Lightweight and Loaded Subnotes

SAN FRANCISCO (05/26/2000) - Toshiba Corp.'s 3.4-pound Portégé 3440CT notebook and Fujitsu Ltd.'s even lighter-weight LifeBook B-2131 deliver a hardware punch that belies their subnotebook size. Both are ideal for travelers who need to access e-mail and use Windows apps but who don't want to lug around a heavy notebook.

My preproduction $2499 Portégé 3440CT came with a crisp 11.3-inch active-matrix display, a mobile Pentium III-500 processor, a 6GB hard drive, 64MB of SDRAM, an S3 Savage/IX graphics accelerator with 8MB of integrated video memory, and a built-in 56-kbps modem. The lithium ion battery lasted about 2.5 hours on a single charge. For an extra $459, you can add a high-capacity battery slice that provides an astonishing 8-plus hours of power but also nearly doubles the unit's thickness and weight. The standard OS is Windows 98, but you can request Windows 2000.

The 3.1-pound Fujitsu LifeBook B-2131 costs $500 less than the Portégé 3440CT, but it has a slower Celeron-400 CPU and a less impressive Trident Cyber 9525 DVD video chip set with 2.5MB of video memory. Its 10.4-inch active-matrix touch screen is glare-prone but allows you to use a stylus instead of a joystick pointing device. The LifeBook also comes with 64MB of SDRAM and a 6GB hard drive. Its lithium ion battery lasted only about 2 hours in my informal tests with a shipping unit, however. Fujitsu preloads either Windows 98 SE or Windows 2000.

The differences between these two portables become apparent when you put the machines to real-world use. Consider keyboard design: The Fujitsu's keyboard is noticeably more comfortable to type on than the Portégé's--offering more spring and superior user feedback--even though its keys are slightly smaller.

Regrettably, what the LifeBook B-2131 adds in user comfort it subtracts in awkward key placement. For example, "Delete" is a half-size key above "Backspace", and the notebook-specific "Fn" key sits where we expect to find "Ctrl"--making typing errors all too easy.

These ultraportables pack an amazing number of conventional notebook ports: two USB ports, one PC Card slot, and an ethernet port on the Fujitsu; one USB port and two PC Card slots on the Toshiba. But with either unit, you still must carry the included sub-3-ounce external port replicator if you want PS/2, serial, or parallel ports (or an ethernet port for the Toshiba). Each notebook comes with an external floppy drive.

Not surprisingly--in light of its beefier CPU--the Portégé turned in noticeably zippier performance in my informal tests: Still, the LifeBook performed most business tasks quite satisfactorily.

Both the LifeBook and the Portégé are high-quality portables that fit easily in an attaché case or suitcase. The Portégé is not a great value, however, since you have to pay $578 more for the external CD-ROM drive and the required, upgraded SelectBay Port Replicator (which replaces the one included with the notebook). Fujitsu charges only $269 for an external CD-ROM drive. The hefty premium that Toshiba imposes for its superior power and its sharper, larger screen makes the Fujitsu a better deal overall.

Fujitsu LifeBook B-2131

Pro: Has an integrated modem and an ethernet port.

Con: Bright but glare-prone touch screen; comfortable keyboard is marred by poor key placement.

Value: Power, low price make for excellent subnotebook value.

List price: $1999

Fujitsu PC


Toshiba Portégé 3440CT

Pro: Large screen for a subnotebook; strong performance.

Con: Price doesn't cover external CD-ROM drive, and unit requires special (and costly) port replicator.

Value: Strong product, but extras cost too much.

List price: $2499



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