Take It With You: PC Notebooks

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted February 14, 2002
If you've got to take your business on the road, your notebook will be your work machine both in and out of the office. Notebook systems come in a broad array of shapes, sizes, and configurations, and finding the right one will depend on your particular needs. You'll basically have to consider raw power and speed, built-in features, LCD-size, weight, dimensions, and price. To help you with your decision, we've taken a look at four notebook PCs. Remember that most notebook vendors have a variety of lines to choose from, so it's worth it to shop around, even within one brand.

A Travelmate 611 TXCI Notebook
by Jennifer Doran

We've evaluated a number of "lightweight" notebooks that weigh more than a newborn baby, but the Acer 610 lives up to its title. Enclosed in a sleek silver and black case, the Acer 610 offers a speedy Pentium 3 processor, dual hard drives, and is Bluetooth ready.

The SmartCard feature is the Acer's biggest attraction. SmartCard enables users to encrypt files for increased security, and in addition functions as a combination debit card/credit card. Unfortunately, the review model did not recognize either of the provided SmartCards.

With the dual hard drives, file backups are a breeze and twice as reliable. The Acer also comes with Microsoft Windows ME operating system, although the test model had no software applications for Microsoft Office or Internet Explorer. However, we did load these on without any problems.

We were disturbed that the Acer 610 has no attached floppy disk drive. There is a USB drive attachment, but it's awkward to plug in and place on a desk. Although a local disk drive is not a vital component, it can be a lifesaver for those looking to transfer files between computers. The omission of a DVD decoder made us wonder if the space taken by the DVD player and accompanying software could be used for something else.

Overall, the Acer TravelMate 611 TXCi is a power-packed yet lightweight laptop that's ideal for professionals on the go. It is very reliable, speedy, and durable. While we could not effectively test the SmartCard, we were pleased overall with the Acer's performance.

Acer Travelmate 611 TXCI
Manufacturer: Acer America; 408-432-6200; www.acer.com
Price: $2,099

Configuration: 1GHz Pentium 3 processor; 100MHz front side bus; 512MB of SDRAM; Microsoft Windows 2000 and ME; SmartCard Technology; Bluetooth-ready with built-in modem and Ethernet

Pros: Extremely lightweight; dual hard drives (11.1GB + 7.42GB) for system backup and simultaneous data retrieval; large, clear screen (1028 x 768 pixels at 24 bit true color-max resolution); two USB ports in rear; very quiet
Cons: No attached floppy disk; no DVD decoder to play DVDs

Gateway Solo 9500
by Keith Kirkpatrick

The 7.5-pound gateway solo 9500 features a massive, 15.7-inch display and is a true desktop replacement. Mated to a fast Pentium III Mobile Processor running at a swift 1GHz with 128MB of RAM and a DVD-ROM player, the Solo 9500 is a multimedia tour de force, ranking with the top desktop systems of just a year ago, in terms of performance and features.

At a display resolution of 1280 by 1024, there's enough room to keep a few windows open at once without being cramped.

Thanks to the speedy processor, generous amount of RAM, and 16MB of video memory, DVDs play as smoothly as if they were being played on a stand-alone player. Plus, the included player software allows simple, slider-control adjustments of volume, color control, and brightness right on the screen.

Overall, images were sharp, although sitting too close to the screen (as you would on an airplane) will reveal some slight scan lines and blurriness on lower-quality DVD transfers. Audio performance from the two front-mounted speakers was somewhat small and tinny-sounding, but it improved slightly when we were sitting a bit further back from the notebook.

Beyond the DVD player, the Solo 9500 features a variety of amenities designed to help you stay productive: An internal 10/100Mbps, internal Ethernet card, two USB ports, a NTSC/PAL-video out port, and an optical connector.

All told, the Solo 9500 is a large notebook that mimics the functionality of a desktop, while still being portable enough for travelers.

Gateway Solo 9500
Manufacturer: Gateway Inc.; 800-846-4208; www.gateway.com
Starting at $1,800

Pros: Large display
Cons: Heavier than most portables

MicronPC TransPort XT
By Matthew Klare

MicronPC's $2,100 Transport XT is a two-spindle (hard drive and DVD-ROM drive) notebook with a bright, 14.1-inch TFT display. Its generous features and 6.1-pound weight strike a balance between a lightweight portable and a heavier, more full-featured desktop replacement. An optional port replicator (or mini-dock) makes the latter a viable possibility for an additional $199.

The TransPort performed well with Microsoft Office applications and while playing DVDs. A removable CD-RW is an attractive $110 option that is available when configuring the system. We were, however, less than impressed by its 3D performance, despite its S3 Savage IX graphics chipset. We found the keyboard fairly comfortable, and the Synaptics touch pad easy to customize and use. We particularly liked the quick keys that start Internet Explorer, e-mail, and a user-assign program.

Hot swapping the DVD-ROM drive was simple using Samsung's SwapBay utility. We liked the LED indicator on the Li-ion battery, too, which let us check the charge with the battery removed. Connectivity options available for the Transport include the usual VGA, serial, parallel, and infrared ports. In general, the TransPort appears sturdily built and durable.

Overall, the TransPort XT is a solid notebook with good features, though its $2,000+ price seems on the high side. Nonetheless, it has the power and features to meet the needs of mainstream business travelers, and it roosts well when united with its mini dock.

MicronPC TransPort XT
Manufacturer: MicronPC; 888-224-4247; www.micronpc.com
Price: $2,100

Configuration: 850MHz Mobile Pentium III processor with SpeedStep; 128 MB of 100-MHz SDRAM; 20GB hard drive; a Samsung 8x DVD-ROM drive; 56K V.90 modem; an external floppy; Windows 2000/Office XP Small Business Edition; Ethernet and TV-out connectors; two PS/2 connections (keyboard and mouse); two USB ports; midi/game and audio input/outputs

Pros: Lightweight; offers good features; bright display; full-sized keyboard; good software bundle
Cons: Pricey; poor 3D performance; shrill speakers

Winbook X1
By Stephen F. Carpi

In an age of high-speed portability and rich multimedia presentations, WinBook packs power and versatility in an 11.63- by 9.42-inch package. The WinBook X1, tested with a 1GHz mobile Pentium III processor, 30GB hard drive, and standard 350MB of SDRAM, delivers robust business application performance and multi-site downloading with ease.

The X1 boasts great features including an internal modem and Ethernet, two USB ports, and a DVD/CD-RW drive. However, this costly laptop is not equipped with a 3.5-inch floppy drive (available only as an external USB drive for $99) or a second PCMCIA slot. A port replicator is available for the X1 at an additional cost providing four USB ports, a parallel, and a serial port.

Additionally, the battery lasted well over two hours in the optimized mode, which is quite an accomplishment for a machine of this caliber.

DVDs played on the X1 are choppy and out of sync. The moderately bright 13.3-inch XGA screen has a maximum resolution of 1024 by 768dpi in both LCD and VGA modes and loses luster when switched to battery mode. The fan in the X1 idles indefinitely. Furthermore, during DVD play, CD burning, or moderate use, the fan speeds up and becomes increasingly louder.

Although the WinBook X1, weighing in at 5.2 pounds (6.15 pounds with AC adapter), falls just short of the ideal ultra thin/ultra light laptop, don't be surprised when you receive kudos for running business applications and presentations seamlessly and professionally.

Winbook X1
Manufacturer: WinBook800-254-7806; www.winbook.com
Price: $3,098

Configuration: 1GHz mobile Pentium III processor; Windows 2000/Me; 30GB hard drive; standard 350MB of SDRAM; internal modem/LAN card; two USB ports; DVD/CD-RW drive; four USB ports; a parallel port; serial port; a PS/2 mouse; keyboard port

Pros: Downloads multiple sites with ease
Cons: The X1 has a loud cooling fan; a dim screen; only one PCMCIA slot

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