Top 15 Notebook PCs

The first Pentium III notebooks to make the Top 15 Notebooks chart kick up tremendous portable performance. Dell's Inspiron 7500 R500VT becomes our new speed king with a scorching PC WorldBench 98 score of 236. It may trail newer desktop PCs, but the Inspiron performs 20 percent faster than the average PII-400 laptop. Only its $4101 price holds it to second place on our power chart, behind Gateway's $2870 PIII-450-based Solo 9300LS.

1 GATEWAY SOLO 9300LS

WHAT'S HOT: Despite its featherweight price, the Pentium III-450-equipped Solo 9300LS posted a heavyweight PC WorldBench 98 score of 216, beating similarly configured PII-400 notebooks by about 10 percent. Unlike many other big laptop screens, the Solo's 15-inch display feels sturdy. The unit's 12-cell lithium ion battery far outlasted other power packs in our tests, running for a record-breaking 5.2 hours.

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 Gateway's speakers are fairly loud, but they lack strong bass response and sound fuzzy at higher volumes.

WHAT ELSE: This beefy desktop replacement bulges with multimedia connections.

It offers TV-in and-out ports and a Dolby jack for connecting a Surround Sound stereo system. The polished, black 9300LS also boasts easy-access audio CD buttons, and it has programmable keyboard shortcut buttons for launching applications. You can swap the floppy drive with a second hard drive of up to 10GB (which costs $499), a SuperDisk drive ($75), or a second battery ($100).

And, for users constantly watching battery life, a charge indicator on the outside of the notebook is a useful feature.

BEST USE: Presenters and digital editors will appreciate this beautifully designed, reasonably priced notebook most.

1 DELL INSPIRON 3700 C466GT

WHAT'S HOT: Dell joins the notebook fashion show that began with Apple's multihued iBook by offering the Inspiron 3700 in a choice of two colors: Storm Grey or Tahoe Blue. The Inspiron 3700 is the first Dell notebook to come with touchpad and eraserhead pointing devices. The Inspiron 3700 offers a comfy keyboard, and its case allows easy memory and hard-drive upgrades. It also comes with a convenient docking connection that works with an optional $199 port replicator.

WHAT'S NOT: Dell now offers only a PC Card option in place of a modem. The eraserhead's mouse buttons are concave and half the size of the touchpad's buttons, making navigation uncomfortable.

WHAT ELSE: Compared with other Celeron-466 notebooks we've tested, the 3700 is a midrange performer. It's a hair thicker than the 3500 series it replaces. You can also swap in the DVD-ROM or floppy drive (both included) or a second battery ($119). You can use the floppy drive alongside any of these options by attaching it to the notebook's parallel port. Or, snap a dummy module into the drive bay and drop the 3700's weight to 6.2 pounds. An S-video TV-out port lets you watch DVD movies on your television, but otherwise the Inspiron 3700 skimps on audiovisual extras. The battery lasts an above-average 3.5 hours.

BEST USE: With its unique case colors, big screen, and flexibility, the Inspiron 3700 makes a fun, capable desktop replacement for small businesses.

1 HP PAVILION NOTEBOOK PC

WHAT'S HOT: This versatile notebook also serves as a stand-alone audio CD player. Frontside buttons let you play CDs without turning the notebook on or even raising the screen. The stereo speakers don't sound as powerful as the Compaq Prosignia's, but they're not bad.

WHAT'S NOT: The skimpy parts-and-labor warranty on the Pavilion expires after one year. 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. Also, the headphones port is awkwardly located on the back of the notebook, and the shallow CD control buttons are hard to read and press.

WHAT ELSE: The $1599 Pavilion comes loaded with software, including Microsoft Works and Money 99, and Quicken Basic 99. It's also relatively thin and light for a notebook with built-in floppy and CD-ROM drives: just 1.7 inches tall and 6.6 pounds (not including the AC adapter). The Pavilion's svelte design features a 12.1-inch active screen; a quiet, comfortable keyboard; a port replicator connector; and an easy-to-access interior.

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

Contributing Editor Carla Thornton regularly covers notebooks for PC World.

Ciao, Infrared

FUJITSU'S Life-book C-6330 offers an unusual screen-mounted port that lets you use an infrared wireless mouse (a $49 option). It may not be long, however, before many notebooks follow the example of IBM's ThinkPad I Series 1480 (number two on our midrange chart) and do away with infrared altogether.

By mid-2001, a wireless technology called Bluetooth will arrive that can transmit data at 1 mbps across distances of up to 30 feet. Unlike infrared, it won't require devices to be positioned in a straight line.

Other companies are betting that wireless PC Cards will make this kind of data exchange popular. Newly available $250 PC Cards based on the IEEE 802.11 wireless ethernet standard can transmit data at up to 11 mbps as far as 300 feet. Another standard, HomeRF (the RF stands for radio frequency), will be slower than IEEE 802.11, operating at 1.6 mbps, but the products that are based on it will cost less.sTECH TRENDBEYOND THE TOP 15WE EVALUATED the following systems along with the others, but they didn't score high enough to reach the Top 15 Notebook PCs chart. For write-ups, visit PC World Online (www.pcworld.com/top400).

*Fujitsu LifeBook C-6330

*Twinhead PowerSlim 600-36 TZ43

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