MPC packs features into its new TransPort X3100

Security, usability touches make it a good fit for agencies

MPC Computers has made a practice of listening to government customers and developing notebook computers that address their unique'if often quirky'requirements. Case in point: the new MPC TransPort X3100. Why have USB ports on three sides of the system? MPC officials tout it as meeting 508 accessibility standards, which require treating left- and right-handed users equally. Now that's attention to detail.

The X3100 also has a handy, one-touch button for shutting down the embedded 802.11 a/b/g wireless radio. This feature is extremely helpful for agencies that need to enforce wireless policies, but we're finding half the notebooks we review don't offer it. The X3100 also has an integrated fingerprint scanner and Smart Card reader, both for maintaining high levels of security.

We were also impressed by the X3100's implementation of short-range Bluetooth wireless technology in even the most basic models. Most notebook vendors offer Bluetooth for a premium, but MPC is pushing to make this technology a standard. To that end, the X3100 comes with a Bluetooth management program called BlueSoleil. BlueSoleil depicts the X3100 computer in the center of the screen and shows orbiting Bluetooth devices it has detected nearby. The software identifies printers, cell phones, PCs or PDAs and displays each device's Media Access Control address. It can even tell you the brand of the device and its approximate location in relation to the X3100. This makes it easy to connect to a Bluetooth device while complying with security policies.

Performance a mixed bag

Although the X3100's features knocked our socks off, its performance didn't. The seven-pound, 12.8- by 10.9- by 2-inch notebook scored just 6,807 on the GCN/Alterion benchmarks test, slightly below average for a notebook running the new Intel Sonoma 915 chip set, which the X3100 does.

We're not entirely sure why the X3100 lagged slightly in performance. Our test unit came with a 2.1GHz Pentium M processor, 512M of DDR2-RAM and an ATI Radeon Mobility X700 graphics adapter. It's been our experience that slower Intel 915-based notebooks had in common an integrated Intel graphics chip. The same can't be said for the X3100, which ran slower despite a third-party accelerator.

In addition, the X3100's battery didn't last as long as we would have liked. An hour and 45 minutes won't help you much on long trips, but we don't consider it a deal-breaker, especially because the X3100 is more akin to a desktop replacement than an ultraportable. The Dell Latitude D610, which won our March 21 Reviewer's Choice, lasted just an hour and 30 minutes.
Overall, however, the X3100 is well designed. For example, the microphone and headphone jacks are now on the front of the machine for easy access. The optical drive, which in our review was a DVD/CD-RW combo drive, connects to the motherboard with a backward-compatible serial port. That means older spare batteries will work in the optical bay.

The X3100 also comes with a floppy drive, still a requirement at many agencies. But perhaps most important, the X3100 boasts a 40G hard drive that detaches from the chassis without tools in about five seconds. This is a huge plus for agencies that require removable drives as part of their security policies.

One small issue with the design of the X3100 is its keyboard, which tended to sag and flex in the middle regardless of how lightly we typed.

Despite that, the TransPort X3100 is about the most feature-rich, most intelligently designed notebook we've tested. GSA pricing starts around $1,700.

Our decked-out model came in at $2,650. If you're not too hung up on having the fastest notebook under the sun, you'll be able to find an X3100 model that includes all the features your agency needs.

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