Sceptre's Soundx has all the right moves for the road

Monitor maker Sceptre Technologies Inc. has hit the ground running with its first
notebook PC, the Soundx 7500, a rugged road warrior with sophisticated features.

I carried the Soundx on a flight to Las Vegas, a train to New York and a road trip of
nearly 1,000 miles. It booted up in airports, trains and automobiles, in hotel rooms and
conference suites.

I used it to file stories remotely and to browse the Web, and I played a few games on
the 14.1-inch color LCD display. The Soundx never let me down.

It weighs a bit more than 6 pounds, about standard for a notebook, and has a black
carrying case for the components. I wish the case had room enough to accommodate a
mouse—I hate touchpads for precision work—headphones and a pack of CD-ROMs.
Users who pack less stuff won’t need the extra space.

A lot of thought went into the notebook’s design. The display extends all the way
to the edges, about equivalent to a 15-inch CRT. Although the viewing angle is not quite
160 degrees, it is crisp and easy to read from any normal position.

I tested battery life with the GCN Lab’s notebook torture test: playing an audio
CD and running a hard drive scan simultaneously to draw as much power as possible. The
lithium-ion battery lasted one hour, 45 minutes. Less power-hungry users could expect 15
minutes to a half-hour more time.

When the battery charge gets down around 5 percent, the notebook gives several warnings
and goes into a forced shutdown. This is a common feature, but in addition the Soundx
saved everything in RAM as well as all applications. When I plugged back in, it returned
to the exact spots I had left, down to the correct audio track.

The disk scan continued from the same track, too. Subsequent tests showed that
spreadsheets and word processor files also had been protected during the forced shutdown.

My test unit had a 266-MHz Pentium II processor, 64M of RAM and a 24X CD-ROM drive. It
performed above average for notebooks on the GCNdex32TM benchmark suite, scoring better
than higher-priced Dell Computer Corp. units in the same class. By the way, the Dell and
Sceptre units have the same case design.

The Soundx drives are swappable and dislodge from the motherboard easily after throwing
one switch. You can run the unit plugged into a wall outlet, minus battery, with both
CD-ROM and 1.44M floppy drives attached, or remove one of them in favor of the battery for
field use. You can also plug the floppy drive into the parallel port and keep a battery
and both drives in use.

Opening the unit requires pulling only one latch—a plus for disabled users. The
latch does, however, block drive removal. You have to crack the computer open a bit to
swap them.

There are two PC Card slots and an infrared port for data sharing.

I tested the IR port in a multiplayer game. It worked well without physically linking
computers. Docking the notebook with a desktop machine would take far less IR bandwidth
and will work fine.

The only performance problem I had was with the CD-ROM drive. Occasionally an
application that read frequently from CD-ROM would freeze for a second while the drive
spun up to speed. This also happened when the unit was plugged into a wall outlet, so it
was not a battery fault. 

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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