Media module travels light, flies right on the sleek HiNote Ultra

Anotebook PC that weighs only 4 pounds has a heavy advantage. We've praised the HiNote
Ultra for just that, and for its sleek, attentive design [GCNMarch 20, Page 1].


If the Ultra had a CD-ROM drive, it would come even closer to notebook nirvana. Digital
now has put a double- or quad-speed drive and two speakers into a thoughtfully constructed
add-on, the Mobile Media Module.


The Ultra's wedge-shaped, 3 1/2-inch floppy drive attaches underneath and locks easily
into place with a screw. The Mobile Media Module is similar but larger, adding almost an
inch to the Ultra's 1 1/4-inch thickness.


Sliding the module into place would have been easy, except for a small door that
covered the plug connecting the module to the notebook. It kept sliding closed, so the
connectors never quite met.


My test module had a 2X CD-ROM drive, which I found quite adequate. The unit now comes
with a 4X drive instead, and the price has dropped from $899 to $699. The General Services
Administration schedule price should come in a little lower.


I tried out the module by installing Microsoft Windows 95 from CD-ROM. Digital supplied
drivers and a couple of setup programs for the Ultra and the Mobile Media Module.


Caution: If you have an older HiNote Ultra and want to switch to Windows 95, make
certain you upgrade the BIOS to Version 1.3 or later, as Digital recommends. Digital
supplies the new BIOS at its World Wide Web site, http:/ /www.dec.com, and from on-line
services and its bulletin board.


My Ultra, a 75-MHz 486 with 8M RAM, wasn't the ideal machine for installing Windows 95,
but the setup went almost flawlessly nonetheless. The only difficulty was that the
notebook can't accommodate CD-ROM and floppy modules at the same time. In Windows 95
installation, you must supply certain manufacturers' drivers as needed, and the Digital
drivers came on two floppy disks--inaccessible with the media module attached.


What I did was detach the media module and attach the floppy drive to copy both driver
disks to the hard drive--an unnecessary action, as it turned out. After I reattached the
CD-ROM, the Ultra gracefully switched to the appropriate device on the fly.


Win95 installation then started and finished without a single driver request.


Following the well-written instructions, I began the Ultra setup, making a couple of
changes in port speed and display settings as directed. This was the only place I ran into
problems.


The setup program wouldn't quit so I could reboot. I had to force it to exit by
pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del, selecting Set-Up and clicking on the End Task button. Only then was
a reboot successful.


Despite that small irritation, the setup program for the Mobile Media Module behaved
impressively. It deleted 16-bit drivers for the Ultra's two PC Card slots and replaced
them with 32-bit drivers that would be detected and invoked the moment a PC Card was
inserted.


Moreover, the CD-ROM drive and the on-board sound card drivers were installed as PC
Card sockets 3 and 4. Everything worked fine--at least on Day 1 of my tests.


Switching from the module to the floppy drive went slowly at first, because Windows
95's Plug and Play automatically detected the hardware change. It set up an undocked
hardware configuration and lost the appropriate settings for the display, dropping from
256 to 16 colors.


When I switched back to the module, Win95 again began detecting hardware. I found it
better to shut down when changing from the module to the floppy drive. The Ultra
completely turns off when you tell Win95 to shut down, an advantage here.


It was possible to switch on the fly, but sometimes that would cause Win95 to restart
anyway.


On Day 2 of testing, the Ultra knew it had a CD-ROM drive and would spin it
occasionally but wouldn't mount it so I could see it--even after a reboot.


Digital engineers told me this was a problem with Win95. I deleted the CD driver under
the Device Manager in the Control Panel's System icon. On rebooting, Win95 reinstalled the
driver and everything went back to normal, with the CD-ROM drive mounting as d:. Also, a
reboot solved the problem when I occasionally overloaded the sound system and lost sound
altogether.


Video quality from the CD-ROM was impressive, especially for the minimal colors on a
laptop display. Audio performance surpassed my expectations. Although audio and video,
even from CD-ROM, stayed in sync, an occasional skip in sound did occur. Volume was
controlled by a dial at the left of the module, next to the external speaker and
microphone jacks.


Battery drain from CD-ROM and sound use was slightly greater than Digital predicted.
The lithium-ion battery lasted almost 1 3/4 hours with nearly constant CD-ROM and audio
use; Digital had predicted up to 2 1/2 hours.


But the Ultra never could accurately predict how much energy it had left. After little
more than an hour, the LCD indicator read about 50 percent. Moments later, it dropped to
zero, skipping the 25 percent indicator.


Everything--Ultra, floppy drive, media module, AC adapter and durable carrying
case--weighed in at a little more than 10 pounds. The media module itself accounted for
almost 2 pounds--weight you need not carry in a pinch.


Digital Equipment Corp., Maynard Mass.; tel. 800-722-9332.


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