Digital's latest and final notebook line hits a HiNote

Pros and cons:
+        Solid design, above-average
performance and battery life
–        7.4-pound weight

GCNdex32 scores:
Digital Gateway
HiNote Solo
745 9100

Floating-point math 4.59 4.93
Integer math 7.95 7.77
Video 6.73 7.08
Small-file access 4.52 4.58
Large-file access 4.70 4.74
CD-ROM access 4.31 4.70

When Compaq Computer Corp. acquired Digital Equipment Corp., notebook users wondered
about the future. Digital had a tough time in the Intel PC and server markets, although
its portables and Alpha-based computers have done well.

The GCN Lab recently tested a 226-MHz Digital HiNote VP 745 with a Pentium MMX
processor, which is likely to be the last notebook the lab will see bearing a Digital
label. It may, however, be the first look at future Compaq notebooks with a Digital

The HiNote has always mixed innovation with a no-frills approach. Early in this decade,
Digital was the first to produce an ultra-thin notebook that could be built up into a
power user’s machine by adding on components.

The HiNote line was solidly built with above-average performance and slightly stodgy

Compaq’s LTE notebooks had the same character until they were replaced by the
snazzier Armada line.

The Armada has never struck me as a mobile workhorse, but the HiNote embodies value,
performance and durability. Perhaps Compaq will now target Digital’s notebook line to
users who prefer better performance over lots of bells and whistles.

The HiNote VP 745 test unit had something in common with another notebook the lab
reviewed recently. The Dell Inspiron 3200 [GCN, June 22, Page 26] and the HiNote VP 745 clearly came from the same original equipment
manufacturer. Their cases were identical except for color.

The VP 745 revealed several good reasons why Compaq should take lessons from
Digital’s notebook designers. For one thing, the Dell Inspiron had aggravating little
plastic spacers to occupy empty PC Card slots. The HiNote—from the same OEM, but
designed by Digital—had small doors to keep dust out of the slots. No more worries
about losing little bits of plastic.

That kind of attention to detail is what separates mere functionality from outstanding

Another example was the VP 745’s combination floppy and CD-ROM drive. The need for
both is obvious to every computer user, but surprisingly few notebook manufacturers have
caught on yet.

The 7.4-pound HiNote had a 13.3-inch, XGA active-matrix screen, 32M synchronous dynamic
RAM upgradeable to 144M and a 4G hard drive.

It did well at connectivity, supplying infrared, Universal Serial Bus and audio ports
plus a full complement of parallel, serial and PS/2 ports.

Battery life makes or breaks a notebook. Though the VP 745’s longevity was not
spectacular, it lasted longer than three hours in normal use and two hours, 28 minutes
under the lab’s torture test, which continuously accesses both CD-ROM and hard
drives. The HiNote’s lithium-ion battery had an LED on the side to show battery
charge remaining.

Not only did the HiNote 745 exemplify good design, it also raised the issue of deciding
between a Pentium MMX or a Pentium II CPU. Pentium II notebooks certainly are speedy, but
Pentium MMX notebooks are much cheaper and have longer battery life and often larger
screens. That’s because a Pentium II chip combined with a large screen drains the
battery fast.

Probably 80 percent of all work done on notebooks is simple word processing, so a
Pentium MMX has more than enough power. And because there are no new mobile operating
systems on the horizon, you can set up a stable configuration on a Pentium MMX and forget
upgrade worries for about three years.

A HiNote 765 with 266-MHz Pentium II processor costs almost $400 more than the 745. If
you need maximum power, go for the Pentium II. If not, spend the $400 difference on
accessories such as an extra battery, an internal removable drive or a DVD module.

Compared to other 266-MHz Pentium MMX notebooks, the Digital performed well on
GCNdex32TM benchmark tests.

Its benchmark scores were comparable to the top-end Gateway Inc. Solo 9100 [GCN, April 6, Page 28], which sold for $1,000 more at the
time the lab reviewed it than the HiNote 745 costs now.

Gateway no longer puts the Pentium MMX in the Solo 9100 line, so a current price
comparison is impossible.

The HiNote VP 745 is not going to raise mobile computing to new heights, nor does it
boast remarkable innovation. What it does is showcase Digital’s attention to detail
in notebook design.

There are enough mobile computer buyers these days to make a market for eye-catching
innovation as well as for simple, form-follows-function design. Now road warriors can
look to Compaq as a leader on both counts.

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