Technology Exectech

ExecTech is a regular review of the best buys as reported in Computerworld's sister publication PC World. Spiro Hionis and Danny Allen evaluate power notebooks1. Gateway Solo 9300xl DeluxeThis 650MHz Pentium III SpeedStep notebook offers a strong set of features as well as blistering 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 weighs just under 4kg, in a slim design only 42mm thick. 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 Li-Ion unit.

Price for this model is $7999 and Gateway includes a three-year parts and labour warranty.

Pros: Massive screen, performance, 6x DVD, LS-120 driveCons: PriceBeginner rating: ****Enthusiast rating: ****1. Compaq Armada E500Tying for first position, the Compaq Armada E500 makes excellent use of its high-end configuration to excel in performance and features. Based on Intel's latest 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 an outstanding PC WorldBench 98 score of 242. Compaq's asking price of $6495 is 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. The DVD-ROM drive and floppy disk drives work simultaneously, negating the need to carry around additional attachments and cables. All up, a solid, high-performance business system designed to keep users, IT managers and the company bean counters very happy.

Pros: Performance

Cons: Short warranty

Beginner rating: ****

Enthusiast rating: ****

2. Acer TravelMate 734TL

This $6999 unit stormed into the power category, returning a PC WorldBench score of 249, achieved by the inclusion of a Pentium III 600MHz SpeedStep processor. Also featured is 64MB of PC100 DRAM, a 12GB removable hard disk with password protection, and a large, vibrant 15in Active TFT XGA display supported by an ATI Rage Mobility M1 graphics controller using 8MB of SDRAM.

The 734TL weighs 3.2kg and has a peak height of 46mm, making it a little bulkier than some notebooks we tested this month, due in part to the 2x stereo speaker design on the top of the unit. Audio is provided by an ESS Solo sound controller with line in, line out and headphone jacks, complete with an external volume control. The 24x CD-ROM and the 3.5in floppy disk drives are functionally built into their respective sides of the machine. The Li-Ion battery has a stated battery life of five hours and can charge in 3.5 hours when completely off or about five hours while in use. Turn the notebook around, and you'll find a USB and a PS/2 port in addition to 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 responds well, and dedicated scroll buttons are provided.

Pros: Nice, ergonomic feel

Cons: A little bulkier than some of the other notebooks tested, carry case not includedBeginner rating: ****Enthusiast rating: ****2. Dell Inspiron 3800The Inspiron 3800 we examined in the Test Centre is based on a Speed-Step 650MHz PIII processor and proved to be the new outright performance leader, returning a record PC World-Bench 98 score of 260 points - 5 points ahead of the 255 points previously scored by IBM's ThinkPad 600X. The rest of the configuration is worthy of the performance and includes 128MB of RAM, a 14.1in active TFT screen coupled to an 8MB ATI Rage Mobility graphics controller as well as a 6x DVD-ROM drive. The 18GB hard drive provides storage and portable power comes from the nine-cell Li-Ion battery. For your $6181 investment you also get an internal 56Kbps V.90 modem, USB, TV-out, Type II and III PC Card slots - as well as the opportunity to choose from a variety of colours. Dell has cleverly included both pointing stick and touch pad mouse devices on this model of notebook, which increases ease of use and caters for personal preferences. The only drawback is that the DVD drive and floppy drive do not work simultaneously, as they use the same media bay, although the floppy drive can be attached dongle-style via the provided parallel port connecting cable. Otherwise, this is a handsome, versatile, high-performance system.

Pros: DVD-ROM, leather carry case, dual pointing devices, high performanceCons: Dongle-style floppy drive accessibilityBeginner rating: ****Enthusiast rating: ****3. IBM ThinkPad 600XThe 2.25kg ThinkPad 600X shipped to us with a Pentium III 650MHz processor, 64MB of RAM, a 12GB hard-disk drive and a 4MB NeoMagic MagicGraph adapter, hooked up to a bright, crisp 13.3in active TFT display. The system also boasts a 6x DVD-ROM drive, stereo sound, integrated 56Kbps modem, Li-Ion battery and a host of software utilities and Lotus productivity applications.

The system is solidly built, lightweight with compact dimensions, and has a battery life that will not leave you wanting.

PC WorldBench 98 benchmark results were very impressive with the ThinkPad 600X returning a score of 255; this effectively makes it about 14 per cent faster than the fastest PIII 500MHz notebook score of 219. Overall, the ThinkPad 600X impresses with quality design and construction, and delivers excellent performance. At the time of testing, IBM supplied a recommended retail price of $8600 for this system. A three-year international warranty is included.

Beginner rating: ****

Enthusiast rating: ****

4. Toshiba Satellite Pro 4300

The $7200 Toshiba Satellite Pro 4300 is based around a Pentium III 600MHz Intel SpeedStep processor and packs in 64MB of RAM, a 12GB hard drive and an 8MB VRAM S3 Savage video chip set. A sharp, clear picture is displayed on the 14.1in active TFT display, obtaining a PC World Bench Score of 228.

The 6x DVD ROM and floppy drive are built in, as is the 56Kbps V.90 modem. One USB slot is placed behind a functional sliding hatch. Ports provided include the standard PS/2, monitor-out and docking ports as well as video-out and an infrared communication port.

Weighing 3.17kg and having a battery life of around three hours, this is great for both road use or desktop replacement use. Toshiba offers a one-year on-site domestic and international parts and labour warranty.

Beginner rating: ****

Enthusiast rating: ****

5. NEC VersaNote VX

NEC's VersaNote VX is an elegantly designed, grey-finished notebook housing a sharp 14.1in active TFT display driven by a 4MB SDRAM ATI Rage Mobility grap-hics controller. Pointing duties are handled via a robusttouch pad device that is coupled with a great-feeling keyboard. NEC's asking price of $5899 gets you a system featuring a Pentium III 500MHz processor using 64MB of RAM, with a 12GB hard drive. Also built into the 2.8kg, 40mm thick form factor are a 24x CD-ROM and a 3.5in floppy drive, accessible from the side of the unit.

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