A notebook with a desktop's face

If your agency is thinking about replacing an aging fleet of desktop computers

with powerful new notebooks, take a serious look at Gateway Inc.'s Solo

9300. The large screen, fast processor and many other features make this

new system capable of anything a desktop PC can do — with the added bonus

of portability.

When we first saw the Solo 9300 notebook, we were almost ready to toss

out our desktop PCs even before turning it on. The screen measures an unbelievable

15.7 inches diagonally — the industry's largest — and the SXGA thin film

transistor LCD display is clear, bright and easy on the eyes. The screen

overhangs the keyboard base slightly on each side when the notebook is closed,

but we didn't find this inconvenient or even very noticeable.

The main tradeoff, of course, for such a large screen is a much larger,

heavier device. It weighs in at 8 pounds, 9.5 ounces with the battery installed

and 9 pounds, 7.5 ounces when the AC adapter is included.

This notebook isn't all just show, however. It packs a 600 MHz Intel

Corp. Pentium III processor with Intel's new SpeedStep technology, designed

to prolong battery life by slowing down processing when using battery power.

Battery life was indeed long: The system ran for 4 hours, 13 minutes

and 38 seconds during our BattMark battery test. It completed 3.62 loops

and earned a very high score of 181.08. (One loop is a fixed set of test

applications the system must run.) For comparison, nine of the 10 366 MHz

notebooks we reviewed last August scored below 150 on the BattMark test.

The Solo 9300 also performed well on Business Applications Performance

Corp.'s SYSmark/98 suite of real-world benchmark tests, earning a score

of 235. It scored 231 for office productivity and 240 for content creation.

Our unit came with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 98 Second Edition, 128M

of memory (expandable to 288M), a 12G hard drive, an LS-120 SuperDisk drive

and a 4X DVD-ROM drive. It features two Type II PC Card slots (each will

accept one Type III PC Card or two Type I PC Cards) and a 3Com Corp. V.90

56K modem. All Gateway business notebooks are available with Windows 2000.

Gateway has loaded the Solo 9300 with very good sound and graphics features.

The system comes with a Dolby Digital/AC-3 output port for devices that

support digital audio, a DVD/MPEG-2 software decoder, an ATI 2X AGP 3D graphics

accelerator with 8M of video memory, Institute of Electrical and Electronics

Engineers 1394 (FireWire) support for digital editing and two composite

video output ports for connecting to a TV or other compatible device.

The Solo 9300 features a host of useful function buttons. Located above

the keyboard are volume and mute buttons and four multifunction buttons.

Three are preprogrammed to access e-mail, the Internet and help, but they

are all user-programmable. Four CD/DVD player control buttons (rewind, play/pause,

stop, forward) are cleverly located on the front panel of the notebook.

This allows users to control a CD or DVD while the lid is closed (convenient

for listening to audio CDs through headphones).

The system has two multibays that Gateway calls option bays. One bay

will support a DVD, CD, CD-Recordable or CD-Rewriteable drive and the other

accepts a floppy drive, LS-120 SuperDisk drive, second hard drive or second

battery. The drive modules and the battery are extremely easy to insert

and remove.

We were impressed with a help feature we hadn't seen on Gateway notebooks

before. A shortcut on the desktop called "Quick Answers for your Solo" led

us to a snazzy, browser-based help module with seven categories: Getting

Started, Connecting, Gateway.net, Mobile Computing, Support Sources, Maintenance

and Fixing, and Personalizing. If you don't find what you're looking for,

you also can perform a keyword search.

Another nice feature is the pair of elevating feet located on the bottom.

Slide them slightly to the side and they pop out, elevating the back of

the notebook about three-quarters of an inch. This tilts the unit at a slight

angle and makes it more comfortable for typing, a small but important concession

for those who use this notebook for more than an occasional e-mail from

the road.

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