Top 10 notebook PCs
September 14, 1999
by Carla Thornton
(IDG) -- PC companies love to show off their technological prowess, even when it makes little difference to most users. Take the Godzilla-size mobile hard drives now appearing in notebooks. Two portables on this month's chart have 10GB hard drives, and Micron's TransPort NX -- with a 14GB hard drive -- almost made the grade. With a second hard drive in its modular bay, the Micron can store 28GB of data. You might need that much space if you store lots of high-resolution digital images on your laptop, but for most users a 4.3GB or 6.4GB hard drive is plenty big.
Pentium II-400s still lag
We tested seven new notebooks this month, including four models with Intel's new Pentium II-400 CPU. However, none of these made the chart -- their high cost doesn't justify the slight performance advantage over PII-366 notebooks. For now, power users are probably better off sticking with a PII-366, which is a hair slower but hundreds of dollars cheaper.
In fact, the one new notebook that joins our charts this month is PII-366based. Quantex's $2499 T-1411, a virtual twin of our budget number-one Dell (the $2146 Inspiron 3500 C366GT), takes fourth place on the power chart. It has the same flexible modular bay as the Dell Inspiron laptop and includes a DVD-ROM drive, but it falls a little short in battery life.
Of the other new notebooks we tested this month, Micron's $3649 TransPort NX came closest to making our list, falling just shy of the power chart. It's the fastest of the four Pentium II-400s we evaluated, earning a PC WorldBench 98 score of 202. Still, that's only 6 percent faster than the average PII-366 we've tested with 128MB of RAM -- not enough to make much of a difference in everyday business applications. The TransPort's 2.4-hour battery life could be a little better, too.
But few other notebooks can beat the TransPort NX in terms of storage. The ability to hold up to 28GB of hard disk space -- combined with a 15-inch screen and plenty of video connections -- makes this boxy, black, 9.4-pound desktop replacement a suitable mobile workstation for graphic artists or professional audio-video editors. Other options include an internal Iomega Zip drive and a second battery.
The TransPort NX also comes with a combination MIDI-game port, and both touchpad and stick pointing devices for ergonomic relief. You don't need tools to access any part of the notebook: The battery and devices in the two modular bays are locked in with optional security screws. And to remove the hard drive or get to memory components, you just lift the wrist rest and keyboard. Our only design beefs: Icons inside the back port cover are too jumbled to help identify connections, and the incredibly stiff swivel-tilt feet are practically unusable.
Another new PII-400 that came close to making the power chart is WinBook's XL2. Like the TransPort NX, the WinBook XL2 is a big, heavy multimedia notebook with dual pointing devices. It earned a PC WorldBench score of 200, a tad slower than the TransPort NX. Battery life is better, though, at 3.2 hours. Short support hours and a merely Fair reliability rating from PC World readers also hold down its score. Moreover, the WinBook XL2's memory and hard drive are harder to upgrade, and no devices other than CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives are available for the modular bay. On the bright side, WinBook tends to offer above-average technical support, based on our anonymous calls. Strong documentation includes an exhaustive section on upgrades.
Of all the PII-400s we've tested, Compaq's $2650 Prosignia 165 turned in the worst performance. Its PC WorldBench 98 score of 183 is a hair below average for a PII-366. The battery performed a little below par, lasting 2.5 hours. Still, if you're looking for the Cadillac of desktop replacements, consider the 8.4-pound Prosignia 165. It's a terrific presentation PC, with the best built-in audio available, no-tools upgrading, and a modular bay capable of holding the full range of notebook add-ins, including a second battery, a second hard drive, and Zip and LS-120 drives.
OmniBook too pricey
Hewlett-Packard's OmniBook 4150, the fourth PII-400 we tested this month, puts a classy new spin on the new processor with a thin 1.6-inch-thick case, a versatile modular bay, a powder-blue power button, and purple eraserhead. The cost for this cool elegance: a jaw-dropping $3999. You can upgrade the OmniBook's memory and hard drive yourself, and you have lots of options for the bay. HP even squeezes two pointing devices into this 7.6-pound portable. But the OmniBook performs no better than the WinBook XL2. In fact, several other notebooks, such as NEC's Versa SX, offer many of the same features for a lot less dough.
Trogon's $2699 Q24 Plus -- the only other PII-366 besides the Quantex we reviewed this month -- performed typically for its processor, with a PC WorldBench score of 183. It offers a built-in floppy drive and removable CD-ROM drive, easy-to-upgrade parts, and some nice multimedia extras, including game, video-out, and video-in ports. You can swap the CD-ROM drive for an optional second battery ($195), a Zip drive ($275), a DVD-ROM drive ($275), or a second hard drive. But a modem costs extra, and support is threadbare: There's no technical support on weekends, and you have to pay for a long-distance call during the week.
Transmonde packs it in
Transmonde, a three-year-old notebook vendor, shut its doors August 14, succumbing to the cutthroat notebook market. A Transmonde spokesperson said ASE Technologies, the original supplier for Transmonde's portables, will provide some warranty and repair service. (At press time, limited information was available at ASE's Web site, link below).
Beyond the top 10: Power notebooks
Top 10 home PCs
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