very smoothly. The Blu-ray player, 17in screen and HDMI port make it perfect for watching HD movies.