Tiny notebooks are big performers

Top: The lab's only complaint about the lightweight Dell Latitude C400 was its CD/DVD drive cable, which kept disconnecting. Bottom: Sharp's PC-UM20 weighed less than 3 pounds but was weighed down by a slow, 750-MHz Pentium III processor.

Henrik G. DeGyor

Ease of attaching peripherals is a concern, as is number of USB ports and wireless capability

A notebook PC no longer has to weigh six or seven pounds to perform in the desktop PC category. The GCN Lab recently tested two ultralight models with heavyweight performance.

One downside of the ultraportable design, however, is the hassle of hooking up separate peripherals such as a DVD-ROM or floppy drive on an airplane tray table.

Despite its slimness, the inch-thick, 3.6-pound Dell Latitude C400 had a speedy 1.2-GHz Pentium III processor and a built-in IEEE 802.11b wireless modem.

On the GCN Lab's Alterion benchmark suite, the C400 scored an average 3,776, edging out our baseline desktop system, a 1.5-GHz eMachines Pentium 4 with 256M of RAM and a 32M nVidia GeForce MX200 graphics card. The baseline PC averaged 3,611 on the Alterion benchmarks.

One annoyance was the iffy quality of the C400's DVD-ROM/CD-rewritable drive cable. It kept disconnecting at the slightest movement.

Slower equals cheaper

Sharp Systems of America's PC-UM20 measured about as thick as a deck of cards and weighed a feathery 2.9 pounds. Although it scored lower than the Dell Latitude on the Alterion benchmarks, it had an ATI Mobility Radeon graphics card superior to the Latitude's Intel 830 MG graphics chip set. The PC-UM20's lower score primarily came from its slower, 750-MHz Pentium III mobile processor.

A slower processor means lower price. The Sharp cost $1,399 compared with the C400's $2,488.

But the Sharp lacked built-in wireless connectivity. And'a real negative for me'both machines had only one Universal Serial Bus port on the body of the units.

Although an included attachment provided the Sharp with two more USB ports as well as parallel and serial ports, the CD-RW drive connected via USB.

If I ran two USB devices, keeping track of what was connected where could get confusing.
The Dell also had one USB port but no attachment for extra USB connections.

Not too long ago, a notebook was considered a portable, less-capable substitute for a desktop PC. Sharp and Dell have now halved the usual notebook heft without giving up much at all in desktop-level capability.

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