Run NT on Laptops? Yes, You Can!

Check out 10 notebooks that embrace NT 4.0.

Joel Sloss

February 28, 1997

26 Min Read
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Check out 10 notebooks that embrace NT 4.0

Not sure whether you can run Windows NT 4.0 on laptop computers? In theWindows NT Magazine Lab, we've run NT 4.0 on laptops since beta 1. Andnow that many notebook manufacturers that didn't support earlier versions of NThave jumped on the NT bandwagon, you'll find a wide range of machines to choosefrom. This month the Lab examines a 10-laptop sample of entry-level and high-end notebook computers from manufacturers that have embraced NT 4.0 as aplatform for remote computing.

A New Generation
Uncertain that NT 4.0 on laptops is the way to go? Recent developments inlaptop technology might convince you to reconsider-- especially if you don'talready use a portable.

The first and most important development is the new generation ofhigh-performance, remarkably low-priced portables. You can get a 166MHz Pentiumwith 32MB of RAM, active matrix display, CD-ROM, and a 2.1GB hard disk for about$3500. NT is a well-known resource hog (you need a moderately powerful machinefor an NT system), so this kind of power in a portable at an affordable priceeliminates one concern about moving to NT.

Second, Microsoft is finally coming out with a new technology (OnNow powermanagement architecture) that addresses power management and Plug and Play (PnP)on laptops. (For a look at industry solutions to power management and PnP on NT,see "Advanced Power Management and Plug and Play," page 44). Microsoftplans to fully implement OnNow in NT 5.0, but it will release some components asupgrades to NT 4.0.

Third, some manufacturers (e.g., IBM and Digital Equipment) have takenmatters into their own hands and designed machines and software to take care ofNT's portable problems. Last, Phoenix Technologies has developed a new BIOS forportables, designed specifically for NT 4.0.

Laptops We Tested
At the high end of our 10-laptop sample, we reviewed power-user systems witha 133MHz or higher Pentium CPU, 32MB of RAM, a 2.1GB hard disk, a CD-ROM drive,multimedia, an active matrix display, and whatever peripherals (e.g., modems,LAN cards) the vendors wanted to include. At the low end, we looked atreasonably priced systems with just enough features to run NT: a 133MHz or lowerPentium, 16MB of RAM, a 1GB hard disk, and a passive display.

Not all of our survey's vendors sent both types of system--some vendorsconsider NT a high-end application for their systems. You pay extra money to getNT on some of the systems (especially where NT is an option above Windows 95),and some systems ship with NT 4.0 pre-installed.

Our review list doesn't include a few well-known vendors (e.g., NEC,Toshiba) because they don't currently support or sell NT on their notebooks.Will circumstances change in the future? Probably. For example, NEC is planninga model based on the new NT 4.0 optimized BIOS from Phoenix Technologies thatwill provide Advanced Power Management (APM) and PnP features. You can expectother new portables that support NT to enter the market this spring, aftercompanies verify their systems and drivers under NT 4.0. Other vendors arewaiting until Microsoft implements the rest of the APM and PnP functions beforereleasing NT-ready systems so that high-end models don't lack the features builtinto low-end Win95 offerings.

Word of Caution
While reviewing these systems, the Lab observed a few characteristics of thelaptops that deserve a cautionary mention. First, all the laptops have only onePS/2-style port, so you must choose between adding on a keyboard or mouse--youcan opt for a serial mouse in addition to the keyboard for desktop use (withouta docking station), but that arrangement can conflict with your laptop's bus-driven built-in pointing device during ordinary operation. A better solutioncalls for using NT 4.0's hardware profiles. For example, under Control Panel,Devices, HW Profiles, you can set up a profile that enables or disables specificdevices for certain users or configurations at boot time.

Second, all but the Digital and IBM machines lack power management and PnPfunctionality. So you need to properly set up your NT portable: In most cases,you must disable the BIOS-based power management features to avoid problems suchas NT crashing when the BIOS spins down the system drive. Be aware of what yourlaptop can and cannot do: For example, don't try hot-swapping PC Cards in asystem not equipped to handle it. In some cases, pressing the suspend button cancause difficulties. (We experimentally pressed the button after exiting allapplications, and that action clobbered the Microsoft Word file for this review.Recovery took more than 45 minutes.)

Third, power management or not, when the battery runs out, it's likepulling the plug on a desktop PC. The notebook dies and takes all your work withit--especially if the model doesn't support automatic suspend/resume. Therefore,when your system signals a low battery--pay attention and shut down!

Information Map
For information about the specific features of the machines the Lab tested,read the individual reviews that follow. In "Testing the Portables,"you can find out how the Lab tested the 10 systems. "Editor's Choice," reveals which machines the Lab picked as best of breed and why, and "TechnicalSupport," describes the technical support you can expect from the vendors.For a quick summary of price, performance score, configuration, battery life,and other pertinent information, see Table 1, "Summing Up the Laptops."

AST Ascentia P50

Looking for a fast notebook computer to run Windows NT? Do you want a nicedisplay, too? How about long battery life? AST's Ascentia P50 is the answer, andit's backed by a good warranty and excellent customer service.

The Windows NT Magazine Lab's Ascentia test system came loaded withfeatures such as a 133MHz Pentium CPU, 32MB of RAM (expandable to 40MB), a 2.1GBhard disk, an integrated 28.8Kbit-per-second data/fax modem, a 6X CD-ROM module,a Sound Blaster Vibra 16 chipset, embedded stereo speakers and microphone,Phoenix FlashBIOS, a SmartPoint Touchpad, a Cirrus Logic CL-GD7543 graphicscontroller for Super VGA resolution of 800*600 with 16-bit (65,536) colorresolution, and a 12.1" diagonal active-matrix color screen. All thishardware weighs in at 7.1 pounds with the CD-ROM drive (or 6.8 pounds with thefloppy drive) installed.

The case is well designed and easy to open. Multiple I/O connectors haveindividual covers. For example, you can open just the Serial/VGA connector coverand plug in an external display, leaving the rest of the I/O connectorsprotected. The joystick port resides on the left side of the system with its owncover. You can press a button on the battery to see how much power is availablevia five LED indicators.

The well-designed keyboard includes function keys to adjust volume, treble,bass, balance, contrast, and brightness. A function key lets you toggle betweenthe display panel and external monitors. You can also use function keys to putthe notebook into suspend or standby mode (which work well under NT), or you canconfigure the power button via the BIOS for on/off or suspend/normal mode. Theonly thing I didn't like about the keyboard was that you have to press the FNkey to use the Pg Up, Pg Dn, Home, and End keys, which are on the Up, Down,Left, and Right keys.

The easy-to-read LCD status display shows indicators for power, battery,turbo mode, hard disk activity, floppy activity, caps-lock, num-lock,scroll-lock, and battery-lock. Installing NT and the various drivers was abreeze, although I did need to locate the correct video and sound drivers.

The Ascentia P50 is one of the fastest systems the Lab tested, with aSYSmark/
32 score of 110. Its price falls in the middle of all the systemsin our roundup. AST backs its machines with a three-year worldwide warranty andexcellent customer service. AST has teamed with Federal Express in a programcalled ExpressONE (Overnight Notebook Exchange), a next-business-day, on-site,notebook replacement program. The first year of the warranty includes ExeCarePlus, a 48-hour rapid repair service (US only). After one year, you must payshipping costs, unless you sign up for the optional ExpressONE program thatcovers the second and third years.

—Dean Porter

Ascentia P50

Contact: AST * 714-727-4141 or 800-876-4278Web: http://www.ast.comPrice: $4599 (when tested); $4299 (current)

Broadax BSI NP8620D and BSI NP8620A
Broadax Systems (BSI) makes everything from notebook PCs to ruggedizedportables and rackmount systems. We reviewed two units in Broadax's BSI NP8620series: the NP8620D, an entry-level unit with a 100MHz Pentium CPU, 16MB of RAM,a 1GB hard disk, and an 11.3" dual-scan LCD; and the NP8620A, a high-endsystem with a 166MHz Pentium CPU, 32MB of RAM, a 2.1GB hard disk, and a 12.1"Thin Film Transistor (TFT) LCD. Both systems offer the same basic set ofbuilt-in features (described below), but you can choose display type, CPU speed,memory, disk, and other features that influence the end-user price. The BSINP8620A is the most full-featured laptop of the group the Lab tested, but itsupgrade capability isn't the best.

I really liked the NP8620's integrated slim-line floppy drive. You can runthe floppy drive and a CD-ROM at the same time--a useful feature when youinstall software such as NT. The NP8620's 2MB of Enhance Data Output (EDO) VRAMproduces a nice true-color display, something people who make presentations onthe road appreciate. Mobile power users might find the limited RAM a problem.The NP8620 comes with only 8MB of RAM--not enough to run NT--and you can upgradeto only 40MB.

We found the 166MHz Pentium NP8620A to be one of the fastest performers ofthe group (it finished second, with a SYSmark/32 score of 112), with a low price($3470) for its impressive feature set. Although each NP model weighs almost 8pounds, BSI packs a lot into these systems.

You can choose among Pentium CPUs that range from 100MHz to 166MHz (200MHzin the near future), with 256KB of Level 2 cache. The NP comes standard with a6X CD-ROM drive, 16-bit Sound Blaster Pro-compatible audio, and 64-bit PCI videothat can support up to 1280*1024*16 colors externally and 800*600 true color onthe LCD.

Broadax uses an integrated trackpad pointing device, which I find easier touse than the IBM-style eraserpoints mounted in the middle of the keyboard. Thetrackpad takes a little getting used to--you can move, click, and double-clickon the pad--but it's comfortable to operate.

The NP8620s are mobile multimedia systems with built-in game/MIDI andTV-out ports in addition to the usual suite of serial, parallel, video, andaudio connectors. The excellent true-color display on the active-matrix model iseasy to read and well suited to traveling graphics professionals. The dual-scanpassive display is good, but I'm always willing to sacrifice battery life infavor of readability: You get shadows and ghosts on the dual-scan units.However, the video circuitry and device drivers combine to speed up this systemon display-intensive business applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel, andPowerPoint.

The negatives about the NP8620s include their limited memory expandability,weight, and speaker location (on either side of the trackpad where your palms orwrists can cover them). BSI has not implemented any Plug-and-Play (PnP) orAdvanced Power Management (APM) features under NT 4.0.

Overall, the NP8620 laptops offer great performance at unbeatable prices.You can get a well-equipped NT-capable Pentium system for $2000 or a verywell-equipped one for less than $3500. These feature-rich systems are worth theinvestment because they offer desktop PC-like capabilities and performance in amobile package.

—Joel Sloss



Contact:Broadax Systems * 818-442-0020 or 800-872-4547Web:http://www.bsicomputer.comPrice: $3470

Contact:Broadax Systems * 818-442-0020 or 800-872-4547Web: http://www.bsicomputer.comPrice: $2050

Compaq LTE 5400
The LTE 5400 is the new high-end offering from Compaq, with a 150MHz PentiumCPU, a 512KB Level 2 cache, and a 12.1" active-matrix LCD. (In contrast,the older LTE 5200 reviewed in "Compaq LTE 5200," May 1996, offered a120MHz Pentium CPU, a 256KB Level 2 cache, and a 10.4" display.) The LTE5400's other features include an optional 6X CD-ROM, a 2.16GB hard disk, and theadded bonus that the larger display consumes less power than the LTE 5200's 10.4"display.

The LTE 5400 is solidly built and well designed. You don't need aproprietary version of NT--you can install NT 4.0 (unlike Windows 95) directlyfrom Microsoft's distribution CD-ROM, which includes all the appropriatedrivers. Memory is easy to upgrade. Our test system had 32MB of RAM, thestandard offering for the machine; you can add up to 64MB more RAM in a singlemodule. The modular expansion bay (MultiBay) lets you mix and match components:two simultaneous batteries, a CD-ROM or floppy drive, or a second hard disk (itneeds a tray).

The LTE 5400 uses a 64-bit CPU/Memory/Cache bus and 32-bit PCI for video,network (integrated into the docking station), audio, and IDE controllers. Ifound the LTE 5400 responded more quickly than the LTE 5200, which I attributeto the LTE 5400's higher CPU clock speed and larger Level 2 cache. Surprisingly,the LTE 5400 did not get a top score on the SYSmark/32 test (it finishedseventh, with a score of 88). Poorly optimized NT 4.0 drivers for video or otherI/O components might account for this score.

On the plus list for the LTE 5400, I put its readable, bright800*600-pixel, 12.1" Compaq Thin Film Transistor (TFT) display with 64,000simultaneous colors (Compaq also offers a 1024x768 model). The system can handlean external resolution of up to 1024*768*256 colors.

Overall, the LTE 5400 performed marvelously. I've found the LTE 5200reliable over the long term, and I expect the LTE 5400 performs as reliably. Itssupport for many combinations of internal peripherals makes the LTE 5400 a goodchoice for the traveling NT power user (and the multimedia and audiocapabilities work great under NT).

Unfortunately, no system is without flaws. You can't use the floppy andCD-ROM drives simultaneously without docking the machine--there's no floppydrive housing or connector cable for external use. Compaq doesn't yet supportAdvanced Power Management (APM) or Plug and Play (PnP), so you don't get batterysaving, hot-docking, or PC Card hot-swapping in NT 4.0. Compaq has yet toimplement its security and fault management features under NT the way it hasunder Windows 95. I found the joystick-type pointing device difficult to use,and the mouse buttons are a little stiff. I experienced some pain in my handsafter extended use, but adding a docking station, a Microsoft Natural Keyboard,and an ergonomic mouse solved that problem.

I recommend the LTE 5400 to anyone looking for a reliable workhorseportable system, but for the power, functionality, and brand name, you'll payabout $6000. If I had the money, I'd buy one, but these machines aren't forbargain hunters. Look to lesser configurations of the LTE 5000 series or to theArmada 4100 line for less expensive solutions.

—Joel Sloss

LTE 5400

Contact: Compaq Computer * 800-888-5858Web: http://www.compaq.comPrice: $6248 (when tested); $5999 (current)

Digital Equipment HiNote Ultra II LTS 5150 and HiNote VP 535
The Windows NT Magazine Lab reviewed two Digital Equipment systems:the high-end HiNote Ultra II LTS 5150 and the entry-level HiNote VP 535. Digitaltakes portable NT very seriously: The company used Microsoft's first powermanagement application software development kit (SDK) to develop its ownAdvanced Power Management (APM) and Plug-and-Play (PnP) features for notebooksthat run NT 4.0.

The VP 535 runs NT 4.0, but it was not fully optimized as of thisreview--check with Digital for the latest status of its drivers. If you go withthe Ultra II, you'll get full support for the following NT 4.0 power managementand PnP features from its new drivers:

*APM: Suspend/resume feature, hot insertion and removal of PC Card modems,dynamic power on/off of PC Card slots when the system is in suspend mode, updateof operating-system time after power management events (for example,suspend/resume), improved battery life and system shutdown feature, power sourceicon added to the taskbar, percentage of remaining battery power displayed via adouble-click.

*PnP: Hot docking for Mobile Media Module (only during suspend mode), portreplicator with NIC (limited), port replicator without NIC, floppy dock;hot-swapping for PC Card modems and LAN cards (only certain devices work--3ComEtherlink III cards and modems that support COM2, such as Megahertz XJACKs;check with Digital or specific manufacturers for your peripheral).

Ultra II. The ultra-thin Ultra II is an interestingphenomenon. Its size is reminiscent of the size of the original NEC 8086-basedUltraNotes. The Ultra II contains the most pods and ports of all the notebooksthe Lab tested.

Digital designed the Ultra II with portability in mind. Without itsadd-ons, the Ultra II weighs a scant 4 pounds and measures 8.5"*11"*1.2"--atrue notebook computer. The Lab's test unit has a 150MHz Pentium CPU (with 256KBLevel 2 cache) and 32MB of RAM (16MB standard, 56MB maximum); add in the 11.3",800*600-pixel active-matrix display that runs 65,536 colors (1024*
768*256colors externally), and you've got a system with an attitude.

What else is compressed into this wee box? How about a 1.44GB IDE harddisk, Sound Blaster Pro-compatible stereo audio with one internal speaker, twotype-II PC Card slots, and a Lithium Ion battery? Of course, you still get theusual rear connectors for peripherals (e.g., serial, video). One difference frommost other notebooks is that the floppy drive is not part of the mainchassis--the floppy dock attaches to the bottom of the system, but it's hotdockable. To top it off, Digital built in Desktop Management Interface (DMI)features and includes Digital ClientWORKS for managing your system.

Even with the 150MHz CPU, the Ultra II wasn't among the fastest units wetested (it finished eighth with a score of 85). However, the Ultra II wasresponsive, and for a machine this small, light, and efficient, I'll give up alittle speed on my corporate computing functions. If you need a high-performancemobile system, the Ultra II might not be for you. You generally can't have thebest speed and the best battery life at the same time, and the Ultra II's designsaves power.

You need to know a few particulars if you're considering this system.First, unless you plan to install all your software over the network (includingNT, if you need to re-install), you need the optional Mobile Media Module, whichincludes the 6X CD-ROM and speakers. Like the floppy dock, the media moduleattaches to the bottom of the system but seriously affects battery life. Theunit is still portable--the media module is not a docking station--but thecombination increases the size to that of a high-end notebook (yet it's stillonly 5.9 pounds). One other missing component is a driver for the infrared port;check with Digital for its availability.

The display is bright and crisp, and the case is as easy to work on as itis to carry, with comfortable palm-rests and a smooth trackball. The sound isn'ttheater quality (although it's quite good with the optional Mobile MediaModule), but it doesn't consume much power. All the advertised power managementfeatures work, but there are no manual controls for the PnP and APM settings.

Is the Ultra II affordable? Well, the answer depends on your definition ofaffordable. This particular unit costs about $5700 for the configuration wetested. Is it worth it? A lot of people think so--Ultra II's are next toimpossible to get.

VP 535. The VP series is Digital's line of regular-sizednotebooks, designed for modularity, performance, and Windows 95 functionality.The VP 535 supports NT 100 percent, but unlike the Ultra II, Digital didn'tdesign the VP 535 specifically for NT.

The Lab's test system is configured for an entry-level NT user who wantsfunctionality but is not concerned with top-end performance or upgradecapability. The machine has a 133MHz Pentium (256KB Level 2 cache), 16MB ofEnhanced Data Output (EDO) RAM (8MB standard, 40MB maximum), a 1.44GB hard disk,and a 12.1", 800*600-pixel active-matrix display that runs 65,536 colors.

Because the VP 535 is designed for affordability doesn't mean Digitalsacrificed performance. The VP 535 has an Intel 430MX PCI bus, on which Digitalplaced 128-bit local bus graphics (MagicGraph128V from NeoMagic, accelerated forfull-color software-based MPEG playback at 30 frames per second) with 1MB ofVRAM for 800*600*65,536 colors, and an accelerated IDE controller. The VP seriesalso pays ease of use its due, with an integrated Touchpad and bright display.

The VP 535's 6X CD-ROM drive fits in a modular expansion bay, which alsoaccepts a second Lithium Ion battery or a floppy drive (you can buy an optionalcable so that you can use the floppy externally while you use the CD-ROM). Thesystem has a full complement of multimedia and communications features:1024*768*256 colors external video resolution, 16-bit Sound Blaster-compatibleaudio with stereo speakers, an infrared port (but no NT 4.0 driver as of presstime) and the usual expansion connectors. You also get desktop manageabilitywith built-in DMI and loadable Digital ClientWORKS software, which lets you tiethis portable into your network's management architecture.

Pricing makes the Digital VP 535 an attractive mobile NT choice--our testunit cost $3899 for a very usable configuration. Add Digital's commitment tosupporting the mobile NT community plus its legendary NT technical support, andyou have an excellent option for your mobile users.

—Joel Sloss

HiNote Ultra II LTS 5150

HiNote VP 535

Contact: Digital Equipment * 800-344-4825Web: $5698

Contact: Digital Equipment * 800-344-4825Web: $3899

FutureTech FutureMate FM9720T
The FutureMate FM9720T, from FutureTech Systems, is a cleanly designednotebook with all the basic features. Of all the laptops the Windows NTMagazine Lab reviewed, the FutureMate FM9720T has the fastest processor: a200MHz Pentium. (Otherwise, the FutureMate is similar to the Polywell Poly 500AS5 the Lab reviewed on page 56.)

The active-matrix display can handle a resolution of 800*600*65,536 colors.The keyboard's easy-to-use arrangement includes built-in speakers in the backleft and right corners; your wrists don't block the speakers as you work. TheFutureMate uses a Touchpad pointing device, with conveniently placed buttonsthat control mouse functions.

In addition to the 200MHz Pentium, the FutureMate comes with 32MB of memoryand a 1GB hard drive. The system includes two PC Card slots, a headphone, amicrophone, and a lineout connector on the left side of the system. The leftside has an infrared port and a modular bay, which you can use for the 3.5"floppy drive, the CD-ROM drive, or an optional extra battery. The powerconnector is on the back of the system beside a video-in connector, a PS/2-stylekeyboard/mouse connector, and a plastic door. The door opens to reveal VGA,printer, serial, and docking station/port replication connectors.

Installing NT 4.0 was easy, although I did have problems locating thecorrect video and sound drivers. I also had trouble rebooting the system withthe video driver I installed and had to depress the power button to shut downthe machine. Because of the 200MHz Pentium, I expected this system to be thefastest of all the reviewed notebooks. It wasn't--it finished fourth with ascore of 104, not far behind the laptops from AST, Broadax Systems, and IBM.

The FutureMate system comes with everything you need. It works great withNT 4.0, performs well, and has a reasonable price. I would consider purchasingthis notebook computer for myself.

—Dean Porter

FutureMate FM9720T

Contact: FutureTech Systems * 800-275-4414Web: http://www.futuretec.comEmail: [email protected]Price: $3499

IBM ThinkPad 760ED
The IBM ThinkPad 760ED comes in a small, flat, black case with a pop-upkeyboard and a 12.1" XGA TFT display capable of resolutions up to 1024*768*65,536 colors. The 760ED is the only notebook the Lab received with abuilt-in display capable of this resolution.

The system includes an expansion bay called the UltraBay, whichaccommodates the 3.5" floppy drive or the 6X CD-ROM drive. You can get anoptional second battery, second hard disk, or wireless modem and connect them tothe system via this bay.

The well-designed keyboard is large with a good setup for the cursormovement keys. Its pop-up function causes the back of the keyboard to tilt upwhen you open the case (you can disable this feature). I like the large volumeand brightness slider controls.

IBM invented the TrackPoint or pencil-eraser mouse, and this notebook usesthe latest version: an Advanced TrackPoint III with QuickStop response and anon-slip cap. This system is one of the best TrackPoint mouse systems that I'veused.

I find the 760ED's LCD status display to be the most useful of those on allthe notebooks the Windows NT Magazine Lab reviewed. It includes systemstatus indicators for the hard disk and keyboard and a percentage number (or abattery icon bar graph) that shows the amount of available battery.

IBM loads all sorts of multimedia features into this notebook: an Mwavemedia processor, which gives you full telephony support via the built-in28.8Kbits-per-second (Kbps)/14.4Kbps (software upgradeable to 33.6Kbps) faxmodem; a 16-bit Sound Blaster Pro-compatible sound system (TheatreSound); anMPEG-2 decoder chip for fluid full-screen playback of MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 videofiles; and built-in video I/0 connectors for still image capture, video overlay,and NTSC/PAL video out. Telephony features include a full-duplex speakerphoneand digital answering machine and digital simultaneous voice over data (DSVD)capability, which permits voice and data transmission over one telephone line.

A 133MHz Pentium powers the 760ED, which comes with 32MB Enhanced DataOutput (EDO) RAM (expandable up to 104MB) and a 2.1GB hard disk. The 760EDincludes all the standard I/O interfaces, such as VGA, serial, enhanced parallel(ECP), and PS/2-style mouse/keyboard ports. The external floppy drive port letsyou access the CD-ROM and the floppy at the same time, so installing NT is easy.

The 760ED also offers an optional docking station or port replicatorconnector; you can hook up the system to one of several docking stations. Two1.15MB-per-second infrared (IrDA) ports, a MIDI/joystick port, and video I/Oports make the 760ED stand out as a multimedia system.

IBM is one of only a few manufacturers to provide power management acrossits line of NT-capable notebooks. IBM supplies NT drivers and support for allits current units (the 760ED doesn't come with NT preloaded, but the 760EL does)and supports most of its legacy notebooks (all 760, 755, 560, and 365 models).IBM provides Advanced Power Management (APM) for suspend/resume (manual andautomatic), hardware-based power management (manual controls for LCD timeout,hard disk spin down timer, CPU clock speed settings), low battery warning (andautomatic suspend mode), and a fuel gauge.

The 760ED supports warm-swapping peripherals in the UltraBay while thesystem is suspended, but it doesn't support hot- or warm-swapping for PC Cardsor docking. Check with IBM for up-to-date information about available drivers.

When I initially tested the performance of the 760ED, I was surprised atits low SYSmark/32 score compared to the other machines. The 760ED was the onlymachine operating at 1024*768 screen resolution, so I lowered its resolution to800*600 like that of the other systems and ran the tests again. At thisresolution, the 760ED scored 121--the highest score of all the machines.

IBM packed a lot of neat features into this system--some features I've notseen on a notebook before. The price is a bit steep, but if you want a fastsystem and price is not a big concern, the IBM ThinkPad 760ED is the way to go.

—Dean Porter

ThinkPad 760ED

Contact: IBM * 800-426-2968Web: $5614

Polywell Poly 500 AS5Déjà vu! The Polywell Computers Poly 500 AS5, similar toFutureTech's FutureMate FM9720T that the Windows NT Magazine Labreviewed on page 54, provides all the features you need for running Windows NT4.0: a 166MHz Pentium; 32MB of memory; a 1GB hard drive; an active-matrixdisplay capable of resolutions up to 800*600*256 colors; two PC Card slots; amodular expansion bay for the CD-ROM, 3.5" floppy drive, or optional extrabattery; and a Touchpad for mouse functions. The Poly 500 AS5 has good stereosound, includes headphone, microphone, lineout, and video-in jacks, and offersstandard infrared, PS/2-style keyboard/mouse, VGA, printer, serial, and dockingstation ports.

NT 4.0 installed easily on the Poly 500 AS5, although I experienced thesame problems locating the video and sound drivers that I did with theFutureMate FM9720T. When you install new drivers, NT often asks you to rebootthe system; when I tried to reboot, the Poly 500 AS5 hung and beeped until Ishut down the system manually.

After about two days of operation, the cooling fan quit working. (Thesystem shut off after running for an hour or two; then it started shutting offafter running only a few minutes.) Polywell shipped us another fan, which fixedthe system. (I had difficulty getting technical support because the company isopen only during certain hours and its Web page didn't offer any technicalsupport for this system.) After re-installing NT, the system performed well.

The Poly 500 AS5's SYSmark/32 score is 101. It is just slightly lower thanthe 200MHz FutureTech FutureMate FM9720T's 104.

If you need an inexpensive, usable laptop with all the features, considerthe Polywell. If you need on-the-spot support and don't mind paying for it, lookat some of the other systems that we reviewed in this roundup.

—Dean Porter

Poly 500 AS5

Contact: Polywell Computers * 800-999-1278Web: http://www.polywell.comPrice: $3834 (when tested); $2995 (current)

Texas Instruments TravelMate 6050NT
The first feature that impressed me about the Texas Instruments TravelMate6050NT is that it comes with NT 4.0 pre-installed. Not many of the laptops thatthe Windows NT Magazine Lab reviewed did.

This notebook comes with a 150MHz Pentium CPU, 32MB of Enhanced Data Output(EDO) RAM (our system had 40MB of EDO RAM), a 2.1GB hard disk, a 12.1" ThinFilm Transistor (TFT) SuperVGA (800*600*65,536 colors) active-matrix display, a16-bit sound card (compatible with Sound Blaster Pro 16) with Spatializer 3DStereo sound capabilities, embedded stereo speakers and microphone, a 10XCD-ROM, and a 1.44MB floppy drive.

The TravelMate's brown-gray color makes this system stand out in the sea ofgray and beige notebooks in the market. The case is easy to open via a singlepush-button latch in the middle.

This system has a push-button battery level indicator. It works whether thesystem is on or off. The printer, serial, VGA and docking station ports arebeneath a push-button hide-away door on the rear of the system.

The mouse is a TrackPoint. It has a big oval left mouse button and a smallrectangular right mouse button.

This system has one of the better keyboard layouts of all the laptops: Thecursor control and Microsoft Windows control keys feel different to the touchfrom the rest of the keyboard. The Back Space, Tab, Shift, and Enter keys arebig and easy to find.

You can control the brightness and sound levels via the function key (FN)combined with the Up, Down, Pg Up, Pg Dn, and End keys. You can put the systeminto suspend or standby mode (the suspend/resume functions worked under NT, butmessed up the mouse cursor after resuming) and toggle the display betweeninternal and external by combining the FN key with some of the top-row functionkeys.

Texas Instruments preloads some useful software utilities such as the NTService Pack 1 Update, Microsoft Internet Explorer, ESS AudioRack, WatergatePC-Doctor, Extraordinary Things software backup utility, TI Setup/configurationutility, and the TravelMate Online Manual. Texas Instruments includes itswAlarms, wBattery, and wDates utilities, which monitor battery levels.

With everything preloaded, the TravelMate was easy to set up and use.However, some of the preloaded software caused problems.

The system initially scored lowest on the SYSmark/32 tests. But after Italked to Texas Instruments and turned off BatteryPro NT, the TravelMatefinished in sixth place with a score of 92.

This system comes with a good warranty and technical support system. Theprice ($4678) is a little on the high side, but it's not out of line for ahigh-end system. The extra features, system performance, and preloaded NT 4.0make this system worth looking at.

—Dean Porter

TravelMate 6050NT

Contact: Texas Instruments * 800-848-3927Web: $4678

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