- ✓Attractive, compact design with a good set of built-in features -- including 802.11b wireless networking
- ✓optical storage included on main system unit.
- ✕Keyboard may be too cramped and unresponsive for some tastes.
Hi-Grade has been a purveyor of high-quality ASUS-built notebooks for some years, and is now looking to breathe new life -- and competitive edge -- into the sub-2kg ultraportable sector. It may not have the brand appeal of a Sony VAIO or the support infrastructure of a Dell Latitude behind it, but Hi-Grade's 1.7kg Notino 2200 packs a good combination of power and functionality into its diminutive 26.9 by 24.2 by 2.5cm frame.
The Notino 2200-1000-3 model that we reviewed is built around Intel's 1GHz Mobile Pentium III processor -- not the latest 0.13 micron 'Tualatin' with 512KB of Level 2 cache, but the older 0.18 micron/256KB L2 cache chip. This may not have the performance and power-saving advantages of the latest mobile chip, but it performs well enough for mainstream purposes and is considerably cheaper. The CPU is accompanied by SIS's integrated 630S chipset, which commandeers 8MB of the system's generous 320MB of RAM for use as video memory.
The Notino 2200 has an attractive design, its magnesium alloy case sporting a two-tone metallic violet and silver finish. The general look and feel is a cross between a Sony VAIO and a Sharp ultraportable. What's most impressive, however, is just how much is packed into the Notino 2200's compact case.
Fixed storage is provided by a 40GB Hitachi Ultra ATA/100 hard disk with a rotational speed of 4,200rpm, while optical media are handled by an 8X QSI DVD-ROM drive that reads CD-ROMs at 24-speed -- the Notino 2200 is the only two-spindle system in this roundup. Spend another £100 and you can upgrade the DVD drive to a combo unit with added CD-RW functionality. Clearly there's no room for an internal floppy drive as well, but an external USB device is supplied.
All of the system's ports are located at the sides and the front, the rear being home to the 4,000mAh Li-ion battery. Like an increasing number of ultraportables, the Notino 2200 is a 'legacy-free' system, so you'll look in vain for serial, parallel, PS/2 and infrared ports. What you do get are three USB ports and an RJ-11 port for the built-in 56Kbit/s modem on the right-hand side, plus VGA, RJ-45 (Ethernet) and IEEE 1394 ports on the left-hand side. Next to the latter is the system's single Type II PC Card slot. In the middle of the front fascia there are microphone and headphone jacks, along with a useful hardware volume control. To the left of these are four Quick Launch buttons, three of which are user-programmable. Another useful touch is the Quick Launch Button Lock, which guards against inadvertent activation.
Most ultraportable makers would regard the above as a good set of I/O, expansion and connectivity options, but the Notino 2200 1000-3 goes the extra mile by including a built-in 802.11b wireless Ethernet adapter, on a mini-PCI card. Unfortunately we were unable to test the system's wireless networking capability as Hi-Grade had removed the mini-PCI card from our review sample. However, shipping units will definitely be wireless-ready.
When notebooks are shrunk to ultraportable dimensions, the quality and usability of the screen and keyboard become key factors for potential buyers. We have no complaints with the XGA-resolution TFT screen, which is as bright, clear and free of stuck pixels. The 85-key keyboard is another matter, being rather unresponsive and somewhat cramped -- the PgUp and PgDn keys are doubled up with the up and down cursor keys, for example, accessible by pressing the Fn key simultaneously. Nimble-fingered users may not mind, but the digitally challenged may struggle a bit.
Despite its less than cutting-edge processor, the Notino 2200-1000-3 performs well, being beaten only by the 1.2GHz Dell Latitude C400 in the overall performance tests under mainstream and high-end applications. A rundown time of 2 hours and 20 minutes from the 4,000mAh Li-ion battery is acceptable for this class of notebook, if nothing special.
We were impressed by the HiGrade Notino 2200 -- especially by its design, which integrates more into a sub-2kg chassis than any other ultraportable we've reviewed. If you don't need the extra performance, battery life and corporate-level support offered by Dell's Latitude C400, the Notino 2200 would make a very good choice.