Mobile warriors: Seven high-end notebooks tested

We test seven of the most outstanding, envy-inducing notebooks.



In the past we have tested desktop replacement notebooks, and notebooks designed for mobile workers. This time we just wanted to test the best of the best. We invited vendors to submit their most outstanding, envy-inducing products.


Contents
Apple PowerBook G4
Acer TravelMate 3200
Sony VAIO VGN-A29GP
AOpen OpenBook 1557
Fujitsu S-Series Lifebook
IBM ThinkPad T42
HP Compaq nc8000
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

In this feature we look at some of the coolest notebooks on the market. In other words, notebooks that your friends will be envious of.

These notebooks don't make up the larger part of the market mainly because they are very expensive and most people can do without a lot of the fancy features.

We tested some impressive LCD screen sizes, features such as integrated DVD burners and very quick processors translating to what users demand from the modern PC system.

We didn't want to end just there. We wanted to have a look at notebooks that take advantage of the latest technology such as wireless, biometrics, and whatever else makes life easier. We received submissions from Apple, Acer, AOpen, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, and Sony.


Contents
Introduction
Apple PowerBook G4
Acer TravelMate 3200
Sony VAIO VGN-A29GP
AOpen OpenBook 1557
Fujitsu S-Series Lifebook
IBM ThinkPad T42
HP Compaq nc8000
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Apple PowerBook G4

The Apple PowerBook G4 has had a few upgrades since the last PowerBook we tested a few months earlier. Yes, it has a faster processor but the standout feature has to be the 17in display that gives you the same viewing area as a 19in CRT. FireWire 800 is also new. The PowerBook still only weighs 3.1kg which is quite remarkable considering this notebook's overall size.

The PowerBook exterior is all grey-silver. It looks reserved but modern and stylish at the same time. The PowerBook also features a huge 80GB hard disk, 512MB of RAM, which can be expanded to 2GB, and a 64MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics accelerator and comes with a one-inch thick slot-loading Super Drive (DVD-R/CD-RW).

As far as connectors go it has pretty much everything. You will find a DVI port -- which is a rarity except on Apple notebooks -- as well as FireWire 400 and 800, S-Video, and two USB ports. For connecting devices take your pick from Gigabit Ethernet, Modem, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. The Powerbook was shipped with Mac OS X v10.3 Panther which ran very smoothly on this notebook.

Unfortunately we didn't benchmark the PowerBook simply because there aren't any decent cross-platform benchmarks. We have used Photoshop in the past but it only really measures the relative CPU performance in that program. Apple notebooks tend to perform much better than Wintel notebooks in this test, but then it's only one test.

If you want the results of the real test -- the envy factor -- of all the notebooks we tested this is the only one people at the Labs were fighting over. It's the Rolls Royce of notebooks, and if it gets a G5 processor there will be no catching it.

Product Apple PowerBook G4
Price AU$4499
Vendor Apple
Phone 133 622
Web www.apple.com.au
 
Interoperability
½
This is one notebook which almost has the lot.
Futureproofing
Huge screen, huge HDD.
ROI
½
A little pricey. Build quality can be classed second-to-none.
Service
1-year RTB.
Rating
½
Apple PowerBook G4


Contents
Introduction
Apple PowerBook G4
Acer TravelMate 3200
Sony VAIO VGN-A29GP
AOpen OpenBook 1557
Fujitsu S-Series Lifebook
IBM ThinkPad T42
HP Compaq nc8000
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Acer TravelMate 3200

The Acer TravelMate 3200 is marketed as an all-rounder, combining performance, mobility, and value. It is one of the smaller notebooks submitted, mainly because of the 14.1in screen it uses. We found this notebook quite plain which is a contrast from what they usually send in for testing. Acer notebooks tend to be the most stylish and modern looking of the pack.

Underneath the bonnet is an Intel Pentium 1.6GHz M processor with 512MB of RAM and a 60GB HDD. It also uses an ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics accelerator, which seems to be the most popular graphics chip right now.

The notebook combines a DVD multi recorder that can burn DVDs and CD-RWs.

In terms of ports this notebook has a quite a good mix. It doesn't have S-Video but it does have FireWire and a 3-in-1 card reader that accepts MS, MMC, and SD cards. Gigabit LAN, modem, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth are also standard.

The Acer has front firing speakers, which we're not big fans of as you tend to lose quite a bit of sound quality when you're typing and listening to music at the same time.

The Acer is one of the fastest notebooks tested. It ran all the tests at 1024 x 768 (its native mode) which would have given it a slight advantage. All the other notebooks ran our tests at higher resolutions as their native modes happened to be higher.

Product Acer TravelMate 3200
Price AU$3699
Vendor Acer
Phone 1300 366 567
Web www.acer.com.au
 
Interoperability
Excellent feature set, multi-format memory card reader is a plus.
Futureproofing
½
Small screen, bit low on HDD space.
ROI
Reasonably priced for features. Performance is excellent.
Service
½
1-year RTB + 2 hour commitment warranty express service + 1-year international traveller’s warranty.
Rating
Acer TravelMate 3200


Contents
Introduction
Apple PowerBook G4
Acer TravelMate 3200
Sony VAIO VGN-A29GP
AOpen OpenBook 1557
Fujitsu S-Series Lifebook
IBM ThinkPad T42
HP Compaq nc8000
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Sony VAIO VGN-A29GP

The Sony VAIO is one of the larger notebooks we tested -- but it isn't quite as big as the Apple but it weighs slightly more. The Sony is equipped with an Intel Pentium 1.6GHz M processor with 512MB of RAM and a 60GB HDD. Also installed is a double-layer multi-format DVD burner -- Sony is the only vendor to supply a double-layer burner. Graphics is handled by ATI again, the same as almost everyone in this review.

The Sony comes with standard input and output connectors with the exception of a Sony Memory Stick slot. Only Fast Ethernet no Gigabit, modem and Wi-Fi makes up the communications ports.

It has a good-sized keypad with no tiny function keys, and a 15.4in widescreen LCD. Sony places an additional surface over the LCD to give it a glass finish which also makes the colours stand out a lot more, the only drawback of this is the reflection that appears on the screen.

In terms of performance, the Sony is one of the slowest notebooks we tested. The only area where it performs well is with battery life, where it manages to record a good time of three hours and 48 minutes.

Product Sony VAIO VGN-A29GP
Price AU$3499
Vendor Sony
Phone 1300 720 071
Web www.sony.com.au
 
Interoperability
½
Good feature set, dual layer DVD burner is a plus.
Futureproofing
½
Good HD capacity, wide screen, no Gigabit LAN.
ROI
½
Well priced for features. Performance is a bit low.
Service
1-year.
Rating
½
Sony VAIO VGN-A29GP


Contents
Introduction
Apple PowerBook G4
Acer TravelMate 3200
Sony VAIO VGN-A29GP
AOpen OpenBook 1557
Fujitsu S-Series Lifebook
IBM ThinkPad T42
HP Compaq nc8000
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

AOpen OpenBook 1557

The AOpen OpenBook is a reasonably inexpensive notebook with decent competitive performance figures and good battery life.

Inside the OpenBook you will find an Intel Pentium 1.8GHz M processor which is the fastest mobile processor submitted. It also has 512MB of RAM which can be increased to 2GB, ATI graphics, and a 60GB HDD make up the engine room.

The OpenBook has a good collection of input/output connectors including FireWire, SPDIF, and a 3-in-1 memory card reader. It even has a parallel port -- the only notebook to do so. It also has Wi-Fi, 100M LAN, and modem.

The keys on the keypad are all blue/purple in colour. We don't know why manufacturers do this -- it makes more sense to distinguish the standard keys from all the other keys. Positioned above the keys are a set of play buttons which are used to play CDs even when the notebook is turned off.

The OpenBook uses a 15in LCD which has a native display resolution of 1400x1050. The HP is the only other notebook which is equipped with a 15in screen and out of the two the OpenBook has the better picture quality but it doesn't have the panel support that the HP has. The OpenBook performs extremely well in our tests, especially in our battery life test recording a time of four hours and five minutes.

Product AOpen OpenBook 1557
Price AU$2799
Vendor Bluechip Infotec
Phone 1800 803 802
Web www.bluechipit.com.au
 
Interoperability
Excellent feature set, multi-format memory card reader is a plus.
Futureproofing
Fast processor, huge HDD, no Gigabit LAN.
ROI
Excellent price for features and good performance. Low on build quality.
Service
2-years pick up/repair/return warranty (battery only 1 year).
Rating
½
AOpen OpenBook 1557


Contents
Introduction
Apple PowerBook G4
Acer TravelMate 3200
Sony VAIO VGN-A29GP
AOpen OpenBook 1557
Fujitsu S-Series Lifebook
IBM ThinkPad T42
HP Compaq nc8000
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Fujitsu S-Series Lifebook

The Fujitsu Lifebook is the lightest notebook that we tested, weighing less than 2kg. Like the Acer it only has a 14in screen but it does have a smaller bezel around the LCD which allows them to make this notebook even smaller.

The first thing that caught our eye when we pulled back open the LCD was the fingerprint scanner located just below the touch pad. The IBM machine wis the only other notebook that includes a fingerprint scanner. The scannner is a slide sensor which is more secure than a touch sensor as you actually have to drag your fingerprints across the scanner -- this way it limits the possibility of lifting a fingerprint from surface, a trick commonly seen in Hollywood movies. Another advantage to the slide sensor is that it's smaller and it doesn't get as dirty.

The setup software is easy -- you can set up the sensor to recognise more than one finger -- the IBM notebook can also do this. Once you've enrolled your finger you can be sure that your finger will be the only one that can grant you instant access to your files. We couldn't really separate which was better at reading our finger out of the Fujitsu and IBM. Just remember not to swipe too fast.

The Lifebook is equipped with an Intel Pentium 1.6GHz M processor as well as 512MB of RAM, 60GB HDD, DVD-ROM drive (no burner), and an Intel Extreme Graphics. Just above the keypad is a large LCD display and a set of buttons that can be programmed to launch applications as well as play music. But unlike the AOpen you can't play music CDs without powering the notebook right up.

Add Wi-FI, Modem, 100M LAN, as well as a 3-in-1 memory card reader, FireWire, and a whole heap of USB ports, and you should have all that you need from a notebook.

In terms of speed this is one of the fastest notebooks. Adding to its alure, it also has excellent battery life managing four hours.

Product Fujitsu S-Series Lifebook
Price AU$3999
Vendor Fujitsu
Phone 1800 288 283
Web www.lifebook.com.au
 
Interoperability
Good feature set. The multi-format memory card reader is a plus.
Futureproofing
½
Fingerprint recogniton, good HD capacity, no Gigabit LAN, small screen.
ROI
A bit more expensive but it’s light and well featured. Performance is not too bad.
Service
½
1-year international (optional 2-years extended local warranty).
Rating
Fujitsu S-Series Lifebook


Contents
Introduction
Apple PowerBook G4
Acer TravelMate 3200
Sony VAIO VGN-A29GP
AOpen OpenBook 1557
Fujitsu S-Series Lifebook
IBM ThinkPad T42
HP Compaq nc8000
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

IBM ThinkPad T42

The IBM ThinkPad T42 is a notebook that combines plenty of punch and portability. It only weighs 2.25kg, making this one of the lightest notebooks in this review. It features an Intel Pentium 1.7GHz M processor with 512MB of RAM, ATI graphics, 40GB hard disk, and DVD/ CD-RW drive.

This IBM notebook uses a titanium composite in the top and bottom covers which makes this notebook robust and light. In general the build quality is superb -- only Apple could say otherwise. The display on this model is only 14.1in, which is a little on the small side these days but it does help to keep the weight down.

The T42 offers Wi-Fi, but unlike any other notebook it has a dual antenna built into the display for increased signal strength. Another nice feature is the differently coloured functions keys. Having the option of using either a trackpoint or glidepad is also nice.

This notebook also comes with a fingerprint recognition scanner -- like the Fujitsu, it uses a slide scanner rather than a touch scanner. Setting it up is a piece of cake thanks to the IBM fingerprint software which asks you to scan your finger three times. You can also set up more than one finger to be recognised, giving you protected booting using fingerprint.

As for performance, the T42 is fast enough to handle any office or desktop publishing type applications. Its battery life time isn't too bad; it manages to run for four hours and eight minutes.

Product IBM ThinkPad T42
Price AU$3599
Vendor IBM
Phone 1800 289 426
Web www.ibm.com.au
 
Interoperability
½
Good comms support but light on everything else.
Futureproofing
½
Fingerprint recogniton, DVD recorder is optional, low on video RAM and HDD space, small screen.
ROI
½
Bit expensive when you look at the feature set. Very good build quality.
Service
½
3-year RTB.
Rating
½
IBM ThinkPad T42


Contents
Introduction
Apple PowerBook G4
Acer TravelMate 3200
Sony VAIO VGN-A29GP
AOpen OpenBook 1557
Fujitsu S-Series Lifebook
IBM ThinkPad T42
HP Compaq nc8000
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

HP Compaq nc8000

The HP Compaq nc8000 is quite a bulky unit -- in fact it is the thickest notebook tested. After some further inspection we can easily see why -- it integrates a DVD and floppy disk drive where most other notebooks have an interchangeable drive.

The NC8000 is quite a rugged notebook and it looks like it could take a good beating.

Inside sits an Intel Pentium 1.7GHz M processor with only 256MB of RAM but we understand that the retail model will have a significantly higher 512MB of RAM.

Because of time restraints we didn't get to test this unit with 512MB, we just tested it they way it was shipped it to us. But going from the performance scores the extra 512MB would come in handy. The HP didn't come with a DVD burner but only a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive.

On the back it has a variety of connectors including FireWire, S-Video, as well as parallel and serial ports. To the right of the notebook there are two Type II or one Type III PC Card slots, and a SD slot. Communications are completely covered with the addition of a modem, Gigabit LAN, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth -- all the options you could want.

In terms of performance this notebook does not perform too well, mainly because it is short on RAM. But if you bump up the RAM you should easily be able to make this notebook just as fast as any of the other notebooks we tested for this review.

In our battery life test, the NC8000 manages to perform exceptionally, just falling short of seven hours which is great result for this rugged notebook.

Product HP Compaq nc8000
Price AU$2795
Vendor HP
Phone 1300 305 018
Web www.hp.com.au
 
Interoperability
GExcellent feature set, multi-format memory card reader is a plus.
Futureproofing
½
Excellent fattery life, DVD recorder is optional, max RAM limited to 1GB.
ROI
½
Very good price for features. Performance was low but it was only tested with 256MB of RAM.
Service
3-year on-site.
Rating
½
HP Compaq nc8000

Specifications

Product HP Compaq nc8000 Acer TravelMate 3200 Apple PowerBook G4
Vendor HP Acer Apple
RRP (test configuration inc GST) AU$2795 AU$3699 AU$4499
Phone Number 1300 305 018 1300 366 567 133 622
Web Site www.hp.com.au www.acer.com.au www.apple.com.au
Warranty 3-year on-site 1-year RTB + 2hr Commitment Warranty Express Service + 1-year International Traveller's Warranty 1-year RTB
System weight including battery (kg) 2.96 2.18 3.1
Processor Intel Pentium 1.7Ghz M Intel Pentium 1.6Ghz M Power PC 1.5Ghz G4
RAM installed/max (MB) 512/ 1024 512/ 2048 512/ 2048
Hard drive capacity 40GB 40GB 80GB
Display size in inches 15 14.1 17
Native resolution 1024x768 1024x768 1440x900
Graphics processor & memory ATI Radeon 9600/ 64 ATI Radeon 9700/ 64 ATI Radeon 9700/ 64
USB (no. of ports) 2 2 2
Parallel (no. of ports) 1 0 0
Serial (no. of ports) 1 0 0
PS2 (no. of ports) 0 0 0
DVI 0 0 1
VGA 1 1 0
TV out (type of port) 1 0 1
Firewire (no. of ports) 1 1 2
PCMCIA card slot 2 1 1
SD/ MMC/ MS slot 1 / 0 / 1 1 / 1 / 1 0 / 0 / 0
Compact flash slot 0 0 0
Smart media slot 0 0 0
SPDIF 0 0 0
Docking port Yes No No
Optical drive type DVD-ROM/ CD-RW DVD+ recorder/ CD-RW DVD super drive DVD-R/ CD-RW
Fingerprint recognition scanner No No No
Integrated modem Yes Yes Yes
Integrated wired network (100M or 1000M) Yes 1000M Yes 1000M Yes 1000M
Integrated wireless network Yes Yes Yes
Integrated Bluetooth Yes No Yes


Fujitsu S-Series Lifebook Sony VAIO VGN-A29GP IBM ThinkPad T42 AOpen OpenBook 1557
Fujitsu Sony IBM Bluechip Infotech
AU$3999 AU$3499 AU$3599 AU$2799
1800 288 283 1300 720 071 1800 289 426 1800 803 802
www.lifebook.com.au www.sony.com.au www.ibm.com.au www.bluechipit.com.au
1 year 1 year international (optional 2 years extended local warranty) 3-year RTB 2-years pick up/repair/return warranty (battery only 1 year)
1.75 (with weight saver) 3.3 2.25 2.72
Intel Pentium M 1.6GHz Intel Pentium M 1.6Ghz Intel Pentium M 1.7Ghz Intel Pentium M 1.8Ghz
512/ 2048 512/ 2048 512/ 2048 512/ 2048
60GB 60GB 40GB 80GB
14 SuperFine 15.4 14.1 15
1024x768 1280x800 1024x768 1400x1050
Intel 82855/ 64 ATI Radeon 9200/ 64 ATI Radeon 7500/ 32 ATI Radeon 9600/ 64
3 3 2 2
0 0 1 1
0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0
1 1 1 1
1 1 1 1
1 1 0 1
2 1 2 1
1 / 1 / 1 (supports MS Pro) 0 / 0 / 1 0 / 0 / 0 1 / 1 / 1
0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0
0 0 0 1
No Yes Yes No
Super multi drive (DVD±R/RW and DVD-RAM support) Double layer multi format DVD recoder DVD-ROM/ CD-RW Multi format DVD recoder
Yes No Yes No
Yes Yes Yes Yes
Yes 100M Yes 100M Yes 1000M Yes 100M
Yes Yes Yes Yes
No No Yes No


Contents
Introduction
Apple PowerBook G4
Acer TravelMate 3200
Sony VAIO VGN-A29GP
AOpen OpenBook 1557
Fujitsu S-Series Lifebook
IBM ThinkPad T42
HP Compaq nc8000
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

How we tested

Business Winstone 2004
Business Winstone is a system-level, application-based benchmark that measures a PC's overall performance when running today's top-selling Windows-based 32-bit applications on Windows 98, Windows 2000 (SP2 or later), Windows Me, or Windows XP. Business Winstone doesn't mimic what these packages do; it runs real applications through a series of scripted activities and uses the time a PC takes to complete those activities to produce its performance scores.

The list of 10 business productivity applications includes five Microsoft Office 2000 applications (Access, Excel, FrontPage, PowerPoint, and Word), Microsoft Project 98, an e-mail application (Lotus Notes R5), a compression program (NicoMak WinZip), an anti-virus program (Norton AntiVirus), and a Web browser (Netscape Communicator).

Multimedia Content Creation
Winstone 2004

Multimedia Content Creation Winstone is a system-level, application-based benchmark that measures a PC's overall performance when running top Windows-based, 32-bit, multimedia content creation applications on Windows 2000 (SP2 or higher), Windows 98, Windows ME, and Windows XP. Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2003 uses the following applications:

  • Adobe® Photoshop® 7.0
  • Adobe® Premiere® 6.5
  • Macromedia® Director 8.5.1
  • Macromedia® Dreamweaver 4
  • Microsoft® Windows MediaTM Encoder 7.01.00.3055
  • Netscape® 6.2.3
  • NewTek's LightWave® 7.5
  • Sonic Foundry® Sound Forge® 6.0

Following the lead of real users, Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 keeps multiple applications open at once and switches among those applications.

Business Winstone 2004 BatteryMark
BatteryMark measures battery life on notebook computers running Windows 2000 or Windows XP. These tests involve leading Windows-based applications, such as Microsoft Office XP, Norton AntiVirus, and Netscape, in a set of scripted activities that drain a notebook's battery in a way that mimics real use.

BWS BatteryMark takes a big step beyond Business Winstone for realistic battery testing by inserting pauses between keystrokes and between tasks. These pauses, or waits, enable BWS BatteryMark to approximate realistic typing speed and workflow. Today's notebooks boast sophisticated power-management features that can take advantage of such pauses to power down and conserve battery life, and this capability often spells longer battery life. Thus BWS BatteryMark, with its waits and pauses of varying lengths, gives you a good idea of how long your notebook battery will hold up under actual use.


Contents
Introduction
Apple PowerBook G4
Acer TravelMate 3200
Sony VAIO VGN-A29GP
AOpen OpenBook 1557
Fujitsu S-Series Lifebook
IBM ThinkPad T42
HP Compaq nc8000
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

T&B Editor's choice
Editor's choice:
Apple PowerBook G4


How could we go past the Apple PowerBook G4? It's almost the perfect notebook.

Well, maybe if it featured a multi-format memory card reader, was a tad lighter and used biometrics we would say just that. It's sexy, it offers great comms support, it's fast, and did we mention it has a 17in screen?

A mention also goes out to both the Fujitsu and Acer machines. They performed well in our tests, and each shipped with a good set of features.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
Click here for subscription information.


Contents
Introduction
Apple PowerBook G4
Acer TravelMate 3200
Sony VAIO VGN-A29GP
AOpen OpenBook 1557
Fujitsu S-Series Lifebook
IBM ThinkPad T42
HP Compaq nc8000
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

About RMIT IT Test Labs

RMIT IT Test Labs
RMIT IT Test Labs is an independent testing institution based in Melbourne, Victoria, performing IT product testing for clients such as IBM, Coles-Myer, and a wide variety of government bodies. In the Labs' testing for T&B, they are in direct contact with the clients supplying products and the magazine is responsible for the full cost of the testing. The findings are the Labs' own -- only the specifications of the products to be tested are provided by the magazine. For more information on RMIT, please contact the Lab Manager, Steven Turvey.

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