Rock Xeno-m

  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent

Pros

  • Compact and fairly light for a power notebook
  • reasonable battery life
  • good base specification.

Cons

  • Floppy drive charged as an extra
  • moderate graphics subsystem
  • no parallel port.

Intel’s latest 2.2GHz Mobile Pentium 4 processor has been a little slow to catch on – partly because of its high price ($562), but also due to the technical challenges associated with very fast processors. Like all souped-up silicon, the 2.2GHz Mobile P4 needs to be approached with care by designers wishing to get the most out of it. The twin issues of power consumption –- with its direct effect on battery life -– and heating need to be addressed properly, or real problems can arise.

High-capacity battery packs are bulky and heavy, and it’s easier to cool a big notebook efficiently. Therefore, slimline, lightweight Mobile Pentium 4 notebooks are something of a rarity. This all makes Rock’s Xeno-m all the more interesting, since it manages the trick of squeezing a 2.2GHz Mobile P4 into a relatively compact and portable package aimed at the travelling business user.

There’s little point in using a cutting-edge processor if it’s not accompanied by enough memory and disk storage, so the Xeno-m scores its first points for getting the basics right. You get 512MB of PC2100 DDR SDRAM as standard, along with a 5,400rpm Hitachi DK23EB hard disk with a plentiful 40GB of capacity for your data.

This is all squeezed into a 30.5cm x 27cm footprint, and when the Xeno-m’s lid is shut it still only measures 3.1cm thick. This does gratifying things to the weight, leaving you with a more-or-less manageable 2.8kg (3.1kg including the power supply), compared with a typical figure somewhere well north of 3.5kg.

The slimmed-down case has room for a modular bay, which by default holds an 8X/8X/24X DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive. If you prefer, this bay can be used for less elaborate optical drives, or a second battery. The floppy drive has been evicted altogether, and must now be purchased as a £49 (ex. VAT) option that connects via one of the Xeno-m’s three USB ports.

The Xeno-m has a slightly odd mix of ports: serial and parallel interfaces have gone, but you still get a PS/2 socket for a mouse or keyboard. If you want a good, old-fashioned parallel port, you will need to shell out a further £69 (ex. VAT) for a USB port replicator.

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Everything else is pretty well catered for, with FireWire (IEEE 1394) and S-Video TV-out ports bolstering the basic VGA output. Our review system also featured an optional (£69 ex. VAT) 802.11b wireless LAN card in a Mini-PCI slot next to the memory sockets under the base.

The Xeno-m’s motherboard uses an SiS 650 chipset, which incorporates a graphics module and allows memory sharing with the main system. This is a less expensive approach than a dedicated graphics processor, and it provides adequate 2D performance. However, it cannot come close to matching the 3D acceleration delivered by dedicated GPUs like nVidia’s GeForce4 440 Go, or ATI’s new Radeon Mobility 9000. The lack of 3D power to match the capabilities of the processor could be seen as the Xeno-m’s weak spot – although, in fairness, few business users are likely to be worried by this.

The screen is a bright, readable 14.1in TFT panel with a native 1,024 by 768 resolution, protected by a fairly robust and pressure resistant lid surface. The keyboard baseplate had something of a bounce to it, but on the whole it proved to be reasonably comfortable and usable.

In use, the base of the system around the processor got quite warm -- but not to the extent that it caused us any concern. The internal cooling fan didn’t make an annoying noise, and, better still, BatteryMark 4.01 showed that the Xeno-m should keep running for around 2.5 hours under typical conditions. This isn’t at all bad for such a powerful system.

When we benchmarked the Xeno-m, it behaved much as expected. It scored 45.8 on Business Winstone 2001, which is based on mainstream applications. By comparison, the recently reviewed Dell Inspiron 8200, which uses the same 2.2GHz processor, scored 47.2. The difference between these two notebooks is largely down to graphics performance, the Xeno-m’s integrated SiS chipset being no match for the Inspiron 8200’s state-of-the-art ATI Radeon Mobility 9000 chip. In practical terms, the Xeno-m is more than fast enough when it comes to running 2D business applications, but if you want 3D fun and games, you need something like the Dell.

Rock throws in what might be a decisive sweetener for smaller companies and private individuals in the form of a three-year collect and return warranty. This certainly goes some way towards offsetting the irritants of having to pay out for a floppy drive and probably a port replicator as well.

In summary, if your key requirement is portability with plenty of power -- but not cutting-edge 3D graphics -- the Xeno-m delivers, and does so for a reasonable price.

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