Downsizing done right

The word "downsized" most often elicits cringes these days, but spend sometime with Gateway Inc.'s new Solo 3450 ultraportable notebook computer and the word takes on a whole new meaning.

Notable not only for its compact form and snazzy appearance, the Solo 3450 turned in a performance score we'd expect to see from a full-size notebook: 155 on Business Applications Performance Corp.'s SYSmark/2000 suite of real-world benchmarks.

The system is powered by an Intel Corp. 750 MHz Pentium III processor with battery-saving SpeedStep technology and comes with 192M of RAM, expandable to 320M.

Battery life was good for such a small device. The notebook ran for one hour, 55 minutes, 14 seconds, completing 1.37 loops for a score of 75.09 on BAPCO's SYSmark/98 for Battery Life benchmark, about what we'd expect for a system this size.An optional $199 high-capacity battery, which Gateway rates at 3.5 hours, doesn't add much bulk or weight to the unit. We couldn't benchmark the battery because our test ran from a CD-ROM drive, which is only available when the Solo is docked — but it can't be docked with the high-capacity battery installed.

The Solo 3450 is a real eye-catcher with its ultrathin design and silver magnesium alloy case. Even the power brick is stylish, featuring a slim, rounded design with a silver top surface to match the notebook. With the battery installed, the unit weighs a mere 3.5 pounds. The docking station adds 2.2 pounds — even less if you travel without the floppy drive. Such a scenario is possible thanks to the docking station's flexible design. Both the CD-ROM and floppy drive are removable, and both bays accept other devices. The 5.25-inch CD-ROM bay accepts a DVD-ROM or CD-RW, and the 3.5-inch floppy bay accepts an Iomega Corp. Zip drive or a second hard drive.

The docking station features the standard set of ports — PS/2, two USB, 10/100 Ethernet, Kensington Lock — with the notable exception of a serial port. Instead of a built-in port, the system includes a cable adapter that plugs in to the notebook.

The adapter shares the same connector as an Ethernet 10/100 adapter that also comes with the system. These ports come as cable adapters because a built-in set would increase thickness. The obvious downside to this setup, of course, is the potential for losing them.

The Solo 3450 measures a sleek 0.75 inches thick. To maintain the slim profile, the notebook carries a single internal speaker. Stereo speakers, however, are built into the docking station.

The notebook features a built-in V.90 56K Flex modem, a USB port, one Type I or II PC Card slot, a microphone port, a VGA port and a new feature for Gateway: an IEEE 1394 (FireWire) port for video and multimedia displays.

Designed for multimedia use so road warriors can develop and share presentations on the road, the 3450 comes with an S3 Savage IX graphics controller, 8M of display memory and 3-D graphics acceleration. It is Accelerated Graphics Port 2X compliant. The 12.1-inch XGA display is capable of 1,024-by-768 18-bit resolution with 262,000 colors.

Even pointing-stick fans will find it hard to beef about the Solo 3450's touchpad. It allows feather-light pressure and does not accidentally click when a user drags a finger across it, a fault of many other touchpads we've used.

The keyboard is also better than many we have seen on ultralight notebooks. Instead of shrinking oft-used keys such as the Backspace and Shift, Gateway borrowed real estate from the entire top row of function keys (including Escape, Number Lock and Delete) as well as the arrow keys, leaving the rest full-size. The only exception is the Tab key, which is square instead of rectangular, but we had no trouble reaching it easily.

Gateway also doesn't skimp on storage space. The unit comes with a 10G hard drive with an optional 20G drive available. And you can choose from among the Microsoft Corp. Windows 98, 2000 and Me operating systems. Other bundled software includes Intel LANDesk Client Manager 6.0, PhoenixCard Executive Services and a set of Gateway system-recovery CD-ROMs. The bottom line: If you're looking for an ultralight solution to take onthe road, the Solo 3450 is the most attractive system we've seen to date.


Solo 3450

Score: A-

Gateway Inc.
(800) 846-2106

Available on the General Services Administration schedule for $2,264. Add $199 for the optional high-capacity battery.

The Solo 3450 is an eye-catching performer you'll love to take on the road. Designed for multimedia use, the notebook with its docking station packs a full set of features into a reasonably priced system.


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