Notebook Class of '99 Earns High Honors

You couldn't ask for much more from the notebook computer industry. Since the Test Center's annual notebook roundup last fall, vendors have improved nearly every aspect of their systems, from processor speeds and hard drive capacity to system weight and battery life-all while dropping the average price by about $900.

The nine vendors that submitted notebooks for this year's review were Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Gateway Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Keydata International Inc., MetroBook Computer Corp., Micron Electronics Inc., NEC Computer Systems Division and Panasonic Personal Computer Co.

Last year's notebooks contained Intel Corp. Pentium II processors that clocked in at 233 MHz and 266 MHz and cost an average of $3,722 [Government Best Buys, Aug. 3, 1998]. This year's crop offers 366 MHz Pentium II-based machines that cost an average of $2,764.

Hard drives are larger, and designs are sleeker and lighter even though screens are bigger. All the systems feature 14.1-inch screens except the Dell, the Gateway and the Panasonic, which have 13.3-inch screens. With all components included, most of the systems weigh between seven and nine pounds. We also saw the longest-ever notebook battery life recorded in the Test Center lab: nearly five and a half hours, set by Gateway's Solo 2500, the winner of our Best Buy Award.

Some of the notebooks contain built-in floppy and CD-ROM drives, and some have multibay capabilities that enable them to accept either or both of those drives as well as such modules as a second battery, a second hard drive or a DVD-ROM drive. Multibay capabilities vary, so check before you buy.

Most of the systems feature touchpads, but two include both a touchpad and a trackpoint. Some modems are internal, freeing both PC Card slots; some are external, in the form of PC Cards; and some vendors didn't include modems. All included modems are of the 56 kilobits/sec variety. Some of the systems offer full docking capabilities, while others feature only port replication capabilities.

The bottom line is that all these notebooks are good. We adjusted the scoring this year to reflect the more advanced technology and improved designs. Despite the raised bar, all the systems scored above a 7.0, qualifying them as recommended systems. Three systems scored above 8.0, setting them off as the best of the best: Gateway's Solo 2500, NEC's Versa LX and Compaq's Armada 1750. For complete results, go to www.civic.com.

- Testing by Pat McClung

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