Monday, April 13, 2009

Sony Vaio P Series

by John Morris

Price as Reviewed $900

You can’t judge a netbook by its cover. With its amazing looks, the Sony VAIO P Series landed a spot on nearly everyone’s Best of CES list. But only a few days after the curtain came down, the first full reviews have been posted, and it looks like the “LifeStyle PC” may not be the showstopper it seemed.

It’s easy to see why so many tech journalists fell for the P Series. The extra-wide 8-inch display results in a netbook that is uniquely long and lean, weighing only 1.4 pounds. Despite its tiny size, it has a good keyboard and features not found in most netbooks such as a high-resolution display (1,600 x 768, in this case), integrated 3G and GPS. So far so good.

Then came the actual tests. How’s this for a list of “cons” for a netbook that starts at $900 from PC Magazine’s review:

Underpowered. Bloated with software. Three-cell battery yields only 2 hours of battery life. Needs another price adjustment.

In its review, Laptop Magazine wrote that, while performance was “adequate for light productivity chores,” overall it was “less than stellar” noting that the P Series was “struggling to redraw the screen when merely closing programs or moving windows around.”

Keep in mind that both PC Magazine and Laptop Magazine were actually testing a $1,199 configuration that includes a 64GB SSD, which ought to enhance performance. The base $900 configuration has a 60GB hard drive. Both sites also said the P Series became “uncomfortably warm” when in use.

It’s tough to know how any laptop will perform until you run a full battery of tests, but in this case the problem was predictable thanks to the combination of an Intel Atom Z series chip and Windows Vista. At CES, I spent a only a few minutes with the P Series–opening and closing dialog boxes, launching Word, creating and saving simple documents–and it was obvious that performance was an issue.

Even if you didn’t get a chance to try it, the specs tell the story. There’s a reason the vast majority of netbooks run Windows XP–Atom simply isn’t up to the task of Vista. (That’s why Microsoft has taken pains to note that Windows 7 will run comfortably on a netbook.) Even with Windows XP, the 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 found in nearly all netbooks isn’t noted for its performance. But the P Series uses an even slower chip–the 1.33GHz Atom Z520–that was originally designed for MIDs (Mobile Internet Devices). Throw in Sony’s notoriously hefty software bundle (25 VAIO-branded apps alone?) and the poor P Series can barely get out of its own way. Sony insists the P Series is a true notebook–not a netbook–but even compared to netbooks that cost half as much, it performed poorly on tests.

Sony says performance isn’t the point. The target audience is women, and eventually college kids and young professionals. And as PC Magazine’s review states: “According to Sony, women aren’t too concerned about what’s inside the system; how it looks is more important.” I’m going to give Sony the benefit of doubt here and assume that this is a bit of an oversimplification. I’m sure women do care about how the products they use look, but they need a functional PC just as much as men do.

To be fair, Sony is hardly only company to try this tack. Ask HP execs why the HP Mini 1000 Vivienne Tam edition costs $275 more than an identically-configured HP Mini 1000–both of which are very good netbooks–and they just smile.

The Sony P Series is a sleek two-seater with the engine of an econobox. The design is absolutely compelling–and I believe there is a market for a go-anywhere subnote with 3G–but Sony needs to open up the hood and do some work. If the design won’t allow for a faster processor and chipset–and I’m almost certain it won’t–then kick Vista to the curb, drop Windows XP in there (even if you must knock the memory down to 1GB), and get rid of all those bundled apps.

That should buy some time until Windows 7 ships–and, if the rumors are correct, Intel releases a (slightly) more powerful Atom platform–both of which would make the P Series a better proposition. Still, it is one great-looking laptop.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Asus Eee PC S101

Priceas reviewed £391.30 (Exc VAT), £449.99 (Inc VAT)

An executive netbook? We asked for one and for our sins Asus appears to have delivered one. Called the Eee PC S101, it is Asus' latest effort to create a new niche in netbook computing. It attempts to re-create the premium look and feel of an ultra-portable notebook, but with the processing power and price more familiar to netbooks. We only need to find out whether it can deliver the right balance of quality, features and price to make the "premium" netbook a worthwhile investment, so let's get on with it.

Visually it certainly pushes all the right buttons. If the only measure of success was you didn't want people to think you were cheap, then the S101 passes with flying colours. It has a classy and cohesive feel that's very reminiscent of Asus' own ultra-portable, the U2E, though it lacks the leathery touches. What it does have, however, is a rather attractive mocha brown lid and though it's just as glossy as a "regular" Eee PC, it doesn't have that toy-like veneer that so divides opinion.

Furthermore, whereas all the other Eee PCs have a slightly bulbous feel to them, the S101 takes every opportunity to make itself look and feel as slim as possible. Every corner and edge is curved, tapered and tucked to create a machine that undeniably earns the ultra-slim tagline Asus has chosen to give it. It's obviously a light machine too, weighing in at just 1.1kg thanks to a lower capacity four-cell 4,900mAh capacity battery compared to the six-cell and 6,600mAh efforts of the Eee PC 901 and 1000H. We'll get onto how this affects battery life a little later.

First, though, we should further enjoy the delights offered by the S101s sleek and slim chassis. Inside, below the keyboard, it's finished in an attractive and classy black brushed metal and this is supplanted by glossy black plastic around the keyboard and screen. Meanwhile the edges and hinge are completed by a faux-chrome finish that nicely complements the darker touches, something that's continued on the outside edges of the display.

Just above the keyboard are some nicely backlit status lights and in addition to the power button on the right there's a power profile shortcut as well. As in other Eee PCs the webcam is housed above the screen while the accompanying microphones are below it, an arrangement that works just fine.

Continuing the intelligent design, we rather like how the air vent and primary connections, including VGA, Ethernet, DC-in and lock slot, are all housed on the back within a slightly enlarged section that tapers down again around the hinges. This ensures that the sides remain relative uncluttered, with just a USB port, headphone and microphone jacks on the right and a further two USB ports on the left. Finally, there's also a memory card reader on the back and though this isn't the most convenient location for regular access, it's integrated quite neatly and if you buy the Windows version you get a 16GB SDHC card for it too.

Naturally enough the keyboard and touchpad have seen some improvements. We particularly like the positive feel and response provided by the keyboard. Thanks to the compact frame there's practically no flex and keys bounce back crisply, aiding brisk and error free typing. Most importantly, since the S101 uses a 10.2in screen, there's ample space for decent size keys. It also helps that the keyboard stretches almost right to the edges, so all the space available has been well utilised without too much compromise to the keyboard layout.

There's a large UK style Return key and pretty much every element of the keyboard is at it should be, including Page Up, Page Down, Home and End keys mapped as secondary's to the cursor keys. There is, however, one notable exception to this and it's a problem carried over from all the Eee PCs: the right Shift key.

It's a small annoying thing and it sits to the right of the upward cursor key. This leads to endless frustrations as you go to capitalise a letter, only to delete a whole paragraph instead because you hit the wrong key. It's hard to describe how irritating this can be, but let's just say we've come close to throwing the S101 out of the window as a consequence. Asus: sort it out!

All this is a shame since beyond this issue the keyboard can't be faulted greatly and neither can the touchpad. It's probably the largest one to feature on an Eee PC, but it doesn't get in the way of typing. Like other Asus notebooks and netbooks, the touchpad buttons, in this instance a rocker-style strip, feel a little stiff but they're perfectly usable nonetheless.

Such sentiments are repeated for the 10.2in, 1,024 x 600 display. We still rather wish that the resolution was higher, but there are other factors that prevent that and fundamentally it's a very useable display. It has an anti-glare finish so reflections aren't much of a problem and it's suitably bright too, thus enhancing its outdoor credentials. Videos and photos are presented well, though sometimes with a slight lack of contrast, while text is very sharp and easy to read. Like most netbooks the viewing angles are pretty mediocre, but in a machine this small and cheap it's not a great concern.

Like previous Eee PCs, a slip case is included, but instead of the usual neoprene effort, you get a smart suede-like affair with a magnetic flap. It's very nice to handle and provides adequate protection when carrying your netbook around in a bag. And since the S101 is pretty well put together, small falls when inside the case shouldn't be too much of a problem either. As mentioned earlier Windows versions also come with a 16GB SDHC card and it's a smart move on Asus' behalf, since we often find ourselves recommending one for expanding the internal storage. It has perhaps missed a trick, though, by not following Acer's example by including two memory card slots - one for permanent storage and one for modular usage.

Despite all of its classy exterior touches, we shouldn't forget that the S101's innards a very much 'netbook' in origin. It's powered by the usual 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor and the Windows version features 1GB of RAM. For storage you get a 16GB SSD along side the 16GB SDHC card, bringing the total to 32GB, while network connectivity is handled by a Wireless-N capable Wi-Fi module and 10/100 Ethernet. You also get Bluetooth, so you're hardly lacking in connectivity.

All this will set you back £449, though as you might have guessed from the pictures we've actually got the Linux version of the S101 here for review. It features a whopping 64GB SSD and 2GB of RAM as well, though Asus is still not certain it will actually be selling this version in the UK or at what price if it did. As such we're reviewing the S101 as the Windows XP version, rather than the Linux version. As an observation, however, Asus' Linux effort perhaps lacks the look and feel to match the S101's sleek and professional pretensions - a view only enhanced by the fact you still get many of the more youth orientated applications loaded onto the machine.

In addition to all this you benefit from 20GBs of online "Eee Storage", free for 18 months. This is a nice addition, though clearly not as convenient as having storage built-in. Software, on the Windows version, includes Windows Live Suite and Microsoft Works, while the Linux version will (if released) feature the usual array of pre-installed applications. As always you also benefit from a two year warranty.

Performance, given the specification, is more or less identical to those of previous netbooks, though the Linux version is noticeably peppier thanks to its complement of RAM. Nonetheless, in raw performance terms, the S101 has nothing that elevates it above a netbook costing half the price. This is obviously a bit of a mental barrier to get through, since plenty of people would reasonably argue about the value of such a proposition compared to the latest version of the MSI Wind, the U100-291UK. Now available for £339, less than the £360.00 we reviewed it at, it's about as close to a comparable laptop replacement and is over £100 less.

As hinted at before the S101's battery life is also inferior to those of its Eee PC counterparts, yet it's not all bad news because it's still very good and outperforms the majority of other netbooks. Running at 50 per cent brightness it managed to loop a standard definition video for four and a half hours using the Power Saving mode of Asus' Super Hybrid Engine. This is a pretty solid result and general usage, including web browsing and word processing, produced regular four hour plus sessions. With very frugal use you could even manage five hours, so although it has less life in it than previous Eee PCs, it still trounces much of the competition.


All told we like the S101 in the same way that we like most ultra-portables notebooks, because it's sleek, stylish and accomplished. Battery life is very good, while the keyboard, touchpad and basic feature set are also excellent, even if you don't get much more than other cheaper netbooks. But price, as we all know, is an emotive issue. If you like your netbooks dirt cheap and care little for how they look and how you look using them, then it's obviously not for you. If, however, you've liked the idea of a netbook but find the current efforts a little unrefined, then the S101 is your only real choice. As such, even if it's not an "everyman" machine like other netbooks, we reckon the S101 deserves a recommendation because it's discernibly different from what else is available - something you can't say that often.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Viliv S7

Price as Reviewed about $999

Viliv S7 is a slim, sleek Atom-based UMPC. The S7 is powered by an Intel Atom processor running at 1.3GHz, 1.6GHz or 1.8GHz, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, 30GB or 60GB hard drive.

The Viliv S7 has a swivel 7-inch 1024×600 LCD touchscreen display,integrated SiRD StarIII GPS chipset, Bluetooth, and 802.11b/g WiFi. It even comes with Wibro/WiMax or HSDPA module as well as integrated DMB TV tuner.S7 has QWERTY keyboard.

The Viliv S7 runs either Windows XP Home or Windows Vista.

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Price as Reviewed $500

CES 2008 will be the platform where the Noahpad UMPC is paraded, and the device has been dubbed “classmate, roommate, and travelmate”. It is powered by Ubuntu 7.10 by default, but has more than enough firepower to run Windows XP thanks to its 1GHz VIA C7 Eden processor (CX700 chipset)

Other hardware specifications include a 30GB hard drive, 512MB RAM, a 7″ LED backlit display and a QWERTY keyboard. According to E-Lead, the Noahpad’s manufacturer, it will feature a yet-unknown input technology that claims to be revolutionary, but I will take that claim with a pinch of salt. While it might be called the Noahpad, you won’t find any waterproof capability on this little UMPC.

For some time now, the new Noahpad UMPC has been compared to the Asus Eee PC. It has, however, a range of features unique to it. Taiwan's E-Lead Electronic will showcase their Noahpad UMPC in CES 2008 next week. It features two 2.76-inch square touchpads which apparently mimic the feel of a real keyboard when pressed. It's also used as the as the trackpad. The screen is only 7-inches but the UMPC uses virtual screen technology which expands the viewing area to ten inches. Also, when the screen is flipped (as the Noahpad can be folded pretty much like a notebook), it turns semi-transparent. The Noahpad features 30GB HDD, 512MB RAM, and uses Ubuntu 7.10 by default although it is Windows XP compatible. The price isn't determined yet although it seems to be in Asus Eee PC range, meaning around USD$500.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

LG Mini Laptop

by Daniel Robinson
1.2kg Netbook X110 to be available from late October

LG is the latest vendor to bring to market a mini laptop PC. The Netbook X110 is similar in size and specification to models such as the Asus Eee PC and Acer Aspire, but LG has yet to disclose a price.

Available from late October, the Netbook X110 is based on Intel's 1.6GHz Atom mobile processor with 1GB memory, 80GB hard drive and a 10in display. It will be pre-loaded with Windows XP Home edition.

However, while the Netbook will be available with integrated 3G wireless capability in some countries, the UK version – available initially through Phones 4u – will not. Instead, buyers will be offered this as an option using a USB dongle, according to LG. This is despite the company making a selling point of its suitability for mobile working.

“We know that people want to be able to access the internet in its entirety, wherever they are. Now we’re allowing them to do just that from a feature-rich device with all of the styling people have come to expect from LG,” said John Barton, LG Mobile's UK sales and marketing director.

LG said the Netbook has an 82-key full-size keyboard to make typing easier, while its weight at nearly 1.2kg is slightly heavier than some rival models. Despite this, it has only a three-cell battery pack as standard, which may imply a relatively short battery life when on the move.

The Netbook will be initially available in white or pink, with a black model to follow later.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Deep Blue H1

Price as Reviewed $400

The Deep Blue H1 mini notebook had an early mover advantage in the UMPC market but it seems it wasn’t able to hold its ground against the newcomers. Let’s check out and see if this unit would have made a good competitor to the Asus Eee PC 701 series.

Blue Digital Systems went with a Via processor with the H1 — a 1.0GHz Via C7-M. It also has 1GB of RAM pre-installed and a 40GB HDD. In my 7-inch UMPC Rounds-Up last April, the Blue H1 came out on top as the cheapest and feature-packed among the four.

Many claimed though that the Via C7-M processor was no match for the Celeron 900MHz. Of course, I had to test this myself. Using SuperPi, it took 48 secs. on the Celeron 900MHz and 7 mins. 26 secs. on the Via C7-M to run 1M digits. Either Via CPUs are too slow or they’re not built for floating point calculations (my guess is the latter).

The Blue H1 has a compact built though the battery pack is protruding from its back side. Like many other 7-inch laptops, the screen real estate is barely enough and with a body that’s 9.5″ wide, the screen’s 6″ horizontal width seems a bit small which made you think the space was under-utilized. It’s a little heavier than my Asus Eee PC but that’s because of the extra weight from the HDD (1.2kg).

The trackpad looks a bit small but after measuring, it’s actually the same size as that of the Asus Eee PC (1.75″ x 1.25″). The distinctive left and right click buttons helps for easier navigation. And while the keyboard size and orientation is the same, the Blue H1 has more space for palm rest which makes it easier to touch type.

The 0.3 MP webcam sits on top of the screen but it’s a little distracting to see the text that states “Digital Camera” beside it, in bold all-caps print.

The Blue H1 is cooler (less hot) too, maybe because of the low-power Via and the good ventilation at the bottom (there were 4 grill slots in there).

The default OS is Window XP and is quite responsive despite the low SuperPi results. It’s complete in connectivity too — 2 USB ports, 1 LAN, 1 modem, a 4-in-1 card reader and WiFi 802.11 b/g.

Over-all, this is a good 1st generation UMPC and could have easily surpassed the Eee PC 701 had it been marketed properly. It’s also 15% cheaper than most UMPCsd when it first came out. If Blue Systems can drop the current price down to Php9,995 today (compared to the 701’s Php13k curent price tag), I’m sure people will find it a good great bargain.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Averatec 2575

by Michelle Thatcher
Price as reviewed $886.99 - $1,310.24

Processor: AMD Turion 64 X2 mobile technology (2.2 GHz); RAM installed: 2 GB DDR2 SDRAM; Weight: 4 lbs

Since we reviewed the Averatec 2371 last year, the company has taken its laptops in a whole new direction. Gone are the cheap-looking plastic cases and rock-bottom prices; in their place, the company offers a new minimalist design and slightly higher--though still competitive--prices. The new ultraportable in the company's lineup, the Averatec 2575, cuts a sleeker profile and offers improved performance for just a few hundred dollars more than its predecessor. That's not to say it's a total home run: the 2575's AMD processor doesn't match the performance offered by more expensive ultraportables, such as the Lenovo 3000 V200, and we wish it had a lengthier battery life. But for the money, the ultraportable Averatec 2575 offers an attractive display and a decent feature set in a well-designed package.

At 1.2 inches thick, the Averatec 2575 is slimmer than other bulky 12.1-inch systems, such as the Lenovo 3000 V200. In addition, the Averatec's glossy black lid and matte-black interior make it look even lighter than its 4-pound weight. Though that heft places it squarely on the line that divides ultraportables from thin-and-lights, we thought it sufficiently lightweight for frequent travel. (If you absolutely need something lighter than 4 pounds, check out our list of top ultraportable laptops.)

While many laptops in this category manage to squeeze in a 13.3-inch display, Averatec sticks with a traditional 12.1-inch screen. Fortunately the screen's sharp 1,280x800 native resolution provides a decent amount of real estate so you can keep two windows open side-by-side without feeling too cramped. We were less pleased with the screen's glossy finish, which proved quite reflective when sitting next to our office window.

The keyboard on the Averatec 2575, though not full size, was comfortable enough to type this review. We appreciate the recessed touch pad, which makes it less likely that you'll accidentally graze the pad while typing (a legitimate risk in the limited real estate of an ultraportable). While similar systems work in a fingerprint reader or quick-launch buttons, Averatec keeps the keyboard deck pretty minimal, including just an on/off button for the wireless radio.

The Averatec 2575's larger size means it can squeeze in a DVD burner and one more USB port than your typical ultraportable; otherwise, Averatec offers an average selection of ports and connections.

On CNET Labs' benchmarks, the Averatec 2575 suffered at the hands of its AMD Turion 64 X2 processor, which couldn't keep up with Core 2 Duo-based systems such as the Lenovo 3000 V200 and the Asus U6S. However, it did perform better than a $2,009 Fujitsu LifeBook P8010 built on Intel's small-form-factor Core 2 Duo SL7100 processor; the Averatec also bested a $1,000 MSI PR210 based on AMD's super-budget Athlon 64 X2 processor. In real-world terms, the differences are not that stark, and we stand by our usual advice: for common Web surfing, office applications, and basic multitasking, any modern dual-core laptop will perform at an acceptable level, with little, if any, stuttering or slowdown.

We were disappointed in the Averatec 2575's four-cell battery, which petered out after 92 minutes during our DVD playback test. Our drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect to see longer life during typical Windows use. Still, we'd prefer to see at least two--and preferably three or four--hours from a lightweight laptop that's designed for mobile use. (The company does plan to offer an optional 8-cell battery to provide a bit more juice, though the larger battery will likely add to the laptop's weight.)

Averatec includes an industry-standard one-year, parts-and-labor warranty with the system. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line ("excluding holidays"), an online knowledge base, and driver downloads. Also available on the Web site are PDF versions of Averatec's thorough user manuals, which include clear, detailed illustrations of each laptop's ports and features.

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Asus Lamborghini VX3-A1 (yellow)

by Dan Ackerman

Price as Reviewed $3,079.00 - $3,099.99

Specifications: Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo (2.5 GHz); RAM installed: 4 GB DDR2 SDRAM; Weight: 3.7 lbs

The $3,299 Asus Lamborghini VX3 is a lap-based homage to the famous sports car of the same name, complete with a screamingly bright automotive yellow paint job. We've seen car-themed laptops before, from Acer's Ferrari to a Toughbook-like Hummer laptop, and their audience is usually limited to auto enthusiasts who don't mind paying a premium for what is essentially window dressing on a set of fairly standard laptop components.

That being said, if you're a fan of the car company founded by Ferruccio Lamborghini, you'll find a nicely put-together laptop, with excellent build quality and upscale touches such as a leather-clad wrist rest. Under the hood, it lacks that sports car DNA, eliciting middling performance from its standard Intel Penryn CPU. Still, we can't help but like the included sack of Lamborghini-branded accessories, including a leather mousepad and Bluetooth mouse.

The Lamborghini VX3 is similar in shape and size to the Asus U6S, another leather-accented ultraportable from the same company. The back of the lid has a glossy yellow finish with a prominent Lamborghini badge, and the leather wrist rest has a nice-looking stitched border, making for an overall smart, sophisticated look that's fairly light and portable.

The keyboard was a pleasant surprise, with solid, hefty keys that didn't wiggle under the fingers at all, and we're always pleased to see separate Page-Up and Page-Down keys--usually the first thing to get cut on an ultraportable keyboard. Like the similar Asus U6S, there are no quick-launch media-player or volume-control keys, but a button above the keyboard switches between several preset power-consumption modes.

Adding to the automobile effect, when powered on, the laptop briefly flashes the Lamborghini logo and plays a sound effect of a car engine revving--even if the speakers are muted in Vista.

The 12.1-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is standard for most 12- to 15-inch displays. The screen's high-gloss finish can cause some glare if it catches the light of a desk lamp or overhead light at the wrong angle.

We were pleased to see an HDMI output and four USB ports in this ultraportable system, along with Bluetooth and an ExpressCard slot--although for $3,000, we'd hardly expect anything less.

The Lamborghini VX3 is a fixed-configuration system, but we were generally pleased with the roomy 320GB hard drive, 3GB of RAM, and modest Nvidia GeForce 9300M GPU. Our review unit was from Europe, and it included a Sierra Wireless HSDPA mobile broadband antenna, but we don't expect mobile broadband to be offered in the U.S. version.

Even though it's named after a high-end performance car, there's not too much action going on under the hood of the Lamborghini VX3. Its 2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 is perfectly fine for everyday computing, but the system was slower than other high-end laptops with inferior CPUs, such as the MacBook Air and the Acer Ferrari 1100, in most of our benchmark tests. We expected better performance, but Asus runs a lot of proprietary applications in the background, and that can slow down a system.

Just like a luxury sports car that doesn't get too many miles to the gallon, the VX3 is also a bit of a gas guzzler when it comes to battery life. The default 3-cell battery gave us only 67 minutes of battery life on our DVD playback test--well short of what we'd expect from an ultraportable laptop. However, in anecdotal use, we got closer to 2 hours when surfing the Web and working on office documents. Still, the poor battery life was a major disappointment for a laptop you'll want to take down to the local coffee shop to show off.

Asus includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system, but finding support on the Web site is not as easy as it is with a mainstream retailer such as Dell or Gateway, thanks to a confusing site layout. Still, there is an online knowledge base and driver downloads, and several minutes of digging through links will eventually yield a toll-free telephone number of U.S. support.

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HP Compaq 6735b

by Jamie Bsales
Price as Reviewed $786.98 - $924.60

How much can you really expect from an $829 business notebook? If you’re talking about the HP Compaq 6735b, more than you think. HP has packed a wealth of features ideal for small-business users into this budget platform. The only giveaway that the 6735b is a low-cost entry is its rather bland, very plastic chassis. More-expensive models (such as HP’s own EliteBook series) use richer materials. But we’ll happily swap style for substance if it means getting a spill-resistant keyboard, a hard drive with active protection, and useful utilities in the trade.

With the 6735b, HP tried not to offend anyone. The flip side, of course, is that the dark gray and black motif won’t thrill anyone, either. The only design touch of note: HP uses aqua and amber LEDs (along with a couple of blue ones), which are indeed pleasing to look at. Weighing a reasonable 5.9 pounds and measuring 14.0 x 10.5 x 1.3 inches, the 6735b is as average as they come.

The black, full-size keyboard is very comfortable, with good tactile feedback. The touchpad could be a bit larger, but its low-friction surface is easy to use and its buttons are plenty responsive. HP has included its familiar touch-sensitive volume strip and a dedicated mute button above the keyboard, but no multimedia control keys like you’ll find on its Pavilion line. Around the edges are four USB ports, FireWire, VGA, Ethernet, modem, headphone and mic jacks, and even a serial port for legacy connectivity. HP has also included a memory card reader and an ExpressCard/54 slot but no PC Card slot, which some business users might miss. You do get a dock connector on the bottom, however, which is a nice touch for a budget machine.

Our 6735b configuration came with HP’s BrightView 15.4-inch widescreen with a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels. Users that work under unforgiving office fluorescents may want to opt for the available antiglare screen (a no-cost option), and those who prefer a higher-res view can specify a 1680 x 1050 anti-glare panel for just $25 more. On our tests, the 1280 x 800 glossy panel delivered vibrant colors and plenty of brightness, even in a sunlit room. Text was sharp, and viewing angles were wide (hampered only by reflections from nearby windows). Watching Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl on the included multiformat DVD burner, the LCD showed natural color reproduction, good rendering of shadow detail, and some (but not excessive) motion blur during action scenes.

Other Features

Unlike other low-cost models, the 6735b’s optical drive can be swapped out for a second hard drive. Its built-in stereo speakers sound better than those in most low-cost models, with adequate volume for use around a conference table. The machine works with HP’s full-size docking solution, for users who prefer a desktop feel when they are in the office. An integrated webcam is also an option.

Suite Security

Despite its budget price, the 6735b doesn’t cut corners to maintain durability and security features important to business travelers. The keyboard is spill-resistant, and the hard drive has active protection to protect your data in the event of a fall. Enterprise IT managers will appreciate the TPM circuitry, while small-business buyers without the benefit of an IT department will like the wizard for the HP ProtectTools suite, which walks you through setup for the fingerprint reader, passwords, and the full drive software encryption.

If you forget your password, the HP SpareKey utility provides a back door, letting you set up personal questions to answer so that you can get in and reset your password. HP has also included utilities to help keep prying eyes from finding deleted files. Normally when deleting a file, Windows simply removes the pointer to that file; eventually, the OS might get around to using that space for a new file, but you don’t want to bet on it. So HP File Sanitizer actually overwrites the file location with random data up to seven times. And the included Disk Sanitizer utility is a BIOS-level program that wipes the entire hard drive, which is ideal for systems that eventually get passed along. Another handy extra is HP QuickLook 2, which lets you see a snapshot of your Outlook e-mail, calendar, and contacts when the machine is in sleep mode, without having to boot to Windows.

Passable Performance
The 2.0-GHz AMD Turion RM-70 processor and 2GB of RAM in our configuration is adequate for business productivity applications, but it’s no speed demon. The 6735b scored 2,350 on PCMark Vantage (which measures Vista application performance)—about 800 points below the average among mainstream notebooks. On the plus side, it performed multitasking scenarios reasonably well. The machine needed 7 minutes and 5 seconds to encode about 2 hours of music into AAC format in iTunes; that time increased by 30 seconds (or only about 7 percent) when we performed the same test with a virus scan running in the background. Should you need more speed, the notebook can be configured with a 2.2-GHz AMD Turion Ultra Dual Core ZM-82 CPU and up to 8GB of RAM.

On 3DMark03, which tests DirectX 9 performance, the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3200 graphics chip managed a score of 3,308, which is good for a business machine. But it struggled on 3DMark06 (which tests DirectX 9 3D graphics, CPU, and 3D features), delivering a score of just 1,469. Our F.E.A.R. test (run at a resolution of 1024 x 768) showed a frame rate of 21 frames per second; upping the resolution dropped that to an unplayable 8 fps. The 6735b clearly is no gamer, but it is adequate for running less-demanding 3D titles; the notebook averaged 59.4 fps on our World of Warcraft test.

The notebook’s 5,400-rpm, 120GB hard drive performed in line with those of other business machines, delivering a transfer rate of 15.3 MBps on our LAPTOP Transfer Test (copying and moving a 4.97GB file of mixed media). Alas, as configured the 6735b was a bit slower than other recent business entries to boot to its Windows Vista Business OS, requiring 1 minute and 20 seconds from the moment you hit the power button until you have full control of the notebook.

Wireless and Battery Scores

The included six-cell battery lasted a little more than 2 hours on our LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi). That’s low but expected given our test unit’s large screen and smallish battery; HP notes that buyers have other battery options available to them, including an eight-cell power pack. On our Wi-Fi test, the machine’s 802.11a/b/g/n radio performed in line with others in its class, delivering 18.7 Mbps at 15 feet from our access point, and 14.7 Mbps at 50 feet. The platform also supports Qualcomm’s Gobi embedded mobile broadband option (AT&T or Verizon Wireless).

Fortunately, what you won’t find in the 6735b is the trialware that gunks up consumer PCs. As a business SKU, HP includes only the OS, its ProtectTools suite, and its welcome QuickLook utility. A one-year parts-and-labor warranty (with 24/7 tech support) is standard, and HP offers a whopping 35 service/support upgrade plans, including ones that cover accidental damage and offer next-day on-site service.

HP Compaq 6735b Verdict

Yes, you can find faster, sexier machines than the HP Compaq 6735b. But for this price, you’d be hard-pressed to find one with more business-friendly extras and utilities. With its handy QuickLook 2 and file-deletion utilities, the 6735b may be a step ahead of other leading low-cost business portables, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad R500 and Toshiba Tecra A9. It doesn’t have the panache or ruggedness of the aluminum-clad HP EliteBook family (whose configurations start at $1,199), so road warriors and mobile executives may want to spend the extra money on the pricier model. But for most users, the affordable 6735b has all the features they’ll need, and then some.

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Toshiba Tecra A9-S9021V

by Jamie Bsales
Price as Reviewed $1,454.80 - $1,945.79

CPU: 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300
Hard Drive Size/Speed: 250GB/5,400 rpm
Graphics/Video Memory: Nvidia Quadro NVS 130M/256MB
Screen Size: 15,4inch

The Toshiba Tecra A9-S9021V aims to deliver durability and performance to mainstream corporate notebook users who prefer the larger screen and keyboard a 15.4-inch system delivers. It is largely successful in its mission, though the execution is uninspired. For $1,699 you get a high-resolution display, a large hard drive, and discrete graphics, but this system’s overall performance and design make it second-rate compared to the best business machines from Dell, HP, and Lenovo.

With the Tecra A9, Toshiba took an old-school approach to addressing the corporate notebook market: Make it as bland as possible so as not to offend anyone. While the gray and black plastic chassis would be appropriate for a sub-$1,000 machine, at the Tecra A9’s price, we’d like to see richer materials. The machine is the typical size for a 15.4-inch notebook, but a little more effort could have gone into shaving some bulk. In fact, at 14.4 x 10.6 x 1.5 inches and 6.4 pounds, the Tecra A9 is nearly identical in size and weight to the new Sony FW Series—which has a screen that’s an inch larger.

The full-size keyboard feels comfortable enough in use, with good key travel and appropriate audible feedback. It’s also spill-resistant to help protect the machine from errant liquids. As with other corporate notebooks, you’ll find both a touchpad and a pointing stick. Unfortunately, the pad is right out of the bargain bin, with a plastic feel and a surface area that’s way too small (and square) given the screen’s dimensions. The touchpad’s mouse buttons are on the tiny side, too, even though there’s plenty of room for larger buttons. And while we appreciate the volume wheel jutting from the front edge of the system, a dedicated mute button would be a step in the right direction.

Display and Multimedia

The 15.4-inch screen of the Tecra A9 is a highlight. High-res purists will appreciate the panel’s 1680 x 1050-pixel resolution, which delivers crisp text and fits at least a couple of open windows on the screen. Of course, most default text in applications and lists (like Windows’ All Programs roster) is tiny. Fortunately, Toshiba has thought of this and included its Zooming Utility to adjust icon sizes and zoom application windows in Microsoft Office, Adobe Reader, and Internet Explorer automatically.

As is appropriate for a business notebook, the panel has a glare-reducing satin finish that effectively cuts glare and reflections, though (predictably) we saw some dulling of colors in DVD playback and games. Scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl also showed motion blur and loss of detail in shadow areas. The built-in stereo speakers deliver enough volume for making a presentation around a conference table but offer tinny sound lacking in bass.


The Tecra A9 platform has all the ports expected of a corporate notebook, including four USB ports, VGA, FireWire, Ethernet, modem, and even a serial port. Missing is an HDMI port, which is becoming a common way to connect to external displays. There’s a PC Card slot and a 5-in-1 memory card reader, but no webcam. The bottom dock connection accepts the Toshiba Express Port Replicator, and a VGA- or DVI-equipped Dynadock solution can connect via USB.

Manageability and Security
Of course, with a corporate notebook you aren’t paying for multimedia prowess, you’re paying for a stable, manageable platform that offers security and durability. And on those counts, the Tecra A9 delivers. It has a fingerprint reader and Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 1.2, along with Infineon’s TPM Software Package, which lets IT departments manage security policies for the machine. Toshiba has also included a SmartCard reader for companies that employ those security devices.

In addition to the spill-resistant keyboard, the Tecra A9 has Toshiba’s EasyGuard durability features. These include shock-resistant mounts and active protection for the 250GB hard drive, as well as shock-absorbing materials for the chassis and LCD panel and inverter.

Smart Utilities

The i hard key to the left of the keyboard launches the Toshiba Assist utilities menu. Clicking the Connect entry brings up and icon for Toshiba’s ConfigFree utility, which helps users see and set Ethernet, Wi-Fi, dial-up, and Bluetooth connections. The Secure menu choice lets administrators set a password to restrict users’ access to hardware setup programs, and also check current security settings (BIOS password, hard-drive password, fingerprint authentication) and TPM settings. The Protect & Fix entry in Toshiba Assist offers a basic hardware diagnostic tool (for checking the health of the CPU, memory, hard drive, and other components) and also lets a user or an administrator set the sensitivity level for the active hard drive protection. The Optimize choice contains the zooming utility settings, as well as a CD/DVD drive acoustic silencer, which is supposed to lower the spin rate of the optical drive during movie and music playback to make the noise less intrusive (though we didn’t hear a difference with the drive set to Silent mode).

Mediocre Performance

The Tecra A9 is built on the Centrino Pro platform, not the newer Centrino 2 architecture (with its faster frontside bus and other enhancements), so its performance doesn’t match that of some newer machines we’ve tested. The 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of RAM (expandable to 4GB), and discrete 256MB Nvidia Quadro NVS 130M graphics (that company’s stable, IT-friendly GPU family) delivered acceptable speed.

The Tecra A9 boots to Windows Vista Business in less than a minute, which is refreshingly quick. However, its score of 2,869 on PCMark Vantage is about 7 percent below the average among other mainstream notebooks we’ve tested. Its internal data-transfer rate of 14.9 MBps is okay but not great. Still, the Tecra A9 didn’t miss a beat while multitasking; we were able to apply filter effects to a photo in Picasa, play music in Windows Media Player, and download a file via Internet Explorer in the background with no blips in the foreground tasks.

Low graphics scores of 2,936 on 3DMark03 and 860 on 3DMark06 indicate a lack of gaming ability after business hours. Indeed, the Tecra A9 mustered an unplayable 11 frames per second on F.E.A.R. at 1024 x 768-pixel resolution; you’ll have to dial back the effects and resolution still further to game when work is done.

Battery Life, Wireless
Our test unit came with the standard six-cell battery, which lasted only 2 hours and 31 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test. HP’s EliteBook 6930p, which we also tested with a six-cell battery, lasted an hour longer. If the A9 will see life beyond the desktop, opt for the available nine- or twelve-cell battery. In wireless testing, the 802.11a/g/n connection delivered above-average throughput at 15 feet from our access point (19.9 Mbps) but below-average throughput at 50 feet (12.5 Mbps).

Software and Warranty

As for other software, Toshiba has included a 60-day trial to Norton 360, as well InterVideo WinDVD to handle DVD playback. You also get Toshiba Disc Creator and Ulead DVD MovieFactory (the OEM version). A three-year warranty comes standard with the Tecra A9; users can purchase extra coverage including SystemGuard Accidental Damage Coverage, which provides advanced protection from damage due to handling, and can also opt to have it serviced on-site.

Toshiba Tecra A9-S9021V Verdict

At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with Toshiba’s Tecra A9-S9021V. It’s a solid option for IT departments that are committed to Toshiba’s corporate platform and need a large-screen offering for users who seldom travel. At $1,699, however, it’s significantly more expensive than competing systems like the Lenovo ThinkPad R500, which offers better speed and battery life. The Tecra A9 has all the features and performance to get the job done, but it’s not the best choice.

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Dell Inspiron Mini 9 (Linux)

by Joanna Stern
Price as Reviewed: $399

After months of rumors, Dell enters the mini-notebook market with its long-anticipated Inspiron Mini 9. Dell took its time releasing its own netbook, and it is clear they spent the extra days and hours getting (nearly) everything just right. With a small footprint, sleek industrial design, 1.6-GHz Intel Atom processor, and a tailored version of Ubuntu (it’s also available with Windows XP) the Inspiron Mini 9, starting at $349, has all the specs to make it one of our favorite netbooks. Even better is the ability to configure the system, from the size of the solid state drive and RAM to the webcam resolution. However, we wish Dell had spent a bit more time on the keyboard.

The glossy black Inspiron Mini 9 (also available in white) we tested—despite its $399 price tag—looks and feels far from cheap. As with the Acer Aspire one and the ASUS Eee PC 901, the Inspiron Mini 9’s rounded lid sports a glossy finish that attracts light fingerprints and smudges. The classy look extends under the hood with a smooth-coated, silver palm rest and screen bezel.

Size definitely matters to Dell: The Inspiron Mini 9 is one of the smallest and lightest 8.9-inch mini-notebooks we've seen. Measuring 9.1 x 6.8 x 1.3 inches and weighing just 2.3 pounds, it is lighter than both the 2.4-pound Acer Aspire one and the 3.2-pound HP 2133 Mini-Note. When placed next to the Aspire one and HP Mini-Note, it was the shortest in length and width; the Aspire one, however, is 0.1 inch thinner. With a travel weight of 2.6 pounds with its AC adapter, the Inspiron Mini 9 felt almost nonexistent when we tossed it into a purse.

Glossy Screen, Loud Speaker Sound

The glossy 8.9-inch, 1024 x 600-pixel resolution screen provides enough space to fit windows to size and looked sharp from a variety of angles. When we watched an episode of The Office on Hulu.com and browsed through vacation pictures, colors were bright and not at all muted like we’ve seen on ASUS’ Eee PC 901. Horizontal viewing angles were fine for watching YouTube videos with a friend; tilting the screen back to its limit of 110 degrees didn’t cause glare.

Above the display is a 1.3-megapixel webcam (a $25 option, but the Inspiron Mini 9 is also available with a 0.3-MP cam for $15) that provided clear images when videoconferencing with a friend over Dell Video Chat, a client based on SightSpeed’s technology (which lets users have four-way video calls with Mac, PC, and Linux users). The camera provided clear images, though we saw a bit of motion blur when waving our hands to our caller.

Like the Sylvania g Netbook Meso, the Inspiron Mini 9’s speakers are below the screen on the bottom bezel. They were able to pump out Coldplay’s Life In Technicolor at a surprising volume, and lacked the typical tinniness of other small notebooks.

Awkward Keyboard, Solid Trackpad
The spill-resistant keyboard on the Inspiron Mini 9 is solidly built and provided good tactile feedback without too much flex. While the keys allowed for comfortable typing and didn’t severely cramp our hands, they are smaller than those found on the 89 percent–size keyboard on the Acer Aspire one. However, size is not as big an issue as is the awkward placement of a few keys on the Inspiron Mini 9. While we weren’t bothered by the missing function keys (the middle row of the keyboard now performs double duty), the right Shift key has been shrunk and moved to the right of the Up arrow button, and the apostrophe key is located on the bottom row of keys. Both changes will cause problems for touch typists until they’ve adjusted.

The touchpad, on the other hand, is the best we have seen on an 8.9-inch system. It is decently sized and offered a nice textured feel as we navigated around the desktop. We also like that the two mouse buttons are located below the touchpad, rather than straddling it like the Aspire one.

The Inspiron Mini 9 is stocked with the typical netbook ports, featuring three USB 2.0, VGA, and Ethernet, as well as a headphone and a microphone jack. It also has a 4-in-1 memory card reader. Alas, you won’t find an ExpressCard slot, but the Inspiron Mini 9’s free internal mini-PCI slot could be used for an integrated mobile broadband option. Dell plans to offer mobile broadband before the end of the year.

Snazzy, Simple Ubuntu Operating System Similar to ASUS’ Xandros Linux and Acer’s Linpus Linux Lite, Dell’s mini-notebook sports a tailored version of Ubuntu’s Netbook Remix. (The system is also available with Windows XP for a limited-time introductory price of $399; after that’s up, starting price will be $439.)

The heart of the customized OS is Dell’s Launcher, a strip of icons that runs across the center of the desktop. A series of application categories—Entertainment, Learn, Games, Productivity, and Web—are displayed horizontally. When a category is selected, the Launcher slides up the screen and a set of preloaded applications related to that category appears below. Adding extra buttons to the launcher is simple: click the Add button, make up your own category, and drag in programs or create shortcuts to Web sites.

We were impressed with the smoothness of the transitions and animations. Not only is Dell’s interface sleeker than both the Eee PC’s Xandros and Acer’s Linpus Linux Lite, but Dell’s Ubuntu version makes switching to the advanced desktop mode to programs easier. We were able to add StumbleUpon to our Firefox browser via the Add/Remove program.

Dell Inspiron Mini 9 Performance
Our Inspiron Mini 9 sported Intel’s 1.6-GHz Atom processor and came with 1GB of RAM (though it can be ordered with 512MB). Programs loaded relatively quickly even when we had several others running in the background. We listened to streaming music over Pandora, surfed in Firefox 3, and wrote a document in OpenOffice Writer simultaneously with no hang-ups. However, Dell Video Chat did slow down the system; windows were slower to launch.

The 4GB solid state drive in the Inspiron Mini 9 (also available with a larger 8GB and 16GB SSD) combines speedy boot times and protection (due to its lack of moving parts). It booted the system in a relatively speedy 35 seconds, although that’s still 15 seconds slower than the Acer Aspire one with Linux. For those who find the 4GB drive too limiting, Dell bundles the mini-notebook with 2GB of free online storage via Boxnet.com.

We noticed that the Inspiron Mini 9 got uncomfortably hot when we used the notebook at length. At 100 degrees, the keyboard felt like it had a heating pad underneath it. The bottom of the system and the touchpad weren’t much better, registering 108 and 92 degrees, respectively. Dell notes that we reviewed a preproduction unit and that there shouldn’t be any thermal issues on production-level systems. We’ll update this review once we’ve received a final unit.

Decent Endurance, Good Wi-Fi

We were impressed with the endurance of the Inspiron Mini 9’s four-cell battery. We managed to squeeze 3 hours and 12 minutes out of the battery with Wi-Fi on. That falls between the Eee PC 901 runtime of 4 hours and 38 minutes using a six-cell battery and the Linux version of the Aspire one’s 1 hour and 58 minutes with a three-cell battery. The XP version of the Aspire one lasted 2 hours and 22 minutes on a charge. At least for now Dell is not offering a larger-capacity battery with the Inspiron Mini 9.

The Inspiron Mini 9’s 802.11a/g Wi-Fi radio connected easily to our home WPA-protected access point. It never dipped below 72 percent signal strength in a 50-foot radius, and we didn’t experience a single dropped connection. Web pages loaded quickly; NYTimes.com loaded in 5 seconds, our Moviefone search completed in 4.5 seconds, and Laptopmag.com loaded in 7 seconds. Streaming an episode of Married with Children over Hulu.com had minimal video pauses and audio skips. There was no Bluetooth connection on our unit, but it is available for an extra $20.

Dell Inspiron Mini 9 Verdict
Dell’s entrance into the mini-notebook market is bound to make the competition take notice. The Linux version of the Inspiron Mini 9 boasts the most consumer-friendly interface we have seen, its footprint is tiny but sturdy, and it gets more than three hours of battery life. The Linux version of the Acer Aspire one is $70 cheaper than our $399 configuration, has a bigger 8GB solid state drive, and a more ergonomic keyboard, but it lasts 1 hour and 14 minutes less on a charge and its Linux interface isn’t as polished.

Despite its inferior keyboard, we recommend the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 over the Aspire one for those users interested in Linux. Spending the extra cash for this system is worth it for those seeking a small yet solidly built mini-notebook, and for those who want the ability to configure their system online.

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