Compaq's 133-MHz Armada shines in video

Compaq Computer Corp.'s Armada 1550DMT bears little
resemblance to earlier portables with 133-MHz Pentium processors. Just for clarification,
I'm talking about regular Pentiums-not MMX chips.


The Armada's GCNdex32TM benchmark scores showed a bipolar split unlike anything we've
seen before in the GCN Lab. Some scores were very high, others very low.


Part of the problem was in my choice of the Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 Workstation
operating system instead of Windows 95. The Armada 1500 series is among the first
notebooks to offer users a choice of the two OSes at initial start-up. I selected NT just
to see how this robust, 32-bit OS would behave on a low-end notebook.


A greater problem was the underpowered processor. NT on this Pentium ran sluggishly
compared with its performance on a 266-MHz Pentium II. But let's be realistic: The fastest
portable you can get these days has only a 166-MHz Pentium MMX chip.


With 48M RAM, the Armada performed admirably for a notebook, priced at $3,256 plus
about $300 for the 32M upgrade from the standard 16M. And battery life was higher than I
ever expected in an NT notebook.


On GCN's maximum battery drainage test, the Armada ran slightly more than two hours.
Win95 on most notebooks couldn't last that long. Compaq's power management software reins
NT down to a slow enough drain to make the lithium-ion cell last up to 312 hours in normal
use.


What concerned me most were the math and hard-drive access scores. Integer and
floating-point math marks were among the lowest the lab has seen in 19 other Pentium
133-MHz notebooks. Only five scored lower than the Compaq. Hard-drive access was slightly
better, right in the middle of the pack.


The hard drive was formatted to 16-bit File Allocation Table format-not the native
format for NT. So I converted the drive just to see what would happen.


My advice: Never try that on a portable. The 1.4G drive's performance plunged by as
much as 40 percent. Some power management services no longer would start under the NT File
System.


To my astonishment, the CD-ROM and video scores were the highest I've seen on a
notebook. With only 1M RAM, the 32-bit video managed to outperform all other 133-MHz
notebooks.


It outperformed all but one of the 38 other notebooks we've examined-and that one was a
166-MHz Pentium MMX with 128-bit graphics accelerator.


Likewise, the Armada's CD-ROM drive achieved a 16X score even though it's only a 10X
drive.


The all-in-one design is convenient and, at 713 pounds, not the heaviest out there,
especially considering that the AC adapter brick is integrated. There's no trading out
drives or batteries from a modular bay.


Compaq puts the CD-ROM drive, 312-inch floppy drive and 14.4-volt battery in one
package, although you can slip out the floppy to add an extra battery for extended life.


The 12.1-inch active-matrix display at 800 by 600 pixels was focused and even, though
it would benefit from brighter backlighting. A 33.6-kilobit/sec modem is integrated and
does not use up either of the two Type II PC Card slots. Two speakers on the palm rest
play crisp, 16-bit integrated sound.


Compaq has made some compromises for what, is a bargain notebook. As the Armada 1500
series replaces the 1100, buyers will get much more bang for the buck.


The Armada 1500 series, though not on General Services Administration schedule
contracts, does appear on NASA's Scientific and Engineering Workstation II contract. See
the company's SEWP II World Wide Web site at http://www.compaq.com/us/sewp2
for current pricing and configurations.


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