SAN FRANCISCO (05/26/2000) - Presto, change-o: Last month's budget and midrange Best Buys have switched places--a tricky feat. A price increase kicks Dell Computer Corp.'s Inspiron 3800 C500 GT, June's budget Best Buy, upstairs to the midrange chart. At $2026 it costs $98 more but remains a sweet deal. The June midrange champ, Micron Electronics Inc.'s $1999 TransPort LT C500, sheds $100 to become our new budget winner. Gateway 2000 Inc.'s Solo 9300LS still rules the power list after a $201 price drop.
1 GATEWAY SOLO 9300LS
WHAT'S HOT: This big, sophisticated desktop replacement offers a lot in return for a sizable outlay of cash. Battery life, closing in on 5 hours, is the longest of any notebook on our list. Two modular bays let you choose what to take along: Instead of the LS-120 drive that our test unit came with, you can swap in a second hard drive or a second battery; or swap out the CD-ROM drive for either a DVD-ROM or CD-RW drive.
WHAT'S NOT: Even though the 9300LS clings to the top spot by trimming $201 from its price, at $3123 it's not for bargain hunters. And at 6GB, the hard drive is a bit lean for a top-of-the-line notebook.
WHAT ELSE: Besides a big, beautiful 15-inch screen, the 9300LS bristles with audio and video extras, including a TV-out port and a Dolby jack for connecting a surround-sound stereo system. External buttons make playing music CDs more convenient, and four programmable shortcut buttons at the top of the keyboard can launch applications. A charge indicator lets you check on remaining juice without removing the battery first. The speedy 9300LS performed a little faster than the similarly configured Micron TransPort ZX, new to the power chart this month.
BEST USE: Presenters with deep pockets will love this beautifully designed notebook. With a second battery inserted, it should let you work unplugged all day.
1 DELL INSPIRON 3800 C500 GT
WHAT'S HOT: This midrange business laptop is a head turner. The upper casing and screen frame come dressed in a choice of colors: forest green, sierra maroon, Tahoe blue, or standard matte gray. The internal bay can hold any one of seven devices (the floppy drive, the CD-ROM drive, a second battery for $99 extra, a Zip drive for $139, an LS-120 drive for $139, an 8X DVD-ROM drive for $199, or an 18GB hard drive for $598), or an included plastic space holder.
WHAT'S NOT: Dell notebooks usually offer good battery life, but this Inspiron lasted just under 2 hours in our tests--about an hour less than the average laptop.
WHAT ELSE: This Celeron-500 version of the Inspiron 3800 churned through our business apps about 7 percent faster than an average Celeron-466. The hard drive and memory are easily reachable for upgrading. A nice perk is a video-out jack for sending images to a TV screen.
BEST USE: With its refreshing good looks, the Inspiron 3800 C500 GT is a fine value for companies that are ready to break out of the boxy black laptop mold.
1 MICRON TRANSPORT LT C500
WHAT'S HOT: The TransPort LT weighs only 5 pounds, minus adapter and accessories. Five devices can plug into its internal bay: the floppy drive, the CD-ROM drive, a $190 6X DVD-ROM drive, a $139 LS-120 drive, or a $99 second battery. To use the floppy drive with another device already in the bay, Micron sells a $20 USB floppy drive caddy, which you can connect without rebooting.
WHAT'S NOT: If you need to run diagnostics or recover your system via a bootable floppy disk, you'll have to use the internal bay--you cannot boot from floppies through the USB port.
WHAT ELSE: Given the TransPort LT's size and processor, its speed and 2.5-hour battery life generally met our expectations. The keyboard feels a bit shallow but lets you launch apps from the mouse buttons or a programmable key just to the right of the spacebar. A single PC Card slot is included, but the modem is built in.
BEST USE: This is a good business laptop for frequent travelers willing to sacrifice screen and hard drive size for portability.
This month our Top 15 chart reflects the results from our latest reliability and service survey, in which almost 16,000 PC World readers told us about problems they had with their computers and evaluated how well their vendor solved those problems. The winners? Dell and IBM tie for top notebook honors, each earning overall ratings of Good in both reliability and service.
Meanwhile, Gateway and Toshiba match the leaders in reliability, but earn only Fair for service. And Compaq brings up the rear with Fair ratings in both categories. Unfortunately, no company this year managed to get a rating of Outstanding.
Here Today, Gone Today
Late in the editorial process, Compaq notified us that it will discontinue the Prosignia 190--one of five new notebooks on the chart this month--at the end of June. After June, it will most likely be replaced by a model in Compaq's Armada line, but it might remain available through some channels for a while.
Too bad. We were impressed by the Prosignia 190's capacity for long battery life, achieved by stuffing, not just two, but three batteries into its case.
How was that feat accomplished? Besides the built-in battery, two extra batteries (a $179 12-cell and $129 8-cell) can fit into the Prosignia's modular CD-ROM drive and floppy drive bays. The trio of power packs runs for up to 9 hours, says Compaq.
Contributing Editor Carla Thornton regularly covers notebooks for PC World.
Also New This Month
We evaluated the following notebooks along with the others, but they didn't reach the Top 15 Notebook PCs chart. For write-ups, visit PCWorld.com (www.pcworld.com/top400).
*Axis Fusion 7260A
*Axis Fusion 8160
*Toshiba Tecra 8100.