Processor battle: 10 high-end notebooks tested

 High-end notebooks  Notebook reviews: Acer Travelmate 800 Acer Ferrari 3000LMi AOpen B165 Dell Latitude D505 IBM ThinkPad G40 Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355 QDI Alacritas 520-K8 Sony Vaio PCG-GRT40  Toshiba Tecra M2 TPG Widescreen Notebook  Specifications How we tested Look out for...

 High-end notebooks

 Notebook reviews:
 
Acer Travelmate 800
 
Acer Ferrari 3000LMi
 
AOpen B165
 
Dell Latitude D505
 
IBM ThinkPad G40
 
Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355
 
QDI Alacritas 520-K8
 
Sony Vaio PCG-GRT40
 
Toshiba Tecra M2
 
TPG Widescreen Notebook

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Look out for...
 Sample scenarios
 Editor's choice
 Final words
 About RMIT
Don't forget the alt TAG
If you're looking for a high-end desktop replacement notebook, you've got a choice of processors and even a 64-bit option. Intel or AMD: whose processor reigns supreme?


The last time we reviewed notebooks was October 2003. In that review they were ultralight portable sub-2kg units, this time around they are virtually the opposite: ultra-bulky all-in-one notebooks designed to replace a desktop PC. And they are getting very close to that goal, with impressive LCD screen sizes, integrated DVD burners, and very quick processors translating to the all-important faster application response times and multitasking capabilities that users demand from the modern PC system.

We have also introduced a twist into the mix. We opened the field and asked vendtors to submit either an AMD notebook or an Intel notebook, or both if they had them. We thought with several vendors now producing notebooks using processors from both manufacturers, it would be interesting to compare how HP, for example, differentiated their Intel- and AMD-based products. We were surprised to discover that Acer was the only manufacturer to send us one of each for review. The AMD camp has vendors such as QDI, TPG, and Pioneer and the Intel camp has Sony, Toshiba, Dell, and IBM.

HP, LG, and Xenon were also invited but didn't submit. So of the notebooks we received, here's how they went.

Acer Travelmate 800 (Intel)

Acer Travelmate 800
The Acer Travelmate 800 was the first notebook to arrive for the review and as we unpacked it and turned it on we discovered that either desktop replacement notebooks had stepped up a notch since the last time we reviewed them, or the Acer was streets ahead of the competition. As the other notebooks began to roll in over the next week or so we discovered that it was a little bit of both.

These machines have certainly stepped up a notch and are very feature rich. In the past, models that packed in the features lost it severely on the notebook tests such as battery life and weight. In this case, some of the notebooks posted more than four hours of run time. OK, some are still very hefty, but hey, you can't have everything ... yet.

The Travelmate 800 has a 15in LCD panel. Its CPU is an Intel Pentium M at 1700MHz, it comes with 512MB RAM, a 60GB HDD unit, and a CD-RW/DVD combo drive. There's no shortage of connectivity options, lacking only a flash memory card socket, a serial port, and a PS/2 port. Anything else you could ask for is included.

The keyboard is well laid out and the pointing device is of trackpad design. There is also a four-way scroll button mounted between the mouse buttons. The keys on the keyboard are slightly bowed which takes a couple of minutes to get used to, however it seems slightly better than the average straight keyboard.

Overall it's a very impressive notebook, the quality of design and construction is excellent and the unit feels very robust. It is also backed up with very good test results. While there is smart card support, we would have liked to see some type of flash memory card support, CF or SD/MMC. However with four USB ports and a PCMCIA port, it would not be too difficult to add this support. The inclusion of firewire, Bluetooth, WLAN, wired LAN, and modem means that all communications bases are certainly covered. It would be very difficult to find a better desktop replacement notebook.

 High-end notebooks

 Notebook reviews:
 
Acer Travelmate 800
 
Acer Ferrari 3000LMi
 
AOpen B165
 
Dell Latitude D505
 
IBM ThinkPad G40
 
Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355
 
QDI Alacritas 520-K8
 
Sony Vaio PCG-GRT40
 
Toshiba Tecra M2
 
TPG Widescreen Notebook

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Look out for...
 Sample scenarios
 Editor's choice
 Final words
 About RMIT
Product Acer TravelMate 800
Price AU$4499
Vendor Acer
Phone 1300 366 567
Web www.acer.com.au
 
Interoperability
Almost as many features as its Ferrari sibling.
Futureproofing
Very good expansion potential.
ROI
Very well priced, performance is slightly above the average on some tests, and the longest battery life of all units in this review.
Service
½
One-year warranty is average, but includes a two-hour service.
Rating

Acer Ferrari 3000LMi (AMD)

Acer Ferrari 3000LMi
T&B Editor's choice
Red with a prancing horse badge, need we say more?

Our immediate impression when unpacking this notebook was that it would go very well in a company IT department that had also bought the Watchguard X firewalls we reviewed last month. Who says us geeks need to be fixated on beige and black? Perhaps red is the new beige.

Any self-respecting executive honestly could not go past this notebook and the Ferrari livery is just the beginning. We were very pleased to see Acer had not just whacked the logo on any old notebook and painted it red. This machine really has some very impressive features, such as the inclusion of CD-RW/DVD+RW, Bluetooth, 802.11g wireless LAN, 10/100 Ethernet, infrared, modem, and support for just about every flavour of flash memory cards. The only things missing are a serial port and built-in camera, also gigabit Ethernet would have been nice.

The unit is based on a Mobile AMD Athlon XP 2500+ CPU, with 512MB DDR333 RAM, a 60GB HDD unit, and a CD-RW/DVD+RW combo optical drive unit. The graphics are displayed on a 15in screen and are powered by an ATI Radeon 9200 with 128MB RAM.

The keyboard is virtually identical to the TravelMate 800 including its slightly bowed layout, the pointing device is a trackpad.

Kudos to the mastermind in the Acer marketing department who hatched the deal with Ferrari. At $3299, it is possibly set at a premium price due to the badging, however the feature set is certainly the richest of any notebook in this review. While the notebook isn't quite as good a performer as the Ferrari name suggests, the overall package is still worthy of investigation. Now we can sit here and wonder what these features would be like with an AMD Athlon 64 processor.

 High-end notebooks

 Notebook reviews:
 
Acer Travelmate 800
 
Acer Ferrari 3000LMi
 
AOpen B165
 
Dell Latitude D505
 
IBM ThinkPad G40
 
Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355
 
QDI Alacritas 520-K8
 
Sony Vaio PCG-GRT40
 
Toshiba Tecra M2
 
TPG Widescreen Notebook

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Look out for...
 Sample scenarios
 Editor's choice
 Final words
 About RMIT
Product Acer Ferrari 3000LMi
Price AU$3299
Vendor Acer
Phone 1300 366 567
Web www.acer.com.au
 
Interoperability
½
This is one notebook with almost the lot.
Futureproofing
Very good expansion potential.
ROI
½
Very well priced, performance is slightly above the average on some tests.
Service
½
One-year warranty is average, but includes a two-hour service.
Rating

AOpen B165 (Intel)

AOpen B165
OK, we thought the IBM was big, but the AOpen is even bigger! We're sure we asked vendors for desktop replacement notebooks, not desktop PCs with integrated LCDs, but this is what AOpen sent us. There isn't even a battery or the facility to add one. So you can only use it with the supplied bulky AC adaptor from mains power. After seeing the array of features packed into the relatively diminutive Acer TravelMate 800 and the Dell Latitude D505, something as large as the AOpen would need to have some redeeming features to justify its sheer size and weight.

The CPU is an Intel Pentium 4 3.20GHz with 1GB of DDR400 RAM and a whopping 160GB HDD unit. Unfortunately, the optical drive unit is only a CD-RW/DVD combo, it would have been nice to see a DVD burner.

The keyboard is not very tactile and the keys provide little in the way of feedback when pressed. The input device is a trackpad. There is however a full numerical pad on the right-hand side of the keyboard which is definitely not found on any of the other notebooks in this review.

Overall it is probably a very good concept, points certainly go to the inclusion of a serial port, numerical keypad, full-size HDD unit, and five USB ports. However the total design and implementation certainly need to be improved still. The lack of a battery means the operator always needs to be near mains power. A DVD burner should definitely be standard, as should gigabit networking to get the data on/off such large a disk drive. There is also no Bluetooth, wireless LAN, infrared, or even PCMCIA socket support, so communications are rather limited. The lack of flash memory card support is probably the last nail in the coffin for this unit.

It would be very hard to recommend this machine to anyone unless they were willing to make the compromise on all the features just so that they could have a very large internal HDD unit or a numeric keypad. And with the ready availability of Firewire and USB external hard drives, this could easily be overcome using a better notebook with more features. This unit also retails for $2499 when a similarly configured desktop machine with a 15in LCD monitor will only set you back around $1300. Perhaps if this machine was around that price point, there may be some practical uses for it.

 High-end notebooks

 Notebook reviews:
 
Acer Travelmate 800
 
Acer Ferrari 3000LMi
 
AOpen B165
 
Dell Latitude D505
 
IBM ThinkPad G40
 
Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355
 
QDI Alacritas 520-K8
 
Sony Vaio PCG-GRT40
 
Toshiba Tecra M2
 
TPG Widescreen Notebook

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Look out for...
 Sample scenarios
 Editor's choice
 Final words
 About RMIT
Product AOpen B165
Price AU$2499
Vendor AOpen
Phone 1800 803 802
Web www.bluechipit.com.au
 
Interoperability
Very few features and not many communication devices integrated.
Futureproofing
Reasonable expansion potential.
ROI
Overpriced, some of the performance redeems the score.
Service
½
Two-year warranty is slightly above average.
Rating
½

Dell Latitude D505 (Intel)

Dell Latitude D505
The Dell D505 has a 15in screen of good quality, and the keyboard has a very nice feedback. The pointing device is a trackpad.

The CPU is an Intel Pentium M running at 1400MHz with 512MB RAM and a 30GB HDD. The video is supplied by an Intel 852/855 graphics chipset. There is also integrated Bluetooth and wireless LAN.

Overall this is a very nice, well featured notebook in a relatively small package -- particularly given the features which have been packed into it. It's ery good to have a serial port, however it's a pity there are only two USB ports. Infrared, wired LAN, wireless LAN, Bluetooth, Firewire, and a modem certainly covers all the communications bases.

 High-end notebooks

 Notebook reviews:
 
Acer Travelmate 800
 
Acer Ferrari 3000LMi
 
AOpen B165
 
Dell Latitude D505
 
IBM ThinkPad G40
 
Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355
 
QDI Alacritas 520-K8
 
Sony Vaio PCG-GRT40
 
Toshiba Tecra M2
 
TPG Widescreen Notebook

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Look out for...
 Sample scenarios
 Editor's choice
 Final words
 About RMIT
Product Dell Latitude D505
Price AU$2655
Vendor Dell
Phone 1300 303 263
Web www.dell.com.au
 
Interoperability
Similar features to the Acer Travelmate, also has a serial port.
Futureproofing
½
Better than average expansion capabilities with its optional docking station.
ROI
½
Very well priced for features. Underperforms slightly in some areas.
Service
½
Three-year warranty is above average.
Rating

IBM ThinkPad G40 (Intel)

IBM ThinkPad G40
Wow, if you're looking for a tank, the IBM ThinkPad G40 is something worthy of your consideration. Even the AC adaptor is about half the size of a house brick. Thank goodness they are not called laptops anymore, any operator would certainly start suffering from flat thigh syndrome after a couple of hours with this unit on their lap. This above-average size and weight however can be understood when one realises what has been packed into this chassis, including a floppy disk drive, Intel Pentium 4 desktop processor (which requires a whopping big/heavy battery to maintain a decent battery run time), optical drive, and a 15in screen.

The keyboard has slightly more raised keys which provide slightly more tactile feedback than the average notebooks keys, the pointing device is the traditional ThinkPad "nipple". The CPU is a 3GHz Intel Pentium 4 desktop processor, with 512MB RAM and an Intel 82852/855 graphics chipset. There was a 40GB HDD unit and a CD-RW/DVD combo optical drive. Wireless LAN is integrated.

Overall technically the IBM G40 is a desktop replacement notebook, with its 3.0GHz Intel Pentium 4 Desktop processor. However the lack of other features or even expansion capabilities leaves you wanting, for example there is no FireWire, Bluetooth, or flash memory card support and it does not appear to be easy to replace the optical drive with other types/devices/batteries. At least all the popular communication types are supported and there is PS/2 support. This should not however reflect badly on the whole ThinkPad range. At the lab we have evaluated several different models in the past six to eight months and there are some very good feature-packed units available from this manufacturer.

 High-end notebooks

 Notebook reviews:
 
Acer Travelmate 800
 
Acer Ferrari 3000LMi
 
AOpen B165
 
Dell Latitude D505
 
IBM ThinkPad G40
 
Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355
 
QDI Alacritas 520-K8
 
Sony Vaio PCG-GRT40
 
Toshiba Tecra M2
 
TPG Widescreen Notebook

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Look out for...
 Sample scenarios
 Editor's choice
 Final words
 About RMIT
Product IBM ThinkPad G40 2388BBM
Price AU$2475
Vendor IBM
Phone 1800 289 426
Web www.ibm.com.au
 
Interoperability
An average set of features.
Futureproofing
Good expansion potential.
ROI
Performance isn’t great in some areas, and you don’t get as much compared to other models in this price range.
Service
½
One-year warranty is average.
Rating

Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355 (AMD)

Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355
The Pioneer is a very well built quality notebook with decent competitive performance figures and a great BatteryMark score considering the specs of the unit.

The Pioneer has an AMD Athlon 64 3200+ CPU, 512MB RAM, a 60GB HDD unit, a 15in screen, and a CD-RW/DVD-RW optical drive.

The keyboard is laid out very well with a nice tactile feedback. The cursor control is via a trackpad that seems slightly smaller than most and at times we felt that we were running out of space when using it; it's certainly not designed for those amongst us with sausage fingers.

The quality of the display is also very impressive. While in the middle of the road as far as connectivity goes, the inclusion of the flash memory slots, the manual volume control, and the DVD-RW burner certainly make this unit worth a second look. Not to mention the fact that is an AMD Athlon 64 processor with almost three hours run time on the batteries.

The question remains, does anyone really need a 64-bit processor in their notebook? Are you likely to crack the 4GB memory barrier doing database crunching or statistical analysis on the 6.05 from Central Station? Or is this innovation more likely to appeal to the graphics professionals and games aficionados?

 High-end notebooks

 Notebook reviews:
 
Acer Travelmate 800
 
Acer Ferrari 3000LMi
 
AOpen B165
 
Dell Latitude D505
 
IBM ThinkPad G40
 
Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355
 
QDI Alacritas 520-K8
 
Sony Vaio PCG-GRT40
 
Toshiba Tecra M2
 
TPG Widescreen Notebook

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Look out for...
 Sample scenarios
 Editor's choice
 Final words
 About RMIT
Product Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355
Price AU$2999
Vendor Pioneer
Phone 02 9690 2888
Web www.pioneercomputers.com.au
 
Interoperability
Excellent feature set.
Futureproofing
Good expansion potential.
ROI
½
Performance is quite good, particularly graphics. Price and quality is competitive with the other notebooks in this review.
Service
One-year warranty is average, but three years labour is included.
Rating
½

QDI Alacritas 520-K8 (AMD)

QDI Alacritas 520-K8
The QDI and TPG notebooks are both virtually identical and obviously come from the same factory. The only major difference is that the TPG notebook is in a widescreen 15in 16:9 format with an AMD Athlon XP-M processor while the QDI machine has a 15in 4:3 format and an AMD Athlon 64 K8. QDI tells us it will also have a widecreen model available in the near future.

The Alacritas 520-K8 notebook as the name suggests houses an AMD Athlon 64 K8 3200+ processor. It has 1GB of memory and a 60GB HDD unit; the optical drive is a DVD-R burner. This unit would certainly be aimed at replacing the upper level of most desktops.

The keyboard is of very good quality with the keys being raised slightly higher than the average notebook keyboard.

Of particular note was the boot time of this notebook, going from fully off to ready to start opening application in less than 27 seconds. Overall this unit is certainly worthy of consideration. The onboard wireless LAN is 802.11g which is 54Mbps which is a bonus. The built-in network port is 10/100Mbps however 1Gbps is available as an option. There is no Bluetooth or support for flash memory cards. If you need a 64-bit processor, then this is definitely the one to go for.

 High-end notebooks

 Notebook reviews:
 
Acer Travelmate 800
 
Acer Ferrari 3000LMi
 
AOpen B165
 
Dell Latitude D505
 
IBM ThinkPad G40
 
Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355
 
QDI Alacritas 520-K8
 
Sony Vaio PCG-GRT40
 
Toshiba Tecra M2
 
TPG Widescreen Notebook

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Look out for...
 Sample scenarios
 Editor's choice
 Final words
 About RMIT
Product QDI Alacritas 520-K8
Price AU$3395
Vendor QDI
Phone 1800 660 280
Web www.qditech.com.au
 
Interoperability
½
Good feature set, DVD burner is a plus.
Futureproofing
½
Better than average expansion capabilities.
ROI
Relatively expensive, would be good priced less than $3K. Performance is not too bad.
Service
Two-year onsite warranty is good.
Rating
½

Sony Vaio PCG-GRT40 (Intel)

Sony Vaio PCG-GRT40
The Sony surprisingly was one of the heaviest notebooks in this review. Weighing in at 4.4kg, its external dimensions don't really give it away, but as they say looks can be deceiving. The keyboard has a slightly light feedback and the cursor control is via a trackpad.

The unit has a Mobile Intel Pentium 4 CPU running at 3.06GHz, 512MB RAM, a CD-RW/DVD+RW optical drive, and a 80GB HDD unit. The graphics are via an nVidia GeForce FX Go5600 chipset.

Overall this is a very neat notebook, certainly no lightweight but with plenty of features. The screen is truly amazing and really needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. This notebook would be perfect for businesses reliant on graphics and/or presentations.

 High-end notebooks

 Notebook reviews:
 
Acer Travelmate 800
 
Acer Ferrari 3000LMi
 
AOpen B165
 
Dell Latitude D505
 
IBM ThinkPad G40
 
Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355
 
QDI Alacritas 520-K8
 
Sony Vaio PCG-GRT40
 
Toshiba Tecra M2
 
TPG Widescreen Notebook

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Look out for...
 Sample scenarios
 Editor's choice
 Final words
 About RMIT
Product Sony VAIO PCGGRT40ZP
Price AU$5999
Vendor Sony
Phone 1300 720 071
Web www.sony.com.au/vaio
 
Interoperability
½
Very good feature set.
Futureproofing
Good expansion potential.
ROI
½
Very expensive, but a beautiful screen with good performance.
Service
½
One-year warranty is average.
Rating
½

Toshiba Tecra M2 (Intel)

Toshiba Tecra M2
Toshiba always seems to turn out great notebooks, and the Tecra M2 is another example of this. One concern we noted almost immediately was a warning on the base of the unit that read "WARNING, hot base may cause burn, avoid prolonged contact with bare skin". If you are planning on using this unit sitting on the beach, be forewarned.

The Toshiba has an Intel pentium M processor running at 1500MHz. It also has nVidia graphics, an integrated CD-RW/DVD combo optical drive, a 40GB HDD, and 512MB of RAM.

The keyboard seems very robust and the font and labelling of the keys is very clear. Cursor control is provided via either the trackpad or the "nipple" control integrated in the middle of the keyboard.

Overall this is a very nice notebook with the excellent addition of a SD/MMC reader/writer for flash memory cards. The dual cursor control devices are also a great inclusion and the fact that infrared is still there is very good too. More USB ports would be nice with only two included being a bit light on. For a well-featured, refined, and compact solution, the Toshiba M2 is certainly worthy of consideration.

 High-end notebooks

 Notebook reviews:
 
Acer Travelmate 800
 
Acer Ferrari 3000LMi
 
AOpen B165
 
Dell Latitude D505
 
IBM ThinkPad G40
 
Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355
 
QDI Alacritas 520-K8
 
Sony Vaio PCG-GRT40
 
Toshiba Tecra M2
 
TPG Widescreen Notebook

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Look out for...
 Sample scenarios
 Editor's choice
 Final words
 About RMIT
Product Toshiba Tecra M2
Price AU$2915
Vendor Toshiba
Phone 13 30 70
Web www.isd.toshiba.com.au
 
Interoperability
½
Very good feature set.
Futureproofing
½
Better than average expansion capabilities, with its cross-model device compatibility feature.
ROI
½
Well priced for features and good performance.
Service
One-year warranty is average but includes pickup and delivery.
Rating
½

TPG Widescreen Notebook (AMD)

TPG Widescreen Notebook
As mentioned, this TPG notebook has obviously been designed and manufactured in the same factory as the QDI machine. There are differences such as the screen and processor, however the keyboard and cursor control are all identical. Both the TPG and QDI machine had one bright pixel out on their LCD displays.

The TPG has a Mobile AMD Athlon XP 2000+ CPU, 512MB RAM, a 30GB HDD unit. The notebook also has a CD-RW/DVD Combo optical drive, but no floppy disk or wireless LAN.

This is a very neat notebook, but the lack of a floppy drive, wireless LAN, flash memory card support, serial ports, etc. -- as well as only having a single PCMCIA socket and only three USB ports -- mean the features are a little light. However these missing details can possibly be overlooked particularly if the user is looking for a widescreen display.

 High-end notebooks

 Notebook reviews:
 
Acer Travelmate 800
 
Acer Ferrari 3000LMi
 
AOpen B165
 
Dell Latitude D505
 
IBM ThinkPad G40
 
Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355
 
QDI Alacritas 520-K8
 
Sony Vaio PCG-GRT40
 
Toshiba Tecra M2
 
TPG Widescreen Notebook

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Look out for...
 Sample scenarios
 Editor's choice
 Final words
 About RMIT
Product TPG Widescreen Notebook
Price AU$1447
Vendor TPG
Phone 1300 360 855
Web www.tpg.com.au/online
 
Interoperability
Average feature set.
Futureproofing
½
Less than average expansion capabilities.
ROI
½
Very cheap, but this is reflected in the performance and features.
Service
½
One-year warranty is average.
Rating
½

Specifications

Product Acer TravelMate 804LCi Acer Ferrari 3000LMi AOpen B165 Dell Latitude D505
Vendor Acer Acer AOpen Dell
RRP (test configuration inc GST) AU$4499 AU$3299 AU$2499 AU$2655
Phone 1300 366 567 1300 366 567 1800 803 802 1300 303 263
Web www.acer.com.au www.acer.com.au www.bluechipit.com.au www.dell.com.au
Warranty 1 year RTB, 2-hour express service 1 year RTB, 2-hour express service 2 years 1 year international next business day onsite
System weight including battery (kg) 2.7 3 4.5 2.8
Processor model installed/max Intel Pentium M 1.7GHz AMD Athlon XP-M 2500+ Intel Pentium 4 3.2GHz Intel Pentium M 1.4GHz
RAM installed/max (MB) 512MB/1024MB 512MB/2048MB 1024MB/2048MB 512MB/2048MB
Hard drive capacity (GB) 60 60 160 30
Display size in inches 15 15 15 15
Native resolution 1400 x 1050 1400 x 1050 1024 x 768 1024 x 768
Graphics processor & memory ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 64MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 128MB nVidia GeForce4 Go 440 64MB Intel 855GM 64MB (shared)
Connectors (USB/ parallel/ serial/ PS2/ DVI/ VGA/ video /firewire) 4/1/0/0/0/1/1/1/1 4/1/0/0/0/0/0/1 5/1/1/1/0/1/1/1 2/1/1/0/0/1/1/1
Peripheral slots (PCMCIA/SD-MMC/CompactFlash/Memory Stick/SmartMedia) 1/1/1/1/1 1/1/0/1/1 0/0/0/0/0 1/0/0/0/0
Optical drive 8x DVD, 24/10/8x CD-RW Up to 4x DVD+/-RW, 24/16/10 CD-RW 8x DVD, 24/10/24x CDRW 4/2/8x DVD+RW, 16/10/24x CD-RW
Integrated modem 4 4 4 4
Integrated wired network 10/100 10/100 10/100 10/100
Integrated wireless network 802.11b 802.11g 8 802.11g
Integrated Bluetooth 4 4 8 4
Operating system Windows XP Professional Windows XP Home Windows XP Professional Windows XP Professional

Product IBM ThinkPad G40 2388BBM Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355 QDI Alacritas 520-K8
Vendor IBM Pioneer QDI
RRP (test configuration inc GST) AU$2475 AU$2999 AU$3395
Phone 1800 289 426 02 9690 2888 1800 660 280
Web www.ibm.com.au www.pioneercomputers.com.au www.qditech.com.au
Warranty 1 year 1 year onsite parts & labour, 3 years labour 2 years onsite
System weight including battery (kg) 4 3.6 3.4
Processor model installed/max Intel Pentium 4 3.0 GHz AMD Athlon64 3200+ AMD Athlon64 Mobile 3200+ DTR
RAM installed/max (MB) 256MB/1024MB 512MB/1024MB 1024MB
Hard drive capacity (GB) 40 60 60
Display size in inches 15 15 15.1
Native resolution 1024 x 768 1400 x 1050 1400 x 1050
Graphics processor & memory Intel Extreme Graphics 64MB ATI M10P/9600 64MB ATI Mobility 9000 AGP 64MB
Connectors (USB/ parallel/ serial/ PS2/ DVI/ VGA/ video /firewire) 4/1/0/0/0/1/0/0 4/1/0/1/0/1/1/1 4/1/0/1/0/1/1/1
Peripheral slots (PCMCIA/SD-MMC/CompactFlash/Memory Stick/SmartMedia) 1/0/0/0/0 1/0/0/0/0 1/0/0/0/0
Optical drive 8x DVD, 24X/10X/24x CD-RW DVD, CD-RW DVD-RW, CD-RW
Integrated modem 4 4 4
Integrated wired network 10/100 10/100 10/100
Integrated wireless network 802.11b 8 802.11g
Integrated Bluetooth 4 8 8
Operating system Windows XP Professional Windows XP Home Windows XP Home

Product Sony VAIO PCGGRT40ZP Toshiba Tecra M2 TPG Widescreen Notebook
Vendor Sony Toshiba TPG
RRP (test configuration inc GST) AU$5999 AU$2915 AU$1447
Phone 1300 720 071 13 30 70 1300 360 855
Web www.sony.com.au/vaio www.isd.toshiba.com.au www.tpg.com.au/online
Warranty 1 year 1 year international; includes pick up and return service 1 year RTB
System weight including battery (kg) 3.7 2.3 2.9
Processor model installed/max Intel Pentium M 3.06GHz Intel Pentium M 1.5GHz AMD Athlon 2000+
RAM installed/max (MB) 512MB 256MB/2048MB 256MB/512MB
Hard drive capacity (GB) N/A 40 30
Display size in inches 16 14.1 15.4 (widescreen)
Native resolution 1600 x 1200 1024 x 768 1200 x 800
Graphics processor & memory NVIDIA GeForce FX Go5600 nVIDIA GeForce FX Go5200 64MB ATI 64MB
Connectors (USB/ parallel/ serial/ PS2/ DVI/ VGA/ video /firewire) 3/1/1/0/0/1/1/1 2/1/0/0/0/1/1/1 3/1/0/0/0/1/1/1
Peripheral slots (PCMCIA/SD-MMC/CompactFlash/Memory Stick/SmartMedia) 2/0/0/1/0 2/1/0/0/0 1/0/0/0/0
Optical drive 2x DVD+/-RW, 24x CD-RW DVD, CD-RW 8x DVD, 24x CD-RW
Integrated modem 4 4 4
Integrated wired network 4 10/100/1000 10/100
Integrated wireless network 802.11g 8 8
Integrated Bluetooth 8 8 8
Operating system Windows XP Professional Windows XP Professional Windows XP Home

How we tested

 High-end notebooks

 Notebook reviews:
 
Acer Travelmate 800
 
Acer Ferrari 3000LMi
 
AOpen B165
 
Dell Latitude D505
 
IBM ThinkPad G40
 
Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355
 
QDI Alacritas 520-K8
 
Sony Vaio PCG-GRT40
 
Toshiba Tecra M2
 
TPG Widescreen Notebook

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Look out for...
 Sample scenarios
 Editor's choice
 Final words
 About RMIT

We tested each of the notebooks with the following benchmarks:

Business Winstone 2004
Business Winstone is a system-level, application-based benchmark that measures a PC's overall performance when running business productivity applications including Microsoft Access, Excel, FrontPage, PowerPoint, and Word, Microsoft Project 98, Lotus Notes R5, NicoMak WinZip, Norton AntiVirus, and Netscape Communicator. Business Winstone continues to focus on the hot spots in its applications -- the points that most stress PC performance, and PC users.

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 multimedia content creation applications, including 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, and Sonic Foundry Sound Forge 6.0.

Business Winstone 2004 BatteryMark
BatteryMark measures battery life on notebook computers running a workload of 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.

Testing notes

  • The Sony notebook developed a problem during our testing where it could not fully charge the battery therefore we could not test the battery life.
  • The AOpen machine had no battery as it is designed to run from mains power only and therefore we could not test the battery life.
  • Several of the units supplied came with either 1GB or 256MB of RAM, we attempted to test to a baseline of 512MB by installing/removing memory from the systems.

    Things to look for in a notebook

  • Features, features, features. The more ports and drives, the largest screen, biggest drive, and most memory lead to the greatest level of expansion for any system. This is especially the case with a notebook as it is often impossible to simply pop open the case and insert a new expansion card.
  • Power. As a desktop replacement, you don't need to worry about power for office software users, but if they're doing anything more demanding than Word, notebooks can get rather sluggish unless they've got enough grunt.
  • Battery life. Power and battery life are not generally to be mentioned in the same sentence, but hey these things are notebooks after all. If you cannot watch a DVD movie while you are travelling home on the train then what is the point of having batteries in these units? Just take the chiropractic visits into account when you are calculating your ROI as they are not designed to be light.
  • Warranty. Notebooks are not cheap and you need to ensure that the warranty is the longest possible. All units carry proprietary mainboards and LCD panels, if one of these goes when the unit is out of warranty then you may as well kiss it goodbye. The longer the warranty the better.

    Sample scenario

    Company: Carling Fitness

    This company is looking to purchase desktop replacement notebooks for its office-based staff. It wants to evaluate the difference between Intel and AMD processor-based notebooks.

    Approximate budget: AU$5000 per notebook.

    Requires: 30 desktop replacement notebooks with at least 15in screens, 256MB or more of memory, Windows XP Professional installed.

    Concerns: The company wants to examine which processor gives it more bang for buck in specifications, performance, and battery life.

    Best solution: The best option in this case is the Acer TravelMate 800 -- an Intel-based notebook -- as it provides the best performance matched with an excellent array of features.

    T&B Editor's choice
    Editor's Choice

    Acer Ferrari 3000LMi

    Honourable mention: Dell Latitude D505, Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355, Acer TravelMate 800

    Our pick of the bunch is the Acer Ferrari 3000LMi. It fits all the requirements of a fully featured desktop replacement notebook and has a fair bit of style to it, which is certainly something the IT Industry needs these days. If you're not a Ferrari fan or don't want to stick out like a sore thumb at work, try the Acer Travelmate 800 or the Dell D505.

    Pioneer gets a mention for its Powerbook AMD 8355 with an excellent array of features, quality of construction, and the inclusion of an AMD 64 bit processor with the ability to still maintain a good battery life. Perhaps they should check with the lawyers about that name, though. Dell's Latitude D505 was a hair's breadth away from our best choice for this scenario, and certainly has much to offer.

    Final words

    What an amazing array of notebooks were submitted for this review. The notebook market is definitely a mature one and most of these notebooks we could recommend for further investigation. The list of features for most of these models are great and many users would be hard pressed to tax these units with general business usage. AMD possibly have a little way to go yet however they are getting very close to Intel.

    About RMIT IT Test Labs

    RMIT IT Test Labs

     High-end notebooks

     Notebook reviews:
     
    Acer Travelmate 800
     
    Acer Ferrari 3000LMi
     
    AOpen B165
     
    Dell Latitude D505
     
    IBM ThinkPad G40
     
    Pioneer Powerbook AMD 8355
     
    QDI Alacritas 520-K8
     
    Sony Vaio PCG-GRT40
     
    Toshiba Tecra M2
     
    TPG Widescreen Notebook

     Specifications
     How we tested
     Look out for...
     Sample scenarios
     Editor's choice
     Final words
     About RMIT
    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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