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Office 11, Power Management, and Laptop of the Month

Last week's commentary about Microsoft Office 11 enhancements and the state of Office deployment garnered a host of responses. I haven't sorted through the responses enough to write a comprehensive follow-up article, so this week's commentary is a hodgepodge of Office 11 and laptop information, including this month's Laptop of the Month.

More Office 11
As I mentioned last week, Microsoft faces a tough sell with Office 11, mainly because existing Office versions are already quite capable and because Office is an expensive upgrade. Regarding Office 11 and XML, at Comdex Fall 2002 last week, I discovered that Microsoft designed Office 11's XML support almost solely to support client-side XML applications called SmartDocs, which will let Office 11 documents interact with back-end XML servers. In fact, if you so desired, you could use XML as your default document format in Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, but the resulting files would generally be much larger than their proprietary document equivalents. Some of the SmartDoc demos I saw at COMDEX were quite interesting, and I'll write more about the technology in the near future.

Power-Management Factoid
At the risk of looking like an idiot, let me tell you about an interesting Windows XP power-management feature I just "discovered." In earlier Windows versions, PC makers often supplied an Intel SpeedStep applet with their laptop systems. The applet provides an icon in the system tray that controls how Intel's mobile processors work in certain situations. For example, a Pentium III-M processor that typically operates at 800MHz on electric current might throttle back to 500MHz when running on battery power, by default, to save battery life. The applet lets users decide whether the system's performance would dip while running on battery power, in which case, they could prevent the decrease in power.

The XP-based laptops I've reviewed haven't had this applet, but I didn't give that fact much thought until I reviewed this month's Laptop of the Month (see below). This month's laptop is a 2GHz speed demon, but its System Properties list its performance specifications as 1.2GHz or 1.5GHz, even when the machine is running on electric current. After a little research, I discovered why: XP handles Intel SpeedStep power management features through its Power Options Properties dialog box, in which you can select between power schemes such as Portable/Laptop, Home/Office Desk, and others. Most laptops are preconfigured to use the Portable/Laptop scheme (this month's laptop is no different), which you would expect would optimize performance for these types of machines.

The problem, however, is that this power scheme isn't designed to give you the full power benefits of your processor, even if the machine is plugged in. Instead, XP gauges your processing needs and ratchets the processor speed up and down as needed—thus the 1.2GHz and 1.5GHz speeds I saw in System Properties. If you want the processor to run at full speed all the time, you must select Home/Office Desk. When I selected this setting, the processor correctly reported its speed as 2GHz. Naturally, this change will affect battery life, but I found the difference that the various settings made in battery life to be negligible. You might experiment with these settings to see how they affect your battery life, or remember to change back to the Portable/Laptop mode when running your laptop on batteries. I'm curious to know how many UPDATE readers already knew about this setting—it came as a surprise to me.

Laptop of the Month
This month's Laptop of the Month is the vpr Matrix 200A5, a speed demon of epic proportions with a crowd-pleasing wide-screen display and a body that FA Porsche designed. Sold only at Best Buy retail and online locations, the 200A5 was a constant source of discussion on a recent road trip I took, with virtually everyone asking for a closer look. The machine is stunningly designed, with black and silver accents and hard edges that go against the current trend toward rounded designs.

When you open the lid of the 200A5's 15.2" wide-screen display, which runs at 1280 x 852 pixels, you almost expect George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone" to start playing as the startup sound. The 200A5 features a 2GHz Pentium 4-M processor, 512MB of RAM, an NVIDIA video card, a 40GB hard disk, two FireWire ports, two USB 2.0 ports, a single PC Card slot, integrated wireless connectivity, a professional-quality sound system that needs to be hooked up to an audiophile-quality stereo system to be appreciated, and a slot-loading DVD/CD-RW drive—a rarity on PC laptops. And although the machine gets warm underneath after hours of use, it's not blisteringly hot like other desktop replacements.

Applications such as Microsoft Outlook, Excel, and Adobe PhotoShop find new life on the 200A5's wide-screen display. And because this machine is a true desktop replacement, whatever applications you run will run fast. Best of all, the 200A5's 6.5 pounds make the machine feel more like a midsized laptop than a desktop replacement, which would weigh closer to 10 pounds. I carried it around at COMDEX and didn't feel the need for shoulder surgery after the show was over. And the battery life was excellent: about 3 hours and 20 minutes on average.

The 200A5 costs $2399, which is an exceptional price when you factor in the unit's weight and design. If you're looking for a true desktop replacement that won't break your back during business trips, I highly recommend this machine.

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