The notebook computer category dominated the Comdex fall computer exposition last week in Las Vegas, but it was difficult to find many significant variations among the dozens of slim, portable models that were shown.
One that stood out from the crowd, however, was the AST Premium Exec from AST Research Inc. of Irvine, Calif.
The Premium Exec 286/12, which will have a base list price of $2,495 when it reaches stores in late December or January, is a 6.5-pound, IBM-compatible system built around a 12-megahertz 286-class microprocessor.
The Premium Exec 386SX/20, which starts at $2,995, uses the more powerful Intel 386SX chip, running at 20 megahertz.
The price of the 386SX model is especially impressive in view of the prices of comparable notebooks. Directly across the aisle from the AST booth, for example, was a heavier Samsung notebook that used a slower processor and cost $1,500 more than the AST model. Seven aisles away was Compaq's LTE 386s/20, heavier still and twice the price of the AST models.
To underscore the aggressiveness of AST's pricing, the company's president, Safi U. Qureshey, noted that one could buy two computers, the Premium Exec 386SX/20 notebook and the new AST Bravo 486/25 desktop computer, for about the same price as one of Compaq's notebooks.
Both models of the AST Premium Exec notebooks are equipped with a bright, VGA-quality display; a keyboard that is nicer than most in the notebook category; a 3.5-inch diskette drive, and a 20-megabyte hard disk drive.
The 286/12 model comes with one megabyte of system memory, and the 386SX/20 comes with 2 megabytes. Swapping a 40-megabyte hard disk for the standard 20-megabyte unit raises the cost of the 286 and 386SX models to $2,895 and $3,395, respectively.
One of the nicest things about the Premium Exec line is that the junior executive model can be upgraded to the senior executive level by replacing the processor board, a $500 option, and adding a megabyte of memory, which is $169 extra.
The cost to convert the 286/12 to the 386SX/20, then, is only slightly higher than the original price difference between the models.
Another advantage that the Premium Exec has over some of its rivals is the inclusion of VGA monitor and keyboard ports. The ports allow the user to attach the notebook to a full-size color desktop monitor and a full-size keyboard, creating what an AST official called "the world's smallest desktop 386SX." Then, when the user needs to go on the road, the auxiliary monitor and key board are simply disconnected.
AST Research can be reached at (714) 727-4141.
The Compaq LTE 386s/20 has one big advantage over the AST and most of the other notebooks, however: it is available now. With few exceptions, the others have not yet received approval from the Federal Communications Commission. (AST Research has its own FCC-approved testing laboratory, company officials say, adding that based on preliminary tests, they are confident that FCC approval is easily attainable.)
The FCC is the government agency responsible for making sure that computers and other electronic devices do not emit electronic signals that can interfere with other electronic devices.
There is no evidence that radio frequency emissions of the strength associated with personal computers are biologically harmful to humans. In most cases, the interference is merely annoying, causing a nearby television set to go haywire or garbling a radio reception.
In other cases, however, the emissions are potentially dangerous. Uncertified computers, including electronic cash registers and video arcade games, have interfered with police and FBI communications systems and with airport traffic control systems.