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Review: Dell tops list of best 15 notebook PCs

PC World

By Carla Thornton

(IDG) -- Ready to spring for a notebook that offers a little something extra -- such as added performance, a bigger screen, a spacious hard drive, or built-in wireless support? If so, you'll like our decision to expand the Top 15's power category from five to seven notebooks. The other big news: This month we tested (or retested) notebooks under our new benchmark, PC WorldBench 4. See more information about how we've revised the testing suite.

All nine new laptops we tested this month made our list. Dell's Inspiron 4100, a minor upgrade of the business-oriented Inspiron 4000, earns second place on the power chart, helped by Intel's fastest mobile processor, the Pentium III-M-1200/800. Gateway's high-performance Solo 9550xl, an upgrade of the 9500xl that offers improved audio controls and more-comfortable palm rests, sits in third place. HP's Omnibook 6100 -- with a sensibly designed, dark gray magnesium case, strong performance, and long battery life -- takes sixth place on the power chart.

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Our value list turns over almost completely, headed by IBM's new, affordably priced ThinkPad R30, which includes built-in 802.11b wireless support. Fujitsu's four-USB-port laptop -- the LifeBook C Series -- earns third place, followed by a couple of WinBook models with 15-inch screens. HP's Pavilion N5430, in sixth place, is the first AMD Duron-equipped laptop to reach the chart. Finally, at number seven, Toshiba's sleek thin-and-light model, the Portege 4000, impressed us with its 4.5-pound weight, its 4-hour battery life, and its built-in antennas supporting both 802.11b and Bluetooth wireless technologies.

Top 15 notebooks

  1. Dell Inspiron 8100: For small to medium-size businesses or multimedia pros seeking a decked-out desktop replacement, the 8100 does it all.
  2. Dell Inspiron 4100: With its flexible design and fashion sense, the Inspiron 4100 should please small companies looking for a lightweight, configurable, fun-to-accessorize travel machine. If you like to listen to CDs on your notebook while you work, however, you may be disappointed.
  3. Gateway Solo 9550xl: Presenters, graphics artists, and others who need a portable with the largest built-in screen available should take a close look at this heavy, multimedia-savvy desktop replacement.
  4. IBM ThinkPad T23: For businesses and well-heeled individuals who prefer the eraserhead pointing device and can afford a top-of-the-line lightweight laptop, the T23 is a best-of-breed winner.
  5. Toshiba Satellite 3005-S403: Ready for work with a complete set of productivity applications or for entertainment with dedicated audio controls, the Toshiba Satellite 3005-S403 is a well-rounded laptop.
  6. HP Omnibook 6100: An elegant portable for the pinstripe set, the Omnibook 6100 offers performance to spare, including a fast processor, 4-hour battery life, and a wireless-ready case.
  7. WinBook Z1: Graphics pros who need a top-of-the-line desktop replacement equipped with a CD burner, a large screen and hard drive, and race-horse speed would be best served by the WinBook Z1 with a 1-GHz processor. However, other vendors offer more generous technical support.
  8. IBM ThinkPad R30: Aside from its subpar -- but bearable -- battery life and performance, this inexpensive version of IBM's ThinkPad T is a winner. Its backward compatibility makes it a better choice than the low-cost ThinkPad I series for companies looking to add inexpensive laptops to a ThinkPad-equipped workforce.
  9. Chem USA ChemBook 3830: Despite mildly disappointing performance for its configuration and a somewhat flimsy keyboard, the ChemBook 3830's storage, speed, and sizable screen make it a remarkable deal for a sub-$1,500 portable.
  10. Fujitsu LifeBook C Series: Affordably priced for an all-in-one portable with a combination DVD/CD-RW drive, the $1,799 LifeBook C Series is a fine choice for consumers who've switched to all-USB peripherals and want to burn their own CDs.
  11. WinBook Z1 PIII-800: Budget-minded buyers looking for a desktop replacement that includes a CD burner and lots of screen real estate can't go wrong with the WinBook Z1 PIII-800, but other mainstream vendors offer more generous technical support and more features -- including a built-in network connection -- for the money.
  12. WinBook Z1 Celeron-750: Though you do get a 15.1-inch screen with this Celeron-750 model for less than $1500, the rest is a tad disappointing. Competing notebooks from Dell and Gateway at this price often offer DVD-ROM drives, built-in network connections, and faster processors, as well as a better support package.
  13. HP Pavilion N5430: Consumers and small businesses in the market for a workaday laptop capable of after-hours fun will enjoy this nicely priced entry from HP -- but business applications cost extra.
  14. Toshiba Portege 4000: Early adopters will love this new laptop, which comes stuffed to the gills with multiple ways of exchanging information -- especially wirelessly. It sets a new standard for a top-of-the-line laptop for travel.
  15. Gateway Solo 3450: The 3-pound Gateway Solo 3450 offers snazzy looks and a pretty good keyboard, and a 12.1-inch screen, the biggest you'll find on this class of notebook. It's no multimedia machine, but with a longer-lasting replacement battery the Solo 3450 would make a terrific portable for getting work done on the road.


 
 
 
 


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