Two notebooks for the road

MPC Computers and Toshiba trim down

Small is beautiful. OK, not in every case. But certainly when it comes to notebook computers. The smaller and lighter we can get them -- without sacrificing features and performance -- the better.

Two new notebook models, one from MPC Computers and another from Toshiba America Information Systems, take decidedly different approaches to trimming down. That's good because not everybody would choose the same trade-offs to lose the weight.

Both models we tested use Intel's Pentium M processor, come with Microsoft Windows XP Professional, offer built-in wireless capabilities and have 12.1-inch thin-film transistor LCD displays. That's about the limit of their common ground, though.

MPC has put a priority on packing in features while keeping the price low on its TransPort U1000. The unit we tested, with a 1.8 GHz processor, 760M of system memory and a CD/DVD rewritable drive in the bay, still costs less than $2,000. And that's with a generous bundle of applications, including Microsoft Office Small Business Edition, InterVideo's WinDVD program for playing DVDs, movie editing software from Pinnacle Systems and Nero Express' CD/DVD-burning software.

The U1000's expandability is decent. You can select a processor as fast as 2.1 GHz, and you can expand system memory to as much as 1.2G. Although the 40G, 5,400 rpm hard drive in our test unit is a tad pedestrian, you could move up to 60G, 80G or 100G. The 60G drive is also available in a 7,200 rpm version.

We were also surprised to find a FireWire port and three USB 2.0 ports in addition to the expected telephone and Ethernet ports. We also liked the 4-in-1 media reader, which can handle Memory Stick Pro, Memory Stick Duo, Secure Digital and MultiMedia cards. That reader is standard issue on the TransPort U1000.

To pack all those goodies into an inexpensive unit that weighs less than 4 pounds -- 3.5 pounds to be exact for our configuration -- is quite an achievement.

The product has a few limitations, of course. First, the U1000's screen isn't quite as bright as others'. And although the keyboard has a nice feel, the touchpad seems sluggish. We also found the function key markings to be difficult to make out. Apart from a Kensington lock slot, the computer has no security measures.

Finally, the U1000's appearance won't have many people oohing and aahing. The trim brushed metal case is decidedly Spartan.

Toshiba took a different tack in designing the Portégé R200.

First of all, it is designed for extreme portability: The unit we tested weighed only 2.75 pounds and was only 0.75 inches thick. In short, you'll have no problem sliding this sucker into your briefcase.

And the R200's styling will elicit a lot of oohs and aahs. With its brushed silver case with chrome around the touchpad and matte black display frame, it's DeLorean all the way.

Apart from its style and portability, the R200 will be attractive to agency and department users because of its arsenal of security and diagnostic tools.

Where should we begin? How about with the unit's fingerprint scanner? We found enrolling fingerprints easy, effective and, of course, a good deal more secure than the passwords most of us use to protect our computers.

But that's only the beginning. The R200 features a multiple-level password system that you can configure to offer different users access to selected resources on the computer. In addition, the R200 contains an embedded security chipset that is Trusted Computer Group-compliant and can be configured to automatically encrypt data, passwords and user credentials. Administrators can also choose to bypass passwords and use Secure Digital token cards for access to the R200 and its resources.

The computer even has a customizable Device Lock utility that restricts who can copy files and prevents unwanted users from booting your system with a secondary hard disk drive.

Finally, a utility that secures the drive when it senses an unusual level of vibration or shock protects the hard drive from accidental damage.

The R200 falls a bit short on expandability. You can increase system memory to as much as 1.2G, and extended-life batteries are available. But the fastest processor is the 1.2 GHz Pentium M, and you can't opt for a larger or faster hard drive than the 4,800 rpm 60G drive that comes standard.

As expected, the R200 offers two USB 2.0 ports, a modem port, an Ethernet port, a Type II card slot and a Secure Digital slot.

The bottom line: We'd like to see a few more options for popping in a higher performance hard drive and selecting a faster processor. But if we could only choose one notebook to use -- and if security is important -- the Portégé R200 is a strong choice.

TransPort U1000

MPC Computers

Civilian agencies: (888) 742-4344

Defense agencies: (888) 742-4342

Features: ***

Usability/design: ***

Performance: ***

Expandability: ***

Security: none

Price: ****

Price: The notebook PC costs $1,934.40 on the General Services Administration schedule. With Federal Microsoft Office 2003, the cost is $2,225.71.

Pros: The TransPort U1000 is slim and light. It includes an optical drive bay, 4-in-1 media reader, Microsoft Office Small Business Edition and system memory expandable to 1.2G.

Cons: It has virtually no security features, limited diagnostics and utilities, and a touchpad that is not very sensitive.

Portégé R200

Toshiba America Information Systems

(800) 477-1616

Features: ****

Usability/design: ****

Performance: ***

Expandability: **

Security: ****

Price: ***

Price: The online price of the configuration we tested is $2,099.

Pros: The Portégé R200 has a sleek design, with strong security and diagnostic features and a fingerprint scanner.

Cons: It doesn't have a built-in optical drive. Also, the 60G hard drive is only 4,800 rpm; larger and faster drives are not available.


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