Averatec AV2575

Averatec AV2575 is a thin and light 12.1" widescreen notebook that packs a dual core AMD processor, DVD burner, and super-bright WXGA screen in an ultra-portable sized package. This notebook aims to offer great entertainment and multimedia performance in a small form factor for road warriors who demand a little more from their notebooks than standard internet browsing or document typing. Read on to see if this notebook lives up to its claims, and see how it compares to other notebooks in the same category.

Our review unit of the Averatec AV2575 has the following configuration:

* AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-64 (2.2GHz)
* Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit
* 2GB DDR2-667 dual-channel RAM (2 x 1GB)
* 250GB 5400RPM Hard Drive
* 12.1" WXGA (1280x800) Glossy
* ATI RS690T Integrated Graphics
* Super Multi DVD Burner
* Atheros AR5007EG 802.11b/g
* Built-in 1.3 megapixel webcam and microphone
* Ports: 3 USB, Kensington Lock Slot, LAN, Headphone/Mic, VGA, SD Card Reader, ExpressCard/54, 10/100 LAN
* Size: 12.88 x 9 x 1.0/1.53"
* Weight:
o Notebook 4lbs 0.8oz
o AC Adapter 13.5oz
* 65w AC Adapter
* 4-Cell Battery (14.4v, 2500mAh)
* Warranty: 1 Year standard, 6 months on battery
* Price: $1,099.99

For a 12" ultraportable notebook the Avertac AV2500 series is somewhat larger than you would expect, more in line with a 13.3" notebook. Some of this size you can see around the screen bezel where there is almost an inch of space on each side of the LCD. On the keyboard side this extra space is used to make a larger keyboard than you would usually see on a 12" notebook.

Build quality is excellent, having a very rigid chassis with minimal flex. The screen frame is very strong, although it doesn't keep away all the ripples on the screen when you try to flex it or press on the back of the cover. The screen hinges gave a good amount of tension and usually required the use of two hands to open up the notebook.

The screen latching design was one element that stuck out for me, where it was the simple design that I loved. It is a latchless system that uses magnets and the hinge tension to keep the notebook lid closed. Unlike hinge tension only setups, the magnets keep the lid firmly closed, and give a satisfying click when "latched".

One area that has us concerned with the screen cover is the glossy finish did not hold up as well as we had expected, and scuffed very easily from day-to-day use. If you are looking at purcashing one of these notebooks, I would put thought into a notebook case with a soft interior to keep the screen cover perfectly glossy from day one.

Conclusion

The Averatec 12.1" ultraportable AV2575 notebook offers a great value at a price of $1,099. While it is heavier than other notebooks of this size, the build quality, keyboard, touchpad, and thermal performance is excellent. The one area that I could see some improvement on is battery life, which hopefully an extended battery would help with.

Pros

* Clean basic design
* Durable, rigid chassis
* Low noise and heat
* Great keyboard

Cons

* Sluggish gaming performance
* Glossy finish scuffs easily


Continue Read Averatec AV2575

Alienware Area-51 m15x

Alienware Area-51 m15x is the newest high-performance gaming notebook from Alienware. It packs components typically found only in the largest of desktop replacements into a slim 15.4-inch form factor and still manages to be a practical machine on the road. Let's take a closer look.

Alienware Area-51 m15x is a 15.4-inch high performance notebook targeted specifically at gamers. It is in the desktop replacement category and weighs seven pounds. Our review unit is configured as follows:

* 15.4" WideUXGA 1920 x 1200 LCD (1200p)
* Alienware AlienFX System Lighting
* 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 8800M GTX
* Intel Core 2 Extreme X9000 2.8GHz (6MB Cache, 800MHz FSB)
* 4GB Dual Channel DDR2 SO-DIMM at 667MHz - 2 x 2048MB
* Intel Turbo Memory (1GB)
* Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit
* 200GB 7200RPM (16MB Cache)
* 320GB 5400RPM (8MB Cache) Smart Bay
* 2x Dual Layer Blu-ray Disc Burner (BD-R, DVD±RW, CD-RW)
* Internal Intel Wireless 4965 a/b/g/Draft-N Mini-Card
* Internal High-Definition Audio with surround sound
* AlienFX Illuminated Keyboard

As of writing, Alienware Area-51 m15x starts at $1,799; a $1,499 configuration is in the works. Our test unit as configured is around $4,500. The most expensive options on it are the Extreme processor ($900), 8800M-GTX ($500), Blu-ray burner ($400), 1200p display ($300), and 320GB Smart Bay ($300). Expect to spend close to $3,000 for a balanced configuration.



I have never seen another notebook like Alienware Area-51 m15x, it is truly something else. Alienware Area-51 m15x is an entirely new design for Alienware; it is both striking and ultra-modern. Alienware Area-51 m15x is covered in gobs of glossy plastic - the entire unit is shiny and reflective. The majority of the surface is metallic silver, while only the area surrounding the lid bucks the trend with deep glossy black trim. Most of the bottom is made of an all-black metal alloy. The physical shape of the notebook is rather plain and has no radical curves. All of the corners on Alienware Area-51 m15x are rounded off. The machine has a soft feel to it and definitely should not be treated roughly; during my time with the system, the glossy plastic remained scratch-free. This notebook should definitely be kept away from all rough and abrasive surfaces, and should only be cleaned with a microfiber cloth.

Alienware Area-51 m15x has a solid feel to it but it is not the most solid notebook I have tested. There is some flex in the palmrests and around the keyboard area but fortunately it is minimal. The base of the unit is rigid and has a strong internal frame. One part of the notebook that could be more solid is the display. The hinges should be stiffer because the display wobbles too much for my liking. Also, pushing on the back of the display yields ripples in the picture.

By far the most stand-out visual feature of Alienware Area-51 m15x is the AlienFX System Lighting. The following are different lighting zones:

* Alien Head (on the back of the display)
* Power Button
* Light Pipe (around the edge of the display)
* Alienware Name (below the display)
* Quick Touch Controls
* Touchpad
* Keyboard

Each zone is individual and can be changed to a rainbow of different colors. Alternatively, AlienFX can be turned off. There is no way to adjust the brightness of the lights. I find the lighting system to be most impressive on Alienware Area-51 m15x, both in the way it looks and how well it has been implemented. The Alienware Command Center is an excellent piece of software and is easy to navigate.

Overall, Alienware Area-51 m15x is a sturdy machine but not durable and could use some extra strength in some areas. Without a doubt, Alienware Area-51 m15x is a head turner and everywhere I took this notebook I received a lot of compliments and stares. The build quality of Alienware Area-51 m15x is top notch and Alienware clearly put a lot of thought and effort into creating the user experience.

Conclusion

I have to be brutally honest - Alienware Area-51 m15xx is the best-rounded gaming machine I have tested. It really is. How Alienware managed to pack ultra high-performance components typically only found in the largest of desktop replacements into a 15.4-inch, 1.3-inch thin, 7-lb package and still manage good battery life I do not know. Alienware Area-51 m15x is both a fabulous gaming machine and a practical machine on the go. It can score almost 9,500 points in 3DMark06 yet get almost three hours of battery life with the standard battery. Throw a second battery in the Smart Bay and it gets nearly five.

And let us not forget about the looks - they do not appeal to everyone of course, but anyone can admit Alienware Area-51 m15x is like nothing else. Alienware put a lot of time and effort into this design and it shows. There naturally are downsides to this machine - the keyboard flexes some on the right side, the screen is a bit wobbly, the fans are louder than a typical notebook at full load, the speakers are unimpressive, and it costs a lot. Unless price is a barrier, I do not view any of the cons as deal breakers.

I will not hesitate to recommend Alienware Area-51 m15x to anyone looking for a near-perfect blend of reasonable portability and powerful performance. This machine is in a class of its own. Alienware unquestionably has a winner on their hands with the m15x.

Pros

* Fabulous gaming performance - packs power typically only found in large 17-inch desktop replacements into a slim 15.4-inch form factor
* Ability to transform from a high-performance gaming machine to a practical on-the-go companion
* Great battery life for a gaming notebook: two graphics cards give the best of both worlds - integrated for battery life, and dedicated for performance. Standard battery life is about 2.5 hours and with the Smart Bay battery, 4 to 5 hours are possible
* Stealth mode keeps the m15x silent
* Sleek, striking design and AlienFX customizable lighting - this machine turns heads everywhere
* Smart Bay functionality - use it for an optical drive, extra battery, or another hard drive
* Beautiful display - high-resolution WUXGA screen is a gem
* Nice keyboard - it is backlit, plus it feels great
* Wide variety of ports - the usual plus HDMI and a 9-pin powered Firewire
* Available with Blu-ray and Windows XP

Cons

* The price - adding options brings up the price quickly
* The keyboard flexes on the bottom right side around the arrow keys
* The touchpad is not the best - too slippery and scroll zones are visually undefined
* The screen wobbles - it should have stiffer hinges
* The speakers are unimpressive - more volume and bass would be nice
* Fans at full load are louder than expected
* Touch controls are subpar - volume slider is not responsive and others require too much pressure


Continue Read Alienware Area-51 m15x

Asus Eee PC 4G

Asus Eee PC 4G comes in a variety of colors and several different configurations. All of the models use a solid-state hard drive, and the main difference between the various configurations is the size of the drive, the allotment of RAM, size of the battery and the presence of a webcam. The base model features 512MB of RAM and a 2GB hard drive. The mid-range model that we received includes 512MB of RAM and a 4GB hard drive, and the high-end unit boasts 1GB of RAM and an 8GB drive. There are also Surf versions of the Eee, which are stripped down and feature less powerful batteries and lack webcams.

Under the hood is an Intel platform, featuring a low-voltage Celeron processor that’s actually down-clocked from 900MHz to 630MHz. It features an Intel mobile chipset with support for 80211 B and G and DDR2 memory.

Expansion and Storage Options

Despite its size it still offers several expansion and storage options, though like most sub-notebooks it lacks an optical drive. It features three USB ports, which is two more than Apple’s MacBook Air. It also features VGA-out, an SD card slot and headphone and mic jacks.

Little Display

Asus Eee PC 4G features a little 7” LED backlit display that is flanked on both sides by speakers. Asus has announced that it’s working on a 9” version of Asus Eee PC 4G that will move the speakers elsewhere and use that space for the extra screen real estate.

The Penguin Cometh

A big reason why Asus Eee PC 4G is so affordable is because it comes with Linux rather than Windows (though you’re free to install Windows on Asus Eee PC 4G if you own a copy). Asus Eee PC 4G comes with a Xandro distribution of Linux along with a software suite – if you will – of open source software such as Open Office 2.0, Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird, Pidgin for instant messaging, Adobe Reader, Skype and others.


Extras

Asus includes a small neoprene pouch for the Asus Eee PC 4G to keep its glossy exterior pristine while in transit.It also includes a very well-written manual that has entire sections on how to run Windows XP on Asus Eee PC 4G. It even includes a recovery DVD that has XP drivers for Asus Eee PC 4G and also allows you to re-install linux if you install XP and want to return the unit to factory condition.

Use and Testing

We lifted the Asus Eee PC 4G out of the box and were pleasantly surprised by how small and light it was. It’s a lot like the Panasonic R7 in that it feels like a toy. We liked the fact that Asus includes a little neoprene pouch too. To show you how small it is we placed it on top of our own XPS M140, which is a portable 14.1” notebook.

We pressed the power button and were pleased to see it booted to the Linux environment in just 27 seconds. This is almost twice as fast as the boot times we see with Windows-based PCs. Of course, Asus Eee PC 4G also has a solid-state hard drive helping it here too.

Using Linux

We’ll admit it – even though we’re alpha geeks we’ve never crossed the line into Linux userdom. We’ve heard a lot of good things about it recently though, and were interested to see how easy it would be to jump into. As it turns out, it’s very Mac-like, if that makes any sense, with a few differences. First of all, there’s no “desktop” where you can put files and links to programs. Instead, the desktop is a series of tabs based on activities that includes Internet, Work, Learn and Play.

We found it relatively intuitive and easy to figure out. Once out of the box, we were online in just a few minutes and surfing the web. We opened the Open Office 2.0 programs and practiced typing for awhile. The keyboard is very small and it’s difficult to use if you’re a touch typist. After a few days typing got a bit easier, but we were never able to type error-free like we do on a full-size keyboard. Unlike PCs, which include all kinds of bloatware, Asus Eee PC 4G was free of unnecessary programs and even includes a virus scanner.

Overall the Xandros distribution of Linux is very easy to use, even for newbies like ourselves. We found it a bit tedious to always have to use a file manager program (similar to Windows Explorer) to move files around but with such limited screen real estate we can understand the reasoning behind the design.


Running Windows XP

No, we didn’t install Windows XP on Asus Eee PC 4G, but you can do it if you have an extra copy of XP lying around. In fact, Asus almost encourages you to do it by providing plenty of helpful information in the well-written manual on how to install XP, install drivers, and so forth. Asus even includes a driver DVD with XP drivers for all the Asus Eee PC 4G’s components, which is fantastic. Even better, if you install XP and realize you made a mistake (it would probably fill the little 4GB hard drive up), Asus includes an image of the factory OS installation on the recovery DVD that you can restore using a USB optical drive. Don’t have a USB optical drive? Asus even lets you copy the image to a USB drive (bigger than 1GB) and make it bootable, and use that to restore the image. Asus has really covered all its bases with regards to XP experimentation, and we think that’s worthy of praise.

Durability

Asus makes no claims regarding how far you can drop Asus Eee PC 4G and so forth, but does claim that it’s shock-proof, largely because it doesn’t have a mechanical hard drive. We can attest it certainly feels rugged and robust. Though we didn’t do any drop-testing on it, we did find a video of a guy repeatedly dropping his Eee off several chairs and desks and it was no worse for wear.

Battery Life

Battery life is a big selling point for ultra-portable notebooks, and Asus claims Asus Eee PC 4G is capable of approximately 3.5 hours, which is about average for an ultra-portable. We tested battery life by looping an MP3 sound file and browsing the web. We disabled the battery-saving feature that turns off the display when the notebook is inactive for five minutes. In our testing, we received a warning at 2:17 telling us the battery was low. Thirteen minutes later, at 2:30, we received another warning that the notebook would be shutting down in three minutes. Ten minutes later it shut off for good, netting us a total of two hours and forty minutes, which is decent but not spectacular.

Drawbacks

Though we’re impressed with what Asus has delivered for $400 USD, it’s important to note that it’s not for everyone. The screen is very small and it took us awhile to adjust to its size. The same goes with the keyboard, which is also teeny. As touch typists we had issues adjusting to it, and found we could only type well if we kept our fingers hovered above the keyboard rather than keeping our wrists on the palm rests. Finally, with just 4GB of storage space we didn’t have much free space leftover for data. Right out of the box we only had 1.2GB of free space. You can augment the storage situation with an SD card, however.

Conclusion

Asus Eee PC 4G is certainly an interesting product, and is a very good product for just $400 USD. That said, its usability is somewhat limited by its small screen, small storage and Linux environment. Thankfully, Asus has already announced the next version will run Windows XP, have a larger display and a 12GB hard drive. Rumor is it’ll go for around $600 USD, but that is still a great price for what could easily be one of the best ultra-portable notebooks ever (for the money). As it stands now the Eee is good, but we can’t wait to see it get better with future updates.


Pros:

• Decent battery life
• Highly portable
• Lots of useful software


Cons:

• Tiny keyboard is hard to type on
• Screen is very small


Continue Read Asus Eee PC 4G

Lenovo IdeaPad Y510


“Lenovo makes that!?” This was our reaction when we saw the IdeaPad Y510 for the first time. Breaking from its staid corporate offerings, Lenovo’s first consumer notebook sports a new, albeit polarizing, look compared with the ThinkPad line and has plenty of compelling features, including Dolby 5.1 Home Theater speakers, a one-touch energy-saving/recovery mode, and facial-recognition software. Although we’re not fans of the finicky multimedia controls, the IdeaPad Y510 is one of the better 15.4-inch systems under $1,000.
Lenovo IdeaPad Y510 Build and Design

The Y510 looks different than every other notebook on the market, with its distinctive linen-weave texture on the lid, boxy chassis, frameless 15.4-inch screen attached with a unique beveled hinge, and orange accents inside. At 14.3 x 10.3 x 1.4 inches, the 6.5-pound machine is on the hefty side for a mainstream notebook. It did, however, feel comfortable in a backpack.

The IdeaPad designers could have done a better job of continuing the attractive exterior under the lid. The smooth, black interior is offset by pumpkin-orange media buttons, LED lights, and a volume rocker. Unfortunately, the orange reminds us of the buttons on a 1970s Atari. You won’t find Lenovo’s ubiquitous red pointing stick on the inside, but its very responsive touchpad feels soft and has little friction. Fans of the ThinkPad keyboard will be pleased to find that Lenovo included a similar setup; the matte keys have an excellent, cushioned response, and the full-size layout feels spacious and comfortable.

ThinkPad fans should note what they’re not getting with this value-priced notebook. For one, the keyboard is not spill-resistant. The IdeaPad is made of ABS plastic instead of the high-end materials used in the business notebook line. It also lacks an accelerometer and a shock-mounted hard drive.
Glossy Display, Sweet Speakers

The glossy 15.4-inch glass screen is gorgeous; its lack of a physical frame allows for a very sleek, unified look, especially when the system is off, as the glass reaches all the way to edges of the notebook. The 1280 x 800-pixel panel was crisp, and colors were vivid. Watching Borat on the standard DVD drive looked quite good; colors were bright, and we saw no motion blur. To our disappointment, vertical viewing angles were poor. Moving just slightly off-axis caused a substantial reflection shift. In addition, the screen is extremely reflective; with a dark desktop background we were able to check for food in our teeth.

What makes this laptop a serious multimedia contender is its impressive Dolby Home Theater audio system. The speakers are positioned above and to the sides of the keyboard, and the subwoofer is on the bottom of the notebook. When we cranked the system, we were able to hear Chris Brown’s “Run It” from over 40 feet away, with a nice thumping bass. You can change the Dolby equalizer presets via the touch panel, along with the different modes, such as Pop and Classical, which complemented the music nicely.
Finicky Multimedia Keys

Above the keyboard you’ll find the IdeaPad’s multimedia control keys. Unfortunately, the design gets in the way of function. You can change which hidden buttons appear on the touch panel by hitting the Shuttle key to the right; one setting shows all the standard music controls while the other lets you tweak the Dolby sound settings. Pretty cool, but it takes more pressure than it should to activate the touch control’s functions, so you’ll find yourself pressing a button twice to get the result. We finally got the hang of the touch controls by angling the pad of our index finger to lay directly on the touch surface. More responsive is the plastic volume rocker.
IdeaPad Y510 Features

Our $899 system featured a 1.3-megapixel webcam, a 6-in-1 card reader, an ExpressCard slot, an 8X DVD burner, three USB ports, and VGA, headphone, microphone, FireWire, Ethernet, and modem ports. The IdeaPad Y510’s 250GB hard drive comes pre-partitioned; the C drive contains the system essentials, and the D drive is intended for personal storage. When the system is turned off, pressing the Novo button directly above the power button will launch a System Recovery mode. The process will restore the C partition to its default status but leave the other partition untouched, ensuring the security of your data. The Novo button can potentially be disabled to keep accidents from happening, and a bios password on the system can be set for added security.
Facial Recognition Put to the Test

Lenovo’s VeriFace facial-recognition software is great for those who keep forgetting their computer’s password. The software, using the webcam, allows—or denies—access to the notebook by scanning a person’s face. After registering our mug with the system, we were blown away at how quickly it was able to recognize us. When a person of a different sex and race sat down at the keyboard and attempted to log in, access was denied. Attempts to trick the system by holding up a picture of our face were also unsuccessful. Especially useful is that the system records the face of anyone who tries to access your system, so if someone is trying to guess your password, you can see who it was. You can also set the software to allow access to certain Web sites or a Web e-mail service; we had no problem logging into our Gmail account with our face.
Sluggish Boot Up, Okay Overall Performance

Off the bat, we were underwhelmed by the Y510’s slower-than-normal boot time of 1 minute and 3 seconds. The 1.66-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5450 processor, 2GB of RAM (expandable to 4GB), and 250GB 5,400-rpm hard drive paced this mainstream machine to a 95 on MobileMark 2007, which is 45 points below the average for mainstream notebooks but 15 points above the $829 Sony VAIO VGN-NR160E.

The Intel GMA X3100 graphics produced a weak 3DMark03 score of 1,632, which is way below the 4,385 average for 15.4-inch laptops but on target for this graphics chip. The Sony model, for instance, garnered a 3DMark03 score of 1,459 with the same graphics and same amount of RAM, but it had a 1.5-GHz processor. However, the similarly priced Dell Inspiron 1525 we tested notched a 1,704 on 3DMark03. While these scores had us wary of IdeaPad Y510’s day-to-day performance, we had no problems simultaneously playing a DVD, writing a document in OpenOffice, and surfing the Web.
Battery Life and Wireless

Battery life from the standard six-cell power pack was good at 3 hours and 37 minutes with the wireless on, which is 37 mintues above average. In addition to the system restore feature, the Novo button also provides one-touch access to the Energy Cut application. This power management tool allows you to choose among four preset power options, including High Performance, Balanced, Power Saver, and Quiet Mode. According to Lenovo, the Power Saver mode buys 20 percent more battery life. We also like the LED battery indicator on the back, which lets you see how much life you have left even when the system is closed. The 802.11a/g/n wireless delivered average throughput of 17.3 Mbps at 15 feet from our router and 15.3 Mbps at 50 feet, which is good.
Software and Warranty

The Lenovo IdeaPad Y150 comes preinstalled with Microsoft Vista Home Premium, plus Adobe Reader 8.0, Lenovo’s VeriFace 2.0, and a 90-day free trial of Norton AntiVirus 2007. Lenovo covers the system with a one-year limited warranty and 24/7, toll-free tech support.
IdeaPad Y510 Verdict

The IdeaPad Y510 is a solid first notebook for Lenovo’s new consumer line. The robust sound system and convenient facial recognition software help this budget machine stand out from the pack, even if the orange accents won’t appeal to everyone. The Dell Inspiron 1525 offers more performance for your buck, but the IdeaPad Y510’s unique feature set makes it one of the better 15.4-inch notebooks you can get for under a grand.


Continue Read Lenovo IdeaPad Y510

Dell Latitude E Series Coming in June

Engadget has published Dell’s business notebook roadmap, revealing the upcoming Latitude E Series models.

In the mainstream laptop segment, there are the 15.4-inch Dell Latitude E6500, the 14.1-inch E6400, as well as its semi-rugged version - the E6400 ATG. These systems are based on the Intel’s next generation Centrino 2 “Montevina” mobile platform.

The “Essential” Latitude lineup includes Centrino 2-based 15.4-inch E5500 and 14.1-inch E5400. Their AMD-powered counterparts are the Latitude E5500a and E5400a.

Dell’s E6500, E6400, E5500, E5400, E5500a and E5400a, are scheduled for release in June this year.

Along with the Latitude XT2 12.1-inch Tablet PC, scheduled for launch in November 2008, Dell will also release the 12.1″ E4200 and 13.3-inch E4300 ultraportables in September this year. The XT2, E4200 and E4300 are based on Intel Centrino 2 technology.


Continue Read Dell Latitude E Series Coming in June

Dell Latitude XT

Dell finally broke into the Tablet PC market with the release of the Latitude XT. There was a lot of hype and speculation around this release and we finally got our hands on a review unit. Now, we have the chance to see what the fuss is all about. The XT has a solid design and runs on a 1.2GHz ULV Core 2 Duo processor. It also has the new N-trig touchscreen technology, which is quite impressive. The pen and capacitive touch technology are both very accurate and responsive.

Dell Latitude XT specs as reviewed (price as tested $3,640)

* Intel Core 2 Duo 1.2GHz ULV U7600 processor
* Integrated ATI Radeon Xpress 1250 graphics
* 12.1" WXGA (1280 x 800) LED backlit Dual input digitizer
* 2GB DDR2 SDRAM
* 120GB hard drive, 5400rpm
* Windows Vista Business OS
* No optical drive, optional MediaBase with 8x DVD+/-RW
* Battery: 6-cell standard, optional 9-cell slice battery
* Wireless LAN 802.11n
* Bluetooth
* Integrated Verizon Wireless Broadband EV-DO Rev A
* 3x USB ports
* 1394 Port connector
* SD Card slot
* Express Card Slot
* VGA port
* RJ-45
* Headphone and microphone
* Weight: 3.12 lbs.
* Dimensions: 1.00" x 11.7" x 8.6"

The Latitude XT has a sturdy chassis. The design is solid and it has that business appeal, which we know it is marketed toward, especially at this price. It is all black, but has a brushed aluminum finish on the lid and inside. It hides fingerprints and dirt like a champion. Weighing in a little over three pounds, it is easy to carry around in tablet mode and travel with. Dell didn't cheap out on any part of the design, even the pen has a unique square shape and is very functional.

Not only does the XT have a touchpad, but it comes with a track-point as well. Now, you can choose what you like better. The LED backlit screen is bright and converting this notebook into a tablet just takes a few seconds. The screen automatically changes orientation, which is a bonus and since it has the N-trig touch technology giving presentations at that company meeting would be great.

Conclusion

The Latitude XT is a solid tablet with a great display. It is very expensive though. Many users complained about the price and Dell says it is targeted toward the business market not consumers. This may be true, but it still seems a bit pricey for the business market as well. The XT can compete with Toshiba's M700 or even Lenovo's X61. Yes, the N-trig, dual touch technology is a huge plus and taking notes and using your finger are almost flawless, but the price is way above its competitors.

The XT comes with a nice array of ports and has plenty of optional accessories. The slice battery gives it all day power and the MediaBase gives you an optical drive and more ports then I could ever use. It seems Dell is already talking about updating the XT by November 2008 as well, so I guess we will see what the XT2 has to offer.

Pros

* Dual touch technology, capacitive touch
* LED backlit display
* Solid keyboard
* Solid pen with pressure sensitive nibs
* Great battery life with slice battery
* Tons of accessory options

Cons

* Dull design, but business like
* Expensive $$$
* Eraser on pen is a button, feels awkward
* Latch doesn't lock lid


Continue Read Dell Latitude XT

Asus U2E

The market for notebooks with screens that are 12-inches or smaller is more popular than ever before. As increasing numbers of business professionals and average consumers are looking for thin and light notebooks to satisfy their mobile computing needs Asus has come to the table with one of the most elegant designs we've seen. The Asus U2E incorporates an 11-inch display with LED backlighting, ultra low voltage Core 2 Duo processor, thin built-in optical drive, a light-weight chassis with hand-polished stainless steel frame ... and let's not forget about the black premium leather.

Is the U2E a true masterpiece or a sub-par laptop in pretty clothes? Let's take a closer look.

Our review unit of the Asus U2E has the following specifications:

* Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo Processor ULV U7500 1.06 GHz (2MB L2 Cache 533MHz FSB)
* Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista Business
* Chipset: Intel GM965
* Memory: 3GB DDR2 667 MHz (1GB+2GB) Expandable to 4GB
* Display: 11.1" WXGA (1366 x 768) LED Backlight
* Graphics: Intel GMA X3100 Integrated graphics
* Hard Drive: 120GB 1.8" IDE HDD 4200 rpm (optional 32GB SSD + 160GB External HDD)
* Optical Drive: Super Multi DVDRW
* 8-in-1 Card Reader, 3 USB, VGA out, micro-DVI (HDMI), and LAN
* Batteries:
o 9-Cell (rated for 6+ hours)
o 3-Cell (rated for 2 hours)
* Dimensions:10.9" x 7.6" x 0.98"-1.1"
* Weight:
o 2 lbs 13.5 oz with 3-cell battery
o 3 lbs 8 oz with 9-cell battery
* Security TPM / Finger Print Reader / Smart Logon
* Supplied Accessories: Bluetooth mouse and Carrying Bag
* Asus 360 Service and Accidental Damage Protection (2-year for notebook, 1-year for battery)
* MSRP: $1,999 as configured ($2,699 with 32GB SSD and 160GB external HDD)

With a small footprint less than 11 inches wide and a starting weight of less than 3 pounds, the U2E makes a serious impression the first time you pull it out of a bag. Sure, the 11.1" display, and metal accents are cool, but it's the black genuine leather that gets the real attention.

Asus is one of the few laptop manufacturers to incorporate genuine leather on their notebooks, and while some consumers might not be crazy about this design choice it is done exceptionally well with the U2E. Asus claims that each piece of leather used for the U2E is hand picked and subjected to the most stringent examination to guarantee quality before being applied to each notebook. In other words, the leather looks flawless.

While Asus deserves some serious credit for the application of leather, the feel of the leather is a bit unusual. When you first remove the notebook from the box or from your laptop bag the leather feels almost plastic to the touch. This is of course due to the adhesives used and the coatings that must be applied to the leather in order to prevent excessive scratches or oil build up from contact with your skin.

Luckily, after the U2E warms up (10-20 minutes after the processor does some work and the hard drive is spinning) the leather becomes warm and softens just enough to make the palmrests one of the most enjoyable we've used.

As is often the case with premium small form factor notebooks, the U2E makes generous use of metal around the chassis for added durability and style. The stainless steels framework around the notebook features etch detailing (brushed metal) and polished metal around the display hinge. The overall look screams luxury business notebook.

Conclusion

The Asus U2E is one of the most impressive luxury business notebooks we've ever seen. Granted, the $2,000 price tag is more than most consumers are likely to consider ... but this isn't an ordinary laptop. Asus managed to create one of the smallest and lightest notebooks with a built-in optical drive and a build quality that is second to none.

Add in the fact that the U2E still includes a reasonable number of ports and enough processing power to meet your mobile needs, and the U2E makes perfect sense for anyone considering a luxury ultraportable notebook. The black premium leather, metal accents, and a solid selection of included accessories give the U2E just enough of an edge to make the competition want to pay close attention.

If you're in the market for a stylish, ultraportable laptop that makes a serious statement then the U2E might just be your perfect match.

Pros

* Low-voltage Core 2 Duo processor is easy on battery life
* One of the most attractive 11-inch notebooks we've seen
* Excellent build quality
* Great keyboard
* Comes with two batteries
* Nice packaging and extras

Cons

* Low-voltage processor doesn't give desktop replacement performance
* Touchpad surface isn't great
* Noisy fan
* Leather is either stylish or garish depending on your tastes


Continue Read Asus U2E

Panasonic Toughbook R7

Features and Design

The R7 is a sub-notebook, and as such it’s designed solely to offer amazing battery life while still being useable for day-to-day tasks, unlike a handheld PC or similar. It comes in 11 different colors and numerous configurations are available.

Basic Specs

Despite its teeny, tiny footprint the R7 is actually packing a decent amount of power for a notebook of this size. It’s a Centrino notebook, so it has an Intel chipset, CPU and wireless. The processor is an Intel Core 2 Duo processor at 1.2GHz, and it’s the low-voltage type that sips battery juice. It comes with 1GB of RAM, 80211.G wireless and a 160GB hard drive.

Small, Yet Rugged

It might seem like an oxymoron, but just because a notebook is small doesn’t mean it can’t handle the rigors of daily life. Though Panasonic doesn’t make any guarantees regarding the R7’s ability to withstand specific punishment, it does claim that an R7 in its test lab was able to withstand 110lbs. and an 11.8” drop. The hard drive is also shock-mounted to help prevent a head crash in case the notebook is dropped.

Panasonic Toughbook R7
Who says a Toughbook can’t be cute? The R7’s offered in several different colors.

Expansion Options

As a mega-portable notebook, the R7 does sacrifice some expandability to the gods of portability. The biggest drawback is that it lacks an optical drive, which is common for notebooks of this size. However, it does offer two USB ports, VGA-out, Gigabit Ethernet and it has an expansion slot.

Upgrades

The model that was sent to us for review is just one of many different configurations available. Not only can you get more hard drive space, but you can also get an R7 with a bigger hard drive, a slightly faster CPU and Vista Business instead of XP Pro (though we wouldn’t recommend it unless you upgraded to 2GB of RAM.

Use and Testing

We’ve sampled a lot of notebooks in our time, but we’ve never felt a notebook this small and light. Even the Apple MacBook Air feels porky compared to the Toughbook. Despite its light weight, it still feels very durable, as if you could toss it into your backpack without any worries.

We booted it up and were surprised to see it reach the Windows XP desktop in a scant 0:35 seconds, which is probably the fastest we’ve ever seen a system boot. We actually got a little teary-eyed reminiscing on how fast XP runs on low-end hardware compared to Vista.

Once booted into Windows, we liked that it was a totally clean installation of the OS. There was no bloatware installed at all. The only pre-installed programs were Skype and some Panasonic utilities that allow for tweaking settings related to battery life.


Battery Life

As we stated before, Panasonic claims 8 hours of battery life on the R7, so naturally we expected it to be a bit less in the “real world.” Interestingly, Dynamism (the importer) recognizes this truism on its website where it states, “The 8 hour standard battery life is remarkable (even when reduced to a real world 4-5 hours of use).” Sure enough, we tested it by surfing the Net and listening to music, and squeezed 5 hours and 17 minutes out of the R7 with screen brightness set to the middle setting. Despite not being the claimed eight hours, this is still very good battery life.

General Performance

For standard office tasks the R7 was always fast and responsive. XP runs like the dickens on 1GB of RAM and a decent processor, and we never experienced any slowdowns or problems at all. The 10.4” LCD actually seems rather spacious given how small the notebook is, and its 1024x768 native resolution seemed adequate. The display is a bit old school though, in that it has a 4:3 aspect ratio and a matte covering to reduce glare.

The only thing that bothered us when using it for general tasks was the keyboard is really small. A lot of the keys are much smaller than normal, which is to be expected, but it makes touch-typing difficult. Though it’d be fine for jotting down notes in a meeting we wouldn’t want to write a thesis on it. We also imagine it probably gets easier to use with practice. We should also note that there are a few keys with Japanese characters on them, but none of the standard keys are missing.

Panasonic R7
The keyboard is quite small, but all the major keys are present. There’s even a few Japanese keys.

Ruggedness Testing

We did not perform any torture tests on the R7 because Panasonic doesn’t guarantee anything in regards to what it can withstand. According to the R7 website, “The R7 withstood 50kg (110 pounds) of weight, as well as a 30cm (11.8 inch) drop, in Panasonic's lab tests. While this is not a guarantee that it will withstand that in the future (and it is not guaranteed to do so), it's an impressive feat for a chassis this size.” If something says it’s “water proof” we’ll pour water on it, and if it says it can withstand a fall from 10 inches, we’d do that as well. But since there are no guarantees this time around, we abstained from testing Panasonic’s claims. We can tell you that our personal “feel” for the notebook is that its combination of low weight and rigid structure make it seem impervious to damage. We felt like we could literally throw it around and nothing bad would happen – it’s that light.

Conclusion

The Toughbook R7 is certainly a unique notebook in that it combines two characteristics one doesn’t normally see together – portability and ruggedness. We really like how light and portable it is, and its five-plus hours of battery life are great. This is the kind of notebook you could carry with you all day and never need to plug in. The keyboard is a bit too small for our tastes, but we suppose that sort of goes with the territory on a notebook this small. The price tag is a bit steep too, but once again these sub-notebooks are always expensive. It’s a niche product for sure, but a pretty cool one in our opinion. Plus there’s the extra geek cred of having Japanese characters on your keyboard, which is a great ice breaker on the bus or train.



Pros:

• Supremely portable
• Excellent battery life
• 11 color options



Cons:

• Expensive
• Keyboard is tiny

Specs

Panasonic Model: R7
Motherboard Features CPU:
L2 Cache:
RAM:
Chipset: Intel Core 2 Duo U7600 1.2GHz (R7/80/C) / U7700 1.33Ghz (R7/160/C and R7/250/C models)
2MB CPU integrated
1GB (2.0 GB Max)
Intel GM965 Express
Storage HDD: 80,160, 250GB HD
Graphic / Video Features Chip:
VRAM
Display:
Resolution:
External Resolution: Intel GM965 Express
224MB (shared with main memory)
10.4" XGA TFT
up to 1024 x 768 pixels @ 16M colors
up to 1600 x 1200 pixels @ 16M colors
Sound system Sound Card: 16 bit stereo PCM Sound Generator, monaural speaker
Interface PCMCIA:
Modem:
Integrated ports: Type II x 1 CardBus compatible
56K flex V.90 mini PCI fax/modem
Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN; v.90 modem (RJ-11) x1; LAN x1 (RJ-45); USB2.0 x 2 (R2: USB2.0 x 1); USB 1.1 x1; VGA x1; microphone x1; headphones x1; SD Memory Card x1
Input / Output Devices Keyboard:
Pointing Device:
Battery Life: 85 key OADG, 17mm pitch, 2mm stroke
WheelPad
Standard Battery: 8 hours / 7.5 hours
Power Consumption:
A/C adapter: 40W
100-240V / 50-60 Hz
Physical Features Size:

Weight: 9.0(W) x 7.2(L) x 0.9-1.6(H) [inch]
229 x 183.5 x 24.2-41.6 [mm]
2.05 lbs / 930g, 2.07 / 940g
Other Package contains:

Operating System: A/C adapter; standard battery

Windows Vista Business / Windows XP Professional (English)


Continue Read Panasonic Toughbook R7

Dell XPS M1730

Features and Design

With very few exceptions this M1730 has the nothing but the highest-end parts available, which is why it costs so much. But keep in mind that there are several other configurations available, and even those are customizable depending on your needs.

The CPU

The M1730 sports the latest and greatest Intel mobile processor, which is the Penryn flavor Core 2 Extreme. It succeeds the Merom chips and features a die shrink to 45nm as well as an additional 2MB of L2 cache, bringing the total to 6MB. Since it’s an Extreme processor, Intel has left the multiplier unlocked for easy overclocking. Dell provides the option to crank the CPU up in 200MHz increments from 2.8GHz to 3.4GHz.

Graphics

No gaming notebook would be labeled as such without a powerful graphics system, or two of them. Naturally, the M1730 has two NVIDIA 8800M GTX cards, which are the most powerful portable GPUs available at this time. Each GPU has 96 stream processors and 512MB of memory. Both cards run in SLI, of course. The M1730 also includes an Ageia PhysX physics processor.

Nifty Lights

Dell calls its XPS lighting scheme LightFX, and it’s hard to miss on the M1730. All of the lights are either customizable or can be disabled. The lights inside the speakers as well as those powering the XPS logo on the touchpad have 16 color options, including no light at all. There is also a glowing Dell logo on the LCD lid, which is flanked by two bright wing-looking lights. The keyboard is also backlit with white light. You can also choose from four accent colors on the lid, including blue, red, smoke and white.

Media Mogul

The 1730 has a giant 17” widescreen LCD with a glossy covering. Its native resolution is super-high at 1920x1200. Our test unit came with a DVD-R/RW drive, but Dell offers a Blu-ray combo drive as an option ($200 USD for read-only, $400 USD for a BD-R/RW). The 1730 also includes DVI and S-Video out ports.

Logitech LCD

If you’ve seen the Logitech G11 or G15 keyboards, you’re familiar with its LCD. Well, that same LCD is embedded in the M1730, right above the keyboard. It displays system information, shows the time, and also works with select PC games to show how much ammo you have, lives left, etc.

Dell XPS M1730
Image Courtesy of Dell

Use and Testing

We’ve reviewed so many ultra-portablenotebooks lately that we had forgotten how big a desktop replacement notebook can be. The M1730, which has a baseline weight of 10.6 pounds, is big and heavy. Its power brick alone weighs more than the MacBook Air. The chassis is made from magnesium alloy and is solid as a rock. The LCD lid, which has a “hydrographic” image and faux carbon fiber, feels very solid as well. Though the chassis has a plastic feel to it, it feels incredibly well-made and sturdy.

Aside from the notebook itself, Dell also throws in a swank leather binder to hold all the included media, a thick manual, cleaning cloth and a pair of noise-canceling earbuds.


Out of the Box

We fired up the M1730 and it took exactly 1:00 minute to boot to the Vista desktop, which is typical for a fast machine. We were pleased by the lack of trialware on the desktop. In fact, the only pre-installed programs aside from Vista were Norton Internet Security and Google Desktop, though we’ll note that Norton wasn’t fully installed (a pop-up window asked us to install it whenever we rebooted).

Our first impression of the lighting is that it’s awesome. Some may think it’s a bit too much, but thankfully Dell provides the option to change the light colors, turn them down, and even turn all the lights off completely. We love the fact that the lights behind the speakers as well as the touchpad can be cycled between 16 different colors. The keyboard backlight is white can cannot be changed, though you can adjust its brightness or turn it off completely. You can even set the LEDs to “dance” to your music, but this is not ideal at all as it results in audio crackling and stuttering.

Dell XPS Lighting
You can choose between 16 colors for the speakers and touchpad lighting.

The LCD lid also has a very cool design that Dell calls “hydrographic.” It looks like rays of sunshine reflected in water, embossed over carbon fiber. There are lights too, and since we’re not sure how to describe it we’ll just provide a picture of it.

Dell XPS M1730 lid lights
The LCD cover has a cool “light beams” effect on it. You can disable it too, if you want.

We love the keyboard. It requires a soft touch and the white backlighting is cool. There’s even a full-size number pad to the right, and the touchpad felt very accurate, even though it seems incredibly small given the size of the palm rests.


Performance

This PC has a 2.8GHz Penryn processor, 2GB of RAM, two 7,200rpm hard drives and 1GB of videocard memory between its two graphics cards. Suffice to say, performance was very good. It scored 12,704 in Futuremark’s 3DMark06, which is a very high score, especially for a notebook. We also decided to try out the new PCMark Vantage test, which is a system-wide test designed for PCs running Vista. The M1730 scored a 4604, but what does that mean? For comparison’s sake, we ran it on our own high-end gaming desktop, and it scored just 3820, so the M1730 was faster overall. Also, the M1730’s Vista Experience Index is a high 5.0.

Gaming performance was also very good, which is not surprising. We were able to run Call of Duty 4, Crysis and Bioshock at high settings at acceptable frame rates. During gaming the GPU fans crank up and are a bit loud, but you usually can’t hear them over the built-in speakers, which are the most impressive notebook speakers we’ve ever heard.

Overclocking?

Since this system has an Extreme processor with an unlocked multiplier, Dell allows a bit of overclocking, which is accomplished in the BIOS. You can take it from the stock 2.8GHz speed up to 3.4GHz, in 200MHz increments. Sounds good, right? Well unfortunately we found that when the processor was set to 3.2GHz and 3.4GHz the CPU fans turn on full-bore at all times, which is incredibly loud and not worth whatever boost in performance you might achieve through overclocking. When we set it to 3.0GHz it was just as quiet as it was at 2.8GHz, which is to say acceptably quiet, but an extra 200MHz isn’t going to offer a big performance boost.

Battery Life

Sadly, awesome performance and battery life go together like oil and water. Even though Dell has outfitted this model with a large 9-cell battery, its battery life is still poor, which isn’t surprising. We tested battery life at the default settings, which is the LCD at half brightness, WiFi enabled and the onboard Ethernet port disabled. We also disabled the keyboard backlight, for kicks. We then played a DVD movie until the battery died, which was one hour and five minutes. We don’t expect these nuclear-powered notebooks to have good battery life, so note that we’re not exactly complaining here, but merely pointing out the obvious. If you buy a notebook like this, you should expect to have it plugged in all of the time.

Media Direct

You can play music, movies and even look at images without even turning the M1730 on, which is awesome. Just press the little Media Direct button next to the power button and the Media Direct program starts, even when the PC isn’t running. It’ll let you watch movies, listen to music and so forth. We like this feature a lot, and wish more laptops had similar functionality.

Logitech LCD

We’re not big fans of the Logitech LCD, as we noted in our review of the Logitech G15 keyboard. It’s not that it doesn’t relay useful information – it does – but we don’t see the point in looking down at an LCD when we can just see the information on the screen. We did find it useful to set it to show CPU and RAM utilization, however, and think it’s cool that Dell has integrated it into the notebook’s chassis. It’s a shame however that the text in the display looks antiquated and blocky, which stands in stark contrast to the otherwise sleek look of the M1730.

Conclusion

As gamers and enthusiasts, we have to say the M1730 pushes all the right buttons. Its combination of performance, custom lighting and useful features make it a wholly impressive machine with very few faults. We can nitpick here and there but Dell has done a fantastic job with the M1730. The only feature that really bothered us was the small touchpad, but its accuracy is excellent. We won’t complain about battery life, as that’s like buying a Ferrari and whining about its poor gas mileage. This is a notebook that goes on your desk and stays there.



Pros:

• Very good performance
• Lots of useful features
• Cool lights



Cons:

• Small touchpad
• Overclocking makes fans loud



Continue Read Dell XPS M1730

Apple MacBook Air (80GB)

Features and Design

Apple's stated design goal for the MacBook Air was to make it as thin as possible while still being able to accommodate Apple's must-have features. Achieving that goal required Apple to ditch many of the features most people have come to expect on a notebook computer, including the optical drive, USB ports, removable battery, expansion ports and so forth. The result is an amazingly thin notebook that simply ditches any and all legacy connectors, expansion ports and features.


CPU, RAM, Storage


The specs on the MacBook certainly aren’t going to blow anyone’s hair back as they are decidedly middle-of-the-road. The CPU is a 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, though it’s the good kind with 4MB of L2 cache. The MacBook also has 2GB of DDR 667 RAM, an 80GB 4,200rpm hard drive, and uses onboard Intel graphics. That’s the meat of it, which is typical for an ultra-portable notebook since they skimp on performance in favor of portability and battery life. We should also note that we’re evaluating the base model, but Apple does offer a souped up version that includes a 64GB solid-state hard drive and a 1.8GHz processor for an extra $1,300 USD.

LED Display and Wireless

Though the above specs are somewhat lack-luster, there are certain features of the MacBook Air that are quite interesting. The first is the 13.3” LED backlit display, which uses LEDs to light the display rather than a cold cathode. The benefits of this approach are more even lighting and better contrast. It also avoids “leakage” that some LCDs suffer, where the backlight “leaks” out from the edges of the display. It also supports wireless Draft-N wireless, which is something no future-proof notebook can be without in our opinion. Draft-N wireless is the successor to 80211.G and provides faster transfer speeds and increased broadcast range.

Backlit Keys

The Air has a backlit keyboard, which is a new development in the notebook world and one we suspect will be quite popular in the near future. The keys are illuminated by a soft white light that is adjustable if you want to control the brightness, but there’s an onboard ambient light sensor that detects available light and automatically adjusts the brightness of both the display and the keyboard backlight.

Expansion Ports

Hahah, that’s a good one. The MacBook Air has no expansion ports, though it does have a tiny little flap on the right-side that flips open to expose a headphone jack, USB port and a mini-DVI (or VGA) connector. The opposite side of the notebook has a magnetic power jack. That’s it as far as ports go. There is no optical drive, nor is there a removable battery.


No Optical Drive?

Let’s be honest – most ultra-portable notebooks don’t have optical drives. This has been the standard for some time now, and the MacBook Air is no different than the majority of ultra-portable notebooks. However, Apple has created a clever workaround for this conundrum called Remote Disc, and it lets you access the optical drive of another Mac or PC wirelessly across a home network. You do have to install some files on the host PC to enable this feature though, so it’s not like you can just pop a disc into any PC and use it on the Air.

OS Situation

The MacBook Air comes with the newest version of OS X, dubbed Leopard. This revision of the OS adds several enhancements including Cover Flow navigation in Finder, Time Machine (which requires an external hard drive, not included), “stacks” that pop out of the dock and other features.

Apple MacBook Air
Image Courtesy of Apple

Use and Testing

Unlike most notebooks that arrive in a decent-sized box, the Air comes in a tiny box that is about the size of a ream of printer paper. We opened the box and pulled the Air out and were simply amazed by how thin it is. That “manila envelope” marketing bit is no joke – it’s incredible how thin and light it feels when you are holding it.

We pulled out our stopwatch and booted to the desktop. Even though the unit ships with a 4,200rpm hard drive, which is the slowest rotational velocity available for hard drives, it booted to the Leopard desktop in 58 seconds, which is a bit faster than what we typically see on a Vista machine.

Once we had arrived at the desktop, we were pleased by the lack of icons on the desktop that we’re so used to seeing on PCs. While this is probably nothing new to long-time Mac users, it is something that is rarely experienced in the world of pre-built PCs, as many of you are probably aware. Only on super high-end gaming PCs can you get a clean install of the OS, which is a pity.

For standard desktop work the Air seemed plenty fast; in fact it felt a lot faster than what we typically see on a PC. Our personal notebook has 1.5GB of RAM, Windows XP and a 7,200rpm notebook drive, yet the Air “felt” faster opening programs, switching from one program to another, and never hung or had us waiting more than a few seconds. Just opening iTunes takes just a few seconds, which is twice as fast as on our burly gaming desktop PC. Suffice to say the Air is certainly fast enough for daily tasks. Though we didn’t run any official benchmarks on it, we never felt that it was slow or unresponsive. Gamers need-not-apply here though. Don’t even think the thought of gaming and the MacBook Air in the same sentence.

Battery Life

The MacBook Air’s battery has sparked controversy because it’s not removable, which is a first for notebooks. Though it has few short-term consequences, most consumers would certainly not be happy having to ship the notebook to Apple to swap out the battery should it malfunction or die. You’ll note this same controversy has followed the iPod and iPhone for some time now. Though we’d prefer a removable battery, it’s difficult to say how annoying this would be in the long run as it’s difficult to predict the battery’s life span.

Apple has claimed the battery life of the Air is five hours. Indeed, when you fully charge the battery and set the countdown timer to show remaining time, it says exactly five hours. As you begin using the Air though, that number begins to fluctuate wildly according to the demands being placed on the system. We tested battery life by simply using the Air for standard desktop tasks and web surfing and were able to go for three hours and five minutes. Obviously, this is far short of five hours, but our experience has taught us that manufacturer’s claims are always wildly off the mark, and are probably obtained by letting the notebook idle at the desktop with WiFi disabled, screen dark, etc.

Apple MacBook Air
Image Courtesy of Apple


Remote Disc

Apple’s Remote Disc technology is intriguing, as it allows the Air to use the optical drive of another PC or Mac wirelessly. This is important since there’s no optical drive in the Air. You can purchase a USB-powered optical drive for $99 USD, however. We tested the Remote Disc and found it to be quite limited in usefulness. We installed the required files on our desktop PC and then tried to read several discs on the Air. We first tried playing an audio CD but the Air couldn’t see the disc. Next we tried playing a DVD movie but this also didn’t work. We did some research and found that the Air is unable to handle the CSS encryption on DVDs, and that in order to watch a movie on the Air you’d have to decrypt the DVD, rip the files to the hard drive and then watch it. Finally we inserted the Mac OS X disc that came with the Air, and it worked just fine. It seems that the true purpose of Remote Disc isn’t so much full usage of an optical drive, but rather to use it primarily for installing software on your Mac.


Nice Touches

As with most Apple products, elegant touches abound with the Air. We loved the backlit keyboard and found the ambient light sensor to work very well. It’s also great how the Mac instantly goes to sleep when you close the lid, and comes back to life immediately when you re-open it. We were also smitten with the huge touchpad, which incorporates multi-touch gestures like those found on the iPhone. If you pinch the touchpad you shrink the interface, and so forth. It works amazingly well and is an awesome feature indeed. The Air also feels completely solid and well-built despite being so thin.

Conclusion

There are always numerous factors to take into consideration when evaluating a laptop, but the problem with the Air is that it introduces several intangible factors that we have never encountered when reviewing PCs. Like other Apple products such as the iPhone, the Air is so beautiful and easy to use that we found ourselves becoming one of those Mac people who fall in “love” with the Apple product. It has undeniable appeal, and even us lifelong PC users were not only impressed with its performance and usability but felt drawn to it like we are to our iPhone. In fact, despite its drawbacks, our final conclusion is that we’d buy one in a heartbeat. We acknowledge its shortcomings, but in our mind they don’t outweigh its many positive attributes.


Pros:

• Amazingly light
• Snappy performance
• Lots of neat features


Cons:

• Non-removable battery
• Few expansion options,
• Remote Disc is flaky



Continue Read Apple MacBook Air (80GB)

Sony VAIO NR160E/T

Features and Design

The most notable feature of the NR series is its sleek design, which features smooth edges, a textured surface and three colors to choose from: Silk (white), Wenge Brown and Granite Silver.

The Chassis

The chassis has an interesting texture to it, and certainly makes it look more elegant than your standard run-of-the-mill notebook. The textured surface is found on the back of the LCD, but not the front, and on the entirety of the palm rest.

CPU, Chipset, RAM, Storage

The VAIO NR is a modern notebook in that it’s using the Intel 965 chipset, but it doesn’t sport all the bleeding edge components we’ve seen in recent notebook reviews. For example, it features an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, but it’s a low-end chip with just 2MB of L2 cache (instead of 4MB found on higher-end models) and runs at just 1.5GHz. On the RAM front it has just 1GB (two 512MB sticks of DDR2 5300). The NR we received for review has a 160GB 5400rpm SATA hard drive, variations of this notebook include a 250GB hard drive, and slightly faster processors (same notebook, different model number), you will have to visit SonyStyle.com to see what their variation/model number of the week is.

Internet Connectivity

Yep, it’s got the Intel 965 chipset but sadly it’s lacking support for the next-gen wireless N standard. It does support B and G, of course. Its Ethernet is also a bit old school, running at older Fast Ethernet speeds rather than Gigabit.

Display

The NR comes with a 15.4” widescreen, glossy display. It features XBRITE-ECO technology which Sony claims provides enhanced brightness and clarity while consuming less power than traditional LCDS.

Ports and connectors.

Let’s take a quick tour around the NR and check out its ports.

Sony NR Series
We have an 8X DVD-R/RW, CD-R/RW drive, two USB and a Kensington lock.

Right side of the Sony NR laptop
Express Card /34 slot, two USB ports, microphone, headphone, FireWire and exhaust.

Front of the laptop
Here we have an SD card reader, Memory Stick reader, activity lights and WiFi switch.

Back of the laptop
Not much to see here other than the battery, Ethernet and 56K ports, and AC jack.

Extra buttons

Most notebooks these days have a few shortcut buttons below the LCD, and the NR is no exception. This laptop has two buttons: One which is cryptically labeled “S1” and another labeled AV mode. The S1 mode is a shortcut button that you can customize to perform numerous tasks such as muting the volume, putting the NR to sleep, etc.

The AV Mode button launches a giant taskbar at the top of the screen that lets you open the DVD software or go on the Internet.

AV Button
The S1 is a customizable quick-launch button, and AV mode is a quick-launcher for DVDs and the Internet.

Software bundle

Like most pre-built systems the NR includes a slew of pre-installed software, as well as the option to install numerous ancillary programs. The list is long and includes AOL, Norton, Microsoft Works, Office 2007 Trial, Corel Paint Shop Pro, and much, much more.

Use and Testing

Our initial impression of the NR is that it’s pretty and sleek. It seems a bit thinner than most 15.4” notebooks we’ve sampled. The specs say 1.2”-1.5”, so it’s certainly not a boat anchor, especially given its relatively low weight of 6.2lbs.

We booted to Windows and were immediately impressed by how bright and crisp the display was. It’s beautiful, and the glossy finish makes everything look sharp. The native resolution is 1280x800, which is decent for a 15.4” display.

Bloatware

We checked out the OS configuration and were dismayed to see how much bloatware (installed trial software) comes included with the system. Easily the biggest transgression is an animated AOL icon that sits on the desktop and is constantly changing colors and shapes. Here’s the whole list of either pre-installed or could-be installed trial software: Norton Internet Security 2007 trial, Microsoft office 2007 trial, AOL, AOL video, MS Works, SafeIT document shredder trial, Adobe Acrobat Connect trial, Intuit Quickbooks Starter edition, six casual games, Napster trial, LocationFree, Corel Paint Shop Pro XI trial, AIM 6.0, VAIO Click to DVD, Corel Snapfire, Roxio Easy Media Creator 9, SonicStage Mastering Studio, and finally there’s even more software in the various VAIO suites.

Programs screenshot
Look at all that software Sony has pre-installed. Wow.

That’s a lot of software, a ton of trialware, and basically a bunch of software that we would not want on our notebook. Adding insult to injury, Sony installed an AOL toolbar on Internet Explorer. And it also added a transparent “taskbar” to the desktop that is just above the regular taskbar. It lets you launch things like “VAIO Entertainment Center” which then lets you install all the trialware and such. Thankfully, you can easily disable this taskbar.

Taskbar Screenshot
Sony includes a transparent “taskbar” on the desktop to make installing trialware easier.

Windows Performance

We haven’t tested a Vista system with just 1GB of RAM in a while, so we were surprised at how sluggish the system felt. Vista is a memory hog, and was consuming 738MB of RAM just idling at the desktop, with no programs running. With Vista’s SuperFetch program, which continually monitors what programs you use and adds their boot files to RAM, it’s easy to predict that Vista would eventually consume all 1GB of RAM available, which would seriously degrade the notebook’s performance.

RAM Screenshot
1GB of RAM is fine for XP, but not for Vista. The NR was sucking down 738MB just sitting at the desktop.

Given its low amount of RAM, low-end processor and 5400rpm hard drive, performance was a bit of a letdown. It’s not that the system was insanely slow or that we grew a beard waiting for programs to open, just that it was more sluggish than what we’re used to. It’s by no means “slow” but it’s certainly not what we’d call “responsive.” Once again, adding more RAM would most likely improve this situation drastically. Its Windows Experience Index score is just 3.4, and was dragged down by the onboard Intel graphics.

Battery Life

We tested the NR’s battery life by playing a DVD movie with the screen brightness set to its middle level. We also had WiFi enabled and an internet connection established. With these settings we were able to squeeze two hours and 20 minutes out of the NR, which is very respectable.

AV Mode and S1

The two extra keys at the top of the keyboard are the only “special” keys on the NR, and both are quick-launch keys.

The oddly-named S1 key does whatever you tell it to, and you can either select from a list of actions or customize it to open a program. The pre-installed list includes things like muting, sleep, maximum brightness, etc. You can also customize it to launch any application you like. Overall it worked as expected and we had no issues with it.

The AV mode button, however, is largely useless. When you press the button, you hear a little ditty that sounds like a typical VAIO ringtone. Then, after a few seconds, a transparent taskbar pops up on the top of the screen with two buttons – DVD and Internet. That’s it. Clicking the first button opens up the DVD software and clicking the second one opens up Internet Explorer. Why is this even necessary? We can just click the actual shortcut icons to the programs and they open. Our guess as to why this feature was included was that given this notebook’s low price tag, it’s for newbies who might need a helping hand getting on the Internets or watching movies. But for someone with even the most basic understanding of how computers work, it’s a useless feature.

AV Keys
Press this button and a taskbar launches to let you get to the Net or watch a DVD.

Other stuff

We liked the keyboard on the VAIO a lot, as its low, flat keys felt very good to our fingers. We also loved the display, which is very bright and surprisingly sharp. The onboard speakers also got very loud; much louder than we’ve heard from most notebooks. The presence of four USB ports is also a handy.

Conclusion

The NR series from Sony is a mixed bag. We don’t really expect tremendous performance from a notebook with this type of price tag, but this notebook is sluggish, needs more RAM, and also has more unnecessary software than any notebook we’ve ever reviewed. All these things lead us to one conclusion: this is a notebook for the family, not enthusiasts or business travelers. It’s not for anyone who does anything but surf the Net and email. For those types of basic tasks, however, it’s more than enough and looks good while doing it.


Pros:

• Several color options
• Decent battery life
• Affordable



Cons:

• Lots of bloatware
• Only 1GB of RAM
• Sluggish performance


Continue Read Sony VAIO NR160E/T

Fujitsu LifeBook S6510

Features and design

The S6510 is a notebook designed for corporate users, with corporate needs in mind. Paramount among those needs are reliability, security and portability.

Centrino Power

This is a Centrino Duo notebook, so along with an Intel T7700 Core 2 Duo processor, which hums along at 2.4GHz and has 4MB of L2 cache, it also uses the new Intel 965 chipset, which has an 800MHz front side bus. This notebook has 4GB of DDR2 667MHz memory, but since it uses 32-bit Vista only 3.33GB is actually available to the operating system.

Video and Display

The star of the show here is the 14.1” LCD display, which is incredibly thin and is largely responsible for the notebook’s low weight. It’s a widescreen display with a glossy covering that Fujitsu calls Crystal View. Also contributing to the weight loss is the display’s magnesium alloy shell that is very thin yet incredibly rigid. The display is powered by onboard Intel graphics.

Turbo Memory

This notebook has something we have not seen before, which is Intel Turbo Memory. It’s a 1GB module of NAND flash memory that is integrated into the system to work alongside system RAM to improve performance. We think it’s similar to if you put a USB drive into your Vista machine and used it to improve system performance. According toIntel, “It works alongside your system's RAM to increase the efficiency of data movement between the processor and hard disk.”

Turbo Memory Screenshot
Yes, it has turbo memory! It certainly reminded us of the old turbo buttons on PCs.

Protected gigs

The S6510 has a shock-mounted 120GB 5,400rpm SATA hard drive. The drive’s orientation and movement are tracked in real-time by an onboard sensor that monitor’s drive movement on the X, Y and Z axes. If it detects too much movement, it retracts the read/write heads to a safe zone (away from your data) to prevent a head crash.

Drive Lock
The Shock Sensor Utility measures drive movement along three axes to protect the drive.

Wireless and Networking

All the wireless bases are covered, with wireless A/B/G/ and Draft-N WiFi, Gigabit Ethernet and support for Bluetooth.

Battery life

The unit we received for review includes a 6-cell battery, which should be good for around 4.5 hours according to Fujitsu. Also, this notebook includes a modular bay that can accept an extra battery, which will push battery life up to 6.5 hours respectively.

OS and software bundle

Like any business notebook, the S6510 comes shipped with…Vista Business! Not a big surprise, as every corporate notebook we’ve reviewed has included this version of Vista. The notebook also includes trial versions of Norton Internet Security and Office 2007.

Ports and Connectors

The right side
We see three USB ports, a Kensington lock, 56K modem and the DVD-R/RW/CD-R/RW drive.

Left side
Here we have an Ethernet port, AC jack, VGA-out, 4-in-1 media reader and a PCMCIA slot.

Rear
The rear of the unit simply holds the 6-cell battery and another Kensington lock slot.

Security

Like most corporate notebooks, the S6510 has a biometric fingerprint scanner. It can be used to both log into the Windows profile, and also to log into any websites that have a password field. The S6510 also has a “security panel,’ which is a row of numbered keys below the LCD. These can be used as a “combination lock” of sorts that would require the user to press the correct code to boot the PC. This notebook also has a TPM module, which in the future might be used for user verification and enhanced data security.

Use and Testing

We put the S6510 through our standard testing regimen which involves using it for several weeks like we would any other notebook, and came away pretty impressed. At first glance you would think it’s the same weight as any other notebook that is similar in size, but it’s incredibly light. Our own personal notebook is a 14.1” Dell that seems like a brick in comparison.

The S6510 was always snappy and responsive in Windows, and we never sensed any slowness or sluggishness through general use. It’s Windows Experience Index score of 3.4 was totally dragged down by its onboard graphics. Most of its hardware scored rather high on the scale.

Windows Index Score
The S6510’s low Experience Index score is the result of the onboard Intel graphics.

Hard drive shock

The onboard drive monitor software seems pretty cool, and would show us a warning whenever we tilted the notebook a bit. What’s even cooler is you can actually adjust the sensitivity of the sensor, going as far to adjust the sensitivity along individual X, Y and Z axis of movement. You can also set it to automatically lock the notebook with a password if it senses it is being carried.

Shocking SS
Tilt the S6510 a bit and the shock sensor notifies you that it’s moved the drive heads for safety.

Battery life

Fujitsu claims that the included 6-cell battery last about 4.5 hours, but since these claims are always just a bit inflated we tested by looping a DVD movie. In our tests, we were able to squeeze out three hours and 20 minutes from the S6510, which is pretty good but obviously less than the stated specification. Fujitsu also offers an extra battery that can be wedged into the notebook’s “modular bay,” which also houses the optical drive. Fujitsu claims both batteries bring the total battery life up to 6.5 hours, but we did not test this claim since we didn’t receive the additional battery.

Security

The S6510 has two main security devices; the onboard fingerprint scanner and the Security Panel, which doubles as a set of quick-launch keys. The fingerprint scanner worked wonderfully. We registered two fingers with short swipes, and this then became the de facto login routine for the computer, which is great.

Fingerprint software
You have to “enroll” your fingers into the scanner program, but the enrollment process is painless.


Once we had enrolled our fingers we found that the biometric scanner could also attach website passwords to your fingerprint, which is awesome. We logged into a few sites, had the software remember the password, and the next time we went to the site we just swiped our finger and it logged us into our Gmail account, for example.

Password SS
The biometric scanner can also let you log into websites with the swipe of your finger.

Aside from the finger scanner there’s a security panel beneath the LCD. The row of numbered keys function as customizable shortcut keys in Windows (one opens IE, one opens calculator, etc), but they can be configured to be a combination lock of sorts. You’d have to punch in the correct combination of keys to boot the PC, or at least that’s what we were told. We tried to set it up but it said it needed a supervisor password first, which we did not have. Our guess is it requires a domain administrator to configure it, which makes sense.

Panel SS
These keys can be configured to be a combination lock of sorts, where pressing the right sequence allows the notebook to boot.

Spill proof keyboard?

Fujitsu claims the S6510 has a spill-proof keyboard. This is made possible by an internal membrane and collection tray that contain the liquid and keeps it away from the electrical components. We’ve seen a lot of notebooks bite the dust due to spilled liquids over the years, so we decided to test it out. We turned the notebook on and filled a measuring cup with a bit of water, and then slowly poured it onto the keyboard. All of the liquid simply disappeared underneath the keys! Curious, we then picked it up and tilted it over the sink and all the water came pouring out like we were pouring it out of a pitcher or something. The notebook remained on the whole time and nothing bad ever came of it. Verdict: The spill-proof keyboard is the real deal, and works brilliantly.

Water on the Keyboard
We tested the spill-proof keyboard, and it passed with flying colors.

Turbo Memory

According to the Intel utility that ships with the system, there is 1GB of Intel Turbo Memory on this notebook, but we never able to tell if it was doing anything. This system already has 4GB of RAM so it doesn’t really need any assistance on that front. Intel claims it would help the system boot faster, but the system booted in 1:15 which is nothing special.

Conclusion

The S6510 is certainly a very good notebook and it’s definitely the lightest notebook of its size that we’ve ever tested. The built-in security features all worked quite well and we didn’t experience any problems or have any issues in testing. We especially like the spill-proof keyboard! Our only complaints are that it looks extremely ordinary (maybe that’s another one of its anti-theft measures!?) and it seems quite expensive given its mid-range hardware.

Pros:

• Very portable
• Big screen given its weight
• Good battery life
• Lots of technological features


Cons:

• Plain looks
• Expensive


Continue Read Fujitsu LifeBook S6510

Gateway P-171XL FX Edition


Gateway P-171XL FX Edition is a high-end gaming notebook from Gateway, offering the Intel X7900 processor, a 17" WUGAX LCD, NVIDIA 8800M GTS Graphics Card, and two 7200rpm drives running in RAID 0. This package comes inside relatively sleek and high gloss notebook case.

This notebook has the following specifications:

* Intel Core 2 Duo X7900 (2.80GHz/ 800MHz Front Side Bus/ 4MB L2 cache)
* Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit
* 3GB DDR2-667 dual-channel RAM
* 17.0" WUXGA (1920x1200) matte finishe
* Nvidia GeForce 8800M-GTS graphics card with 512MB dedicated memory
* 400GB Total HD space in RAID 0 configuration (200GB Hitachi 7k200 x 2)
* HD DVD-ROM/DVD Super Multi (+/- double layer)
* Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965 AGN (802.11a/g/n)
* Bluetooth 2.0+EDR
* Built-in 1.3 megapixel webcam and microphone
* Fingerprint reader
* Ports: 3 USB, Kensington Lock Slot, Modem, LAN, Headphone/Mic, Firewire, HDMI, eSata, VGA, SD Card Reader, ExpressCard/54
* Size: 15.75 x 11.5/12.25 x 1.5"
* Weight: Notebook 9lbs 4.5oz, AC Adapter 1lb 10oz
* 120w AC Adapter
* Warranty: 1 Year standard

Gateway P-171XL FX Edition notebook has a sleek 17" design that that is thinner than many other 17" gaming notebooks, even 15" notebooks like the Alienware m15x. The slender design is followed by a beautiful high contrast black and orange color scheme, topped off with chrome accents. The notebook has soft tapered edges, giving the notebook a very soft feel in your hands. This type of design also helps when inserting the notebook into cases, where rounded edges don't snag on fabrics or zippers.

I really enjoy the color scheme of this notebook, as I prefer darker designs in general compared to all white or shiny notebooks. This Gateway has a faux carbon fiber gloss finish, where the weave pattern is so light it has more of a metallic black look. The keyboard has a metallic orange trim piece, followed by a larger brushed metal trim piece that is also used for the media keys. The metallic orange trim is also found around the ports on the side of the case, where it wraps around the entire notebook. Chrome is also around in bits and pieces around the notebook, including the display hinges, logo trim, and power switch.

Build quality is average, with some flex felt around most areas of the notebook. Almost all of the flex can be found in areas that use the glossy black plastic, which includes the screen cover, palm rest, and screen bezel. The screen has a good amount of flex, both in twisting motion and bowing if you press down on the cover. The palmrest also has a lot of flex that you can feel above the ExpressCard slot and hard drive bay.

The only area of the notebook that really feels solid and rigid is the sides and bottom of the notebook case, which use a different matte plastic material.

Going beyond the chassis flex, the glossy finish does seem durable with its scratch resistance properties. With some high gloss notebooks, backpacks and normal use will scuff the notebook surface. None of these blemishes were found on the notebook at the end of the review, so I would say it held up pretty well.

Conclusion

Pricing in at $2,999, our Gateway P-171XL FX Edition review model is priced towards the middle of the gaming notebook segment, with the Toshiba X205 coming in at $2,000 and the Dell M1730 starting at $3,538 for a system with similar capabilities. For consumers looking at purchasing one of these models, it really comes down to user preference, on what brand they trust the most, and what design you want to carry around to show off at class. The Gateway offers very good hardware and performance for the price, and is a worthy contender against gaming notebooks.

Pros

* Fast all around with a great GPU, CPU, and hard drive combo
* Great color design
* Great Keyboard and Touchpad

Cons

* Flexible plastic around screen and palmrest
* Some software issues relating to power profiles


Continue Read Gateway P-171XL FX Edition

Fujitsu LifeBook P8010

Fujitsu has always been known as the company to go to if you are looking for a ultraportable notebook with excellent build quality and an amazing screen. The P8010 is a continuation of the ultraportable line with the latest Intel offerings and excellent battery life most have come to expect from Fujitsu. In this review we will see how well this new notebook stacks up against the long line of business notebooks before it.

Specifications:

* Intel Core 2 Duo Processor SL7100 LV (1.2GHz, 4MB L2 cache, 800MHz FSB)
* Windows Vista Business
* 12.1" Crystal View Wide XGA display (1280x800)
* Built-in Webcam for Instant Messaging
* Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100
* 2GB DDR2 667MHz SDRAM memory (Dual Channel; 1GB x 2)
* 120GB S-ATA 150, 5400 rpm hard drive
* Multinational2 56K3 V.90 modem and Gigabit Ethernet LAN
* Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN (802.11 a/b/g/draft-N)
* Integrated Bluetooth Wireless
* Dual-Layer Multi-Format DVD Writer
* Embedded TPM and Fingerprint Sensor
* U.S Keyboard (Spill-resistant)
* Main battery: Lithium ion (6-cell,7.2v 8700 mAh, 62Whr)
* AC Adapter: 60w (16v, 3.75A)
* Size: 11.1 x 8.25 x 1.1/1.6
* Weight: 2lbs 14.6oz (3lbs 10.1oz travel weight)
* One-year International Limited Warranty

Build and Design

The Fujitsu P8010 follows the same design elements of many other Fujitsu notebooks, in both paint scheme and overall body shape with older notebooks. From first glance it would be easy to tell that it is a Fujitsu notebook, although its feel doesn't seem up to par with older designs.

The body of the Fujitsu P8010 has a great deal of flex, in the plastic palmrest, keyboard, and alloy bottom cover. The palmrest flexes inward between 3mm and 4mm on each side of the touchpad with moderate fingertip pressure. The keyboard support feels fairly weak, and gives the keyboard some bounce that makes it echo while typing. The bottom cover, while alloy instead of plastic, doesn't provide anywhere near the amount of rigidity you would expect from a business-grade Fujitsu notebook. It really feels as though Fujitsu skimped on many design elements to reduce the amount of material inside the notebook, and thus have a lower weight.

Conclusion

The Fujitsu P8010 is a great performer when it comes to battery life, system performance, and cool temperatures. When you look at the build quality and design, it's a completely different picture, that doesn't stack up against older Fujitsu business notebooks. Body and chassis flex is greater than we would expect from a notebook in this price range. If you can look past the build quality, it is an excellent notebook in terms of its capabilities.

Pros

* Decent system performance from a low voltage processor
* Internal DVD drive
* Operates very cool and quietly

Cons

* Build quality doesn't match the price
* Screen has poor contrast and viewing angles, as well as moderate backlight bleed


Continue Read Fujitsu LifeBook P8010