Notebook PCs deliver power on the go

Computer file

May 06, 1991|By Lawrence J. Magid | Lawrence J. Magid,1991 Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053

IBM, AT&T and Toshiba have recently introduced high-end notebook PCs that deliver desktop computing power on the go. All three are easy to carry, but at $5,000 and up, they're heavy on the budget.

All are equipped with the Intel 386SX central processing unit (CPU) -- a slightly slower version of Intel's mainstream 386 CPU. They can run virtually any IBM-compatible software including Microsoft Windows, OS/2 and the most demanding desktop publishing, graphic and computer-aided design programs.

All three have a VGA liquid crystal display screen as well as a plug to connect a standard color or monochrome VGA monitor. They all have a 1.44-megabyte floppy disk drive and a parallel and serial port. The IBM and AT&T machines have mouse ports.

After working with all three machines, I'm most impressed with the AT&T Safari. You get more for your money. It's the only machine to come with a mouse, a modem (2,400 baud), Microsoft Windows, two batteries and easy-to-use on-screen tutorials that familiarize you with the machine and Windows.

Windows comes with rudimentary word processing, communications, calendar and address book programs. There is also a program to link you with AT&T electronic mail service. I find the AT&T screen easier to read and prefer its overall design.

The AT&T has a suggested retail price of $5,399 and comes with 2 megabytes of RAM (expandable to 6) and a 40-megabyte hard disk. It weighs 7.3 pounds with both its batteries or 6.5 pounds with a single battery. Each battery is rated for 3 hours.

Toshiba's entry, the T2000SX, comes with one megabyte of RAM, expandable to 9 megabytes. A model with a 20-megabyte hard disk sells for $4,999. The 40-megabyte version costs $5,499. It weighs 6.9 pounds with its one 3-hour battery. Toshiba is the first to use nickel hydride batteries, which are easier to manage than the nickel cadmium (NiCad) batteries used on the other machines. NiCad batteries must be fully discharged about once a month or they tend to loose their ability to hold a charge, resulting in shorter battery life. The Toshiba comes with DOS 4.01. An internal data or a data/fax modem is optional.

IBM's first notebook PC, the Personal System/2 L40, has a suggested retail price of $5,999. It comes with 2 megabytes of RAM (expandable to 18) and a 60-megabyte hard disk. It weighs 7.7 pounds with its 3-hour battery. The machine is a little wider and heavier than the others so that it can accommodate IBM's no-compromise keyboard. Although it has only 84 keys, it has the same spacing and layout as IBM's standard 101-key desktop keyboard. An external 17-key numeric key pad is provided for users accustomed to calculator-style number keys. It doesn't come with a mouse, but there is a PS/2 mouse port. It doesn't come with any software or operating system; users must purchase the MS-DOS or OS/2 operating system before they can use the machine. An internal data/fax modem is available.

The IBM and AT&T run at 20 megahertz. The Toshiba runs a little slower at 16 MHz. The speed difference shows up on benchmark tests but has only a small impact on most software.

LCD screens, in general, are difficult to use with a mouse because it's hard to see the cursor as it moves across the screen. AT&T has minimized the problem with a brighter screen and a modified version of Windows with an extra-large cursor. Of all the notebook PCs I've reviewed, the AT&T is the best for running Microsoft Windows.

Admittedly, these machines are very expensive. You can save a great deal of money by getting a less-powerful notebook or laptop machine or forgoing the portability and sticking with a desktop system. But you might be able to justify the cost of one of these machines if you use it at the office, at home and on the road. It will be cheaper than buying three separate machines, and you'll have the added advantage of having all your software and data with you at all times.

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