ExecTech is a regular review of the best buys in Computerworld's sister publication, PC World. In this issue Spiro Hionis and Danny Allen look at Power Notebooks.

1 Compaq Armada E500

Still at the top of the charts, the Compaq Armada E500 makes excellent use of its high-end configuration to excel in performance and features. Based on Intel's 650MHz Pentium III SpeedStep processor, the configuration of 8MB ATI Rage Mobility graphics controller, 12GB hard disk drive and 64MB of RAM combined to produce a PC WorldBench 2000 score of 123, a SYSMark 2000 score of 113 and a 3DMark 2000 score of 1081.

The total weight of 3.4kg is a little hefty, but is offset by the 147 minutes of battery life.

Compaq's revised asking price of $5595 represents very good value, considering the performance and the extras such as the 14.1in active TFT, 6x DVD-ROM drive, internal modem and Ethernet combo, but the warranty offering of only one year is a little short. The DVD-ROM drive and floppy-disk drives work simultaneously, negating the need to carry around additional attachments and cables.

Compaq is sensitive to Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) issues and, as such, the Armada E500 is compatible with common Compaq options and docking solutions across its range.

All up, this machine is a solid, high-performance business system and is designed to keep users, IT managers and the company bean counters very happy.

Pros: Performance

Cons: Short warranty

2 IBM ThinkPad T20

The pre-production model we tested arrived with the standard case finish found on previous models, but selected new models are encrusted in a titanium composite.

Our preview machine included separate network and modem adapters, but IBM will be shipping the new notebook series with combination 10/100 Ethernet PCI/56Kbps modem adapters. Our review T20 model obtained a PC WorldBench 2000 score of 135, a SYSMark 2000 score of 130 and a massive, by notebook standards, 3DMark 2000 score of 1760.

This is due to the 700MHz Pentium III SpeedStep processor, 128MB of RAM (upgradeable to 512), a 12GB hard disk and an 8MB Savage lX8 graphics controller.

Screen images are displayed on a 14.1in active TFT display. Its weight of 2.7kg makes it the lightest notebook in the Power category, and the T20 would have achieved a higher overall score had its battery life been better than a fairly paltry 72 minutes.

IBM has specified the ThinkPad T20 with the inclusion of its new UltraPort, located on the top of the screen bezel. An optional IBM UltraPort USB camera was attached to the top of the unit.

The T20 supports two Type II or one Type III PC Card and supports wireless LAN devices as well as IBM's Bluetooth wireless connectivity technology.

Parallel, serial, keyboard/mouse, external monitor, a single USB, an S/Video-out and infrared port are located at the rear, while the 6x DVD-ROM is located on the right side of the machine.

The Trackpoint pointing device is used; the keyboard feels great and incorporates one-touch access keys. A tiny spotlight attached to the top of the screen, dubbed the ThinkLight, can be used to shine down onto the keyboard. Since last month, price has dropped to $7499 and includes a three-year warranty.

3 Dell Inspiron 3800

The Inspiron 3800 is based on a SpeedStep 650MHz PIII processor and held the outright performance crown in June. New benchmark scores are 139 in PC WorldBench 2000, 127 in SYSMark 2000 and 1080 in 3DMark 2000. Configuration includes 128MB of RAM, 14.1in active TFT screen, an 8MB ATI Rage Mobility graphics controller and an 8x DVD-ROM drive.

The 18GB hard drive provides storage and portable power comes from the nine-cell Li-Ion battery.

The new price of $4649 buys you an internal 56Kbps V.90 modem, USB, TV-out, and Type II and III PC card slots. Total weight is 3.4kg and tested battery life is a respectable 106 minutes. Dell has included both pointing stick and touch pad mouse devices, increasing ease of use.

This system was configured with Windows 98 and ships with Microsoft Works Suite 99, as well as a leather carry case. The only drawback is that the DVD drive and floppy drive do not work simultaneously.

3 Gateway Solo 9300xl Deluxe

This 750MHz Pentium III SpeedStep notebook offers a strong set of features as well as great performance. The system includes a massive 15.7in active TFT SXGA display, driven by an excellent ATI Rage Mobility-P 3D VGA adapter. Storage is provided by the 18GB removable Ultra ATA hard-disk drive as well as the LS-120 Super disk drive. Multimedia is delivered via a 6x DVD-ROM drive combined with a 16-bit stereo full duplex PCI audio accelerator with hardware wavetable audio and built-in stereo speakers.

Other features include Dolby AC-3 digital audio output port and support for full-screen video capture via the composite video-in port, and TV display capability via the composite video-out port.

The Solo 9300xl Deluxe has a slim design only 42mm thick and a total weight of 4.2kg. Expandability and versatility are excellent, and the modular design of the option bays allows you to mix and match a second battery, CD burner, CD drive, DVD drive, second hard-disk drive, floppy-disk drive or LS-120 drive.

Battery power is provided by a 12-cell LiIon unit and produced an outstanding 149 minutes in our test.

Performance results from our suite of benchmarks was very good, but not as impressive as expected from the first 750MHz SpeedStep in the test centre.

The 99300xl scored 127 in PC WorldBench 2000, 116 in SYSMark2000 and 995 in 3Dmark2000. Price for this model is $7749 and Gateway includes a one-year parts and labour warranty.

Pros: Massive screen, battery life, 6x DVDLS-120driveCons: Price4 Acer TravelMate 734 TLWith a modified price tag of $6794 and now featuring a 6x DVD-ROM instead of a 24x CD-ROM, this Pentium III 600MHz SpeedStep unit returned a PC WorldBench 2000 score of 117, a SYSMark 2000 sore of 107 and a 3Dmark 3000 score of 1022.

Featured is a 15in active TFT display, 64MB of RAM, a 12GB hard disk and an 8MB graphics controller.

The 734TL's total weight is 3.5kg and it seems a little bulkier than some notebooks, due in part to the 2x stereo speaker design on the top of the unit. The DVD and 3.5in floppy-disk drives work simultaneously, and the LiIon battery provided a tested battery life of 120 minutes.

You'll also find USB, a PS/2 port, one serial and one parallel port, S-video-out, infrared, an external VGA port, a 10/100 Ethernet adapter and an integrated 56Kbps modem. Two type II and one Type III PCMCIAs are supported.

The touchpad controller feels solid and dedicated scroll buttons are provided.

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