10 May 2009

Lenovo Ideapad S10e

A well-built netbook from Lenovo that deserves a better battery

While it seems every notebook manufacturer has a netbook or two in their portfolio, a notable absentee has been Lenovo, something that was rectified late last year when the long-awaited Ideapad Sloe appeared. a well-designed nctbook that cries out for a bigger battery.

One look at its design and you can toll who made it — Lenovo could have named it the Thinkpad Mini, which, in some people's eyes is already enough reason to buy one. As well as the familia,- black look the Ideapad is also available in white and red and, despite its plastic construction. the build quality is good enough to survive life on the road.

There are no surprises here: an Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz CPU is coupled with the Intel 945GSI: chipsct tha: provides the integrated GMA950 graphics. Performance is akin to Samsung's NC10 and MSI's Wind; PCmark05 CPU score of 2,395 and a Cinebench single CPU test score of 89 are right in the middle of the standard figures for this type of netbook.

The Ideapad comes with 1GB of PC2-5300 DDR2 memory which is split into two parts; 512MB is soldered to the motherboard while the single Sodimm slot holds a 512MB memory module, so if you want a bit more performance you can replace it with a 1GB module - 1.5GB is the most the motherboard can support. Upgrading the memory - and for that matter replacing the hard drive - is a doddle. as both sit under a door in the underside of the Ideapad.

As standard it comes with a 160G3 5,400rpm Western Digital hard drive with Windows XP Home installed. There is a Suse Linux version available that has an 80GB hard disk (1270).

You also get a four-in-one card reader and a surprise in the form of a 34mm Express card slot which can be used to expand he Ideapad's capabilities with additional USB ports, an eSata card cr, perhaps the most useful option, a mobile broadband modem.

The 10.1in wSVGA LED backlit TrT screen has a 1,024x576 pixel resolution with a matt coating so you can use it comfortably in a well-lit office or outside on a bright day The screen produces images that have sharp colours and good contrast. The top bezel of the screen is home to a 1.3-megap,xel webcarn.

Lenovo is renowned for its notebook keyboards and thankfully the Ideapad follows the family tradition. albeit on a much smaller scale, but even so the build quality of the keyboard is first rate. The keybed has very little, if any, flex to it and, although the keys are very small, the way they have been designed makes the keyboard easy to use even if you have large fingers. The touchpad has been given a slightly textured finish making it easy and comfortable to use.

Apart from the previously mentioned Express Card slot and card reader the rest of the ports are standard netbook fare; two USB2, two audio and a VGA out port. The same rule applies to the communications suite; 802 11 big Wifi, 10/100Mbits/sec Ethernet and Bluetooth 2 CDR.

The only real letdown with the Ideapad, and it's not alone in this, is the short life of the three-cell 2,603rnAH battery. When it was tested in everyday use the battery lasted just one nour, 51 minutes, while in ebook mode it produced a lowly two hours, 43 minutes, and like many of its competitors it could really do with a six-cell battery. Simon Crisp

Personal Computer World April 2009


Toshiba Portêgê A600

A lightweight laptop with a five-hour battery life

Toshiba's latest addition to its popular Portége notebook range is the A600 ultraportable that comes in two models, the 120 and our review sample. the 122. 'I he only difference :s the size of the hard disk: 160GB and 25CG6 respectively.

The silver finish of the A600 is only relieved by the matt black screen frame, chromed mouse buttons and Toshiba logo on the lid. The laptop weighs a mere 1.8kg, including the small power brick, so you can carry it around all day without noticing it But the light weight comes at a cost, as the wrist pad has a degree of flex to it and the lid is pretty thin and fragile

The A600 is powered by one of Intel's low-voltage 5U9300 Core 2 Duo processors, clocked at 1.2GHz and backed by 2GB of 800MHz DDR2 memory. It won't set the world alight with its performance (PCmark05 score of 2,842), but the processor does have a Thermal Design Power (TDP) of just 10W and a large 5.800mAh battery, so the battery life is impressive. It lasted six hours, 17 minutes with the latest version of Mobilerrark 07, tested under normal working conditions and managed seven hours, 18 minutes when used as an ebook.

The 12.1in WXCA screen has a 1,280x800 pixel resolution with LED backlighting. It doesn't have high-gloss coating and the matt finish subdues the colours and contrast a little — but you soon get used to it and it doesn't reflect office lighting.

Although the keybed has a lot of flex, the keys themselves feel good to use, as does the touchpad. A fingerprint reader is also included for added security

One of the three USB ports is a combo eSata/USE and features Sleep-and-Charge which allows any chargeable peripheral to charge when the !aptop is turned off. Simon Crisp

Personal Computer World April 2009


04 May 2009

7 Netbooks That Will Surprise You

More memory, more powerful processors, and larger displays aren't the half of it. Some features manufacturers are adding to netbooks may really surprise you.

By Bill O'Brien
May 4, 2009 04:00 AM

Netbooks are hot. Anyone who tells you they're not hasn't been watching the industry very closely. There are two core reasons behind the sizzle: 1)Netbooks are a new genre and we all like shiny new gadgets, especially ones that are tiny. 2) While we weather the tough economic storm, they're a cheap option as laptop replacements. Well, cheaper, anyway.

No, let's stick with cheap. Let's face it, they're not called, "Everything you always wanted in a portable computer books." netbooks are good for things you'd do on the Internet, and not much more. Miniscule amounts of memory, thimbles for hard disks (by current standards), and processors that chug rather than fly, are the hallmarks of the netbook.

No matter how popular netbooks might seem right now, they'll lose their novelty as the market floods and the economy improves, and their sales will begin to slip.

Enter capitalism: The only way to continue selling into this currently lucrative arena is to distinguish a product from everyone else's by providing more or better of almost any aspect of what makes a netbook a netbook. The type of technological evolution derived from making a buck has always been the driving force behind computing.

What changes might be in store for these huggable luggables? Almost anything is possible: More memory, larger screen sizes, higher capacity hard drives, and faster processors -- you might even begin to wonder when a quad-core CPU will show up in a netbook! (All right, don't spend a lot of time on that one.) But some of the features manufacturers are adding to netbooks really may surprise you.

We've unearthed seven netbooks that, while not quite on steroids, are trying to stick to the spirit of the downsized devices while dialing down the austerity with which they are so closely associated. It's not exactly clear how close the next breed will come to laptopville but one thing is certain: Apple may soon need to stop suggesting that the iPhone and the iPod are adequate substitutes for netbooks.

1. ASUS Eee PC 1004DN

Arguably, ASUS invented the netbook -- at worst, it's done its very best to propagate the species through its ever-expanding line-up of Eee PCs. It's latest is the 1004DN. While this model clearly shows its heritage from earlier Eee PCs, the newest sibling features a biometric fingerprint reader that's part of ASUS Data Security System. Not only can you log on via a fingerprint scan, but you can also set up additional users to have access to your netbook (that is, other than the guy who stole it when you left the little tyke in the cafeteria last week).

But that may not be the big news for you. How about having an internal DVD burner? That's quite a novelty for today's netbook. Yet the 1004DN still weighs in at a tossable 3.2lbs and outlines its space with a 10.9 x 7.6 x 1.1 inch footprint.

A 120GB 1.8-inch hard drive can actually be called "storage." It has enough space to really hold data, not just to provide a transport point for it until you can get home and download it into your "computer." And although the 1004DN still has but a single SODIMM memory socket, at least you can fit it with 2GB of DDR2. That may not do much for Vista but it certainly makes Windows XP a bit more responsive.

The Eee PC 1004DN is slated for release in the very near future (if not already) at a rumored sub-$600 price point. All right, sticker shock for a netbook, yes? That price drops somewhat depending on what options you prefer or where you buy it, but just keep in mind that "extra" always costs more.

2. Dell Inspiron 13

When we started looking at netbooks for this article we were dead set on making sure Dell's Inspiron Mini 12 was included. After all, it has a 12-inch screen -- big by netbook standards.

On the other hand, except for that screen size, the Mini 12 is the same basic (and we do mean basic) netbook configuration as most others, but who really wants to squint if they don't need to. It was an easy choice.

Well, all right, at least it was an easy choice until we got a look at Dell's Inspiron 13. The base Inspiron Mini 12 currently lists on Dell's site for $459. The base Inspiron 13 (no "Mini" designation) is $499. The extra $50 nets you a real CPU, not an Atom, an extra inch of screen real estate, and a 160GB hard drive (100GB more than the Mini 12).

All that for just $50 more? Yes, but you'll need a little something extra. To really put this into the 'extreme netbook' category you'll want to switch from Vista Home Basic (also known as "the you gotta be kidding OS") to Vista Home Premium and double the installed memory to 2GB. That pumps up the price to $579 but guess what? You can't touch that price with the Mini 12 and get within 70% of the performance even if you tried! (Besides, the Mini 12's DVD burner is external -- another piece of hardware to carry around.)

Speaking of carrying things about, the Mini 12 tips the scales somewhere between 2.8 and 3.2 pounds, depending on which battery pack you select. The Inspiron 13 is just a wee bit under 5 pounds so you'll need some curls to strengthen your upper arms. It's more than worth the gym workout.

3. Gigabyte T1028 TouchNote

Gigabyte's T1028 folds like a cheap suit. Before you jump to the wrong conclusion, it's supposed to. That's a good thing. The T1028 has a folding 10-inch touch screen. (The "TouchNote" part of its name should have tipped you off .)

It's still in the 10-inch screen category, but while 1GB of memory is the standard fare, you can push it (and should!) to 2GB if you want to. Better still, you won't find a pathetic little 1.8-inch 80GB hard drive installed. Instead, there's a much less-pathetic 2.5-inch 160GB drive. The T1028 gets an ExpressCard slot, which is only now beginning to appear on a select group of netbooks, but if you take it at face value, Gigabyte's baby is an intriguing hybrid of netbook, Tablet PC, and laptop.

Gigabyte has managed to keep the weight down to 2.9lbs for the 4-cell battery version or a slightly heavier 3.3lbs if you opt for the 6-cell battery pack for extended operating life. (It doesn't have a DVD player so the question would be, "why?")

Of course, all truly rare gems have a curse associated with them. While Gigabyte is bit sketchy about the T1028's price on its website, current rumor puts the European versions at the equivalent of (roughly) $600USD. It's not outrageously beyond the $350 - $400 that more typically reflects netbook pricing, especially when you consider the additional technology used for the swivel touch screen. The T1208 is worth a look, if just for the novelty alone.

4. Lenovo "ThinkPad Netbook"

We're a bit conflicted about Lenovo. Part of the big news is that its S10e now features "Splashtop" technology that gives it about as close to "instant on" as "instant" can be. Lenovo has rebranded the tech that allows it to do that, calling it QuickStart. The problem is, that technology isn't so rare any more. Companies like Xandros (Presto Instant On) and HyperSpace offer similar third-party add-ons.

So that leaves us with the Lenovo "ThinkPad netbook." If that doesn't really sound like a model name to you, you're right. It's the best we can do because no real product has appeared yet, at least not at this is being written. (Supposedly, it's imminent!) How do you describe a netbook that doesn't exist? Carefully.

Don't confuse this one with the soon- to-be-released S20 IdeaPad. That one will reportedly have a 12.1-inch display, use Intel's N280 processor, and have support from the GN40 HD-capable chipset. The S20 will also have QuickStart and possibly be paired with a 3G option.

But back to things that really don't exist!

After researching nearly two-dozen unsubstantiated rumors, it's clear that Lenovo's upscale business netbook will be a ThinkPad and not an IdeaPad. Lenovo wants to capture the business side of the baby laptop market with a netbook form factor and ThinkPad is its recognizable business brand. Speculation persists that it won't use an Atom Processor, opting for a Core or Celeron (ugh!) mobile CPU instead.

The only truly certain thing is that if Lenovo does follow through on the ThinkPad netbook concept, it will be one heck of a netbook and you should probably expect it to have one heck of a price tag, probably in the Sony VAIO P range.

5. MSI U123

This netbook business is as easy as 1-2-3 for MSI, apparently. Perhaps better known for its motherboards, the company has just announced its second line of netbooks, the U123 series. According to MSI, "[the] U123 Series' styling will be different from the round and cute U100," which established its presence in the netbook market. Sure, you could call the U123 color assortment "cute," but MSI has struck at the heart of the netbook genre.

For one thing, while a 10-inch screen and a webcam might be old school, MSI's embedded webcam offers facial recognition so you can store your mug under your User ID and log on securely. As many as ten facial images can be associated with one User ID, so sharing the machine with friends and family is a snap(shot).

Got the urge to watch Dirty Jobs or Bridezillas? It's not a problem. MSI has stuffed a TV tuner into the U123T. And two-channel stereo speakers are also part of the package. The U123H delivers a 3.5G mobile network card so you're connected wherever your carrier might hear you now.

We'll pass on agreeing with MSI that a 160GB hard drive is "massive," but it does beat the previous limits by quite a bit. Best of all, at least for those of us with human-sized hands, MSI pushed the keys apart 17.5mm (or 0.69 inches, in case you have an old ruler). Obviously you can't get a 14-inch keyboard in 10-inch space but this way you won't have to tape your fingers together to type.

If you must know about the standard stuff, the U123 series is powered by an Intel Atom 1.66GHz N280 with 945GSE chipset. There's only 1GB of memory installed -- which isn't very much at all -- and there is a 6-cell battery option should you need to slave away at your U123 for an extended period of time.

Pricing hasn't bee released yet for this 2.2lb handful, but it will probably be a lot less expensive than MSI's X-Slim.

6. Samsung NC20

Put a 12.1-inch screen on a portable computer and right away Samsung thinks it has a puffed up netbook on the shelf. How presumptuous! To say that, it would have to have supplied the NC20 with at least a 120GB hard drive All right, Samsung will tuck in a 160GB drive if you want one, so it has that covered. The NC20 might be something after all.

As you should expect when getting more, the 11.5" x 8.5" x 1.2" NC20 carries a $550 price tag -- which is a bit more than the usual Netbook starter range. At a little over three pounds it's easy on the arms and having a 18.5mm key pitch (the distance, center-to-center, between the keys) should make it easy on the hands as well. Worried about things that can live in the cracks between the keys? Samsung has coated the keyboard with silver ion powder so germs don't have a chance.

Stuffed into the NC20 is a VIA Nano processor and VX800 chipset. By all of the ad hoc testing done in the world of netbooks thus far, it appears that the Nano just might be mightier than the Atom at some things and quite up to par on others. English translation: Most agree that it's just about the same.

We really can't forgive Samsung for only supplying 1GB of memory, especially with the NC20's VIA Chrome9 HC3 DX9 3d Engine graphics processor, which shares system memory. You can get by thanks to the NC20 using Windows XP Home as its operating system. Thankfully, the memory is welded to the motherboard -- there's a SODIMM socket and while you will have to toss the 1GB that's in there now, you can bump it up to a more comfortable 2GB for about $25.

Right now we've only seen the black version but rumor has it that a rainbow of colors are on the way. We'd also prefer an 802.11n wireless LAN setup, but Samsung has saddled the NC20 with slower 802.11b/g. That's not a deal breaker, though.

7. Sony Vaio P
We're making a leap of faith here because Sony doesn't want you to call its Vaio P a "netbook." Sure, it fits the bill: 1.4 lbs. (with the standard battery); 9.65"(W) x 0.78"(H) x 4.72"(D) and an 8-inch LED back-lighted 1600x768 display.Pricing starts at a near stifling $900, so it might be best not to think of it as a netbook technically, but as the specifications indicate, it does pass every other smell test.

The VAIO P will run Windows Vista Home Premium in its 2GB of memory, but Sony has graced the machine with a mere 1.33GHz Intel CPU so it's still not the all-around powerhouse that you would expect a laptop to be. Given its price point already, we'd forge ahead and load it up with the optional 128GB SSD (a 60GB mechanical drive is standard) and the large capacity (8-hours versus 4-hours) battery pack.

It might be difficult to wrap your mind around a netbook priced similarly to your current notebook or even more than that desktop PC you picked up at Costco. Still, you need to maintain perspective. There are folk who are more than willing to shell out $5,000+ on a gaming PC and that makes $900 for a netbook pretty much negligible. If nothing else will ease your mind, just keep repeating, "Sony doesn't want to call the Vaio P a netbook."


02 May 2009

HP Pavilion dv6t (1030us)

by Cisco Cheng

HP is in a perennial fight to be king of the laptop hill, both globally and in the United States. A recent Gartner report showed HP's market share topping Acer's by 2 percent, making it the worldwide leader in laptop sales for the fourth quarter of 2008. Much of that success is driven by its retail partners, which sell HP-branded laptops by the dozen. The HP Pavilion dv6t (1030us) is a media-center laptop fit for a family, a college student, or a novice user who understands the value of a dollar. In addition to having a gorgeous 16-inch widescreen and an abundance of media-centric features, this laptop is available at Staples for $800 ($750 after $50 mail-in rebate). You'll have to uninstall some of that junk software, though, if you want to spend less time watching the rotating hourglass and more time with your digital hobbies.

Though the dv6t is a cheap laptop, it certainly doesn't look like one. The great thing about this line is that from the outside you can't tell a $1,500 Pavilion laptop from a $700 one. The dv6t is covered in a glossy finish, and one of HP's many signature imprints is laminated under the shiny coat. The imprint varies by configuration; this one has a subtle checkered pattern that is repeated in the chrome interior (it's evident on the palm rests). The finish has a tendency to pick up fingerprints and smudges, but the dv6t comes with a little piece of cloth that'll easily wipe them away. In my opinion, it's more attractive than the Gateway MC7803u and the Acer Aspire 6930G. Its 6-pound chassis is not the lightest for a 16-inch laptop—the Lenovo Ideapad Y650 is thinner and weighs a scant 5.5 pounds. Compared with the MC7803u (7.7 pounds) and the 6930G (7.2 pounds), however, the dv6t is a big load off your back.

The 16-inch widescreen is stunning and uses HP's BrightView option (supposedly it's more vivid than a normal display). The 1,366-by-768 resolution, however, is ho-hum for a screen of this size. Screen resolution is often an area vendors skimp on when they're trying to hit prices like the dv6t's. More-expensive 16-inch laptops, like the HP HDX16t and the Dell Studio XPS 16, for instance, have options for 1080p (1,920-by-1,080) resolutions, on top of their richer feature sets. The chrome interior, though sleek, has an unfortunate tendency to reflect light. So even though the typing experience with this keyboard is fabulous, glare is a potential issue when you're working under a fluorescent light. The numeric keypad, unlike the regular one, is cramped, but give HP credit for making this the only 16-inch laptop that includes one. (You'd normally find numeric keypads on 17- or 18-inch media centers.)

You really get your money's worth in features. The dv6t is stockpiled with goodies, including a pair of USB ports on each side. One of them doubles as an eSATA port, so if the included 320GB hard drive isn't spacious enough, you can attach an external one while taking advantage of SATA's blazing throughput speeds. The HDMI port is also handy to have, in case you want to share your photos, videos, and movies on a big-screen LCD TV. These ports aren't unique to the dv6t, though; all the laptops mentioned in this review have both eSATA and HDMI ports. Other features include a 5-in-1 card reader, built-in Wi-Fi (802.11n), and Bluetooth.

I'd recommend that as soon as you turn on the system, you get rid of most of the numerous third-party and HP-branded applications that reside under Programs and Features in the Control Panel. Many of these programs have no purpose and can potentially grind your system to a halt after a couple of months of use. Even booting up the system took noticeably longer than with the MC7803u and the Y650, whose software loads aren't as debilitating. The dv6t comes with a one-year parts-and-labor warranty.
HP Pavilion dv6t (1030us)

Were the dv6t running a fast processor like those in the HP HDX16t and the Dell 16, a bloated software suite wouldn't be an issue. The 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 processor is similar to the ones found in the MC7803u and 6930G and uses previous-generation Intel technology. We know that this laptop can easily perform general-purpose tasks like Web surfing and word processing, but it's also fast enough to handle tasks such as video editing, photo editing, and viewing high-definition video. It all depends on how quickly you want these tasks done. Both the 6930G and the dv6t have very similar video-encoding scores. Because the Lenovo Y650 uses a faster processor (2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400), its video-encoding score was more than 20 percent faster than the dv6t's. Similarly, faster systems—like the Y650, the HDX16t, and the XPS 16—scored 15 to 28 percent better on CineBench R10 than the dv6t.

Graphics performance is also a reflection of the price. This configuration is not a gaming machine. However, HP's Web site has options for powerful ATI graphics cards, provided that you're willing to pay the $150 to $300 premium. A 45-Wh (standard six-cell) battery produced a modest battery score on MobileMark 2007. Its time of 3 hours 3 minutes is nearly identical to that of the Lenovo Y650 (3:05) and a little short of the 6930G's (3:20). Unlike the Acer and Lenovo, several extended battery options are available through HP's Web site.

The HP Pavilion dv6t (1030us) is tailor-made for frugal fashionistas. It's gorgeously designed and packed with features made for digital hobbyists. As for speeding up this machine, the best place to start is by removing software that you don't plan to use. The Acer Aspire 6930G costs more, but it's still my pick because its features and graphics performance are more impressive. The dv6t's price, however, makes at least a hands-on session with the bargain laptop at the store worth your while.


01 May 2009

Acer Aspire 3935-6504

Reasonably priced; one-touch backup button; sturdy design; thin profile

Weak graphics performance; narrow viewing angles; limited I/O ports

Editors' Take
This Aspire is an attractive 13-inch thin-and-light with an equally eye-catching price. It has a bright LED-backlit display, a full-size keyboard, and convenient backup, but its integrated graphics will disappoint the 3D crowd.

Acer Aspire 3935

Key Specs
Processor: 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7350
Memory: 3GB RAM
Storage: 250GB hard drive
Optical Drive: DVD±RW
Screen: 13.3 inches (1,366x768)
Graphics: Integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD
Weight: 4.2 pounds
Dimensions (HWD): 1x12.8x9.3 inches
Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium (32-bit)

Reviewed by: John R. Delaney
Review Date: April 2009
Check out our slideshow for more photos.

The Acer Aspire 3935-6504 represents the latest addition to Acer’s popular Aspire line of laptops. Affordably priced ($899.99) and designed for easy travel, this slender 13-inch system offers a nice selection of user-friendly features, such as a one-touch backup button, a bright display, and a full-size keyboard. It’s missing a few ports found on other 13-inch models, however, and its graphics performance is less than stellar.

The Aspire 3935-6504 uses a super-slim metal chassis with an attractive brushed-metal finish, which Acer describes as golden brown but more closely resembles a dull bronze. The overall build quality is quite good and feels sturdy enough to endure the rigors of road travel, although the seam that runs along the front bezel is a bit too sharp and could use some smoothing. A highly polished Acer badge with raised lettering sits squarely in the middle of the lid. Under the lid is the frameless (edge-to-edge) 13.3-inch LED-backlit display with a 1,366x768 native resolution and a 16-to-9 aspect ratio. The screen is brightly lit and produces excellent color quality when viewing head on, but the colors lose their luster when viewed from the side. That said, the display did a fine job of handling fast-action video; Disney’s Bolt on DVD played smoothly and produced no motion artifacts or ghosting.

The textured keyboard deck matches the lid and contains Acer’s full-size FineTip keyboard, which features large, well-spaced keys and is a pleasure to type on. The touch pad, which looks small compared with the keyboard, is actually a bit wider than the one used on Dell’s Studio XPS 13. It provides smooth cursor movement, and it can be disabled using the amber-backlit button to the right. It also supports gesture control; this function seemed a bit skittish at first, but after a little practice, we were able to zoom in and out of documents and flip through photo albums with a few easy fingertip movements. Unfortunately, Acer does a poor job of documenting how to use the multi-gesture feature, so you’ll have to learn on the fly. There is a little sticker on the touch pad that gets you started.

A fingerprint reader is sandwiched between the left and right mouse buttons and works with Acer’s Bio Protection utility to add an extra measure of security. Above the keyboard is a strip of touch-sensitive buttons that control speaker volume and enable or disable the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios. You’ll also find a handy backup button that launches Acer’s Backup Manager Software, which lets you schedule full or incremental backups and perform a full system restore, including the operating system.

At the very top of the keyboard deck is a pair of high-volume speakers that support Dolby Home Theater signal processing to deliver crisp highs and midtones. (Predictably, though, they lack bass.) In the upper-right-hand corner is a SmartPower button, which automatically puts the system into a power-saving mode; this is really just a quick way to lower screen brightness and dial back the color scheme to Windows Vista Basic. This feature, while handy, would be much more useful if it actually changed the Windows Power Plan. Multimedia and connectivity features are located along the front and side of the system and include a Webcam, a five-format card reader, headphone and microphone jacks, an integrated multiformat DVD drive, Ethernet and VGA jacks, and three USB ports. However, this system lacks some of the I/O options we’re used to seeing, such as HDMI, FireWire, and eSATA ports, and it’s missing an ExpressCard slot, too.
Acer Aspire 3935

The Aspire 3935-6504 uses Intel’s 2GHz Core 2 Duo T7350 processor and comes with 3GB of DDR2 memory and Intel’s GMA 4500MHD integrated graphics solution. Scores of 963 (at 1,024x768 resolution) and 894 (at 1,366x768) on FutureMark’s 3DMark06 3D-graphics benchmark confirmed what we suspected: This is not a game-friendly notebook. If it’s 3D action you’re looking for, check out the Asus N80Vn-A1 or Dell Studio XPS 13, both of which offer dedicated graphics engines.

The Aspire 3935-6504’s PCMark Vantage score of 2,863 is slightly below average for the thin-and-light category but still managed to beat the HP Pavilion dv3z by 341 points. Likewise, its Cinebench 10 score of 4,067 came in just below average. The system needed 4 minutes and 30 seconds to complete our iTunes encoding test and 7 minutes and 37 seconds to finish our Windows Media Encoder test, both of which are right on target for this category. The four-cell battery lasted 2 hours and 21 minutes on our DVD rundown test, which is not terrible but pales in comparison to the lofty 4 hours and 20 minutes provided by the field-leading Lenovo ThinkPad SL300 thin-and-light.

We appreciate the roomy 250GB hard drive, which comes with Windows Vista Home Premium (32-bit) as well as an assortment of applications and utilities, such as Acer’s Arcade Deluxe and Video Conference Manager, NTI Media Maker, and Microsoft Works 9.0. Acer backs the system with a one-year warranty and 24/7 toll-free service.

The Aspire 3935-6504 won’t bowl you over with killer graphics performance, and its battery life certainly could be better. We also wish it offered a few more connectivity options. If you want to do some light gaming with graphics effects dialed back (and want to spend less than $1,000), go with the HP Pavilion dv3z. But if style, portability, and price are your primary concerns, you'll love the Acer Aspire 3935-6504. Those factors, plus its sturdy metal frame, thin profile, and user-friendly features, make it a strong choice.


HP ProBook 4510s

Low price; decent productivity performance; HP ProtectTools security extras; LED-backlit display

Sluggish 3D-graphics performance; no multimedia control keys; narrow viewing angle for DVD video; no fingerprint reader

Editors' Take
The all-new HP ProBook 4510s delivers some surprising features and decent performance for small-business buyers on a budget.

HP ProBook 4510s
Price (at time of review): $749

Key Specs
Processor: 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6570
Memory: 2GB RAM
Storage: 250GB hard drive
Optical Drive: DVD±RW
Screen: 15.6 inches (1,366x768)
Graphics: Integrated Mobile Intel GMA X4500 HD
Weight: 5.7 pounds
Dimensions (HWD): 1.3x14.6x9.8 inches
Operating System: Windows Vista Business

Reviewed by: Jamie Bsales
Review Date: April 2009

The debut of the HP ProBook 4510s marks the beginning of the end for the “Compaq” brand name HP has been using on its business laptops since acquiring the company in 2001. But who are we kidding? The Compaq moniker often connoted bland notebooks that always seemed slightly costlier than they should have been. The ProBook 4510s, on the other hand, looks sharp and delivers some surprising features given its $529 starting price, including a large LED-backlit display and a hard drive with active protection. Our configuration came in at a still-reasonable $749 (which includes an eight-cell battery, a Core 2 Duo CPU, and Bluetooth connectivity—features you don’t get at the starting price). Some extras have been trimmed to achieve the low price point—dedicated multimedia controls and a fingerprint reader come to mind—but there’s nothing missing that you can’t do without.

The ProBook line will deliver what HP calls “business essentials”: what you need to get the job done. It slots below the EliteBook series, which represents the super-sleek cutting edge. A ProBook with an “s” at the end of the model name is designed for small and medium-size businesses (SMBs), as opposed to corporate enterprise buyers. The series includes some impressive standard features, including a 15.6-inch LED-backlit display, active hard drive protection to guard against data loss, a spill-resistant keyboard, HDMI connectivity, and a 2-megapixel Webcam. Just as impressive for a budget platform are the available options, which include a Blu-ray (read-only) drive, discrete graphics, and built-in Gobi wireless broadband.

The 5.7-pound ProBook 4510s won’t win any design awards, but its angular chassis with a lacquered lid (available in black or "merlot") looks sharp; just be prepared for the fingerprint smudges whenever you touch it. The simple-yet-modern design continues under the lid, where flat-top keys pop out of a glossy backdrop. The large 16-to-9-aspect-ratio screen means there’s room for a dedicated number pad, though the main keyboard’s Function, Ctrl, and Alt keys are truncated to fit. The keyboard is plenty roomy otherwise, and the keys have good tactile and audible feedback without being too noisy when you type on them.

One victim of cost cutting is the multimedia control panel we’ve grown accustomed to on HP’s Pavilion line; you’ll have to use the Chiclet-size Function keys to change the volume and software controls to change tracks. The touch pad isn’t as large as we would like, but its low-friction surface makes mousing easy. The somewhat narrow mouse buttons take a little getting used to, though, as you have to press closer to the bottom to register a click.

The 15.6-inch screen (with a 1,366x768 native resolution) is very good but not perfect. We love the size and the LED backlight, which consumes less power and delivers more-saturated colors than the screens found on most budget laptops. Text is crisp, and the panel is plenty bright. You can opt for a glossy finish or the more fluorescent, light-friendly antiglare finish that was on our build. But while the screen's viewing angles looked fine in Windows apps, in DVD playback we noticed that blacks shifted to gray when the screen was viewed off-center, which means you won’t want to use this wide-screen LCD to share movies with a group. Audio quality from the built-in stereo speakers is fine for this class of notebook. Music sounds a bit thin and brassy, but we’ve heard worse from pricier notebooks.
HP ProBook 4510s

The ProBook 4510s includes a fairly standard selection of ports: LAN, VGA, HDMI, four USB, headphone, and microphone. As expected at this price, eSATA and FireWire ports are AWOL, and the modem is hidden behind a rubber covering. HP has included Bluetooth and 802.11a/b/g/n wireless, a flash-memory-card reader, and an expansion slot—but the last is only the narrower ExpressCard/34 variety, which is unusual for a full-size notebook. The ProBook's closest competitor, the Lenovo ThinkPad SL500, manages to include both a FireWire port and a full-size ExpressCard slot. The 2-megapixel Webcam delivers very good low-light performance, with a dark but usable image even when the subject is lit just by the light of the screen.

The security extras you get with the HP ProtectTools suite should certainly appeal to SMB buyers. You can set software-based full drive encryption to protect files, and you can choose to completely wipe files or the entire drive with HP File Sanitizer and HP Disk Sanitizer. Should you forget your system password, HP SpareKey can give you the chance to reset it by answering a couple personal questions; just be sure to set up the utility when you get your machine. There’s an optional privacy filter that slips over the screen, so those next to you on a bus, plane, or train can’t peek at what you're doing, and HP offers the LoJack for Laptops Pro service from CompuTrace. Harried business users may also appreciate the HP QuickLook 2 feature: Just hit the small button next to the power button when the PC is off or in hibernation, and you can access your contacts and calendar without having to boot to Windows.

As for performance, the ProBook 4510s delivers speed appropriate for its price, and it edged out the $748 ThinkPad SL500 on all of our productivity tests. Our unit came with a 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6570 processor, 2GB of RAM, a 250GB 5,400rpm hard drive, and Mobile Intel GMA X4500 HD integrated graphics. It delivered a score of 2,949 on Futuremark’s PCMark Vantage benchmark test, which is very close to the average score for mainstream notebooks we’ve tested and better than the 2,811 we saw from the ThinkPad SL500. The ProBook 4510s also held its own on our encoding tests, completing the Windows Media Encoder 9 trial in a faster-than-average 7 minutes and 31 seconds and our iTunes trial in a slightly slower-than-average 4 minutes and 52 seconds. And just for comparison’s sake, the 4510s’s scores also beat out the $779 Gateway M7818u, as well.
HP ProBook 4510s

As expected, the integrated graphics are enough to handle the Aero effects of Windows Vista Business, but you won’t be playing any intense shoot ’em ups on this laptop. The ProBook 4510s delivered a score of 841 on 3DMark06 (at 1,024x768), which is in line with other low-cost notebooks. To put that in real-world perspective, the machine mustered only 16 frames per second (fps) when playing F.E.A.R. and 6.7fps on Company of Heroes. While the ProBook's graphics scores are a little lower than those of the ThinkPad SL500, neither system can handle modern gaming.

The lower-priced ProBook 4510s models come with a six-cell battery, but our SKU included an eight-cell power pack that delivered exactly 3 hours of runtime on our harsh DVD-rundown test, which should equate to 5 to 6 hours under more judicious use. (Again, compare that with Lenovo’s 2 hours and 12 minutes on the ThinkPad SL500.) Opting for the six-cell battery instead would save you $50, but you'd also forgo the laptop's Bluetooth connectivity; the lesser battery lasted 2 hours and 11 minutes.

HP backs the ProBook 4510s with a one-year warranty with 24/7 phone support. For small-business buyers on a budget, the model represents a compelling value. In our test configuration, you can get better performance and battery life with this system than with the Lenovo ThinkPad SL500. And for just a little more than $500 for the base model, you can still get a big screen and plenty of features.

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Price (at time of review): $749



Asus F50SV-A2

Excellent graphics performance for the price; ExpressGate preboot application; lots of extra features; reasonable price

Limited screen resolution; speakers lack bass; lackluster design; no USB ports on right side

Editors' Take
While the F50SV-A2 lacks some of the sex appeal of other entertainment notebooks, it offers a nice balance of features and performance for the price.

Asus F50Sv-A2

Key Specs
Processor: 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600
Memory: 4GB RAM
Storage: 320GB hard drive
Optical Drive: Blu-ray/multiformat DVD
Screen: 16 inches (1,366x768)
Graphics: Nvidia GT 120M (1GB)
Weight: 6.3 pounds
Dimensions (HWD): 1.6x15x10.4 inches
Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium

Reviewed by: Sarah E. Anderson
Review Date: April 2009

Asus’s latest entertainment notebook is both affordable and effective. It offers everything you’d need for gaming, movie watching, and video editing for a very reasonable price of $1,149. It’s not the fastest performer on the market, but it’s far from slow and delivers enough power to serve your media needs.

The 1.6x15x10.4-inch, 6.3-pound F50SV-A2 won’t turn any heads, but it’s not bad-looking, either. The gray, pin-striped top is conservative-looking, and the pin stripes carry through to the charcoal keyboard deck. Once you open the system, the large 16-inch, 16-to-9 HD display looks gorgeous, though we’re a little disappointed in the limited resolution. The only viable option is 1,366x768; the other three options (1,280x720, 1,024x768, and 800x600) don't match the screen's aspect ratio. For this size of screen, a 1,920x1,080 resolution, like the Dell Studio XPS 16 offers, would be nice.

Just in front of the hinge is a shiny silver strip that looks like jewelry; it actually looks a little out of place, since there’s no other shiny silver on the laptop's case to match it. (Even the mouse button is a dark chrome, for a nickel-plated look.) The silver strip contains four indicator lights (hard drive, Num Lock, Caps Lock, and Scroll Lock) and four shortcut buttons (Media Center, battery-saving mode, Web, and touch-pad enable/disable), plus the power button.

The keyboard is very roomy; in fact, it felt almost too roomy, but we have to think that’s just our imagination. The number pad on the right, however, is tight horizontally, cramping your ability to make fast calculations on it. Also, three of the arrow keys are positioned within the regular keyboard area, with the right arrow wedged into the number-pad region. It’s an odd arrangement and not one that’s easy to locate by touch. The touch pad is comfortable and plenty big in proportion to the 16-inch wide-screen LCD. The single mouse button, however, is a little stiff for our taste.

Above the screen is a 1.3-megapixel Webcam, which handled video chats merely okay. Images were clear and looked decent even in low light, but they froze a few times in our tests, and motion blur was prevalent. As for the screen proper, it kept up with fast action scenes in The Matrix, though the sound was a little thin. Overall, however, we noted good viewing angles and wouldn’t mind watching movies on it.

You’ll find plenty of connectivity options around the chassis, although we were surprised to see a USB port along with power, VGA, and HDMI ports in the back. Those who never plan to use the notebook on the road may appreciate having these ports (and their corresponding cords) placed out of the way, but they’re not so conveniently located otherwise. On the left edge, you’ll find a 54mm ExpressCard slot, audio-in and -out jacks, a Wi-Fi on/off switch, three USB ports, and an Ethernet jack. Oddly, next to the Ethernet jack is a phone jack filled in with rubber, as though Asus put it there and then changed its mind. The four-format memory-card reader is in front, and a Blu-ray drive is all that adorns the right side. We wish Asus had located one of the USB ports on the right edge, which would make attaching a mouse a little easier for right-handed users.

Performance on the F50SV-A2 is right where it should be for its size and price. Its 16-inch screen puts the unit in the mainstream-notebook category, which also comprises 15.4-inch notebooks, many of which are priced below $800. Even so, when compared with the 16-inch Lenovo IdeaPad Y650 (selling for $1,249 at the time this was written), it falls a little short in CPU performance. On our PCMark Vantage test, for example, the 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 processor in the F50SV-A2 managed just 3,090, versus the IdeaPad Y650’s 3,928. The IdeaPad Y650 also edged out the Asus system on our Windows Media Encoder (WME) test with its score of 6 minutes and 6 seconds, beating the Asus by just 30 seconds. (That said, we should mention that both scores are much better than the 7-minute-and-55-second average for this class of laptop.)

Asus managed a strong 3 minutes and 50 seconds on our iTunes encoding test, beating both the category average (by 52 seconds) and the IdeaPad Y650 (by 8 seconds). But the IdeaPad Y650 took the lead again on Cinebench 10, scoring 5,150, nearly 400 points higher than the F50SV-A2’s score of 4,769. The Asus notebook proved itself an able-enough multitasker; our WME test took just 19 seconds longer when we reran it with a virus scan running in the background.

What the F50SV-A2 lacks in processor performance, however, it makes up for in graphics power and battery life. The unit uses Nvidia's GT 120M graphics chipset with 1GB of VRAM. At the time of this writing, this series of laptops was the only one using this chipset, which features Nvidia's CUDA technology, as well as support for DirectX 10 and 1080p video. It pummeled the competition on our 3DMark06 test, with scores of 5,543 (at 1,024x768) and 5,216 (at its native resolution), both nearly double the average score for both its class and the IdeaPad Y650. The Asus laptop managed a decent 45.5 frames per second (fps) on our Company of Heroes gaming test at its native resolution and a highly playable 69.5fps at 1,024x768. Battery life was also impressive, at a solid 3 hours on our demanding DVD-rundown test, beating the average by about 45 minutes and the IdeaPad Y650 by nearly 30 minutes.

We were pleasantly surprised to find an accessories bag included with the laptop, along with a notebook mouse. Asus includes Windows Vista Home Premium on the 7,200rpm 320GB hard drive, along with trial versions of Norton Internet Security and Microsoft Office 2007. Other software came bundled, too: Asus FancyStart, which lets you pick a fun splash screen when you boot up your system; SmartLogon, for facial recognition; Asus’s ExpressGate, which grants you access to e-mail and the like without booting into Windows; and Picasa 2. You get Asus’s standard two-year warranty with this system, covering one year of accidental damage, 30 days of Zero Bright Dot protection (for stuck pixels), two-way standard overnight shipping for repairs, and 24/7 tech support. Few laptops cover broken notebooks as comprehensively.

In an era of stripped-down $800 mainstream notebooks, the $1,149 F50SV-A2 is a pleasant surprise. It doesn’t offer the blazing processor speed you might find in more expensive systems, but its graphics prowess is unique for both the category and the price. It’s plenty capable for everyday computing and multitasking activities; plus, you can play real games on it and even perform some mild video editing. We’re thrilled with its battery life, feature set, and overall value. Our biggest complaint would be the lack of suitable screen-resolution choices, but we wouldn’t consider that a deal-breaker. If you’re in the market for an entertainment notebook on a budget, the Asus F50SV-A2 should be on your short list.
Price (at time of review): $1,149



HP ProBook 4510s

by Cisco Cheng

With the enterprise EliteBooks and the small-business Compaqs commanding HP's business laptop line, you'd think two brands would be enough to hold down the fort. HP, however, is out to prove that its new ProBooks will be a worthy third segment to what already seems like a crowded family. The HP ProBook 4510s ($700 direct) is one of three desktop replacements in this new line, which should give IT managers some fashionable yet affordable solutions to choose from. The 15.6-inch (16:9 aspect ratio) widescreen, glossy finish, and new-look keyboard are what you'd find on a consumer laptop or one geared toward style-minded businesses.

If the EliteBooks are enterprise products and the Compaqs small business, where exactly do the ProBooks fit in? The short answer is both. The ProBooks will be divided into a business class, denoted by a "b" at the end of the model number (due out later this year), and a standard class, represented by an "s." The "b" models will be accompanied by docking solutions, three extended-battery options, and a fingerprint reader, for instance. The "s" models, such as the 4510s we review here, cannot be configured with these accessories and are aimed at small businesses that are short on or entirely lacking in IT staff. Security software is really the only way to tell that this is a business laptop. Otherwise, everything else reminds me of a consumer model.

The black, glossy top is very similar to the one on the Dell Vostro 1310 and picks up just as many smudges and fingerprints. The tendency to attract smudges also extends into the palm rest area, the touchpad, and the mouse buttons. A better-looking, more smudge-resistant Merlot (dark red) version will be available at a later date, though. The frame is boxy looking, not as curvaceous as the HP Pavilion dv6t (1030us) or the Gateway MD7801u—both consumer laptops in the same price range as the 4510s. At 5.5 pounds, the 4510s is significantly lighter than both the Lenovo ThinkPad SL400 (6 pounds) and Samsung P560-54G (5.9 pounds). Its light weight, alas, also makes the laptop feel as cheap as its price—you can hear the plastics vibrate and sense the hollowness of the frame when tapping on the palm rest area, speakers, and lid. Fortunately, these design foibles are this laptop's only real flaws.

The 15.6-inch LED display looks extraordinarily wide, owing to its 16:9 aspect ratio, a format that adds more screen real estate to the sides and less to the top and bottom. These new screens conform to film-industry standards and have been associated mostly with mainstream, consumer notebooks. The screen is bright and very usable in a work environment, though the 1,366-by-768 resolution is as high as it gets in this price range. The chiclet keyboard, with its non-interconnecting keys like those of the Apple Macbook Pro 15-inch (Dual Graphics) and the Acer Aspire 3935, is a huge departure from HP business laptops. I enjoyed typing on these keys, but others might not feel the same. The best way to find out is to walk into an Apple store (since the ProBooks are available online only, for now) and draw your own conclusions. Adjacent to the keyboard is a numeric keypad, which number crunchers will like.

For $700, the 4510s is very generous in features. It comes with four USB ports, a dual-layer DVD burner, a 5-in-1 card reader, and a 2-megapixel webcam. The included HDMI port is a consumer feature that can be found in the HP dv6t and the Gateway MD7801u as well. This configuration comes with a 250GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive, which is plenty for the average small-business user. Wireless devices include both 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; mobile broadband or a 3G modem powered by Qualcomm's Gobi wireless is available as an option. Next to the power button is a neat little button that launches HP's QuickLook 2, a quick-boot application that lets you peek at your e-mails and contacts without booting into the operating system. It works only with the system coming out of hibernation or shut-down mode, not standby.

The included security software is what differentiates the ProBooks from consumer machines like the Gateway MD7801u and HP dv6t. The system comes with HP Protect Tools, which includes a credentials manager that stores your log-on information. It also features software-based encryption that makes the content of your hard drive unreadable to outside intruders. HP Spare Key is a neat utility that can retrieve your passwords should you forget them, after you correctly answer three personal questions that you pick from a list when you set up the utility.
HP ProBook 4510s

Parts are what you'd expect from a $700 configuration: The 2.1-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6750 processor is very similar to the budget one found in the MD7801u, except it's more current and slightly faster, at least on paper. This configuration comes with only 2GB of memory but can be expanded to 4GB. And though integrated graphics is your only option for now, the 4510s will be available with the ATI Mobility Radeon 4330 discrete graphics card at a later date. On our video-encoding and Photoshop CS4 tests, the Gateway MD7801u and the 4510s were neck and neck. Thanks to its 4GB memory configuration, the MD7801u scored 4,498 on CineBench R10—about 7 percent higher than the 4510s's result. Enterprise laptops like the Lenovo ThinkPad T400 and HP EliteBook 6930p are much better performers, but you also pay a lot more for them. Overall, the 4510s's performance scores were very acceptable for the price.

More impressive is the 4510s's battery life: Its 47-Wh (six-cell) battery produced 4 hours 36 minutes on the MobileMark 2007 battery test. The Lenovo SL400 uses a much bigger battery (84-Wh) but outscored the 4510s by only 2 minutes. In addition, the 4510s easily beat the Samsung P560-54G (2:40) and the Toshiba Tecra R10-S4401 (3:20) on the same test. The 4510s is also available with an eight-cell battery, which scored 6:16 and comes highly recommended, since it doesn't protrude from the back or the bottom but rather fits flush with the frame.

Finally, the 4510s receives PCMag.com's GreenTech seal of approval. Its LED display is mercury-free and one reason why it received EPEAT's highest honor—Gold. (EPEAT is a certification process that measures energy efficiency and recyclability.) The 4510s is also Energy Star compliant and RoHS certified. Of course, we can't just take HP's word for it: We ran our own energy consumption tests using a P3 International Kill-A-Watt meter and found that the 4510s consumed 14 watts of energy in idle mode, just meeting Energy Star's requirements. When in sleep and shut-down states, it consumed zero watts—very impressive, overall.

Aside from some sloppy design details, the HP ProBook 4510s can be a tremendous asset to a small business, mainly because of its price. Its feature set and performance scores guarantee that it won't be a relic in three or four years, and battery life is remarkable for both the six- and eight-cell batteries. The more expensive Lenovo ThinkPad T400 is sturdier and performs better, but if you need a faster processor or a better graphics card, the ProBooks, including the 4510s, are highly configurable as well.