Tillamook chip adds punch to Dell, Compaq notebooks

But two out of three ain't bad, as Dell Computer Corp.'s re-engineered Latitude CP and
Compaq Computer Corp.'s updated Armada 7700 each illustrate.


Both production units came with Intel Corp.'s newest 233-MHz Pentium MMX processor,
known as Tillamook. That's the fast portion of the equation, and boy, are they speedy.


The Tillamooks raced through GCNdex32TM benchmark tests about 30 percent faster than
the 166-MHz Pentium MMX, until now the speediest notebook processor.


Head-to-head with 233-MHz Pentium MMX desktop systems, the portables showed no
performance difference. Tillamook's lower power consumption and 32K on-board cache elevate
portable computing to the desktop level [GCN, Sept. 8, Page 1].


The best thing about the Dell Latitude CP M233ST is what's missing--weight. At less
than 6 pounds, it's a couple of pounds lighter and a half-inch thinner than its
forerunner, the Latitude XPi. Weight had previously held back the Latitude line.


Released last week, the Latitude CP has one Universal Serial Bus port and a 20X-maximum
CD-ROM drive.


Its AC adapter is external, however, and there's no integrated modem. The buyer must
choose Microsoft Windows NT Workstation 4.0 or Windows 95 when ordering; NT costs an extra
$85.


The Armada 7770DMT, which still weighs in at more than 71Ž2 pounds, stands at the
high end of Compaq's portable fleet and has everything except a USB port. It's ready to
travel with integrated AC adapter and 33.6-kilobit/sec modem plus 20X variable-speed
CD-ROM drive.


The user can select either NT 4.0 or Win95 at first boot-up with no price difference.


The Armada's performance on GCNdex math benchmarks was on par, but the 8.36 video score
really rocked--the highest the GCN Lab has ever recorded for a portable.


Hard-drive access lagged, however. The 7770 was slightly faster than the Armada 7750MT,
the former top-end model. But Compaq's 3G hard drive was much slower than the Latitude's
2G drive. The larger the drive, the faster access should be. Yet the Armada drive was so
much slower, it took 20 seconds longer to boot up than the Latitude.


The Armada 7770 lasted about 21Ž4 hours on GCN's maximum drainage test with one
fully charged battery, almost three minutes longer than the Latitude. That was about 45
minutes longer than the 7750 [GCN, Sept. 8, Page 33], so the Tillamook chip's lower power
consumption did help.


The effect was harder to see in the Latitude CP, which also lasted almost 21Ž4
hours on the drainage test. The CP's predecessor, the Latitude XPi, lasted about 21Ž2
hours, but it had a slightly heavier, 14.4-volt lithium-ion battery in contrast to the
CP's 10.8-volt cell.


A new Dell quick-charge feature can renew the battery from empty to full in about an
hour.


Both Compaq and Dell units survived 31Ž2 to 4 hours under regular use with power
management engaged. You could put a second battery in the modular bay that ordinarily
holds a CD-ROM or floppy drive.


The pair of portables did exceptionally well at dispersing heat, especially the thinner
Latitude CP, which evenly distributed heat over the base instead of concentrating it under
the processor. The Armada 7770 was barely warm after two hours of constant use because its
greater thickness aided thermal dissipation.


Both units had satisfactory 12.1-inch SuperVGA displays, although the 7770's could
stand to be a bit brighter. Dell offers a 13.3-inch XGA option.


Video performance wasn't what I would expect from the Latitude's 128-bit graphics
accelerator. Last spring, the Latitude LM earned a top video benchmark score of 5.74 [GCN,
April 14, Page 1]. The XPi dropped to 4.77. The CP's increase to 6.86 is respectable, but
not as much as I had expected.


The CP's hard-drive access speed was extraordinary for a notebook and could rival
similarly configured desktop drives.


Its integrated sound and speakers improve sound quality over previous Latitudes, but it
needs more bass output or even an integrated subwoofer.


The single button in the middle of the top is a little hard to clasp to open the CP.
But Dell has improved the touchpad, which follows the heat signature of a finger rather
than pressure.


One thing that frustrated me was PC Card ejection. The two Type II slots in the CP have
small buttons that pop out when pressed to eject cards. Once out, these buttons stay out
and will not return to a flush position without being carefully pushed with pen or pencil.
That's minor but could result in broken buttons, aggravated users or both.


Overall, the Latitude CP is an excellent advance over the older XPi and LM. Its new
docking station is sure to make it welcome in any enterprise. The Compaq Armada was
already welcome there, of course, because the 7770 slides into the ArmadaStation. Despite
slightly heavier weight, the 7770 carries on Armada's high-caliber performance.


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