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Review: Top 15 notebook PCs

PC World
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By PCWorld Staff

(IDG) -- Fast notebooks equipped with Intel's top processors are hot this month. Armed with a PIII-900 CPU, Dell's $2741 Inspiron 8000 falls just short of IBM's ThinkPad A21p for the power Best Buy. Meanwhile, the $3578 Gateway Solo 9500 takes third place, helped by its PIII-1000 chip set to an Outstanding PC WorldBench 2000 score of 191; that's the highest score we've seen so far on the notebooks chart. The Inspiron 800's lighter-weight sibling, the $2091 Inspiron 4000, snags our midrange Best Buy. Dell discontinued the PIII-800 version of the Inspiron 4000, clearing the way for Gateway's $1684 Solo 5300 to take the budget Best Buy.

WinBook's J1 slips onto the budget list in fifth place, making chart history by becoming our first Pentium III-1000 laptop priced under $1700. WinBook cut costs on the J1 by using a desktop processor without Intel's SpeedStep technology.

Four other laptops that we reviewed this month missed the chart, including Toshiba's Satellite Pro 4600, a $2899 wireless-ready Pentium III-850-based notebook with a CD-RW/DVD combo drive. KDS's 4.4-pound ThinNote and the 3.9-pound Asus S8600 also failed to reach the chart. The skimpy tech support hours Asus offers (no weekend or evening help) kept the new Asus L8400 off the chart, too.

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Top 15 Notebook PCs

  1. IBM ThinkPad A21p: Though expensive, the top-of-the-line A21p will tempt companies looking for a ThinkPad desktop replacement to complement their traveling workforce's ThinkPad T20 notebooks.
  2. Dell Inspiron 8000: Small to medium-size businesses seeking a well-equipped desktop replacement for multimedia pros will find that the well-rounded 8000 almost does it all. Performance is a little disappointing for a Pentium III-900, but the $2741 price is well below what we've seen for other similar models.
  3. Gateway Solo 9500xl: Presenters, graphic and digital artists, and others who need a portable with the largest built-in screen possible should take a close look at the 9500xl, a heavy but powerful multimedia-savvy desktop replacement.
  4. Dell Latitude C800: The Latitude C800 will suit companies willing to shell out extra money for a decked-out portable that lets graphics pros wander the building on a wireless network.
  5. Acer TravelMate 739TLV: With an easy-to-use fingerprint reader and great battery life added to all the usual features expected in a high-end portable these days, the TravelMate 739TLV belongs on the short list for companies seeking an extra-secure desktop replacement suitable for the road.
  6. Dell Inspiron 4000: With its flexible design and fashion sense, the Inspiron 4000 will please small companies that want a lightweight, configurable, and fun-to-accessorize travel machine.
  7. Dell Latitude C600: The C600 offers almost everything a company would want in a portable, highly flexible business laptop: wireless networking, both eraserhead and touchpad pointing devices, and the ability to rotate a wide range of add-in devices, including a second battery. The $2635 price looks high for a Pentium III-750/600 laptop, but seems reasonable considering everything else you get.
  8. HP Omnibook XE3: Working stiffs who want to have a little fun between meetings and deadlines will enjoy using the nicely equipped, reasonably priced Omnibook XE3 as a stand-alone CD player.
  9. Compaq Presario 1700T-850: Well-heeled consumers who prefer their laptops fast, flashy-looking, and girded to withstand the storage demands of a serious digital video or photography habit will like the trim Presario 1700T-850. If 32GB of disk space is overkill for your needs, you can get this notebook for up to $500 less by ordering it with a smaller hard drive.
  10. Enpower ENP-325W2: Individuals or small companies looking for top mobile performance at a good price may want to check out this unexciting but comfortable and speedy laptop.
  11. Gateway Solo 5300: Gateway pitches its latest midsize machine to consumers, students, and professionals, though we can't imagine why the first two would need LAN management utilities. For companies seeking a fairly thin, lightweight corporate laptop at a reasonable price, the 5300 is an excellent choice.
  12. WinBook Si 800 CD: WinBook laptops appeal to people looking for the biggest performance bang for the buck, and this model is no exception. Those willing to take a chance on the desktop-chip processor will get in exchange a nicely designed, relatively light notebook that's just as fast as Pentium III-800/750 laptops that cost hundreds of dollars more.
  13. Dell Inspiron 2500: Looking for a relatively cheap notebook with lots of perks, including a big screen? With its smallish hard drive and integrated video memory, this particular configuration of the new Dell Inspiron 2500 may not be for multimedia pros, but budget-minded Web designers and penny pinchers should take a close look. You'll want to spring for the extra $49 to buy a longer-lasting battery, and you'll possibly want another 64MB of RAM to satisfy the memory-hogging Windows Me operating system.
  14. Toshiba Satellite 2805-S202: With its Lotus SmartSuite software and musical talents, the 2805-S202 would make a fine personal laptop for budget-minded individuals looking for something beyond a basic machine.
  15. WinBook J1: Individuals or small companies willing to trade SpeedStep technology for a fast, cheap Pentium III-1000 laptop need only add productivity software to turn the J1 into a good portable for home or business.

Beyond the Top Ten

• Asus L8400: Decked out for office or occasional portable computing, and with an impressive Pentium III-1000 processor tucked inside, the Asus offers penny-pinchers plenty of panache for the money, although the lack of weekend and evening tech support is disappointing.

• Asus S8600: Frequent travelers dreaming of a fast, cheap, easy-to-carry portable could do much worse than the Asus S8600, an ultralight Pentium III-850/700 temptingly priced at $1649, hundreds of dollars less than competing laptops from Dell and Sony. If you're a road warrior and can live with this laptop's finicky drive caddy, slightly cramped keyboard, and limited support, consider it a perfect match.

• KDS ThinNote:If the ThinNote and its add-on parts sound like a good fit for your on-the-go lifestyle, surf over to Sceptre and check out the Sceptre S7300. The prices are pretty close, but the Sceptre comes with free unlimited support. KDS ends free support 15 days after your first call; thereafter you pay $20 per incident. Sceptre also sells more internal add-ins for its UltraBase, including a CD-RW drive, a SuperDrive, and a Zip drive.:

• Toshiba Satellite Pro 4600: With its 15-inch screen, combination CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive, and wireless capability, the Satellite Pro 4600 offers a tidy all-in-one package for peripatetic business and creative folk who need to stay connected.








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