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Review: Dells tops list of best 15 notebook PCs

PC World

By Carla Thornton

(IDG) -- Can't decide whether you like the eraserhead or the touchpad better? Two new Dells join the Top 15 this month, and both have dual pointing devices. The $2,625 Latitude C810, fourth on the power chart, can accommodate a pair of optical drives too, for easy copying of files between a DVD-ROM drive and a CD-RW drive. The $2,396 Latitude C610, Dell's latest conservative business machine, snags second place on the value list. It's slender, but it squeezes almost 4 hours out of one battery charge. INFOCENTER
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The only other newcomer to the chart is HP's home-oriented Pavilion N5445, at number five on the value list. For $1,649, you get a laptop with a 1.06-GHz Pentium III-M SpeedStep processor and a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combination drive.

The new $1,799 ChemBook 8600 has both a fingerprint scanner for security and a dial similar to the Jog Dials on Sony's VAIO laptops. Though it has interesting features, the ChemBook also has some drawbacks that prevented it from making the chart. For instance, if the notebook's DVD-ROM drive is using the modular bay, you must turn the notebook off completely to attach the floppy drive.

The $1,199 Micro Express NP7120, a metallic-skinned portable, is impressively equipped for the money, but anemic performance numbers spoiled its shot at the chart. This month we also looked at WinBook's new X2 ($2,399), the follow-up to the company's thin and light X1. The X2 manages to pack a bigger hard drive and a new TV-out port without increasing its 5.3-pound weight. But it still lacks some standard features, such as a modular bay, found in rivals like the IBM ThinkPad T23 and the Acer TravelMate 600 series.

Top 15 notebooks

Dell Inspiron 8100: This Dell desktop replacement features Intel's fast 1-GHz/733-MHz Pentium III-M processor. Aside from its new processor, the 8100 also features much-better-sounding built-in audio and an additional bay device option, an Iomega Zip 250 drive. For small to medium-size businesses or multimedia pros seeking a decked-out desktop replacement, the 8100 does it all.

Dell Inspiron 4100: If you share a laptop with other people in your office, you'll appreciate the Inspiron 4100's removable hard drive, dual pointing devices, and multipurpose bay, which can accommodate any one of eight different devices. 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.

IBM ThinkPad A30p: Companies that use Lotus Notes and want to equip their workforces with a full-featured all-in-one notebook and a Palm PDA will like IBM's new A line and its cradle bay device option for the WorkPad C500. Unlike the batteries on other ThinkPads we've examined, our test unit's battery expired in a surprisingly short time: 2 hours, 19 minutes.

Dell Latitude C810: Like its predecessor, the C810 is a large, black notebook with solid credentials as a graphics machine, especially now that Dell has bumped its screen resolution to the max. With a 2-inch-thick case and weighing 9.1 pounds, the C810 is chunky.

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.

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.

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. T series laptops include all legacy connections and great built-in sound with handy volume controls -- rare features in two-spindle notebooks. The 48GB hard drive is the biggest we've seen in a laptop.

Gateway Solo 5350: Fairly lightweight and reasonably priced for a 1-GHz/733-MHz Pentium III-M laptop, the Solo 5350 should please consumers and businesspeople alike.

Dell Latitude C610: The C610 should satisfy corporate buyers, as it offers just about everything a company needs in a highly flexible portable. It gives you built-in wireless readiness along with more-traditional networking connections; both eraserhead and touchpad pointing devices; and the ability to rotate multiple add-in devices, including a second battery.

Compaq Presario 1720: An all-around solid laptop for mainstream consumers, the Presario 1720 offers speed and impressive features for the price. You'll need to add productivity software, however.

IBM ThinkPad R30: Aside from its subpar -- but bearable -- battery life and performance, this less-expensive version of IBM's ThinkPad T23 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.

HP Pavilion N5445: Consumers and small businesses in the market for a workaday laptop capable of after-hours fun will enjoy this nicely priced entry from HP. Downsides are the brief vendor support and the lack of major business applications.

Fujitsu LifeBook C Series: Affordably priced for an all-in-one portable with a combination DVD/CD-RW drive, the $1499 LifeBook C Series is a fine choice for consumers who've switched to all-USB peripherals and want to burn their own CDs.

Toshiba Satellite 5005-S504: The Satellite 5005-S504 comes with almost everything devoted digerati could wish for. But with its short battery life and clunky size, it's not perfectly suited for toting from place to place.

Compaq Presario 2701: Compaq offers consumers nice extras with the Presario 2701, at a reasonable price. Those who spend a lot of time burning CDs should appreciate the Presario 2701's fixed DVD-ROM drive and the bundled CD-RW drive in the modular bay. However, this heavy unit is not really convenient for toting around.

For more detailed comparison, see chart with complete specifications for each notebook.


• Dell
• Hewlett-Packard

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