Dual-core, multifaceted

These laptops deliver power and features in a wide range of configurations

Only a year ago, there was a race to put dual-core processors into laptop PCs. Today, it would be difficult to find a new laptop without one.

Dual core unquestionably is the way to go. Besides raw performance, there are some great multitasking capabilities that come with the new territory.

In the past, if a virus scan was triggered while a user was working on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or a Word document, the only options were to stop working because of the extremely decreased performance or cancel the scan. Neither option was a good one, especially considering that the virus scan could last an hour or more. And although this was a problem with desktop PCs, too, the generally lower performance rates of laptops made this type of problem even more acute.

With the new dual-core chips, made by both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, multitasking is not a problem; the system lets one chip handle the scan while the other focuses on the application. Our GCN/Alterion benchmarks take this into account, and generally we saw great benchmark scores across the board in this roundup.

So now that laptop manufacturers are nearly equal again in terms of processor type, what can laptop companies do to set their systems apart? We looked at eight cutting-edge business laptops for this review, and the answer is quite a lot.

There is no cookie-cutter laptop configuration; they came with a bewildering array of options and components, from S-video ports to multiple USB ports, fingerprint scanners, smart-card readers, media bays, Bluetooth phones and High-Definition Multimedia Interface ports. One system even had an ingenious security device that we have never seen before. There really is a laptop for everyone, whether you demand workstation-class performance or smooth multimedia, or whether you need to equip an entire workforce with computers on a tight budget.

Laptops were graded based on performance, features, battery life and value. Performance was measured using the GCN/Alterion benchmarks, using standard office programs such as Excel and Adobe Photoshop to really push systems to their limit. Federal agencies such as NASA use the Alterion benchmark to determine the correct tier for a system in a stepped buy.

When grading features, we gave preference to those that had more relevance to feds ' a fingerprint reader would be more valuable than a media bay, for example.
We tested batteries in a worst-case scenario environment, running a movie off the hard drive with brightness and sound levels set to 80 percent. If you are doing standard office work on a battery, expect a bit more time than we found with our results.

Finally, value was graded based on the price of the unit relative to all the other features and grades. A moderately performing laptop with a low price could score high, but so could an expensive laptop with stellar performance and features. The score is based on value, not strictly price.

Fujitsu LifeBook E8210

Performance: A

Features: A+

Battery Life: A

Value: A

Pros: Unique security features, stellar performance, good battery life

Cons: None significant

The stars really aligned when the LifeBook E8210 was created. The E8210 is a perfect laptop for government users. It combines unique security, stellar performance and tons of useful features.

In terms of performance, the E8210 is more powerful than many desktop systems. It features an Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 Processor backed by 2G of DDR2 RAM. This
enabled the E8210 to score 11,800 on the GCN/ Alterion benchmarks, second best in the review and one of the best laptop scores we have ever seen. There is also an ATI Radeon X1400 video card with 128M of dedicated video memory.

For security, there is a biometric fingerprint sensor and a smart-card reader. But the E8210 goes beyond this, adding a unique security device we haven't seen before. The top of the keyboard has five buttons that act like a tumbler lock. You can push up to four of them at the same time up to five times, and then the enter key. If this security device is enabled, you can't use the notebook unless the proper keys are used. And for those of you keeping track, that is 813,615 combinations, so good luck to any hacker trying to guess them ' unless you set your password to one, two, three, four and enter.

There are also quite a few extras on the E8210, such as an LCD status display panel that shows battery life, hard-drive access, wireless connectivity and other activities taking place within the laptop at a glance. There is also a memory card reader and four USB ports, with one along the right side and three in the back. The 15.4-inch widescreen LCD is extremely clear and adds a nice quality to video displayed on the screen.

In terms of battery life, the E8210 has an eight-cell battery into the spot where a six-cell battery would normally go. This adds a little weight but does not change the size of the laptop. In our worst-case scenario testing, the battery lasted 2 hours, 51 minutes, which was near the high end for this roundup.

The government price of $1,886 might seem a little high, but you are getting better-than-desktop performance, three factors of security, including the unique tumbler lock-like buttons, and lots of nice extras to boot. There probably isn't anyone who would not be happy with an E8210.

Fujitsu Computer Systems, Sunnyvale, Calif., (800) 831-3183, www.computers.us.fujitsu.com

Dell Latitude D830

Performance: A-

Features: B-

Battery Life: A

Value: B+

Pros: Best battery life, good performance, good value

Cons: A bit stripped down in terms of features

The Latitude D830 offers good performance and value in a bit of a stripped-down configuration. It's a no-frills workhorse.

The D830 has a 2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 processor and the unit we tested was backed with 1G of RAM configured in two DIMM slots. It featured Intel 965GM integrated graphics. Its score of 9,203 on the GCN/Alterion benchmarks means it can handle almost any business application you throw at it, and it can even handle multiple applications at the same time.

The D830 also featured an upgraded nine-cell battery, which was surprising for two reasons. First, the battery did not awkwardly stick out the back of the unit. It fits into the slot where most laptops place their six-cell batteries. Second, this apparently standard configuration was part of the low $1,674 government price. Not surprisingly, the D830 had the best battery life in the review, lasting for 3 hours, 4 minutes in the worst conditions we could throw at it.

There is a biometric fingerprint reader for security and a thumbstick pointing device in addition to the standard touch pad. And it has an integrated smart-card reader.

The D830 was a little thin on features, though. There are only two USB ports, one on each side of the unit. There is also an enhanced USB port for connecting power-hungry USB drives in the back. There is no memory card reader. The hard drive is rather small at only 80G. Combined with only 1G of RAM and integrated graphics, the D830 we tested was without frills.

Agencies looking for a workhorse of a laptop that runs for a long time on battery power should go no further than the D830. It offers good value and performance despite the lack of extras.

Dell, Round Rock, Texas, (800) 388-8542, www.dell.com

Acer Ferrari 5005WLMi

Performance: A-

Features: A

Battery Life: B-

Value: B

Pros: Great set of features, Bluetooth phone, good performance, built-in webcam

Cons: No fingerprint reader, expensive

The 5005WLMi is the latest laptop in the Acer lineup to take advantage of the company's partnership with the Ferrari car manufacturer. This means the laptop comes in Ferrari orange if you want it and has several strategically placed logos.

Some of the materials in the laptop's construction are also the same ones used in the making of the sports car. Although pretty cool, that probably doesn't mean much to a government user.

What will matter is the mix of performance and features. It scored 9,594 on the benchmark, which is not a surprise given the AMD Turion 64 TL-60 chip and 2G of DDR2 RAM. This is backed with a high-end ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 video card with 256M of Video RAM.

And the features are impressive. Sitting on top of the LCD is a 1.3-megapixel CMOS camera on a rotating platform that lets it shoot images of anyone sitting in front of the screen or directly behind it.

And if you're thinking that the Ferrari might make a good videoconferencing notebook, you are correct. In addition to the camera, the 5005WLMi comes with a Bluetooth voice-over-IP phone. The phone, which is about the thickness of three credit cards, normally sits in the PC Card slot to the left of the keyboard, but it can be removed and used like a normal phone with the laptop acting as the gateway to the Internet. It really is a videoconferencing tool right out of the box and comes with software to make everything run smoothly.

There is also an HDMI port in the back, so if you have high-quality video you can stream it into an HDTV. No other laptop in this review had that. And there is a 160G hard drive, so high-resolution video won't take up all your available space.

In terms of ports, the Ferrari was quite generous, with four USB 2.0 ports, two in easy reach on each side. It was also one of the few laptops with an
S-Video port and had a media bay designed for memory sticks.

We were ready to award the 5005WLMi an A+ for features, but for government users, the Ferrari is missing an important component ' a fingerprint reader. Especially with government users trying to implement two-factor authentication for remote users, the lack of a biometric reader is a bit of a negative.

Battery life also was poor, at only 1 hour, 29 minutes. Given all the extras, this is not surprising, but users should consider upgrading to an eight- or 12-cell battery for extended road use.

Finally, the price of the Ferrari is a little high, at $2,399 as configured for our testing. But given the many features packed into the 5005WLMi, and the videoconferencing functionality, it's a price some users will be glad to pay.

Acer America, San Jose, Calif., (800) 733-2237, www.acer.com/us

Lenovo ThinkPad T60

Performance: A

Features: B-

Battery Life: A

Value: B+

Pros: Good performance and battery

Cons: Price a bit high, low memory

Lenovo's Thinkpad T60 is a solid workhorse of a laptop that also has good battery life. This combination of traits is often hard to find in the laptop world.

Although the Thinkpad had a 2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 and only 1G of RAM, it still managed to pull out a desktop-rivaling benchmark score of 9,920. Of course, having an ATI Mobility Radeon x1400 video card certainly didn't hurt.

Although a 100G hard drive will tide you over for a while, you might want a bit more room, depending on the type of data you work with.

The Thinkpad lasted 3 hours and 1 minute in our battery life test, which was one of the longest in the roundup. Although this is because of its nine-cell battery, we felt that this was still a good time for that size.

The $2,049 is a decent retail price, especially considering the good battery life and performance. A government price of $1,926 is an even better bargain.

Although the Lenovo Thinkpad T60 did not rise to the top in performance or battery life, it did do well in both categories. This uniqueness among its peers makes it an overall good choice.

Lenovo, Research Triangle Park, N.C., (866) 968-4465, www.lenovo.com/us

Gateway E-265M

Performance: A+

Features: B+

Battery Life: B-

Value: B+

Pros: Best benchmark performance

Cons: Price a bit high, short battery life

The E-265M from Gateway is a powerhouse that could nearly replace an existing desktop PC. Its considerable processing power is nearly comparable to that of most desktop systems but, unfortunately, its power consumption tends to rival them, too.
We were pleased to see the security features available on the E-265M. It had the distinction of being one of the few models tested that had both a biometric fingerprint reader and a smart-card reader.

In our benchmark tests, the Gateway's 2.2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 processor and 2G of memory pulled out an amazing score of 12,230. This is not only the highest of any laptop in this review, but the highest of any laptop we have ever tested. This is even higher than some desktop PCs we have tested recently.

Unfortunately, as is usually the case with high-performance systems, the battery life leaves something to be desired. In our test, the E-265 only lasted 1 hour, 48 minutes, which is quite a bit less than we have come to expect from laptops with six-cell batteries. We were impressed with the sound output of the front-mounted speakers, however, and if battery life is an issue, Gateway does have eight- and 12-cell batteries available.

The retail price of $2,107 is a little high. It's not a bad bargain, especially considering the superior performance and good features, but it's not the best deal in the roundup. If your top criterion is performance, the Gateway E-265M can't be beat and would make it well worth the price.

Gateway, Irvine, Calif., (800) 846-2000, www.gateway.com

Toshiba Tecra A8-EZ8413

Performance: B

Features: C+

Battery Life: B

Value: A-

Pros: Super-cheap price

Cons: Bare-bones system, low performance

The Tecra A8-EZ8413 from Toshiba is a workable bare-bones laptop at a really low price of $1,099. Although it has absolutely no bells or whistles, it will get the job done and possibly save you some money.

The A8-EZ8413 has a 1.83 GHz Intel Core Duo Processor T5600 1G of memory, 80G hard drive and integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950. Although this is an adequate functional configuration, it is by no means Windows Vista-ready, as Toshiba claims it is.

In our performance benchmarks, the Toshiba earned a score of 8,332. This is near the bottom of the pack, but given its specifications, that is not surprising. Still, this is faster than any laptop that we had reviewed in last year's roundup and should be fast enough to do most typical office-related tasks.

Also unsurprising is the A8-EZ8413's battery life. In our tests, it lasts 2 hours, 3 minutes, which is a decent amount of time for a six-cell battery but in the middle of the laptops in this roundup.

Toshiba America Information Systems, Irvine, Calif., (888) 882-8247, www.toshiba

HP Compaq 6515b

Performance: B

Features: A-

Battery Life: B-

Value: B+

Pros: Small and light, good price

Cons: Lowest benchmark performance

The Hewlett-Packard Compaq 6515b is the smallest and lightest in the review.

Although its weight of 5 pounds, 7 ounces almost puts it in reach of the ultraportables, it is able to hold its own among its business class peers.

Of course, one of the reasons it is small and light is the 14.1-inch WXGA display, which is a bit smaller than the now-typical choice of 15.4-inch screens. However, its ATI Radeon Express 1270 video card was a good choice and makes up somewhat for the slightly smaller screen size.

In addition to the standard fare, we were pleased to see the addition of an S-video port, which was only found on two of the notebooks in this review. This can be an invaluable interface if you are doing anything with digital video.

The 6515b turned in a score of 8,231, despite its powerful 2.2 GHz AMD Turion TL-64 dual-core processor and 2G of RAM. We would like to point out that, although this is the lowest in this review, it is still higher than any of the laptops tested in last year's roundup.

In our battery life test, the Compaq also came out on the bottom of the heap, with a total time of 1 hour, 25 minutes. We tried to think of just what someone could accomplish on a laptop in less than an hour and a half, and the list was, not surprisingly, short. Additional or larger batteries would definitely be in order for anyone who wants this model.

The 6515b costs $1,599, which is a decent price for what you get. If you are working with video and aren't going anywhere, HP's Compaq 6515b may be a good choice.

Hewlett-Packard, Palo Alto, Calif., (800) 888-9909, www.hp.com

Twinhead Durabook D14RY

Performance: A-

Features: B+

Battery Life B

Value: A

Pros: Good performance, good price

Cons: Subpar battery life

The Twinhead Durabook D14RY has a lot to offer in the way of performance and features in addition to being fully ruggedized. It even comes at a good price, which is rare in rugged laptops.

The Durabook had one of the largest hard drives in the review ' 160G. This should be more than enough for any laptop use. Although we were disappointed to find no biometric fingerprint reader, it does at least have a smart-card reader, which is certainly better than no additional layers at all.

Unique in this roundup, the D14RY is in full compliance with the Mil-Std 810F military specifications for drops, vibration and spills. This can be quite an asset in rougher computing environments.

It was interesting to note that the optical drive opens in the front of the notebook, instead of on one side or the other as in most configurations, offering better spatial management.

In our performance benchmarks the Durabook garnered a score of 9,137, from its 2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2G RAM. Although this puts it in the middle of the roundup, it is still an impressive score.

Slightly less impressive was the D14RY's showing in the battery life test. It did manage to last 2 hours and 4 minutes, but this put it in the middle of the group and is less than we would have hoped for.

The Durabook costs $2,099, which is a great price for any rugged laptop, let alone one that performs as well as this one does. The government price of $1,889 makes this an almost unbeatable bargain.

Generally, if you need military-standard ruggedness, you really can't go wrong with Twinhead's Durabook D14RY.

Twinhead, Fremont, Calif., (510) 492-0828, www.twinhead.com


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