Run NT on Laptops? Yes, You Can!

Check out 10 notebooks that embrace NT 4.0

Not sure whether you can run Windows NT 4.0 on laptop computers? In the Windows NT Magazine Lab, we've run NT 4.0 on laptops since beta 1. And now that many notebook manufacturers that didn't support earlier versions of NT have jumped on the NT bandwagon, you'll find a wide range of machines to choose from. 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 a platform for remote computing.

A New Generation
Uncertain that NT 4.0 on laptops is the way to go? Recent developments in laptop technology might convince you to reconsider-- especially if you don't already use a portable.

The first and most important development is the new generation of high-performance, remarkably low-priced portables. You can get a 166MHz Pentium with 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 machine for an NT system), so this kind of power in a portable at an affordable price eliminates one concern about moving to NT.

Second, Microsoft is finally coming out with a new technology (OnNow power management 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). Microsoft plans to fully implement OnNow in NT 5.0, but it will release some components as upgrades to NT 4.0.

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

Laptops We Tested
At the high end of our 10-laptop sample, we reviewed power-user systems with a 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 at reasonably priced systems with just enough features to run NT: a 133MHz or lower Pentium, 16MB of RAM, a 1GB hard disk, and a passive display.

Not all of our survey's vendors sent both types of system--some vendors consider NT a high-end application for their systems. You pay extra money to get NT 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 planning a model based on the new NT 4.0 optimized BIOS from Phoenix Technologies that will provide Advanced Power Management (APM) and PnP features. You can expect other new portables that support NT to enter the market this spring, after companies verify their systems and drivers under NT 4.0. Other vendors are waiting until Microsoft implements the rest of the APM and PnP functions before releasing NT-ready systems so that high-end models don't lack the features built into low-end Win95 offerings.

Word of Caution
While reviewing these systems, the Lab observed a few characteristics of the laptops that deserve a cautionary mention. First, all the laptops have only one PS/2-style port, so you must choose between adding on a keyboard or mouse--you can opt for a serial mouse in addition to the keyboard for desktop use (without a docking station), but that arrangement can conflict with your laptop's bus- driven built-in pointing device during ordinary operation. A better solution calls 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 specific devices for certain users or configurations at boot time.

Second, all but the Digital and IBM machines lack power management and PnP functionality. 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 such as NT crashing when the BIOS spins down the system drive. Be aware of what your laptop can and cannot do: For example, don't try hot-swapping PC Cards in a system not equipped to handle it. In some cases, pressing the suspend button can cause difficulties. (We experimentally pressed the button after exiting all applications, 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 like pulling the plug on a desktop PC. The notebook dies and takes all your work with it--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 "Technical Support," 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 nice display, too? How about long battery life? AST's Ascentia P50 is the answer, and it's backed by a good warranty and excellent customer service.

The Windows NT Magazine Lab's Ascentia test system came loaded with features such as a 133MHz Pentium CPU, 32MB of RAM (expandable to 40MB), a 2.1GB hard 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 graphics controller for Super VGA resolution of 800*600 with 16-bit (65,536) color resolution, and a 12.1" diagonal active-matrix color screen. All this hardware weighs in at 7.1 pounds with the CD-ROM drive (or 6.8 pounds with the floppy drive) installed.

The case is well designed and easy to open. Multiple I/O connectors have individual covers. For example, you can open just the Serial/VGA connector cover and plug in an external display, leaving the rest of the I/O connectors protected. The joystick port resides on the left side of the system with its own cover. You can press a button on the battery to see how much power is available via 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 between the display panel and external monitors. You can also use function keys to put the notebook into suspend or standby mode (which work well under NT), or you can configure the power button via the BIOS for on/off or suspend/normal mode. The only thing I didn't like about the keyboard was that you have to press the FN key 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 a breeze, 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 a SYSmark/
32 score of 110. Its price falls in the middle of all the systems in our roundup. AST backs its machines with a three-year worldwide warranty and excellent customer service. AST has teamed with Federal Express in a program called ExpressONE (Overnight Notebook Exchange), a next-business-day, on-site, notebook replacement program. The first year of the warranty includes ExeCare Plus, a 48-hour rapid repair service (US only). After one year, you must pay shipping costs, unless you sign up for the optional ExpressONE program that covers the second and third years.

Ascentia P50
Contact: AST * 714-727-4141 or 800-876-4278
Price: $4599 (when tested); $4299 (current)

Broadax BSI NP8620D and BSI NP8620A
Broadax Systems (BSI) makes everything from notebook PCs to ruggedized portables and rackmount systems. We reviewed two units in Broadax's BSI NP8620 series: 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-end system 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 of built-in features (described below), but you can choose display type, CPU speed, memory, disk, and other features that influence the end-user price. The BSI NP8620A is the most full-featured laptop of the group the Lab tested, but its upgrade capability isn't the best.

I really liked the NP8620's integrated slim-line floppy drive. You can run the floppy drive and a CD-ROM at the same time--a useful feature when you install software such as NT. The NP8620's 2MB of Enhance Data Output (EDO) VRAM produces a nice true-color display, something people who make presentations on the 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 upgrade to only 40MB.

We found the 166MHz Pentium NP8620A to be one of the fastest performers of the 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 8 pounds, BSI packs a lot into these systems.

BSI NP8620D You can choose among Pentium CPUs that range from 100MHz to 166MHz (200MHz in the near future), with 256KB of Level 2 cache. The NP comes standard with a 6X CD-ROM drive, 16-bit Sound Blaster Pro-compatible audio, and 64-bit PCI video that can support up to 1280*1024*16 colors externally and 800*600 true color on the LCD.

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

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

The negatives about the NP8620s include their limited memory expandability, weight, and speaker location (on either side of the trackpad where your palms or wrists can cover them). BSI has not implemented any Plug-and-Play (PnP) or Advanced 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 very well-equipped one for less than $3500. These feature-rich systems are worth the investment because they offer desktop PC-like capabilities and performance in a mobile package.

Contact: Broadax Systems * 818-442-0020 or 800-872-4547
Price: $3470
Contact: Broadax Systems * 818-442-0020 or 800-872-4547
Price: $2050

Compaq LTE 5400
The LTE 5400 is the new high-end offering from Compaq, with a 150MHz Pentium CPU, 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 a 120MHz Pentium CPU, a 256KB Level 2 cache, and a 10.4" display.) The LTE 5400's other features include an optional 6X CD-ROM, a 2.16GB hard disk, and the added 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 a proprietary version of NT--you can install NT 4.0 (unlike Windows 95) directly from Microsoft's distribution CD-ROM, which includes all the appropriate drivers. Memory is easy to upgrade. Our test system had 32MB of RAM, the standard offering for the machine; you can add up to 64MB more RAM in a single module. 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 (it needs 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. I found the LTE 5400 responded more quickly than the LTE 5200, which I attribute to 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 finished seventh, with a score of 88). Poorly optimized NT 4.0 drivers for video or other I/O components might account for this score.

On the plus list for the LTE 5400, I put its readable, bright 800*600-pixel, 12.1" Compaq Thin Film Transistor (TFT) display with 64,000 simultaneous colors (Compaq also offers a 1024x768 model). The system can handle an external resolution of up to 1024*768*256 colors.

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

Unfortunately, no system is without flaws. You can't use the floppy and CD-ROM drives simultaneously without docking the machine--there's no floppy drive housing or connector cable for external use. Compaq doesn't yet support Advanced Power Management (APM) or Plug and Play (PnP), so you don't get battery saving, hot-docking, or PC Card hot-swapping in NT 4.0. Compaq has yet to implement its security and fault management features under NT the way it has under 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 hands after 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 workhorse portable system, but for the power, functionality, and brand name, you'll pay about $6000. If I had the money, I'd buy one, but these machines aren't for bargain hunters. Look to lesser configurations of the LTE 5000 series or to the Armada 4100 line for less expensive solutions.

LTE 5400
Contact: Compaq Computer * 800-888-5858
Price: $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. Digital takes portable NT very seriously: The company used Microsoft's first power management application software development kit (SDK) to develop its own Advanced Power Management (APM) and Plug-and-Play (PnP) features for notebooks that run NT 4.0.

The VP 535 runs NT 4.0, but it was not fully optimized as of this review--check with Digital for the latest status of its drivers. If you go with the Ultra II, you'll get full support for the following NT 4.0 power management and 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, update of operating-system time after power management events (for example, suspend/resume), improved battery life and system shutdown feature, power source icon added to the taskbar, percentage of remaining battery power displayed via a double-click.

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

HiNote VP 535 Ultra II. The ultra-thin Ultra II is an interesting phenomenon. Its size is reminiscent of the size of the original NEC 8086-based UltraNotes. The Ultra II contains the most pods and ports of all the notebooks the Lab tested.

Digital designed the Ultra II with portability in mind. Without its add-ons, the Ultra II weighs a scant 4 pounds and measures 8.5"*11"*1.2"--a true notebook computer. The Lab's test unit has a 150MHz Pentium CPU (with 256KB Level 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*256 colors externally), and you've got a system with an attitude.

What else is compressed into this wee box? How about a 1.44GB IDE hard disk, Sound Blaster Pro-compatible stereo audio with one internal speaker, two type-II PC Card slots, and a Lithium Ion battery? Of course, you still get the usual rear connectors for peripherals (e.g., serial, video). One difference from most other notebooks is that the floppy drive is not part of the main chassis--the floppy dock attaches to the bottom of the system, but it's hot dockable. 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 we tested (it finished eighth with a score of 85). However, the Ultra II was responsive, and for a machine this small, light, and efficient, I'll give up a little speed on my corporate computing functions. If you need a high-performance mobile system, the Ultra II might not be for you. You generally can't have the best speed and the best battery life at the same time, and the Ultra II's design saves 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 (including NT, if you need to re-install), you need the optional Mobile Media Module, which includes the 6X CD-ROM and speakers. Like the floppy dock, the media module attaches to the bottom of the system but seriously affects battery life. The unit is still portable--the media module is not a docking station--but the combination increases the size to that of a high-end notebook (yet it's still only 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 it is to carry, with comfortable palm-rests and a smooth trackball. The sound isn't theater quality (although it's quite good with the optional Mobile Media Module), but it doesn't consume much power. All the advertised power management features 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 of affordable. This particular unit costs about $5700 for the configuration we tested. Is it worth it? A lot of people think so--Ultra II's are next to impossible to get.

VP 535. The VP series is Digital's line of regular-sized notebooks, designed for modularity, performance, and Windows 95 functionality. The VP 535 supports NT 100 percent, but unlike the Ultra II, Digital didn't design the VP 535 specifically for NT.

The Lab's test system is configured for an entry-level NT user who wants functionality but is not concerned with top-end performance or upgrade capability. The machine has a 133MHz Pentium (256KB Level 2 cache), 16MB of Enhanced 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 Digital sacrificed performance. The VP 535 has an Intel 430MX PCI bus, on which Digital placed 128-bit local bus graphics (MagicGraph128V from NeoMagic, accelerated for full-color software-based MPEG playback at 30 frames per second) with 1MB of VRAM for 800*600*65,536 colors, and an accelerated IDE controller. The VP series also 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 also accepts a second Lithium Ion battery or a floppy drive (you can buy an optional cable so that you can use the floppy externally while you use the CD-ROM). The system has a full complement of multimedia and communications features: 1024*768*256 colors external video resolution, 16-bit Sound Blaster-compatible audio with stereo speakers, an infrared port (but no NT 4.0 driver as of press time) and the usual expansion connectors. You also get desktop manageability with built-in DMI and loadable Digital ClientWORKS software, which lets you tie this portable into your network's management architecture.

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

HiNote Ultra II LTS 5150 HiNote VP 535
Contact: Digital Equipment * 800-344-4825
Price: $5698
Contact: Digital Equipment * 800-344-4825
Price: $3899

FutureTech FutureMate FM9720T
The FutureMate FM9720T, from FutureTech Systems, is a cleanly designed notebook with all the basic features. Of all the laptops the Windows NT Magazine Lab reviewed, the FutureMate FM9720T has the fastest processor: a 200MHz Pentium. (Otherwise, the FutureMate is similar to the Polywell Poly 500 AS5 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 back left and right corners; your wrists don't block the speakers as you work. The FutureMate uses a Touchpad pointing device, with conveniently placed buttons that control mouse functions.

In addition to the 200MHz Pentium, the FutureMate comes with 32MB of memory and a 1GB hard drive. The system includes two PC Card slots, a headphone, a microphone, and a lineout connector on the left side of the system. The left side 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 power connector is on the back of the system beside a video-in connector, a PS/2-style keyboard/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 the correct video and sound drivers. I also had trouble rebooting the system with the video driver I installed and had to depress the power button to shut down the machine. Because of the 200MHz Pentium, I expected this system to be the fastest of all the reviewed notebooks. It wasn't--it finished fourth with a score of 104, not far behind the laptops from AST, Broadax Systems, and IBM.

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

FutureMate FM9720T
Contact: FutureTech Systems * 800-275-4414
Email: [email protected]
Price: $3499

IBM ThinkPad 760ED
IBM ThinkPad 760ED The IBM ThinkPad 760ED comes in a small, flat, black case with a pop-up keyboard 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 a built-in display capable of this resolution.

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

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

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

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

IBM loads all sorts of multimedia features into this notebook: an Mwave media processor, which gives you full telephony support via the built-in 28.8Kbits-per-second (Kbps)/14.4Kbps (software upgradeable to 33.6Kbps) fax modem; a 16-bit Sound Blaster Pro-compatible sound system (TheatreSound); an MPEG-2 decoder chip for fluid full-screen playback of MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 video files; and built-in video I/0 connectors for still image capture, video overlay, and NTSC/PAL video out. Telephony features include a full-duplex speakerphone and 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 Data Output (EDO) RAM (expandable up to 104MB) and a 2.1GB hard disk. The 760ED includes 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 lets you 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 replicator connector; you can hook up the system to one of several docking stations. Two 1.15MB-per-second infrared (IrDA) ports, a MIDI/joystick port, and video I/O ports make the 760ED stand out as a multimedia system.

IBM is one of only a few manufacturers to provide power management across its line of NT-capable notebooks. IBM supplies NT drivers and support for all its 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 and automatic), hardware-based power management (manual controls for LCD timeout, hard disk spin down timer, CPU clock speed settings), low battery warning (and automatic suspend mode), and a fuel gauge.

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

When I initially tested the performance of the 760ED, I was surprised at its low SYSmark/32 score compared to the other machines. The 760ED was the only machine operating at 1024*768 screen resolution, so I lowered its resolution to 800*600 like that of the other systems and ran the tests again. At this resolution, 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 not seen on a notebook before. The price is a bit steep, but if you want a fast system and price is not a big concern, the IBM ThinkPad 760ED is the way to go.

ThinkPad 760ED
Contact: IBM * 800-426-2968
Price: $5614

Polywell Poly 500 AS5 Déjà vu! The Polywell Computers Poly 500 AS5, similar to FutureTech's FutureMate FM9720T that the Windows NT Magazine Lab reviewed on page 54, provides all the features you need for running Windows NT 4.0: a 166MHz Pentium; 32MB of memory; a 1GB hard drive; an active-matrix display capable of resolutions up to 800*600*256 colors; two PC Card slots; a modular expansion bay for the CD-ROM, 3.5" floppy drive, or optional extra battery; and a Touchpad for mouse functions. The Poly 500 AS5 has good stereo sound, includes headphone, microphone, lineout, and video-in jacks, and offers standard infrared, PS/2-style keyboard/mouse, VGA, printer, serial, and docking station ports.

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

After about two days of operation, the cooling fan quit working. (The system shut off after running for an hour or two; then it started shutting off after running only a few minutes.) Polywell shipped us another fan, which fixed the system. (I had difficulty getting technical support because the company is open only during certain hours and its Web page didn't offer any technical support 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 than the 200MHz FutureTech FutureMate FM9720T's 104.

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

Poly 500 AS5
Contact: Polywell Computers * 800-999-1278
Price: $3834 (when tested); $2995 (current)

Texas Instruments TravelMate 6050NT
The first feature that impressed me about the Texas Instruments TravelMate 6050NT is that it comes with NT 4.0 pre-installed. Not many of the laptops that the 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" Thin Film Transistor (TFT) SuperVGA (800*600*65,536 colors) active-matrix display, a 16-bit sound card (compatible with Sound Blaster Pro 16) with Spatializer 3D Stereo sound capabilities, embedded stereo speakers and microphone, a 10X CD-ROM, and a 1.44MB floppy drive.

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

This system has a push-button battery level indicator. It works whether the system is on or off. The printer, serial, VGA and docking station ports are beneath 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 small rectangular right mouse button.

This system has one of the better keyboard layouts of all the laptops: The cursor control and Microsoft Windows control keys feel different to the touch from the rest of the keyboard. The Back Space, Tab, Shift, and Enter keys are big 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 system into suspend or standby mode (the suspend/resume functions worked under NT, but messed up the mouse cursor after resuming) and toggle the display between internal and external by combining the FN key with some of the top-row function keys.

Texas Instruments preloads some useful software utilities such as the NT Service Pack 1 Update, Microsoft Internet Explorer, ESS AudioRack, Watergate PC-Doctor, Extraordinary Things software backup utility, TI Setup/configuration utility, and the TravelMate Online Manual. Texas Instruments includes its wAlarms, 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 I talked to Texas Instruments and turned off BatteryPro NT, the TravelMate finished in sixth place with a score of 92.

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

TravelMate 6050NT
Contact: Texas Instruments * 800-848-3927
Price: $4678
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