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COMPUTING

From...
PC World

Top 10 Windows-compatible notebook PCs

October 22, 1999
Web posted at: 11:45 a.m. EDT (1545 GMT)

by Carla Thornton graphic

(IDG) -- Notebook companies don't mind giving consumers the impression that they design and manufacture their own portable computers. But in fact, most vendors, even big ones like Dell, have handed over those functions to third-party companies, many of which are based in Asia. That's why you often find different vendors selling very similar notebooks.

So when you have two identical-looking, comparably priced laptops like Dell's $3098 Inspiron A400LT and Quantex's $3099 I-1511 -- new Pentium II-400 notebooks we reviewed this month -- how do you choose between them? Look closely at what each vendor adds to the deal, especially bundled software and support policies. Quantex outshines Dell in the applications department with its inclusion of Microsoft's Office Small Business Edition. But Dell's support plan is better. Its three-year parts and labor warranty covers all hardware, whereas Quantex's warranty covers only the CPU and main RAM for three years (one year for other parts). Dell also provides nicer manuals and, judging from our monthly anonymous calls to its tech support line, better help.

Dell's superior support quality and policies made all the difference when it came time for us to rank the notebooks. The Inspiron A400LT takes our power Best Buy this month, while the Quantex I-1511 lands just outside Top 10 territory. (For more on third-party notebook makers, see "Who Made Your Notebook?" link below)

Make way for PII-400

Of the six new systems we tested this month, only two scored high enough to earn spots on our Top 10. Dell's $3098 Inspiron A400LT debuts in first place on the power chart. If your pocketbook isn't that elastic, Acer's TravelMate 722ITX, a heavy Pentium II-333 notebook in fourth place on the budget chart, offers one of the few 14.1-inch screens you'll find on a more affordable laptop.

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Processor phaseouts and model discontinuations helped flush out almost all the other notebooks that made the October Top 10; only Dell's Latitude CPi A366XT remains this month. Notebook vendors are beginning to replace their 366-MHz models with similarly performing 400-MHz models. Dell's Inspiron A400LT, a Pentium II-400 unit, takes over for the older 366-MHz version, number two on last month's power list. Dell stopped producing October's number one budget machine, the Celeron-366­based Inspiron 3500 C366GT, too. Another chart veteran, Gateway's heavy Solo 9150, morphed into a new Solo 9300 line of svelter multimedia machines. We'll look at the Solo 9300 in December.

Fun-filled notebooks

Apple isn't the only computer company making candy-colored portables with nifty consumer-targeted features such as wireless networking. NEC, IBM, Sony, and even staid Dell plan to give the iBook a run for its money by rolling out their own multihued laptops. We'll evaluate the first of these in the January issue. In the meantime, check out "All Dressed Up and Ready to Go" (in this month's Top of the News) for a preview of the fun consumer notebooks.

Near misses

We also looked at new notebooks from Asus, NEC, Quantex, and WinBook this month. Of these, Quantex's I-1511 came closest to making the power chart (just two places shy). It fell short because of its relatively low reliability and support scores. The I-1511's hardware is identical to the Inspiron A400LT's except for one minor difference: Instead of individual system status lights, the Quantex offers a status LCD panel at the top of the keyboard.

Of the other also-rans, we liked NEC's $3708 Versa SX PII 400 the best. The latest model in NEC's two-year-old line of classy, thin and light corporate portables, this Pentium II-400 notebook can't be beat for looks or add-in possibilities. Unfortunately, its high price helped keep it off our Top 10 list.

Top 5 power notebooks


Dell Inspiron A400LT
•Quantex I-1410
•Dell Latitude CPi A366XT
•Micron TransPort NX PII-400
•HP OmniBook 4150

Top 5 budget notebooks


Micron TransPort Trek2
•Compaq Armada 3500
•Fujitsu LifeBook E Series PII-333
Acer TravelMate 722ITX
•Acer TravelMate 330T

Beyond the top 10...


Asus Grandio F7400-366
NEC Versa SX PII-400
WinBook XL2 Celeron


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