Portable powerhouses

Nick Edmunds reviews the latest notebooks to top the league in PC Magazine
Despite notebook PCs being small enough to fit into a briefcase and light enough to be easily carried, the latest and most powerful portables lose out little to the desktop computer.

The notebook PC, with its A4-sized format and weighing as little as 4lb, packs in a fast processor, huge hard disk and lots of that all-important RAM. So capable are the newest portable PCs that increasing numbers are purchased in place of desktops models.

Why, the argument goes, buy a hulking great box that occupies half your desk when a notebook PC will do the same job but in a much more convenient package? On top of all this comes its ability to be used on the move - running off batteries - in places your desktop machine most definitely could never reach.

The downside of these computing mighty midgets is price - you pay more for the miniaturised technology - and, in a minor, but important, respect, the display quality. The picture on even the most expensive portable is not as good as on the cheapest desktop.

Nevertheless, portable screens have improved enormously in recent years. The latest thin-film transistor (TFT) screens have vibrant colours, are big (up to 13in) and have resolutions matching desktop monitors of 1024 by 768 pixels.

The October issue of PC Magazine reviews 14 of the most powerful 133Mhz Pentium notebooks on the market, with a series of laboratory-based tests for overall speed measurement and battery life.

The winner - receiving PC Magazine's Editor's Choice Award - was the Micron Millennium Transport P133. It was judged to be excellent value for money at pounds 3,595 as it combined a top performance score along with an excellent set of features and good battery life.

The Micron comes with 16Mb of RAM, a 1.2Gb hard disk drive and has stereo sound and a quad speed CD-Rom drive built in, plus the best-selling Microsoft Office Pro package, making it a very good buy.

Delivering quite superb battery life, was the Dell Latitude XPi P133st. This machine managed three hours of flat-out use and a chart-topping, near-seven hours of more typical typing and pausing usage. The Dell has a 770Mb hard drive and mono sound and, at pounds 2,749, is "recommended" by PC Magazine.

One further "recommended" notebook is the AST Ascentia P50 P133 CTS11, representing a good alternative to the Micron. It is almost as fast, has similar battery performance, a slightly better keyboard and, best of all, is cheaper at pounds 3,149.

Continuous improvement in portable PC technology means that the notebook PC is now a great buy for both the home and office as well as for mobile use. And there is, today, a dazzling choice on the market.

For more details, see October's `PC Magazine'. All prices quoted are exclusive of VAT. The `PC Magazine' Editors Choice and recommended products are based on objective benchmarks developed by Ziff-Davis Labs. These independent benchmarks incorporate real-life computing tasks and are accepted as worldwide industry standards.