Dueling desktop replacements

/ Source: msnbc.com

I have to admit I prefer using small, thin and lightweight notebook computers. They might not have every feature built inside the case, but they’re so easy to take with you. However, there is a new class of portables that are making me think twice about which laptops I prefer. They’re dubbed desktop replacement notebooks — and if you can get past their dimensions you’ll find great computers.

InsertArt(1758024)DESKTOP REPLACEMENTS are maximized in every way possible. Instead of worrying about size, weight and battery life these new portables have been designed to provide all-out computing power. That means Pentium 4 processors (real, full power chips, not energy efficient mobile versions), lots of memory, disc burning drives, super-large screens and all sorts of ports and gimmicks you might find on a desktop PC.

The HP/Compaq Presario 3005us is one such machine I’ve been testing. Here are some numbers to think about: Inside is a 2.0 GHz Pentium 4 processor, 512 MB of DDR SDRAM (at 266 MHz), a 40 GB Ultra DMA hard drive (4200 RPM), and an 8X DVD/CD-RW combo drive. The beautiful screen is a 16-inch (measured diagonally) SXGA TFT display — capable of 1280 by 1624 pixels and 32-bit color.

There’s a Firewire/1394 digital video port, four USB 2.0 ports, S-video out, VGA monitor port, a RJ-11 (v.90/v.92) modem jack, a RJ-45 10/100 Ethernet jack and, of course a parallel and a PS2-style mouse/keyboard port. Video is handled by a 4X AGP chip with 64 MB of shared video memory.

The other numbers, the ones you might not want to think about, are the dimensions. The 3005 is 13.8 by 11.8 by 1.75 inches and it weighs in at a mere 8.09 pounds. This is not a notebook to be taken lightly! Actually, when I tried to take it with me to the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas, last week, I found that it didn’t fit in most of the laptop cases I own. I did find one to use but once again I was reminded that these computers are not really designed for portability.

But as a replacement for my desktop PCs the Presario really shines. I must admit that the 3005 is better than any of the other computers I use at work or at home. It’s more powerful and it’s faster than the desktops I’m used to and the 16-inch TFT screen rivals the 17-inch Samsung CRT monitor I’m currently testing. In short, this is one terrific machine!

But alas, it’s not perfect. I wish HP/Compaq would improve the built-in sound system. Sound quality from the built-in stereo speakers is good. But, for such an extraordinary video performer, the Presario 3005 sounds like an ordinary laptop, especially compared to the Toshiba (below). I’d also like to see 802.11b WiFi wireless networking built-in instead of having to resort to using the PC card slot. Compaq says they’ll add that feature in the next few months.

As for price, The Presario 3005, as described above is selling for $1699.99 after a $100 rebate on Compaq’s Website. There’s another model, the Presario 3015 with a faster Pentium 4 processor (2.4 GHz) and a 60 GB hard drive which goes for 1,899.99 after the rebate. Both Presarios come loaded with Microsoft’s XP home operating system.

Toshiba’s Satellite 5205-S703 is billed as the ultimate digital convergence notebook. It sports the same 2.0 GHz Pentium 4 processor and 512 MB of memory as in the Presario 3005 - but that’s where the big similarities end. The Toshiba’s screen is a 15-inch UXGA display capable of 1600 by 1200 pixels. The hard drive is 60 GB. The optical device is a DVD-RW multifunction drive which allows you to burn your own DVDs. It has a Yamaha sound system featuring harmon/kardon stereo speakers and built-in subwoofer! The video card is a GeForce 4 460 with 64 MB of video RAM.

There are three USB 2.0 ports, a Firewire/1399 port, an SD card port, and RCA audio and video jack the expected V.92 modem and 10/100 Ethernet built inside, as well as 802.11b WiFi wireless networking. It even comes with a remote control with ‘One Touch TV-out to change from internal display to TV screen. Remote functions include On/Off, DVD/Audio play, volume, task change, and key board emulation functions. There’s also a second Toshiba Style expansion bay so you can add a second hard drive, or battery, or something called a 4-in-1 bridge media adapter, or a second optical drive.

But the most interesting feature is built-into the touch pad device. It’s called the cPad touchpad and it acts like an additional display screen — except for the fact that’s its very small. There are small applets you can run on the cPad like a mini calculator and a scratch pad and others. I found that although it works as described, the switch to turn the apps on or off is a middle button between the usual left and right click mouse buttons. Two out of three times I tried to left-click on the mouse I hit the cPad button by accident. When you do that the main screen freezes necessitating a second click to turn it off and then another left-click to do what you originally wanted to do. My suggestion to Toshiba: move the button.

The S703 is 13.1 by 11.6 by 1.8 inches, weighs 7.7 pounds and is finished in a beautiful blue automobile blue finish. Suggested list price is $2,699. I have to note that listening to the Toshiba is a wonderful experience. The built-in subwoofer makes a real, noticeable difference in how this laptop sounds.

These new Compaq and Toshiba models won’t be alone in the marketplace for long. Apple has just announced a new notebook with a 17-inch display, lighted keyboard and 802.11g wireless networking — and IBM will announce a new large-screen model this spring.