Averatec 3150P Laptop Review

If the Averatec 3150P cost just $25 less, it’d be tempting to call it a baby grand. Even at $1,025, it stands out amid budget-priced portable PCs — there are lots of good values in this price range, but most are full-sized, fairly heavy laptops. Newcomer Averatec’s, however, is a 4.5-pound subnotebook that measures just 9.6 by 10.6 by 1.2 inches — yet has a bright 12.1-inch, active-matrix screen, AMD Athlon XP-M 1600+ processor, 30GB hard disk, and DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive, not to mention 802.11b wireless as well as 10/100Mbps Ethernet, 56Kbps modem, and USB 2.0 ports. It even comes with Windows XP Professional (a 3150H model with Win XP Home and no wireless adapter is $919).

If you’re looking for a comparably capable lightweight from a name brand, you’re looking at models like Fujitsu’s LifeBook P5000D — which has a smaller 10.6-inch LCD and slower 900MHz CPU — or Sony’s Vaio 505, and at price tags between $1,500 and $2,000. So Averatec certainly knows how to make an entrance (or re-entrance; the company took a brief shot at the U.S. market last year under the name Sotec America).

And there’s lots to like about the 3150P, from a small but smooth touchpad with up/down scroll as well as left/right mouse buttons to handy headphone and microphone jacks — plus an honest-to-hardware audio-volume dial, not one of those Fn-key controls that don’t work until Windows and a software utility have loaded — located on the laptop’s front edge.

Unfortunately, there was one thing about our test unit we disliked a lot — actually, hated so intensely we’re slashing a four-star to a two-star review. The Averatec had the crummiest keyboard we’ve seen in years.

Part of the problem was the keys’ flat, rubbery feel and space-squeezed layout: While there are dedicated Home and End keys at the top right, their cursor-control colleagues PgUp and PgDn are relegated to auxiliary duty (with the usual Fn or special shift key) on the up and down arrows. The Delete key is at the bottom right, not near the top right where you expect it, and the Backspace key is both tiny and moved one slot in from the right edge. So we found ourselves making numerous typos.

Much worse, however, was that we typed our first couple of sentences, then looked at the screen to realize we’d typed one long word: The 3150P’s space bar needs not just a touch typist’s thumb-tap, but a hard jab with your index finger to register a space. Again and again, we noticed the space bar hadn’t worked and backspaced to try a second time, only to find ourselves trying a frustrated third or fourth time or trying not to throw the computer across the room.

A hunt-and-peck typist might have tolerated our 3150P, but we’re left hoping the almost-stuck space bar was a fluke problem with just our test unit. (Of two other Averatec reviews we’ve seen, one warned the keyboard was “spongy” and the other didn’t mention anything about using the system other than specs and benchmarks.) As is, we’d gladly pay $100 more for the same computer with a better keyboard — it would still be an impressive bargain.

The Averatec drew its share of avid glances and inquiries during its stay at the Labs, Weather, & Sports Desk. Its top lid seems a little scratch- and scuff-prone, but it’s an attractive squarish shape and its 4.5-pound weight (add 12 ounces for the AC adapter) makes it easy to slip into even a small or crowded briefcase.

In addition to the front-mounted audio jacks, you’ll find three USB 2.0 ports and the modem jack on the right side, bracketing the Matsushita UJDA740 24/10/24X CD-RW/8X DVD-ROM combo drive. VGA and Ethernet ports are at the left, along with one PC Card slot and a handy if unmarked on/off switch for the 802.11b wireless radio.

Like many notebooks, the 3150P has two SODIMM memory sockets. One, unfortunately, is occupied by a permanently installed, pretty skimpy 128MB DDR266 module, so any upgrades will install throwing away one 128MB module and installing a 256MB or 512MB replacement for a system ceiling of 640MB. That’s adequate for the e-mail and light office work for which the subnotebook is destined, but still disappointing, because the S3 ProSavage DDR integrated graphics controller steals a chunk of system memory for itself (the standard 256MB configuration is really a 224MB configuration).

The AMD Athlon XP-M 1600+ (1.4GHz, for clock-speed counters) processor and 30GB Hitachi (nee IBM) Travelstar 4,200-rpm hard disk provide perfectly acceptable if not really speedy performance; the Averatec racked up a BAPco SysMark 2002 score of 106 (144 for Internet Content Creation, 78 for Office Productivity).

The ProSavage graphics, however, are strictly bottom-of-the-barrel in terms of would-be image editing or 3D rendering; the system’s FutureMark 3DMark 2001 SE Pro score is a humble 583, and Quake III Arena players will plod into deathmatches with “Frag Me” signs taped to their backs (13 frames per second in 1,024 by 768 High Quality mode).

On the other hand, we should note that the preinstalled CyberLink PowerDVD software makes the 3150P a pleasant DVD-watching partner; the stereo speakers are as puny and tinny as most portables’, but the 1,024 by 768-pixel screen is clear and legible even in the bottom half of its several brightness settings. In another bonus, Averatec provides decent CD-burning software (albeit Roxio’s entry-level Easy CD Creator 5 Basic) rather than stopping with Windows XP’s own, and also preinstalls Microsoft Works and the 90-day trial version of Symantec’s Norton AntiVirus 2003.

You won’t be able to watch any long movies with the standard lithium-ion battery, but considering the system’s subnotebook size and weight we won’t complain about the roughly two hours and 10 minutes’ work we got out of a typical recharge (just under two hours in our PCMark 2002 CPU/hard disk/memory/DVD loop). Averatec sells a spare battery pack for $130, along with an external USB floppy drive for $50.

We’ve already revealed our conclusion about the Averatec 3150P — a potentially great value that literally flunked our hands-on testing. But here’s hoping the company perseveres and invests in a functioning keyboard for its next model; the lightweight notebook category could use a low-price leader.

Adapted from HardwareCentral.com.

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