Computer Systems Archive

Product Review – Dell Inspiron Mini 10 netbook (REPOST)

UPDATE:  I have had to repost this review because something has happened with the site and the copy for the review has disappeared suddenly

I am reviewing the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 netbook which is the first computer of this class that I am able to review. It would be one of these machines that was considered the right machine to own during the heart of the Great Financial Crisis but still has a place in today’s home network as an auxiliary computer.

As with all Dell computers, you choose the specification for the computer when you order it through their Website and the specification that is available on the Website may differ from the one that I am reviewing. The base specification for this computer would cost AUD$449.but there are more expensive specifications available that primarily have the computer prepared for wireless broadband or an onboard TV tuner.

Dell Inspiron Mini 10 netbook

The netbook computer itself

The computer is finished in an “Apple-white” gloss finish on the outside and black around the keyboard and screen escutcheon. The gloss finish may still have the disadvantage of attracting fingermarks during regular use. There isn’t anything that can appear to damage good dining-room tables when the machine is placed on these tables.

My review sample is outfitted with the Intel Atom netbook processor and works with 1Gb of RAM, some of which is shared with the display memory.

The secondary storage is based around a 160Gb hard disk as single logical drive and an SD card slot as removeable storage. The computers that come through the Website will have 250Gb hard-disk space.rather than the 160Gb that is part of the test specification.

The graphics infrastructure is based around an Intel graphics chipset that is optimised for netbooks and yields a 1024×600 resolution on the 10” screen. The only external display connectivity available in this case is a VGA socket.

As well, there are three USB sockets – one on the right-hand side and two on the left-hand side.There is also an Ethernet connection for wired networks and the audio in-out jacks on the right hand side. For wireless connectivity, this unit supports Wi-Fi to 802.11g as well as Bluetooth wireless.

The operating system used in this test specification is the Windows XP Home Edition SP3 but computers that are available for sale come with Windows 7 Starter Edition. It may be still worth upgrading the operating system to Windows 7 Home Premium through an Anytime Upgrade pack if you want better network functionality.

Observations and Experiences

The keyboard is responsive but may appear cramped due to the small size of these computers. The touchpad is very small but works well for navigation. These are situations that are considered typical for computers in its class.

I had watched a few YouTube videos about IT and found that the computer is still good with downloaded video content. As well, I had run it through a round of an action-puzzle game on MiniClip which is a popular casual-game site, and the game was still very responsive. Obviously this wouldn’t be the kind of computer for playing the big-time games but would be good for casual games and similar use.

I haven’t worked out a battery “drain test” yet that is appropriate for computers of this class but as I was working on the computer which was running on batteries, I kept observing the battery meter as I used the computer even while I had McAfee do a virus scan in the background and Windows Update deploy the latest set of updates to XP, the computer doesn’t look like it goes tbattery quickly. I also made these observations with the computer under manufacturer-default conditions.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would place this computer as a unit that would be useful as a small-size auxiliary computer for travelling or use around the home such in the kitchen or “Facebooking” in front of the TV. It may work well as something with a keyboard for getting notes on to a file while out and about before you “finish” them on your main computer.

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Product Review – Compaq Presario CQ42 notebook computer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Compaq Presario CQ42 notebook computer which is pitched as an “entry-level” notebook computer. This kind of machine is expected to be used for most Web-browsing and email tasks, office tasks or basic multimedia playback but wouldn’t perform well for advanced media creation or heavy gaming. 

Processor Intel Celeron dual-core  
RAM` 2Gb Shared with display
Secondary Storage 250Gb Hard disk DVD-RW,
Card reader
Display Subsysten Intel Graphics 797Mb maximum
Screen 14” Widescreen LED-backlit LCD
Networking 802.11g wireless  
  Ethernet  
  V.92 modem  
Connectivity USB 3 x USB 2.0
  Video VGA, HDMI
  Audio Headphone x 1, HDMI
    Microphone

The laptop itself

The Compaq Presario is finished in a matte black housing that has a textured pattern on the top of the case and on the keyboard bezel. The display escutcheon is still the black edged type like most of the current crop of laptops and hides a Webcam for video conferencing.

Processor and RAM

This unit is based on an Intel Celeron dual-core processor, another of the processors in Intel’s Celeron “economy-class” processors. Even so, it is capable of providing “up-to-date” performance for most tasks.

It is provisioned with 2Gb RAM, some of which is being used for the display memory like what is accepted for most mainstream laptop computers.

Secondary Storage

The system’s main hard disk is 250Gb with a separate partition for system recovery data and another one for the HP-supplied software. For removeable storage, there is a LightScribe-capable DVD-RW burner and a memory card reader.

Graphics Subsystem

The graphics subsystem is based on Intel hardware and software and can use up to 797Mb of the system’s RAM. This is shown up through a LED-lit 14” LCD display. There is also the ability to connect an external display that uses either a VGA or HDMI connector to the system. Speaking of HDMI, there is support for HDMI digital audio but this comes alive when you connect the laptop to suitable monitor,  HDTV or home-theatre receiver and you would have to make sure that the Intel HDMI Audio driver is your sound device..

Networking and Connectivity

This computer can associate with 802.11g Wi-Fi networks and also has an Ethernet socket for Ethernet or HomePlug network segments. Surprisingly for this day and age, it is equipped with a dial-up modem but this may be the only Internet access type for people who live out in the country.

You also have 3 USB sockets and separate sockets for the headphones and microphone. These aren’t provided as an independent sound feed for use with communications applications,

Keyboard and Trackpad

The keyboard is a smooth flat plastic affair with a light and springy touch which may feel cheap, but it is still suitable for accurate touch-typing.  This is aided with tactile markers on the “F” and “J” keys so you can locate the home row very quickly and easily.

The trackpad is integrated into the palmrest in a manner that may be hard to find for people used to an obvious trackpad. Here, it is just a small area under the spacebar and identified with a accent near the keyboard and the selection buttons as a long bar close to the bottom edge of the keyboard.

Hidden touchpad

Hidden touchpad below spacebar

Software complement

The system is delivered with Windows 7 Home Premium but HP have also supplied software like Norton desktop security software and Cyberlink multimedia software.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

One main limitation would be the hard disk space where the unit has a relatively small hard disk to what is available for most laptops. This may put a limitation on certain user classes like senior-secondary and tertiary students who will have a large amount of work but also run the machine as a jukebox. Here, I would look at providing a version with a 320Gb hard disk but with other features being the same, either as a “product refresh” or a separate model.

Another point of improvement could be to provide wired Ethernet as a Gigabit connection especially as this will be the standard for equipment that is part of “next-generation” broadband.

Other than that, it has the features that would be expected by someone buying a laptop on a budget.

Use experience

I ran a “DVD run-down” test to identify how long the battery would last under pressure and had found that the battery would run for 2hours, 10 minutes with Wi-Fi on and 2 hours, 30 minutes without Wi-Fi on when playing a DVD. This was with me using the Cyberlink DVD player utility rather than Windows Media Player. The graphics have appeared to be smooth through the movie even for a low-end full-size laptop.

Placement

This computer can work best with Web browsing, basic word-processing and other office tasks. As far as multimedia and gaming is concerned, it would work well for most video playback tasks or non-demanding games , especially when on AC power.

Here, I would recommend it as a “first laptop” for secondary-school students, a not-so-good large-screen optical-drive-equipped alternative to a netbook that is used as a secondary laptop or as a large-screen document-friendly“portable computer” for a person who uses a desktop computer as a main computer.

It can also bee seen as a “budget alternative” to a secondhand laptop computer for people who need to “cut their teeth” on computing.

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Product Review – Hewlett-Packard ProBook 4520s

I am reviewing the Hewlett-Packard ProBook 4520s business-class notebook which may be the first such computer that has come across in this blog. It is one such machine that I am assessing as whether it fits the purpose of a “work-home” laptop for a small-business owner or not.HP ProBook 4520 Series laptop

The unit I am reviewing has a recommended retail price of AUD$1299 but you may be able to get the the same specification for a bit less if you shop around. Cheaper models in this lineup would have a smaller hard disk, run Windows 7 Home Premium rather than Professioamnal, come with a standard battery which has a shorter runtime amongst other differences.

The laptop itself

The unit is finished in a brushed satin-bronze finish on top of lid and keyboard surround, but some variants have a dark-satin black finish. There is a a black screen escutcheon which also hides the Webcam for face-recognition security and Skype communications.

The large keyboard has a feature that is not seen on may laptop computers – a separate numeric keypad. This will please accountants and others who work with figures. It is of a “chiclet” square-key stile but is spaced enough so as to permit accurate touch-typing.

Laptop keyboard with numeric keypad

Laptop keyboard with numeric keypad

There is a multi-touch touchpad which may take some time to get used to for people who haven’t used this kind of control before. It has the primary and secondary buttons as part of the bottom margin in the same way that the HP Envy has for its touchpad.

It is powered with the Intel Core i5 processor “engine” and is supplied with 4Gb RAM with 1Gb set aside for display memory. The graphics “engine” is a highly-robust ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4350 series which would be good enough for most business tasks, even video playback.

The secondary storage options are on a par with a current-issue laptop of this class. It has a 500Gb hard disk with 1.8Gb partition for HP software. It also has a tray-load DVD burner that can label LightScribe optical discs and a memory-card reader for removeable storage.

You also get good things when it comes to connectivity with 3 USB ports and 1 eSATA external-disk port as well as an ExpressCard 34 slot for additional functionality. External displays can be connected using a VGA or HDMI connector.

Business software complement

The operating system for this laptop is Windows 7 Professional which is the version of Windows or7 I would recommend and have recommended in this blog for small business and professional use. It has the features of Windows 7 Home Premium plus other features that make it  business-friendly.

The unit is supplied with a very good business software complement with an inplace ready-to-enable distribution of Microsoft Office Professional, McAfee Total Protection web-managed desktop security software as well as WinZip 12. Hewlett-Packard have also put in their own branded system-protection tools which are developed by Digital Persona, which provide password management, facial-recognition, secure-erase, device-usage control amongst other things.

Observations and Ecperiences

The computer doesn’t run hot too quickly after extended periods of use, thus allowing it to be comfortabie to use. If it gets hot, the heat is passed out the left hand side rather than being felt on the bottom of the machine.

Its battery has a lump which can tilt the laptop up slightly also to allow better cooling and comfortable use. This lump has a rubber ridge to protect the good dining-room table but the design could extend to full width of battery for better protection

The extra-length battery that came with this machine allowed it to complete a feature move on DVD with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled. Infact there was 41% of power available after the movie was completed and these tests were done with Windows Media Player playing “Munich” and the computer running on the HP-defined default power configuration. This then would mean that it could run a long time without you needing to look for a power

The other thing I also admired about this machine is that the metal finish keeps its look even if it is well used unlike a lot of the glossy finishes used on laptops that attract fingermarks and the like. It also feels cool to handle and is the kind of finish that would cope with long-time use.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The main limitation with this computer is that it is too heavy for frequent public-transport travel, which may cut it out for frequent air travellers. Some people may find that the long-run battery’s large size and lump may be a limitation for packing and could be improved with a battery that is more cell-dense.

Other than that, there aren’t any other limitations that would impact on its positioning as a business-home home laptop computer.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would recommend this as a business-home laptop or desktop replacement for professionals and small-business operators who are likely to take the unit between home and their place of work. It also comes with business-grade security software that is available at prices and licensing quantities that small business can stomach.

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Product Review – Dell Inspiron 13z notebook computer

I am reviewing the Dell Inspiron 13z notebook computer which would be best classed as a “subnotebook”or ultraportable. This would be a step up from the netbook form factor and would suit users who value portability and mainstream specifications.Dell Inspiron 12z

Description

The Inspiron 13z is finished in a similar manner to its current stablemate, the Dell Studio 15 and has that same glossy black lid. But the inside is based on a two-tone styling for the keyboard area with a silver palm-rest area.

This unit is based on an Intel Core Duo U7300 processor and the review sample came with 4Gb RAM and 320Gb hard disk. Unlike the Studio 15, this one had the hard disk partitioned out with a system space of 58.5Gb, a recovery space of 9.76 Gb and the rest as space for the user’s files. There is wireless functionality that can work with Bluetooth peripherals or 802.11g Wi-Fi networks. The model will be available at the Dell store with 500Gb for the hard disk rather than the 320Gb hard disk that is in the review sample.

There is a tray-load DVD burner and an SD card reader for integrated removeable storage. There are 3 USB ports, an audio jack and the ability to connect an external display through either a VGA port or an HDMI audio-video port. It also has, last but not least, an Ethernet port for connection to Ethernet networks or HomePlug powerline networks.

Tests and observations

The keyboard has worked well for accuracy especially when you touch-type, although it may appear cramped. The trackpad is very similar to the one that is part of the Dell Studio 15, where the sensitive area is integrated in to the palm rest as a recess and the two buttons being the only thing different from that area. Like all the recent laptops that I reviewed, this unit still requires you to press Fn and the function key to gain access to the function keys.

The screen does well on readability and you can get away with typing for a long time without being uncomfortable. It also work properly with the colour, especially when working with still photographs.

I have done the “DVD run-down”test on the battery which I have done with the other laptops I have reviewed here. This was done with the unit in the default “Dell”power configuration to avoid any power-saving functions cutting in. It was able to play a movie for 1 hour 37 minutes with the wireless function enabled and 10 minutes longer without wireless enabled. It can also run for a significant part of the day on basic tasks without running out of power.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

There will always be the problem with limited battery life especially if you work the computer very hard with multimedia, especially games or DVD playback. As well, the wireless-network interface could be able to work with an 802.11n network, but you may have to pay extra for this function. Other than that, there is nothing much to complain about the laptop.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would recommend this computer for those of us who want a compact laptop computer for travelling with and are likely to make good use of it on our travels. Journalists and similar users would appreciate it being the “right size” for use when taking notes or preparing copy while “in the field”. The generous hard disk and the integrated SD card reader can also be a boon when it is used as a staging post for digital images or as a jukebox for music while you travel.

But I wouldn’t recommend it as a computer for students to use because there isn’t anything to protect it against excessive damage like a hard-disk shock sensor.

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Arrival of e-paper-based sun-resistant displays for portable computer devices

News articles

Sonnenresistente Displays gehen in Massenproduktion – Der Standard (Austria – German language)

From the horse’s mouth

Pixel Qi – web site

My comments on this technology

If you have ever tried to use your laptop, mobile phone or digital camera outside on a bright sunny day, you will have found it very difficult to read the device’s screen in that bright sunlight. Some users may have fashioned up loupes or shades to force the sun away from the screen and others may have preferred to work in shady areas like under a tree or in a shadow.

Pixel Qi have designed a colour display which uses a combination of LCD and e-paper technology to avoid this washout problem. It has the advantage of the always-backlit standard colour LCD display but uses the e-paper technology to enable reflective viewing in brighter lighting environments. This has also allowed for the backlight to be used only as needed, thus saving power and allowing for a longer operating time when on battery power.

Some people may think that these advanced displays won’t work well with video or games but they have the same refresh rate as the current-generation standard LCD display thus will work properly with these applications.

At the moment, the only screen size that is being built with this technology is the 10.1” widescreen which will be pitched at e-book readers, netbooks, subnotebooks, tablet devices and high-end large-screen electronic picture frames. This is mainly because they are supplying this technology to the low-power laptops that are part of the “One Laptop Per Child” project. They are yet to make smaller and larger screens for the other display applications like standard laptops, regular electronic picture frames digital cameras or HDTVs.

What I am definitely pleased about with this technology is that there is a colour LCD display that is friendly to all lighting environments and can allow portable devices to run longer.

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Product Review – Hewlett-Packard Envy 15 luxury “thin-and-light” notebook computer

Do you really envy the HP Envy?

I am now reviewing the HP Envy 15, which I have talked about previously in relation to Windows 7, especially if you have noticed the AdSense ads for this computer that appeared on the blog around the time of that operating system’s launch.HP Envy notebook computer

This computer is a consumer-market “thin-and-light” notebook computer pitched at the luxury end of Hewlett-Packard’s notebook computer range. This review is infact the first review I have done for a “thin-and-light” travel-friendly notebook in this blog.

Look and feel

Even from the moment you unpack the Envy from its box, you will notice a look and feel that says the word “deluxe” about it. It was as though I was unwrapping something that was very special like a good watch. You would find the computer itself wrapped in a black cloth bag and the keyboard was covered with a black sheet. Even the cardboard box had the sense of “Black Label” about it.

The computer itself has a “bronze-tone” lid and keyboard escutcheon with a display that is shrouded with a black escutcheon. That same “bronze-tone” is very similar to how the Nokia 6210 mobile phone was finished. There is even a detailed pattern in the perforations on the lid an keyboard escutcheon that reminds me of a pattern associated with satin-finish or flock-finish wallpapers used by some people  to achieve the “manor house” look in their homes. The casing also has a feel that reminds me of aluminium even though it is plastic.

User Interface

Pattern detail on HP Envy lid

Pattern detail on HP Envy lid

The keyboard has a “chiclet”-style layout which may not appeal to touch-typists and the keys don’t have a “deep throw” that most PC users are used to. Therefore, it will take some time getting used to. This may be an attempt to mimic the Apple MacBook Pro’s keyboard. You also will need to use the Fn key to gain access to the function keys, otherwise these keyare used for managing functions like sound volume, display brightness and media-player controls.

The trackpad looks just like the MacBook Pro’s trackpad, with the buttons being as though they are part of the trackpad rather than as separately distinct buttons. Here, you would use tne area on each side of a white marker on the bottom of the trackpad to select your options.

Processor and RAM

The computer works on an Intel Core i7 processor and is loaded with 8Mb RAM, which would allow for a high level of performance. This should be considered enough for the kind of performance expected from a deluxe machine.

Secondary storage

The Envy has a 640Gb hard disk that is split between 3 partitions – a 580Gb boot partition that is used for programs and data, a 14.5Gb recovery partition and a 99 Mb HP TOOLS partition for HP’s own software.

For removeable storage, there is an integrated SDHC card reader on the front edge of the machine as well as an external tray-load DVD burner that is connected via the USB ports. The external DVD burner, which is finished in a similar manner to the Envy, also has an integrated 2-port USB hub.

Display

The Envy has a 15” widescreen LED-backlit LCD driven by an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5830 integrated-graphics subsystem. The memory used for this display is 1Gb of main system memory, which may affect system performance. This would be adequate for most tasks and had performed very well during the DVD run-down test with “Munich”.

Connectivity

The Envy also has “up-to-the-moment” connectivity abilities with 2 USB 3.0 sockets, ,1 eSATA socket, an HDMI video/audio output socket and a jack for connecting a microphone or headphones.,It doesn’t seem to work with the new 4-conductor plugs used as part of the OMTP specification for wired mobile headsets.

At the moment, HP has to supply operating software to “open up” the USB 3.0 functionality but Microsoft will rectify the problem by integrating this functionality when they release the next or subsequent service pack for Windows 7.

Audio

The Dr. Dre Beats Audio sound tuning primarily adds a 10-band graphic equaliser and balance control  to the sound controls, but the common lack of bass response is still there when you use the Envy’s integrated speakers – the small size and cramped space makes the job harder.

HP Envy alongside B&O headphones

HP Envy alongside some premium B&O headphones

This sound tuning is best enjoyed with good sound equipment or a pair of good headphones in the order of AKG, Bang & Olufsen, Bose, or Sennheiser. Infact the sound comes through clearly with my B&O Form 2 headphones that I am using with this laptop and I would recommend these headphones as befitting the luxury style of this computer.

It may be worth noting that the Beats Audio tuning won’t affect the HDMI digital-audio output path mainly because the device that is used to reproduce the sound will be the control point for the sound output and usually offer better sound reproduction.

Operation Issues

I had run a “DVD-rundown” test which measures battery runtime when the computer is playing a DVD. This test has the graphics subsystem constantly working as it shows the movie and als runs the DVD player constantly. Here, I was playing Stephen Spielberg’s “Munich” and had noticed that whether the wireless functionality was on or off, the computer couldn’t make it through the movie. This may also be because of a smaller battery pack built in to this computer and the fact that the DVD is played on an external DVD drive.

Sometimes the “throw-in” software that comes with a name-brand computer may be described as “crapware” can be of high calibre. One example is the MediaSmart Music Player, which behaves properly with UPnP MediaServer setups. Here, it allows you to navigate the MediaServer’s content tree in the same way as you would navigate it using a DLNA device’s user interface.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

A major limitation with the Envy’s “thin-and-light” chassis design is that it is simply “cramped inside”. This limits proper cooling which leads to the machine becoming hot after a significant time of use. It also leads to the “Beats Audio” sound-reproduction tuning being off the mark because there isn’t enough room for the bass frequencies to resonate.

What HP could do to “build-out” the Envy deluxe notebook range is provide a larger “mainstream-style” notebook computer with integrated direct-load optical drive (preferably Blu-Ray) and larger battery in to the Envy series in order to set itself up with a worthy competitor to the Apple Macbook Pro computer. The suggested machine would have the same styling and Beats Audio sound-tuning as this machine and could support a larger screen.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would place the Envy towards people who are wanting the look of one of the “thin and light” Apple MacBook Air computers but want to have something cheaper or stay on a “standards-based” computer operating environment.

Women may like this computer because of its emphasis on aesthetics, especially if they are enamoured by the “old-class” manor-house styling. The “thin-and-light” chassis may not fit in to a handbag but would fit well in a small briefcase or large shoulder bag.

Functionally, I would still class it as an all-rounder for most data-intensive applications. Some multimedia applications may require the computer to be on an external power source. The Beats Audio sound tuning would be justified when used with external sound equipment or good-quality headphones.

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Product Review – Dell Studio 15 notebook computer (Windows 7 Home Premium)

I am now reviewing the Dell Studio 15 multimedia notebook computer, which is the first notebook computer to be reviewed in this blog. It is pitched as a portable multimedia computer, in an attempt to push in on the Apple MacBook’s territory as part of the recent general-purpose computing system showdown since Apple and Microsoft reworked their respective desktop operating systems last year.

It is worth knowing that if you buy a computer through Dell, you have a large range of options available to you in how you customise your unit. It ranges from processor types or memory and hard-disk capacities to optical drives, screens or batteries, through software even to how you want the computer to look. So it is worth knowing that the computer that you may specify may not be the same as the one that I have reviewed, and I have prepared a table at the end of the review outlining some variations including the unit I have reviewed.

Look and feel

Dell Studio 15 Multimedia LaptopThe unit has a glossy piano-black top which can be customised with different colours when you order it through Dell’s website/ The back of the computer is rounded when closed but has the hinges brought forward. On the right-hand side, the hinge pin acts as the system’s ON-OFF switch which will light up in white when it is on.

Like most of the recent laptop / notebook designs made by other manufacturers, Dell has moved away from using latches to keep the lid closed. This has made an accessibility improvement which is a boon for people who may have dexterity limitations.

Therefore, all the connections are located on each side of the keyboard, which has been a departure from the norm of laptop design. Similarly, there isn’t any latches that you need to operate to allow the lid to open, which can be a bonus with older people pr people with dexterity problems.

Features

Processor and RAM

The computer is based around an Intel Core i5 multi-core chipset which is considered reasonable by today’s standards for a laptop computer. The review system also comes with 4Gb or RAM on board and works to a 64-bit architecture. The unit can be scaled up to 6Gb at $250 extra.

Keyboard

The Studio 15’s keyboard has a regular look, touch and feel, which goes against an Apple-inspired trend of using “chiclet” keys which look like a calculator keypad. This would appeal to those of us who are good at touch-typing. You can have this machine with a backlit keyboard as an extra-cost option, which may be of benefit for people who travel on night journeys.

An issue that may confuse users is the requirement to press “Fn” with the function key to gain access to their regular functionality, otherwise they become system control keys (display, WiFi, speaker volume, etc). This is infact becoming common as the the keyboard area becomes more cramped on these portable computers.

Another thing worth noticing was that you don’t have an ON-OFF switch on the keyboard area or other obvious areas unlike most other notebooks. Here, the switch is part of the unit’s lid hinge pin on the right hand side and is illuminated in white when the machine is in use.

On-off switch as part of hinge

On-off switch as part of lid hinge

Trackpad

The unit uses a multi-touch trackpad which is highly-integrated with the palm rest below the keyboard. There are only two buttons below the trackpad for use as the equivalent of the mouse buttons. The design yields a dust-proof design which would lead to highly-reliable operation.

Display

The display and graphics subsystem is based on ATI graphics techonology and shows up on an LED-backlit, LCD. You can use an external display that is connected via a VGA socket or an HDMI socket. If you use a DVI display, you would need to use a DVI-HDMI adaptor.

The LED-backlit LCD screen is typical of most LCD screens and there is no colour difference between this display and a regular CCFL display. The main benefit you may have is extended runtime when on the battery and a slimmer lid.

Secondary storage

This unit has a 500Gb hard disk but can be ordered with a 640Gb hard disk at extra cost. What impressed me about this computer was that the whole hard disk was prepared as a single logical volume (drive letter) with space set aside for the operating system and supplied applications.

Slot-load Blu-Ray drive / DVD burner

The review sample came with a slot-load BD-ROM / DVD-RW burner which can play Blu-Ray discs and burn to DVD discs. You will save around $200 if you opt for the same computer without the Blu-Ray option, which may be more of concern if you aren’t interested in “future-proofing” this notebook.

There is the feasibility for one to connect an eSATA-enabled external storage device to an eSATA / USB socket on the left hand side of the machine. As well, there is a built-in multi-format memory-card drive for use with digital-camera memory cards.

Networking

This computer is well-endowed when it comes to networking capabilities. It can work with 802.11n wireless networks that work on either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands and also has integrated Bluetooth wireless support. There is a Gigabit Ethernet port on the left-hand side for use with Ethernet (or HomePlug) )networks.

Sound

The sound comes through as being “full and clean”, otherwise it is typical for a laptop.  I had tested the sound by running a DVD of the “Live Aid” global fund-raiser concert that happened in July 1985. It is also worth knowing that the computer is available to order with a Creative-Labs sound chipset if you want that bit more out of the sound.

Connectivity

 

Sockets on left side including 1394 socket

The computer does well on connectivity by supplying 3 USB sockets with one being an eSATA socket, an IEEE1394 socket, video out via a VGA or HDMI socket, a Gigabit Ethernet socket as well as audio connectivity via a MIC/LINE-IN and two headphone/LINE-OUT sockets.,

This has certainly become a positive highlight for this machine, especially if it is being intended as a multimedia-focused unit.

Battery performance and usage notes

I had done a “DVD rundown test” on the laptop to find out what the battery lifespan is like under difficult conditions like multimedia activities. This time, I played the aforementioned “Live Aid” DVD straight through and it completed the concert disc which lasted 2 hours, 17 minutes with the wireless-network functionality off. Also, I had run the computer on the default power scheme with the standard battery that came with it and had made sure the battery was charged up. The battery level was at less than 10 percent when measuered with the Windows battery meter when the disc had finished.

I have looked on the Dell Website and they only have a 9-cell extended range battery available either supplied with the system as part of your configuration or as an accessory you can purchase later. Sadly, Dell, like most other laptop vendors, doesn’t supply any DC adaptors which allow you to work with this laptop from a car battery or an airliner’s DC power-supply system. You may have to then look for such adaptors from third-party suppliers like Targus.

The machine doesn’t get hot very quickly and is not likely to burn your knees after a good run of use. This may be typical of most regular-sized mainstream business laptops.

Pricing for test system and recommended configurations

I have created a table with some selected configuration options, especially concerning secondary storage and the price that is highlighted in bold represents the configuration that I am reviewing.

All of these specifications are delivered with Windows 7 Home Premium but I would prefer business owners to look at the Windows 7 Professional which will cost $60.50 extra. Windows 7 Ultimate, which is important if you have sensitive data on your system will cost you $140.80 extra.

  500Gb HDD 640Gb HDD – maximum hard disk space
DVD-burner $1299.00 $1383.70
Blu-Ray and DVD-burner $1537.70 $1622.40

 

Conclusion and placement notes.

I would recommend this machine as a future-proof “work-home” laptop, preferably for those who drive between locations. It would also find that it works well as a desktop replacement for business and multimedia use, rather than intense gaming.

It may also appeal to those of you who want to do multimedia work on a Windows-based portable machine, especially if you have are working with miniDV camcorders or other FireWire-equipped video equipment.

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The "netbook" computer – now every manufacturer is selling one of them

A “netbook” computer is a low-cost portable computer the same size as a classic “Day-Planner” or “Filofax” personal organizer but is primarily designed to be used for basic computing tasks like Web browsing, e-mail work or basic word-processing. Typically they will have up to 1Gb on the RAM and up to 80Gb on a solid-state disk or 120Gb on a mechanical hard disk. They will use a processor like the Intel Aero that is pitched at ultra-portable computer work by being designed to offer basic processing power without much energy being used. . The display won’t have the kind of performance that you would expect for intense game play or video editing but would be suitable for most tasks including playing casual games.  Typically, they will have built-in wireless networking support primarily for Internet access. The operating system they will often run with is either a customised Linux build or the latest “out-of-box” build of Windows XP. They usually don’t come with any sort of “load device” like an optical disk drive because you are expected to work with the software that is supplied as part of the unit or download extra software from the Internet to suit your needs. If you do need auxiliary storage or a “load device”, they may come with an SD card drive or you plug in a USB Mass-Storage compliant device like a memory key or external optical drive.

This class of computer was born out of the “One Laptop Per Child” project where the idea was to provide computer and Internet access to children in marginalised Third World countries.  They have also gained appeal in Western countries as a small secondary computer for e-mail and Web use or as an entry-level computer for the likes of students. One area that they can come in handy in the home is as a “Web terminal” that is used in the kitchen or lounge for casual Web browsing. This would be set up in a similar manner to what I have suggested in a previous article about how a secondhand computer could be set up as a kitchen computer.

For most people, it may be preferable to work with Windows XP-based netbooks rather than the scaled-down Linux units. This will provide a lot more operating room through the unit’s working life. If you do a lot of work with Linux, I would suggest that you go for the high-end Linux units and know how to keep their software up to date. This may involve “rolling in” the latest version of a standard distribution like Redhat or OpenSUSE with all its functionality. Some Linux “geeks” may be interested in using a “netbook” for modelling programs that they are developing or building the “perfect” distribution.

I would still certainly say that these “netbooks” still have their place in the computer market in all market conditions.

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