The Quick and the Light

SAN FRANCISCO (08/28/2000) - Usually regarded as light in both weight and processing power, notebooks are becoming still smaller but also gaining speed.

As this month's chart shows, lightweight laptops can now be powerhouse systems.

The power notebook chart contains two featherweight travellaptops that more than hold their own in performance: the IBM Corp. ThinkPad T20 (with a travel weight of 6.5 pounds) in fourth place, and the Micron TransPort LT (6.1 pounds) in fifth. Both pack significant processing punch into a small package, with Pentium III CPUs running at speeds of 650 MHz or above.

Good things can come in small (and light) packages.

Cd-Rw Drives,Thunderbirds Are Go

The technology behind CD-RW drives is improving apace, which is why we've introduced a new Top 10 review to cover them, expanded from the Top 5 featured on PCWorld.com. The first drive to claim the top spot is Plextor's new PlexWriter 12/10/32, which, as its name suggests, can write CD-R discs at 12X and CD-RW discs at 10X; it's the first to offer that impressive combination of speeds.

Similarly, AMD's new processor looks likely to impress. The Athlon was called Thunderbird during development, but the company now refers to it loquaciously as the AMD Athlon Processor with Performance-Enhancing Cache Memory. Whatever you call it, it looks like a seriously speedy processor.

One of the first PCs we've tested using the new Athlon lives up to the enhanced name. Polywell's Poly K7-1000A earned a score of 169 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests--the highest we've seen from a Windows 98 system. However, this Poly just failed to make the chart, primarily because of its $3250 price. A not inconsiderable part of this cost is attributable to the new Athlon chip itself:

AMD currently charges $990 for the processor alone.

Previous versions of Athlon sported 512KB of L2 cache located on a separate chip. The new Athlon has only 256KB of L2 cache, but it's integrated into the processor chip itself, speeding up data transfer between the processor and the cache and boosting overall performance.

A second new feature of the enhanced Athlon is its smaller size, says AMD representative Scott Carroll. Because previous Athlons needed both the processor chip and the cache chip, they had to be installed in the larger Slot A. Since the cache is now on the same chip as the processor, the new Athlons can sit flush against the motherboard in the smaller Socket A. "The new AMD Athlons are currently available in Slot A and Socket A form factors to make it easier for computer manufacturers," says Carroll. "AMD's Slot A Athlons will be available for a limited time, and then [the company will] move [completely] to Socket A."

Room With A View

Four new 21-inch monitors enter the Top 10 this month. The CTX PR1400F, the ViewSonic PF815, and the NEC MultiSync FE1250 come in at under $900 but don't forgo image quality: All earned a rating of Good or better for text quality.

The CTX PR1400F was particularly impressive, achieving a Very Good text rating for the attractive price of $799 and landing in third place on the chart.

Freelance writer Joel Strauch and PC World editors Sean Captain, Katharine Dvorak, Mick Lockey, Kalai Murugesan, Karen Silver, and Alan Stafford contributed to the Top 100 this month. Testing was performed by Curt Buhler, Ulrikhe Diehlmann, Robert James, Elliot Kirshling, Jeff Kuta, Thomas Luong, Sean Tieu, and John Tijon of the PC World Test Center. See page 16 for contact information.

Your Guide To The Top 100

Questions About Our Charts? The following information should answer them.

How do the charts work? Each month we test numerous PCs, printers, scanners, monitors, graphics boards, and modems and compare them with previously reviewed products. Only the best products land on the Top 10 and Top 15 charts, which are refreshed monthly. System configurations are shown as tested. Vendors may have since changed components.

What does the overall rating mean? This 100-point scale reflects results from our hands-on evaluations and performance tests. A score in the 90s is exceptional, while one in the 70s is above average.

What does the PC WorldBench 2000 score mean? It's a measure of how fast a PC can run a mix of common business applications as compared with our baseline machine, an HP Pavilion 8380 with a PII-400 CPU, 96MB of RAM, and an 8GB hard drive. For example, a PC that scores 200 is twice as fast as the baseline system.

Where do scores for reliability, support quality, and support policies come from? Reliability and support quality scores are based on surveys of PC World readers and on anonymous support calls made by PC World staff. The policies score is based on vendor support policies.

Point your browser to www.pcworld.com/top400 for late-breaking reviews of desktop computers. In the Top 400 section, you'll find comprehensive reviews and ratings. You'll also find details of the PC WorldBench 2000 test suite at www.pcworld.com/benchmark.

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