ExecTech - Power Notebooks

ExecTech is a fortnightly coverage of the best buys from PC World's test centre.

In this issue, Spiro Hionis looks at power notebooks1 Gateway Solo 2150xl DeluxeAt $4799, this machine is outstanding value for money from the flagship of the Solo 2150 range.

This feature-rich desktop replacement, weighing little more than 3kg, consistently handled all the benchmarks thrown at it. Behind the performance result of 220 in PC WorldBench 98 is a PIII 500MHz processor, 96MB of RAM, 12GB Ultra ATA hard drive and 4MB 2x AGP 3D graphics accelerator.

In addition to the active TFT 14.1in monitor, the Deluxe is equipped with built-in everything, including custom launch buttons and volume controls, a 56Kbps V.90 data/fax modem, 4x DVD-ROM drive with software, Creative EV 1938 16-bit sound controller and stereo speakers.

Our review model was optioned up with the Margi DVD-to-Go PC Card hardware DVD decoder, which bumped the total price up to $5098.

The hardware DVD decoder with TV/AV-out lets you hook your notebook to your TV and watch DVD movies on your television.

Battery life test result of the 12-cell Lithium-Ion unit was sensational, giving three hours and 20 minutes of nonstop use away from the power outlet.

All productivity software is pre-installed and, in addition to Windows 98 SE, MS Works suite and Norton's Antivirus, a simple recovery utility called GoBack allows you to restore your system should you screw it up with a dodgy hardware or software installation.

To complete the package, a one-year warranty (upgradable to three years) and a carry case are included. The Solo 2150xl Deluxe looks good, is versatile and performs effortlessly.

Pros: Price, carry case, DVD, battery lifeCons: Only a one-year warrantyBeginner rating: *****Enthusiast rating: ****2 Compaq Armada E500The 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 98 score of 242.

Compaq's new asking price of $5776 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.

Compaq is also 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, a solid, high-performance business system designed to keep users, IT managers and the company bean counters very happy.

Beginner rating: ****

Enthusiast rating: ****

3 Gateway Solo 9300xl Deluxe

This 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. A 6x DVD-ROM drive combines with a 16-bit stereo PCI audio accelerator and built-in stereo speakers. Other features include Dolby AC-3 digital audio output port, composite video-in port and video-out port.

The Solo 9300xl Deluxe weighs just under 4kg, in a slim design only 42mm thick. Expandability and versatility are excellent, while 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.

Beginner rating: ****

Enthusiast rating: *****

3 Compaq Armada M700

The $6541 Armada M700 previously appeared in our charts in its PII 400 guise and dropped out when Compaq stopped making the 700 in that configuration. For its return, Compaq offers a number of Intel processor configurations: our review model shipped with a 500MHz PIII with SpeedStep technology.

Compaq says it has designed the Armada M700 for "the professional mobility user who wants the ideal balance between the highest level of portability and latest mobile computing technologies . . ."

Like the previous M700, this model achieves its designers' objective by packing most of the functionality of a desktop system into a 28mm-thick, magnesium alloy case having an overall weight of little more than 2kg.

In addition to the PIII 500MHz processor, configuration includes 64MB of RAM, an 8MB 3D graphics controller and 14.1in screen. Other integrated features that aid functionality are an internal 56Kbps V.90 modem, internal 10/100 Ethernet NIC and integrated CD-ROM drive, which lives in the Armada's Multi-Bay.

This bay can be used to alter the functionality of the Armada M700 via its capability to house either a 24x CD-ROM drive, CD-RW drive, SuperDisk LS-120, 4x DVD, a second hard drive, a second battery, floppy drive or weight saver. TCO has also been considered, as the Armada M700 MultiBay options can be shared with other new Armada portables, reducing the total cost of ownership for customers.

Overall, the system is solid, well designed, performs well (238 in PC WorldBench 98) and offers diverse functionality while keeping TCO in mind, and is topped off by a three-year warranty.

The only drawback is the floppy drive, which needs to be attached externally to facilitate simultaneous floppy and CD drive functionality; otherwise, it is very hard to find fault with the Armada M700.

Pros: Lightweight, solid construction, integrated NIC and modem, overall qualityCons: No simultaneous floppy drive and CD-ROM functionalityBeginner rating: ****Enthusiast rating: *****4 Acer TravelMate 734TLThis $6999 Pentium III 600MHz SpeedStep unit returned a PC WorldBench 98 score of 249. Featured is a 15in Active TFT display, 64MB of RAM, a 12GB hard disk and an 8MB graphics controller. The 734TL weighs 3.2kg and seems a little bulkier than some notebooks, due in part to the 2x stereo speaker design on the top of the unit. The 24x CD-ROM and the 3.5in floppy disk drives work simultaneously and the Li-Ion battery can charge in 3.5 hours.

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 PC Cards are supported. The touchpad controller feels solid, and dedicated scroll buttons are provided. The palm rests are generous and combine with a well designed keyboard.

Beginner rating: ****

Enthusiast rating: ****

4 Dell Inspiron 3800

The Inspiron 3800 is based on a SpeedStep 650MHz PIII processor and proved to be the new outright performance leader, returning a record PC WorldBench 98 score of 260 points. Configuration includes 128MB of RAM, 14.1in active TFT screen, an 8MB ATI Rage Mobility graphics controller and a 6x DVD-ROM drive. The 18GB hard drive provides storage and portable power comes from the nine-cell Li-Ion battery. Your $6181 investment also buys an internal 56Kbps V.90 modem, USB, TV-out, Type II and III PC Card slots and choice of colour. 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.

Beginner rating: ****

Enthusiast rating: ****

5 IBM ThinkPad 600X

The 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 and lightweight, with compact dimensions, and its battery life will not leave you wanting.

PC WorldBench 98 benchmark results were very impressive, the ThinkPad 600X returning a score of 255. Overall, the ThinkPad 600X impresses with quality design and construction, and delivers excellent performance. IBM supplied a recommended retail price of $8600 including a three-year international warranty.

Beginner rating: ****

Enthusiast rating: ****

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