Omnibook 500: Portable power

Every now and then a product comes along that we simply must have for ourselves. Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Omnibook 500 is one such device. We can highly recommend it to anyone who uses a laptop, but especially to those who are tired of lugging around a standard-sized notebook computer.

The first thing we noticed about the Omnibook 500 when we cracked open the box was how slender and light the unit is. Weighing just 3.4 pounds in its lightest configuration and 5.4 pounds in its docking station, the Omnibook 500 can be slipped into a briefcase, and you might not even notice the extra weight.

Despite its diminutive size and weight, we were impressed both with the unit's display and its keyboard. The Omnibook 500's 12.1-inch active-matrix display is extremely clear and capable of displaying at 1,024-By-768 resolution in up to 16 million colors. Our unit came with an ATI Mobility M1 graphics accelerator with 8M of display memory.

The keyboard offers a rubberized texture and a nice touch. We found it easy to use, even for those of us with relatively large hands. The pointing device is a post that sticks out of the middle of the keyboard. Selections are made with the three-button array that is located just below the space bar. You'll probably want to connect a mouse to the unit when it's in the docking station, but we found the built-in pointing system fine for on-the-road use.

The Omnibook 500 currently ships with one of two Intel Corp. processors — either a 600 MHz Pentium III or a 500 MHz Celeron processor. Interestingly, although we tested the 600 MHz Pentium III version, HP's own diagnostic tool misidentified the processor as an Intel P6 700 MHz processor. Either way, the Omnibook 500 is a speedy performer.

The unit turned in an overall score of 137 on Business Applications Performance Corp.'s Sysmark 2000 suite of real-world benchmarks, which places it among the fleetest of laptops we've tested. And HP will soon offer Omnibook 500s equipped with Pentium III 750 MHz and Celeron 600 MHz processors.

The rechargeable lithium battery is rated to provide up to three hours of operation on a single charge, which reflects our experience. Battery life is extended by HP's efficient suspend/resume power- saving scheme. It takes only about two hours to recharge the battery with the computer in fast-charge mode.

Of course, the Omnibook 500 achieves its lightweight portability by discarding some things you may not want to do without. The basic unit doesn't include a floppy-disk drive or a CD-ROM drive, although you can connect those as external devices. Even more convenient, you can purchase the $245 docking station, which includes two swappable bays that can accommodate drives for a floppy disk, an Iomega Corp. Zip disk, a CD-ROM, a CD-RW or a DVD. What separates the Omnibook 500's docking station from the others is that the unit can also accommodate either a second battery or an external hard drive of up to 20G in capacity in its drive bays.

You'll also find the usual array of input-output ports on the back of the docking bay: serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, Ethernet, S-video and two USB ports.

The Omnibook 500 is also up to most presentation tasks, thanks to Sensaura 3-D sound technology and a number of dedicated controls, including audio-mute and volume controls and a programmable Presentation button that lets you, for example, launch a presentation with a single push of the button.

The unit is not only slim and trim — it's also attractive. The case is a combination of a light gray metallic matte finish with a darker gray rubberized surface. Make no mistake — the Omnibook 500 is not a ruggedized notebook, but it is attractive and solidly built.

The only significant drawback we found with the Omnibook 500 is the fact that HP backs it with only a one-year warranty. We'd like a little more assurance than that for such an investment. Buyers who are looking for bundled software should take note that the Omnibook 500 comes with none beyond your choice of the Microsoft Corp. Windows 98 or 2000 operating systems.


HP Omnibook 500

Score: A

Hewlett-Packard Co.
(800) 752-0900

Price and availability: The Omnibook 500 is available on the General Services Administration schedule. The unit we tested carries a list price of $2,544, including the docking station.

Remarks: The Omnibook 500 packs a lot of power into a surprisingly light and slender unit that's a joy to take on the road. Pop the Omnibook into its docking station when you return to your desk, and you'll have immediate access to your network, floppy drive and CD-ROM drive.


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