Not all portables have Intel inside

Acer's Ferrari is loaded. You might even be charged with grand theft auto when you buy it because it's something of a steal.

HP Compaq nx6125

Acer Ferrari 4000 (sports car sold separately)

Let's face it, Intel Corp. has won the chip war. Or at least it is winning by such a large margin that it's doubtful the situation will change in the near term. But despite the fact that most notebook PCs ship with an 'Intel Inside' sticker, there are other options. The GCN Lab took three for a spin.

Acer Ferrari 4000

Performance: A-

Ease of use: A

Features: A

Value: A

BOX SCORE: A-

Reviewer's comments: Although naming a notebook after a car seems a bit silly, when you see the high performance of the Ferrari 4000, it makes more sense. Plus, everyone who saw the notebook ogled it as if it were an actual Ferrari.

When Acer told us a year ago that they were going to start partnering with Ferrari for notebooks, we didn't see the connection. But after spending some time with the Ferrari 4000, the relationship begins to make sense, if only metaphorically.

The Ferrari 4000 is a fast notebook loaded with a Turion 64 Mobile ML-34 processor from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif. And like the car, the Ferrari 4000 combines speed and style.

But let's get aesthetics out of the way first. Yes, the notebook incorporates flashes of Ferrari red with some nice black cross-stitching on the back of the LCD. Most of the notebook is constructed with soft carbon fiber. Running your hands across the notebook feels very much like running your hands across a performance sports car. And yes, the Ferrari logo is emblazoned on the notebook as well. As much as we prefer substance to flash, we have to admit this notebook looks very cool.

There are some other innovative design tweaks in the Ferrari that are functional as well as good-looking. The keyboard is actually swept into a slight U shape so it looks like it's almost grinning at the user. While this may seem odd, the slightly tilted keys actually match the normal spot where your hands rest when working. In addition, the DVD drive has no door. You simply nudge a CD or DVD into the slot and the system will suck it into the drive. This is how the CD players in most cars work, plus you never have to worry about the drive arm breaking off or the tray getting damaged by someone walking down the aisle of an airplane while you're changing a disk.

The 64-bit Turion chip with 1G of RAM and an ATI Mobilility Radeon x700 combined for good performance numbers. The Ferrari scored 8,395 on the GCN/Alterion benchmarks, which is near the upper end of the notebook scale. The system comes with four USB ports distributed on both sides of the keyboard, so they're easy to reach. It also has a Fire-Wire port, a five-in-one memory card reader and a DVI-D port. It supports both Bluetooth and 802.11g wireless and comes with a roomy 80GB hard drive, partitioned into two sections.

At 6.3 pounds, the Ferrari is a bit heavy, but not too bad considering the performance. Its 15.4-inch, widescreen LCD is roomy and bright but doesn't employ the glossy finish of many new notebooks.

Still, Acer's Ferrari is loaded. And unlike its namesake automobile, the Acer Ferrari is something of a steal at $2,199.

Acer America, (800) 733-2237, www.acer.com.





Hewlett-Packard Compaq nx6125

Performance: B+

Ease of use: B

Features: B

Value: A+

BOX SCORE: B

Reviewer's comments: Using an AMD Turion 64 Mobile chip instead of an Intel processor keeps the price down. Although it's slower than other notebooks, you won't find a much better deal on a sturdy, business-grade notebook with a built-in fingerprint reader.

The HP Compaq nx6125 exploits its non-Intel processor to keep costs extraordinarily low. The result is a solidly performing notebook with an extremely reasonable $1,139 GSA price.

The system, with its 1.8-GHz AMD Turion 64 Mobile ML-37 processor, performs slightly below average, which is not surprising considering 128MB of its 512MB of system RAM is dedicated to the integrated ATI Mobility Radeon X300 graphics chip. Our test machine scored 6,132 on our GCN/ Alterion benchmark test'a far cry from the Acer Ferrari and more than 1,000 points lower than the average notebooks we've tested this year. In our experience, business applications such as Word and Excel work fine on the nx6125. Even Adobe Photoshop can muscle its way through certain files. But applications em- ploying 3-D, such as mapping programs, don't work as well.

But this isn't meant to be a performance machine. It is, however, well designed and sturdy. The case combines traditional plastic with carbon fiber to make it more durable, and it's laminated with a scratch-resistant layer to stay new longer.

As for other protection, the nx6125 comes with a built-in fingerprint reader and HP's own security tools. (But it doesn't have a Trusted Platform Module like other HP notebooks.)

The nx6125 has three USB ports (two on the side and one in the back), a FireWire port and a six-in-one memory card reader. The model we tested also comes with a 60GB hard drive and 15-inch SXGA LCD. And it has integrated Bluetooth and 802.11b/g wireless radios.

At 6 pounds, it's not the lightest notebook around, but it's acceptable for most travelers. Travelers should also note that the nx6125 didn't run especially long in our benchmark tests'just one hour and 38 minutes. Granted, our battery tests are worst-case scenarios, but that time is below average for notebooks we've tested. If you just use your notebook for e-mail and office productivity, you'll probably get better results. And at this price, that may be what you're looking for.

Hewlett-Packard Co., (800) 888-9909, www.hp.com.





Sun Ultra 3 Mobile Workstation

Performance: A+

Ease of use: B-

Features: A

Value: B

BOX SCORE: A-
Reviewer's comments: Not everyone will want a mobile workstation. The Solaris OS requires training to use properly. But if you need to run binaries exactly as you do on a server, or need blade server performance in a portable form factor, the Ultra 3 delivers.

The Sun Ultra 3 Mobile Workstation is without a doubt the most powerful portable the lab has ever tested'and the most expensive, at $9,705. That's because it is, as the name implies, an almost workstation-class machine in a luggable laptop design.

Sun Microsystems sent us the highest-performing workstation in their new portable line, although less expensive systems are available.

The system we tested had a single 1.2-GHz 64-bit UltraSPARC IIIi processor with a 1MB on-die L2 cache. It also had 1GB of DDR SDRAM, a 60GB hard drive, a CD-RW/DVD-ROM and integrated 802.11b wireless connectivity.

Interestingly, the graphics card supports 2-D only ' a decidedly 'unworkstationlike' characteristic. In talking with engineers at Sun, we were told that adding a 3-D card would have produced too much heat in a unit that already had a lot packed into it. So it's worth noting that the Ultra 3 Mobile will run most server and office applications, but not the latest in 3-D mapping or visualization programs.

One reason Sun calls this a workstation and not a notebook is its size. It is 15.5 inches wide and 11.5 inches long. It is also two inches thick and tips the scales at just over 11 pounds with a nice 17-inch screen, which contributes to the heft. Just glancing at it, you're reminded of first-generation laptops from years ago, only this one would be about 50 times quicker and more powerful.

The other reason this isn't a mere notebook is performance. Because it runs on an UltraSPARC processor and the Solaris 10 operating system, it could not run our GCN/Alterion benchmark tests. But when we started to use applications on the Ultra 3 Mobile, we were surprised to notice how similar performance was to that of full-featured blade servers we've had in the lab. We were able to compile a C++ program in just under a minute, a task we have watched servers take several minutes to complete. In fact, the Ultra 3 Mobile could easily act as a portable server for mobile command centers or other continuity-of-operations applications.

Because the system runs Solaris 10, those used to the click-and-go functionality of Windows will be in for a shock. When the system is finished booting, you're given a command line interface and need to direct the system to run various programs by pointing it to specific directories and executing commands. If you work with blade servers running Solaris, the interface is nearly identical.

To make things easier, the system can instead boot to Java Desktop System, Sun's open-source OS. You also have the choice of working within the Gnome 2.0 Linux environment. And for anyone who might need to use this portable workstation/server for more menial tasks, such as word processing and e-mail, the Ultra 3 Mobile comes with StarOffice 7.0, a fairly user-friendly productivity suite. For developers, the workstation comes with several helpful programs that normally require you to be in front of high-end machines, such as Sun Studio 10, Studio Enterprise and Studio Creator.

There are two USB 2.0 ports on the system and two USB 1.1 ports' a nice little design touch. You can use the slower ports for connecting such peripherals as a mouse or a keyboard that may not support the latest USB standard and the quicker ports for portable hard drives and other devices that benefit from higher speeds.

USB 2.0 is supposed to be backward-compatible with USB 1.1, but it's not always a 100-percent smooth handoff when plugging older USB peripherals into newer ports.

The Ultra 3 Mobile is powered by standard lithium-ion batteries, which might not be the ideal solution for a workhorse like this. In our testing, the system ran for just an hour and four minutes, which is fine if the power goes out or you need an hour to fully implement parts of your COOP plan. But a system this powerful really requires a plug.

The $9,705 configuration we tested comes with a carrying case, which is a good thing since you would have trouble finding a soft, briefcase-style carrying bag for such a large computer. Sun sells an entry-level workstation with an UltraSPARC IIi processor and less RAM for $3,400. In many respects, aside from performance, the cheaper system is identical to the model we tested.

Ultimately, we don't need to tell you that the Ultra 3 Mobile is not for everyone. Still, people designing programs or running server-based applications in a Unix environment may no longer need to be tied to a desk or server room.

Sun Microsystems Inc., (800) 786-0404, www.sun.com.


Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above