Top 10 Notebook PCs

SAN FRANCISCO (03/03/2000) - Lexus quality for a Toyota price--that's what you'll get with this month's new midrange Best Buy, the Quantex Corp. W-1410.

An incredible deal, this all-black, medium-size portable--loaded with a 14.1-inch screen, a respectable 6.4GB hard drive and a 6X DVD-ROM drive--is the cheapest Pentium III-500 notebook we've seen. In the power and budget charts, look to the Gateway Solo and HP Pavilion, Best Buy winners for three and four months running.

1 Gateway Solo 9300LS

What's Hot: Despite its featherweight price of $2866, the Pentium III-450-equipped Gateway Solo 9300LS posted a PC WorldBench 98 score of 216 and took the heavyweight title. Unlike many other big laptop screens, the Solo's 15-inch display feels sturdy enough to withstand an occasional bump or accidental twist. The unit's 12-cell lithium ion battery far outlasted other laptop power packs in our tests, running a record-breaking 5 hours, 13 minutes.

What's Not: Unlike Sony's VAIO notebooks (among others), Gateway doesn't provide any video-editing software to complement its high-speed IEEE 1394 port (often used to connect digital video cameras). The Solo's speakers produce fairly loud audio but have weak bass response and sound fuzzy at higher volumes.

What Else: This beefy desktop replacement bulges with multimedia connections.

In addition to the IEEE 1394 port, it comes with TV-in and -out ports and a Dolby jack for connecting a Surround Sound stereo system. The polished, black 9300LS also boasts external buttons for launching applications. Two modular bays make configuration changes a snap. You can swap the floppy drive or CD-ROM drive with a second hard drive of up to 10GB (which costs $499), a SuperDisk drive ($75), or a second battery ($100).

Best Use: Presenters and digital editors will appreciate this beautifully designed, reasonably priced notebook.

1 Quantex W-1410

What's Hot: Quantex's $2199 W-1410, a bargain portable with speed and robust features, gives us something to shout about. It offers Pentium III-500 performance without cutting corners on screen size, hard drive space, or vendor support.

What's Not: The W-1410's boxy, monochrome-black looks could use a makeover.

Sound quality is less than impressive.

What Else: Speed and a big screen don't compromise the W-1410's better-than-average battery life. One power pack lasted a healthy 3 hours in our tests, and swapping out the notebook's DVD-ROM drive for a second battery ($119 extra) doubles your time. (The floppy drive is fixed.) Other nifty features include a TV-out port for watching DVD movies on a television set, an external charge gauge (so you can check battery power without booting up or removing the battery), and a volume button on the case.

Best Use: A terrific deal for just about anyone who doesn't want to spend a lot of money for a speedy, loaded portable.

1 HP Pavilion Notebook PC

What's Hot: This versatile notebook can double as a stand-alone audio CD player. Front-side buttons let you play CDs without turning the notebook on or raising the screen. The stereo speakers generate adequate sound.

What's Not: The Pavilion's skimpy parts and labor warranty expires after one year, and extending the warranty to three years costs an extra $179. With a PC WorldBench 98 score of 185, the Celeron-433-based Pavilion performs no better than a typical PII-366 notebook.

What Else: The $1573 Pavilion comes loaded with software, including Microsoft Works and Money 2000, as well as Quicken Basic 2000. It's relatively thin and light for a notebook with built-in floppy and CD-ROM drives: 1.7 inches tall and 6.6 pounds (not including the AC adapter).

Best Use: Despite HP's stingy support, the Pavilion is a reasonably priced, well-designed notebook for either home or work.

What's New

Good notebook computers are coming in increasingly small packages these days.

This month, a sub-5-pound portable makes our chart for the first time. NEC's $2499 Versa FX (see our midrange list) is the lightest, smallest notebook we've seen with a 12.1-inch active-matrix screen and a 6GB hard drive. It weighs only 4.1 pounds (3.4 pounds without the adapter, power cord, and floppy drive) and measures 11.1 inches wide, 8.8 inches deep, and just over an inch thick, yet has a near-full-size keyboard. (You must connect the CD-ROM and floppy drives externally.)The other sub-5-pounder we reviewed this month, Fujitsu's $2699 LifeBook S Series, missed the chart. But this Fujitsu is the first ultraportable we've seen that comes standard with a modular internal bay for holding various devices, including a second battery.

Contributing Editor Carla Thornton regularly covers notebooks for PC World.

Got LAN? The Acer TravelMate 732 TLV's built-in RJ-45 jack plugs right into your network.

Tech Trend

Notebook Prices Climb

Unlike most of the computer products out there, notebook PCs aren't getting any cheaper. In fact, because of the recent memory shortage and a continued deficit in LCD materials, prices for many notebooks are increasing slightly. During our test period, the price of the Acer TravelMate 732 TLV (number two on the power chart) shot up $200 to $2999. To reflect this market trend, we've adjusted the price ranges for our budget and midrange charts, upping the price cap on budget notebooks by $300 to $1999 and raising the midrange category's ceiling to $2699. Power notebooks remain at $2700 or more.

Causing a CHEMotion: Want to swap out or remove your hard drive for safekeeping? No worries. Taking out the ChemBook 7200B's hard drive doesn't even require a tool.

Double take: Notebook or stand-alone CD player? When you attach the included cable, the NEC Versa FX can be either. It's one of only a few we've seen that does this double duty.

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