Friday, February 19, 2010


The G51J is the latest 15-inch gaming notebook from ASUS, sporting the new Intel Core i7 mobile processor and Windows 7 operating system. This notebook shares a lot of features with the previous G51VX, with only a hardware refresh to support the Core i7 processor. With a starting price of $1,499, it is priced $200 below the previous version ... which is a huge plus for buyers on a budget. Check out our full review to see how this Core i7 update performs.

ASUS G51J Specifications:

* Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
* Intel Core i7-720QM (1.6GHz, 1333MHz FSB, 6MB Cache)
* 15.6" WUXGA FHD LCD display at 1920x1080
* NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260M 1GB GDDR3 memory
* Intel 1000AGN Wireless, Bluetooth
* 4GB PC3-8500 DDR3 SDRAM (2GB x 2)
* Two 320GB Seagate 7200RPM Hard Drives
* DVD SuperMulti
* Webcam, Altec Lansing speakers, Backpack, Razer Copperhead USB mouse
* 120W (19V x 6.32A) 100-240V AC Adapter
* 6-cell 53Wh 11.1v 4800mAh Lithium Ion battery
* Dimensions (WxDxH): 14.6" x 10.3" x 1.3-1.6"
* Weight: 7lbs 8.2oz
* 2-Year Global Warranty/1-Year Accidental damage
* Price as configured: $1,499

Build and Design
The design of the G51 is very gamer-inspired. The outside graphics are futuristic and cool, without being too over-dramatic for the casual gamer. At first glance the new design almost looks like the edges are scratched into the glossy surface, but upon closer inspection that is just the design of the artwork as it branches out to the top and bottom. The inside of the G51 has a more back-to-basics look with a rubberized black palmrest, black backlit keyboard, and glossy black trim around the display. I personally think the design could have been helped by using more rubberized paint other surfaces around the notebook, since it had an excellent soft texture.

Build quality is above average, with sturdy plastic used throughout the notebook, but there are some areas that could see some improvement. The screen cover feels very durable, and protects the screen against any distortion from impacts to the back cover or flexing the screen side to side. The palmrest and keyboard have absolutely no flex at all, which is something you need if you are going to be playing high-stress games and occasionally taking out some of your anger on your computer. The newer design of the G51J compared to the G51VX doesn't have the same paint overspray issue, since the side colors are solid for each piece of plastic.

Users looking to upgrade components inside the notebook will find it very easy, thanks to a single panel giving you access to all user-replaceable components. The only "warranty void if removed" sticker is covering one of the screws used to tension the processor heatsink, meaning that if you want to change out the processor or graphics card you will be forfeiting your 2-year warranty. Considering this notebook offers one of the faster notebook processors right now, the need to tinker with the processor should be minimal.

Screen and Speakers
Considering that this notebook will be used for gaming, an excellent screen is a must. The display on the G51 looks above average with good color saturation and better than average viewing angles. The glossy surface helps make the already good looking colors "pop" out at you more than they would on a matte display, as well as improving the looks of dark colors. ASUS provides a quick and easy way to switch color profiles with the screen, and each one is significantly better than the unaltered one. They really help tone down the harsh blues while bumping the other colors slightly. While gaming I didn't notice any lag or abnormal backlight bleed in dark scenes. Vertical viewing angles were very good, offering a broad sweet spot before colors started to invert if you tilted the screen forward or back. Horizontal viewing angles were excellent, keeping colors accurate, albeit slightly washed out, at very steep angles. Backlight brightness was more than adequate to be viewable in a bright room, but unless you stick to a shaded area underneath a tree, it won't be viewable outdoors.

The Altec Lansing speakers sounded nice, but given the overall size of this notebook we had hoped for a subwoofer as well. Audio from the speakers consisted mostly of higher frequencies, with some midrange coming through. Bass was lacking, but without a subwoofer that is normal for most notebooks. As a gaming notebook I think headphones should be required, especially surround sound-enabled headphones so you can hear your surroundings and react accordingly.

Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard was comfortable to use, and really helped solidify the overall look of the notebook. The keys and inner trim were all matching black, with white lettering that lights up when the backlight is enabled. The individual keys were easy to press, and felt very solid with very little wiggle if you moved your hand around the keyboard. Support was very good, with no flex noticed in the primary typing region. Compared to the previous ASUS G51 notebook in for review, the tray has been improved, with it no longer having play inside the bezel. It can no longer be pushed to the bottom and popped out using only your fingers.

The G51 includes a large Synaptics touchpad with a very smooth barely- textured surface. The speed of the touchpad is excellent, with it able to smoothly pickup slow and steady movement, or quick targeting movement. No lag was noticed what-so-ever. X and Y-axis speeds were matched, allowing you to draw near perfect circles with your fingertip, instead of ovals. The touchpad buttons were easy to trigger, but didn't give as much feedback as longer throw buttons.

Ports and Features
Port selection was pretty good for a 15" notebook, with four USB ports, an eSATA connection, HDMI and VGA out, FireWire 400, LAN, and three audio jacks. The expansion ASUS included an ExpressCard/54 slot and a spring loaded SD-card reader. ASUS also found a creative use for the ExpressCard blank, turning it into a handy storage card holder. Considering that most of us will keep that blank card in the slot most of the time, it now becomes a handy storage device.

ASUS is always big on including freebies with retail notebooks. The G51J-series is no different, with a comfortable green gaming backpack and Razer Copperhead gaming mouse. The included backpack is very comfortable, with more than adequate padding around the shoulders, and a nice gel-padded carrying handle. I don't think too many users will be replacing this backpack since it looks great and feels great. The Copperhead mouse was nice to see, since it is significantly better than most freebie mice, and is perfect for gaming enthusiasts who just so happen to be the primary target audience of this notebook.


ASUS' K-series notebooks promise a blend of value and performance. The K40IN is a 14-inch notebook with Nvidia graphics and an $800 price tag. How did it hold up in our testing?

Our ASUS K40IN-B1 review unit has the following specifications:

* 14-inch 720p (1366x768) display with LED backlighting
* Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit
* Intel Core 2 Duo T6500 (2.1GHz/2MB L2/800MHz FSB)
* Nvidia GeForce G102M integrated graphics card w/ 512MB DDR2 memory
* 4GB DDR2-667 RAM
* 320GB 5400RPM hard drive (Seagate Momentus 5400.6/ST9320325AS)
* 802.11n wireless (Atheros AR9285)
* DVD Super Multi drive
* Two-year warranty w/ one year accidental coverage
* 6-cell Li-ion battery (11.1v, 4400mAh, 46Wh)
* Weight: 5.3 lbs
* Dimensions: 13.4” x 9.5” x 1.4-1.5”
* MSRP: $799.99

Build and Design
The K40IN has a traditional notebook design and shape; it looks like an ordinary notebook and is visually uninspiring. Corners are rounded off to give the notebook a soft look. Nearly all surfaces of the K40IN save for the keyboard are glossy plastic, which is a dual-edged blade. On one hand the glossiness makes the notebook look more attractive, but on the other hand it reduces durability and makes it a real chore to keep clean.

The physical build quality of the K40IN is satisfactory. The quality is consistent; no particular area seems to be stronger or weaker than another. The base of the notebook resists twisting well and the palm rests barely flex under pressure. This lid is one of the better-reinforced lids I have seen on a value-oriented notebook; it is resistant to flexing and pushing in on the back of the lid does not yield any ripples on the screen. The hinges anchoring it to the base of the notebook are strong and display wobble is minimal.

Overall the build quality meets expectations; it is not outstanding and matches up to the competition at the very least. The design is rather plain though not unattractive. However, the glossy plastic will be a turn-off for some.

Screen and Speakers
The K40IN has a 14-inch diagonal display with LED backlighting and a 16:9 aspect ratio. The overall quality of the display is 'very good'. Brightness is excellent and contrast is reasonable. Pictures and movies are a pleasure to view on this display. The viewing angles are above average; side-to-side are nearly flawless, and while the colors wash out and darken from above and below respectively, the picture is fine for about thirty degrees vertically off center. The backlighting is not even with a significant amount of bleed at the bottom; fortunately it is not noticeable during normal use.

The display's 1366x768 resolution is a standard resolution for mainstream notebooks. The horizontal resolution is adequate, however only 768 pixels of vertical space means a good deal of scrolling while surfing the Internet and only enough space to view about one-half of a page in a Microsoft Word.

The K40IN has Altec Lansing speakers located underneath the palm rest. Simply put, the K40IN has two of the worst speakers I have heard on a notebook; my ears cringe every time a sound gets played. The speakers are muddy, tinny, and too quiet. Using the included SRS WOW software enhancer distorts the sound and put this odd pressure on my eardrums that I cannot stand. The headphone jack is fortunately static-free and the best way to get audio signals out of the notebook.

Keyboard and Touchpad
The K40IN's full-size keyboard is responsive and pleasing to use. The keys are large and flat and have a matte texture, which may wear over time. There is no noticeable flex unless a lot of pressure is used. A nice aspect of this keyboard is its quietness; it does not click or clack. It is also good to see the keyboard has a standard layout; all keys are more or less in their expected places.

The touchpad is a mixed bag. The glossy surface can be difficult to track on with moist fingers and the touchpad buttons are loud. Another complaint is the lack of a dedicated scroll zone.

The status lights on the K40 consist of three tiny circles below the touchpad buttons. From a functionality standpoint, they should be larger and brighter for better visibility.

Ports and Features
The K40IN suffers from a lack of ports relative to its competitors. HDMI is noticeably absent; the notebook's only video out option is VGA. Furthermore, there is no ExpressCard or PC Card slot for wireless broadband cards and other add-on devices. All picture descriptions are left to right.

Dell Inspiron 14z

Dell spent most of 2009 making their laptops as thin and light as possible. Dell even went as far as adding a "z" to the names of the thinnest and lightest notebooks that offer the best battery life in each category. To that end, the Inspiron 14z offers consumers a laptop that promises "66% better battery life" for a modest price increase. Is the Inspiron 14z as impressive as it sounds? Keep reading to find out.

Dell Inspiron 14z (Cherry Red) Specifications:

* Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo CULV SU7300 (1.3GHz, 800MHz, 3MB)
* OS: Windows 7 Premium (64-bit)
* Memory: 3GB Shared Dual Channel DDR3 at 1066MHz
* Storage: 250GB 5400rpm HDD
* Graphics: Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X4500HD
* Display: 14.0” HD (1366x768) WLED Display and webcam
* Optical Drive: 8x CD/DVD burner (DVD/-RW/R) with Dual-Layer
* Wireless: Intel Wireless 5100n
* Battery: 6-cell Lithium Ion battery (48.8 WHr)
* Dimensions: 1.0"-1.5" x 13.3" x 9.4" (H x W x D)
* Weight: 4 lbs, 9.9 oz
* Retail Price as configured: $839

Build and Design
The design of the Inspiron 14z looks virtually identical to the Inspiron 14. The chief differences here are that the Inspiron 14z uses an Intel CULV processor, 6-cell battery and WLED display ... all of which are intended to extend battery life. At first glance, the Inspiron 14z looks like an average budget notebook with a 14-inch display. The plastic construction, average screen resolution, and lack of a backlit keyboard certainly don't give this laptop the same premium look and feel as the Dell Studio 14z.

The Inspiron 14z feels pretty durable despite the fact that the notebook chassis is constructed from relatively thin plastics. The only areas that suffered from flex were just above the keyboard next to the battery and the back of the display lid. If you press on the lid with your fingers you will create screen distortions, and you'll hear some minor plastic creaking if you press down next to the battery. There is some minimal flex on the top of the right palmrest next to the optical drive, but you have to press pretty hard to make that happen.

When closed the Inspiron 14z looks thin compared to budget laptops from several years ago, but the weight of the 6-cell battery makes this system a bit too heavy to quality for the "thin and light" category today. The "Cherry Red" screen lid gives the Inspiron a nice candy-covered look, but Dell charges a $40 premium for the privilege of selecting red instead of black. Usually I don't complain about that type of surcharge from the Dell Design Studio which offers your choice of more than 100 different designs by various artisits, but charging $40 to stick a chuck of red plastic on a notebook is a little excessive.

The bottom of the notebook features the battery and access plates for the hard drive and RAM. There isn't much to talk about here other than to briefly mention the location of the two speakers on the bottom of the front edge (more on that later).

Screen and Speakers
The 14-inch high-definition (1366 x 768) panel on the Dell Inspiron 14z isn't quite as nice as the vibrant 1600 x 900 screen used on our review unit of the Studio 14z. The colors on this screen are generally good but contrast wasn't as impressive. The WLED backlighting in our review unit is pretty even and offers a range of brightness settings. Yes, it is a 16:9 screen ratio, but that's the new standard ... we all have to live with it. Horizontal viewing angles are extremely good, so you won't have any trouble sharing a movie with the person sitting next to you on a plane. Vertical viewing angles are average or below average with colors quickly washing out when viewed from above and colors begining to distort and invert as you move the screen back.

I was pretty impressed with the stereo speakers on the Dell Studio 14z, but I can't say much in favor of the speakers on the Inspiron 14z. The stereo speakers produce average sound quality and are located beneath the front edge of the notebook palmrests firing downward at your lap. I usually call this type of audio "crotch speakers" because the speakers aren't pointed up toward the user. If you're using the Inspiron 14z on a desk then the audio from the speakers "bounces" off the hard desk surface and it sounds okay, but if you're using this PC as a "laptop" then the sound is going to be muffled.

Bottom line, the speakers aren't horrible ... but the location isn't helping matters. You'll probably want to use a good set of headphones with this notebook, and the headphone jack produces clear, distortion-free sound.

Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on our review unit has full-sized keys with acceptable key spacing and an excellent depth to the key throw. Each key has a textured black finish and a relatively flat surface. The keyboard is extremely firm so you won't have to worry about keyboard flex while typing. There is a hint of flex in the keys on the right side of the keyboard directly above the optical drive, but you have to press down very hard to create flex in this area. My only minor aggravation is that the keyboard isn't available with optional backlighting ... making it harder to type in a dark classroom or dorm room.

The multi-touch, gesture-based touchpad is pretty average for a 14-inch notebook and the dual touchpad buttons have deep feedback with quiet clicks. The touchpad itself is an Synaptics model that uses Dell proprietary touchpad drivers, though I found the standard Synaptics drivers work as well. The touchpad was reasonably responsive with good sensitivity and very little lag. Touchpad accuracy was a bit off at times, but that may be correctable by tweaking the drivers.

Ports and Features
The port selection on the Inspiron 14z is retty average for a budget 14-inch notebook with one or two exceptions. Dell included three USB ports, VGA and HDMI video out ports, Ethernet, and a multi-format memory card reader. Unlike the Studio 14z, which sacrifices an optical drive for the sake of portability, the Inspiron 14z includes a standard 8x CD/DVD burner with dual-layer support. The Inspiron 14z lacks an ExpressCard slot, FireWire, and eSATA, so if those ports are important to you then you'll need to look elsewhere.

ASUS Eee PC 1008HA with Windows 7

We were one of the first to bring you a review of the thin and light Eee PC 1008HA "Seashell" netbook. We decided to take a second look at this popular ultraportable now that ASUS has re-released it with Windows 7 Home Premium. Can a new operating system turn a netbook into a completely new machine? Keep reading to find out.

Our ASUS Eee PC 1008HA features the following specifications:

* Operating System: Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium (32-bit)
* Processor: Intel Atom N280 Processor 1.66GHz (667MHz FSB)
* Memory: 2GB DDR2 SDRAM (667MHz)
* Storage: 320GB 5400 rpm SATA HDD (plus 500GB Eee Online Storage)
* Display: 10.1-inch diagonal WSVGA+ (1024x600)
* Graphics: Intel GMA 950
* Wireless: Broadcom 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
* Expansion: 4-in-1 media card slot
* Ports and connectors: (2) USB 2.0 ports, proprietary VGA adapter, power connector, RJ-45/Ethernet (Gigabit), stereo headphone/line out, stereo microphone in, 1.3 megapixel webcam
* Dimensions (H x W x D): 0.75-1.20 x 10.3 x 7.0 inches (including feet)
* Weight: 2.4 lb (not including weight of AC adapter).
* Power: 3-cell Lithium-Polymer battery
* Warranty: One-year standard warranty
* MSRP: $479.99

Build and Design
Nothing has changed in terms of the build or design between the original Eee PC 1008HA Seashell and this update. Like the "seashell" name implies, the chassis shape is inspired by the curves of a seashell. The clamshell-like design gives the 1008HA a very clean and distinct appearance. Every port from Ethernet to USB is covered with plastic doors which are probably more decorative than they are protective. ASUS claims this version of the Eee PC is just one inch thick at its thickest point, but that doesn't include the feet on the bottom of the netbook. We measured the maximum thickness at more than one inch, but the 1008HA is still remarkably thin and light.

The glossy black plastics suffer from very little flex and the keyboard is as firm as even the best business-class notebooks on the market. The various parts of the chassis come together with tight seams and good attention to detail. ASUS claims that the plastics used on Eee PC 1008HA are coated with an "Infusion finish" that makes the netbook scratch resistant. I wasn't able to produce any scratches in the plastics during the testing period, but the glossy surface is extremely prone to fingerprint smudges which make this brand new netbook look a little dirty after just a few minutes of use. The 1008HA is also available in white, blue, and pink ... in case black isn't your color of choice.

ASUS uses the same keyboard design on the 1008HA update that is 92% of a full sized keyboard, which is a nice improvement over some of the older Eee PC netbook keyboards. The gesture-based Synaptics touchpad is likewise pretty large for a netbook. If ASUS made any obvious sacrifices with the design of the 1008HA then those sacrifices are related to making this netbook as thin as possible. I'll explain later in the review.

Screen and Speakers
The new Eee PC 1008HA Seashell uses a fairly standard LED-backlit display panel with a 1024x600 native resolution. The glossy screen surface helps to improve color and contrast, but glare and reflections indoors under strong lights or outdoors under direct sunlight can be a problem. Although the 1024x600 resolution is far superior to the old 800x480 screen resolution on the original Eee PC, I was a little disappointed that ASUS didn't use a higher resolution display on the Eee PC 1008HA. Considering that several other manufacturers such as HP and Dell are offering netbooks with 1366x768 screens the display on this netbook just seems a little underwhelming. Vertical viewing angles are average with some color distortion when viewing from below and some over-exposed colors when viewed from above. Horizontal viewing angles are better with colors staying accurate at extremely wide viewing angles; you won't have trouble sharing a YouTube video with friends using this display.

The built-in speaker performance on the Eee PC 1008HA is extremely good for a 10-inch netbook. I'm not a fan of the location of the built-in speakers since they're located on the bottom front edge of the 1008HA, but the audio quality is quite good. The speakers produce excellent volume (enough to fill a small room) and there is minimal distortion even at higher volume levels. The speakers lack much bass, but the range of highs and midtones are perfectly enjoyable.

Granted, most audiophiles will want to use external speakers or headphones for a better listening experience ... but the built-in speakers work well in a pinch. The audio output from the headphone jack is free of any obvious distortion and worked fine with the earphones and external speakers I used during the testing.

Keyboard and Touchpad
As previously mentioned, the 1008HA update uses the same keyboard that is 92% of full size. The keys are slightly smaller than the keys on an average notebook but the spacing between the keys is quite limited. If you prefer the shape and feel of traditional keys then you'll probably like the new keyboard. That said, I personally prefer the "Chiclet" style keyboard used on the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE since there is more space between the keys to prevent me from accidentally hitting the wrong key. Still, the keyboard on this netbook is quite usable and should be perfectly fine for typing quick emails or editing documents while traveling.

The Synaptics touchpad used on the 1008HA is a gesture-enabled model that allows you to use multi-figure gestures such as "pinching" your fingers together or "pulling" your fingers apart to zoom in or out. You can also use a "three-finger tap" as an alternative to a right click on a mouse. The Synaptics control panel in Windows also allows you to customize these gestures as well. The touchpad surface is covered in dots that provide a clear indication of the edges of the touchpad, but this also makes the touchpad surface too rough for quick finger movement. The left and right touchpad buttons are located beneath a single rocker-style button, but with no separation between the left and right side it's easy to accidentally press the middle of the touchpad button when you're trying to press the left or right side. The touchpad buttons have extremely shallow feedback, so it isn't always easy to feel when you have or have not pressed a button.

ASUS also included a number of dedicated buttons and keyboard shortcuts to make life easier. There's a dedicated wireless on/off button, touchpad on/off, as well as FN keyboard shortcuts for screen brightness, video output, volume, and Windows task manager.

Input and Output Ports
In terms of port selection the Eee PC 1008HA remains pretty basic. You get two USB 2.0 ports, a 4-in-1 media card reader, headphone and microphone jacks, and a special collapsible Ethernet port. The curved door on the right hand side of the netbook flips down to allow a standard Ethernet cable to be connected to the netbook.


The ASUS UL80Vt is a 14” thin-and-light laptop with 10 hours of battery life, an overclocked processor, and switchable Nvidia graphics. Read on to find out if this battery-friendly powerhouse is worth your money.

Our ASUS UL80Vt-A1 has the following specifications:

* 14-inch 720p (1366x768) display with LED backlighting
* Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
* Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 Ultra Low Voltage processor (1.3GHz/3MB L2/800MHz FSB) overclocked to 1.73GHz/1066MHz FSB
* Switchable graphics: Nvidia GeForce G210M w/ 512MB GDDR3 dedicated and Intel GMA 4500MHD integrated
* 4GB DDR3-1066 RAM
* 320GB 5400RPM hard drive (Seagate Momentus 5400.6/ST9320325AS)
* 802.11n wireless (Atheros AR9285)
* DVD Super Multi drive
* Two-year warranty w/ one year accidental damage coverage
* 8-cell Li-ion battery (5600mAh)
* Weight: 4.8 lbs
* Dimensions: 13.5” x 9.6” x 1.1”
* MSRP: $849.99

It's also worth mentioning that ASUS informed us that has a rather attractive promotion going on after November 1, 2009. Anyone who purchases the UL80Vt-A1 from Amazon gets a $100 Amazon gift card.

The same promotion also applies to the ASUS UL50Ag-A2. Additionally, if you purchase an ASUS UL20A-A1 Amazon will include a $75 gift card. Details regarding this promotion were not available at the time of this writing, but you might want to check out for more information.

Build and Design
The UL80Vt has a classy design. With a height of only 1.1 inches it is certainly a thin machine, and the inward chiseled sides make it look even thinner. The lid is the most visually attractive part of the notebook with its brushed aluminum back and angled hinge design. The island-style keyboard also adds to the visual appeal; it sits flush with the surface of the notebook. Although the UL80Vt's 8-cell battery is large the designers cleverly integrated it between the display hinges for a flush appearance. The UL80Vt has an understated look and fits in both home and work environments.

The UL80Vt has a plastic construction with the exception of the aluminum-backed lid. All visible surfaces are glossy which means dust and fingerprints show up easily; keeping this notebook clean is a chore. The plastics themselves are of reasonable quality.

Unfortunately the good news ends here. The UL80Vt's build quality and construction are subpar. I was able to visibly twist the chassis using only modest pressure, and pushing down on the touchpad literally causes the chassis to sag and touch the surface it is resting on.

This unusually high amount of flex indicates that the notebook's internal frame is not strong enough. The lid also twists easily despite the aluminum back. Furthermore, the plastic screen benzel below the lid is very flimsy and can easily be pulled away from the screen about a half centimeter. Pushing on this area causes the screen to bend outward uncomfortably far. Lastly, the plastic trim above the keyboard is unsecured and has a few millimeters of up-and-down play. Overall while the build materials themselves are of reasonable quality the strength and construction of the UL80Vt are disappointing.

Screen and Speakers
The UL80Vt has a 14-inch display with LED backlighting, a 16:9 aspect ratio, and a 1366x768 resolution. Its glossy coating makes images look clearer at the expense of glare. The display has plenty of brightness but the contrast is low, making pictures look slightly washed out. Side-to-side viewing angles are adequate however are limited vertically; the display needs to be tilted just right to get an accurate picture. A better quality display would have been appreciated on a multimedia notebook like the UL80Vt.

The speakers are poor despite the Altec Lansing branding. They do not get loud enough and are very tinny. The headphone jack is fortunately static-free and the best way to get audio out of the notebook.

Keyboard and Touchpad
The UL80Vt has a chiclet/island style keyboard with extra space between keys. The keyboard is unfortunately mediocre and does not do anything well. While typing the keyboard feels loose as if it were merely resting on the chassis rather than being secured and has a cheap rattling sound, especially on the left side. Flex is also a problem on the left side. The tactile feedback is limited at best; there is not enough of it and key travel is too short. Moreover the keys are noisier than we prefer. As a result of these deficiencies typing is uncomfortable especially for extended periods.

The touchpad is also below average. Its glossy surface is difficult to track on and the single-piece button is somewhat noisy and difficult to press. I had to apply pressure at the far left and right edges of the button to get clicks to register.

Ports and Features
The UL80Vt has an adequate selection of ports, including HDMI. The notebook strangely does not have a Kensington Lock slot or built-in Bluetooth. All picture descriptions are left to right.

Dell Inspiron 11z

After our less-than-enthusiastic review of the Dell Inspiron 11z, we decided to take a second look at this budget-priced ultraportable notebook. The "new" Inspiron 11z promises to kick things into high gear thanks to a new low-voltage dual-core processor, Windows 7 and an extended life battery. Should this updated ultraportable be on your holiday wish list? Keep reading to find out.

Our Dell Inspiron 11z Specifications:

* Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
* Intel Pentium SU4100 (1.3GHz, 800MHz FSB, 2MB Cache)
* Intel GS45 + ISH9M chipset
* 11.6" WXGA LED-backlit display at 1366x768
* Intel X4500 Integrated Graphics
* Dell 1397 ABG Wireless
* 2GB DDR2-800 SDRAM (1 Slot)
* 250GB 5400RPM Hard Drive
* 65W (19.5V x 3.34A) 100-240V AC Adapter
* 6-cell 56Wh 11.1v Lithium Ion battery
* Dimensions (WxDxH): 11.5" x 8.43" x 0.92-1.8" with 6-cell battery
* Weight: 3.48lbs with 6-cell battery
* 2-year limited warranty
* "Jade Green" lid
* Price as configured: $663

Build and Design
Nothing has changed about the build and design of the Dell Inspiron 11z since our original review. The 11z retains a very simple design with a solid color glossy lid, matte black chassis, and a silver painted palmrest. When closed the shell is nearly flat, with few items sticking out the bottom cover, making it easy to slide into a slipcase or backpack. Inside the 11z keeps things equally simple with just the touchpad, keyboard, power button, and power indicator light. There are no media buttons outside of function keys on the keyboard, and there aren't even activity lights or touchpad buttons. Dell wanted the design of the 11z to be as simple and straightforward as possible ... and they succeeded in making this netbook clean and easy to use.

Our new review unit of the Inspiron 11z includes a "Jade Green" lid which looks a bit more like light lime green to my eyes. The paint quality is quite good, but I'm not crazy about the fact that Dell charges $40 for any color choice other than black. Sure, Dell deserves to make some money on customized options, but an extra $40 for a plastic lid that is painted something other than black seems excessive. Build quality is average with a mix of a firm support structure and flexible plastic exterior. The chassis feels reasonably durable thanks to strong internal support under most surfaces. The palmrest and keyboard showed very few signs of flex under strong pressure, but the area just above the keyboard does suffer from a little bit of loose fitting plastics when pressed. Additionally, the slightest bit of pressure will cause the scree lid to bend and flex, but the paint seems relatively scratch resistant.

Internally the design of the 11z is very friendly for users wanting to upgrade or replace components. At first you might notice there is no bottom access to components. Instead, Dell put all user-accessible components underneath the keyboard (which can be removed by taking out three screws). With the keyboard off you have access to an open WWAN slot, the system memory, hard drive, and heatsink assembly. The WWAN slot was functional, recognizing the Verizon card borrowed from a Dell Latitude D630; but it lacks antennas to allow the card to send and receive data. Dell currently doesn't offer the Inspiron 11z with broadband wireless access here in the US.

Screen and Speakers
The 11.6" screen on the 11z is a nice step up from the typical 1024x600 netbook screens. The 720p HD resolution of 1366x768 gives you the same resolution as most mainstream full-size notebooks. This means that menus and other items that need more vertical space are no longer a problem. The panel offers good color saturation and the LED-backlighting frovides even coverage and helps extend battery life. Contrast is average, and varied depending on the vertical viewing angle. The vertical viewing sweet spot is quite small, meaning colors quickly look washed out when you view the screen from above and look distorted or inverted when viewed from below. On the bright side, horizontal viewing angles are quite good ... making it easy to share online videos with someone seated next to you.

The speakers sound slightly better than the average netbook speakers. The speakers still don't provide much bass, but you can hear some of the lower tones and some solid midrange. Maximum volume levels are loud enough to fill a small room when watching a movie or listening to music. That said, if you want to enjoy movies in a group setting then you should use the laptop's HDMI port and connect it to an HDTV. The HDMI cable passes both video and digital audio to your home theater system ... and even the worst HDTV speakers will sound better than most notebook speakers.

Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on the 11z is basically full-size and very comfortable to type on. The layout is easy to follow, taking no time at all to transition to and start typing at full speed. The key design is flat, similar to Chiclet style keyboards, but without an inner bezel dividing the keys. Individual key action is smooth, giving off a soft click when pressed. One odd feature Dell has been transitioning to on newer models is the reversed function key layout. If you want to adjust brightness, you press the correct button and the brightness changes. To hit F5 to refresh a page, you now need to hit FN+F5. Thankfully this feature can be disabled for more advanced users.

If you read our first review of the Dell Inspiron 11z then you know we didn't like the touchpad. In fact, we went as far as to call the touchpad on the 11z the worst touchpad ever. Well, the touchpad on our new review unit of the 11z uses the same ELAN touchpad hardware, but this time Dell has updated the drivers for better performance. This makes the touchpad a little more usable, but it still suffers from many of the same problems.

If you hold one finger on the touchpad over the left or right button and try to move around the screen a few things might happen. One of the most common problems is unwanted zooming, meaning you will change the size of icons on the desktop or the size of text when viewing documents or webpages. We also still noticed the speed of the X and Y axis input isn't consistent. Moving your finger side to side makes the cursor move more than if you travel the same distance up and down. A simple test is drawing a circle on the screen with your finger, where the 11z makes wide ovals instead.

Bottom line, we still consider an external mouse to be a must-have accessory with this notebook. Considering that "laptops" are designed to be mobile computing solutions it's extremely frustrating that the touchpad on the 11z can't get the job done.

Ports and Features
Port selection is average for most netbooks, with the exception of HDMI in place of an older VGA port. Dell included three USB ports, audio jacks, an SDHC-card slot, and LAN connector. Users might also notice that Dell went with a full-size power connection on the 11z, the same shared with every other Dell notebook. The power adapter is another change over most netbooks, as Dell included a 65w thin power brick with this model. On one hand it is nice to get a high quality power adapter that will probably hold up better over time than most netbooks' adapters, but on the flip side it is pretty big.

Lenovo ThinkPad SL510

When most people think of the Lenovo ThinkPad brand, they think of the T-series notebook with the alloy unibody chassis, rubberized black paint, and boxy looks. What most people don't realize is Lenovo offers a small business line, called the SL-series, which offers most of the same features at a much lower price. In this review we take a look at the 15.6" Lenovo ThinkPad SL510, and find out if it is a worthy alternative for users who don't want to shell out for the higher-end ThinkPad models.

Lenovo ThinkPad SL510 Specifications:

* Windows 7 Professional
* 15.6" HD 1366 x 768 WXGA Anti-glare
* Intel Core 2 Duo P8700 (2.53GHz, 1066MHz FSB, 3MB Cache)
* 3GB DDR3 RAM (2GB x 1GB)
* 320GB Hitachi 7200RPM Hard Drive
* Intel 5100AGN, Bluetooth 2.0
* Intel X4500M Integrated
* Built-in 2.0M web camera
* 6-cell 10.8v 52Wh
* Dimensions: (LxWxH) 14.9 x 9.75 x 1.45"
* Weight: 5lbs 11.5oz
* MSRP: $1,224 ($989 Street)

Build and Design
The SL-series ThinkPad is the toned-down version of the more rugged T-series. The exterior shell is entirely plastic, but with a softer finish with rounded edges and a smooth texture, instead of the rubberized paint on the more expensive models. The shape is also different, with sloped sides, instead of the flat sides seen on the higher models. Overall it has a more consumer appearance that might be more inviting to some users. Compared to the SL500, the SL510 has a few aesthetic changes, including a redesigned screen hinge assembly, and a few minor body tweaks. Side by side though, they still look almost identical.

Build quality is nice compared to consumer-targeted notebooks, but a step under the T400 and T500, which offer alloy unibody frames and stronger body panels. The notebook still has a very solid feel to it, with very little chassis flex.

The screen cover provides adequate protection for the screen, preventing visible distortion under moderate finger pressure. The keyboard and palmrest have good support, only flexing under strong pressure. The plastics feel durable enough to resist cracking under mild abuse, and the matte-black plastic finish shouldn't make scratches stand out as much as they would on a glossy notebook. For a small-business user, the SL-series is a nice step up from the average multimedia-oriented consumer notebook without the cost of a high-end business notebook.

Upgrades and expansion are easily handled through panels on the bottom of the chassis. The primary panel gives you access to the processor, system memory, and hard drive. No "warranty void if removed" stickers were found anywhere. The two smaller access panels uncover an open mini-PCIe slot for a WWAN card and a sim-card slot when the system is equipped with 3G.

Screen and Speakers
Lenovo offers both matte and glossy screen options on the SL-series, both WXGA resolution. Our review model included the standard matte-panel, but if you enjoy the vibrant colors and increased contrast of a glossy screen, that option is available. The matte WXGA panel was average compared to consumer notebooks, and could have really benefited from a higher resolution. Color and contrast were weaker than normal, but this is common for basic non-glossy displays. Viewing angles were fine for an office setting where the notebook wouldn't be moved around a lot, but on your lap it was easy to see colors starting to shift. In testing we saw colors starting to shift when tilted 10 degrees forward or back. Horizontal viewing angles were better, staying true past 70 degrees from each side. Viewing brightness was perfect for bright office conditions, and with the matte finish partially visible outdoors.

Speaker performance was average for a basic mid-size desktop replacement notebook. Bass and midrange were lacking but for listening to streaming radio or YouTube videos it was fine. The SL510's peak volume level was fine for a small room, but felt lacking compared to other consumer notebooks. For a better experience, using the analog audio out to a pair of external speakers would be a better option. The best alternative would be using the HDMI out to pass a digital audio stream to an outside stereo system.

Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard was very comfortable to type on and felt very similar to the keyboards on the T-series ThinkPads. The layout is different, missing the extra row of function keys at the top, but the main area has been left intact. Key action was great, with a soft spring movement, giving off a mild click when pressed. Key spacing is nearly identical to regular ThinkPads, with barely any difference noted switching between my T60 and the SL510. The biggest difference is the newer keyboards are slightly quieter. On the left side of the keyboard are some quick-access buttons, used for muting system volume or the microphone, as well as adjusting volume levels.

The touchpad is an ALPS model that looks and feels identical to the newer textured ones seen on the latest ThinkPad models. It is flush mount to the palmrest, and given a soft texture that is supposed to help with traction under varying conditions. I am personally a fan of the old matte plastic style, but given enough time the newer one might grow on me. In general I found the touchpad to be as responsive as the Synaptics model found on higher-end ThinkPad models. The only weakness I saw was tap to select, where the cursor would sometimes not let go of a selected object without a very deliberate click. This is common with many ALPS touchpads, but can be avoided most of the time.

Ports and Features
Port selection was surprisingly good, including three USB ports, an eSATA/USB combo port, HDMI, VGA, and audio jacks. Lenovo also included an SDHC-card slot and ExpressCard/34 slot for expansion. The HDMI-out and eSATA were greatly appreciated, and I almost wish they offered those on more ThinkPad models.

Lenovo IdeaPad U350

The Lenovo IdeaPad U350 is a 13.3" thin and light notebook based on the Intel CULV platform. It offers Intel processors ranging from the single-core SU2700 to the dual-core SU7300 with up to 4GB of DDR3 memory and your choice of 4-cell or 8-cell batteries for extended battery life. In this review of the Lenovo IdeaPad U350 we take a look at how well it performs in a wide range of tasks, including time away from the power outlet, to see if this is indeed the perfect travel companion.

Our Lenovo IdeaPad U350 Specifications:

* Windows Vista Home Premium with SP2 (Now available with Windows 7 64-bit)
* Intel Pentium SU2700 CULV (1.3GHz, 800MHz FSB, 2MB cache)
* 4GB DDR3 SDRAM (1066MHz)
* 320GB 5400 rpm SATA HDD
* 13.3-inch diagonal WXGA (glossy, 1366x768)
* Intel X4500M integrated graphics
* Intel 5100AGN, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
* Ports and connectors: (2) USB 2.0 ports, VGA, HDMI, 2-in-1 SD-Card reader, RJ-45/Ethernet (Gigabit), stereo headphone/line out, stereo microphone in, 1.3 megapixel webcam
* Dimensions: (LxWxH) 12.9" x 9.0" x 0.7-1.0"
* Weight: 3lb 10.3oz (not including weight of AC adapter).
* 4-cell 41Wh battery
* One-year standard warranty
* MSRP: $749

Build and Design
The Lenovo IdeaPad series has always featured unique designs compared to other Lenovo notebooks, and the U350 is likewise a unique-looking laptop. For starters, the U350 features a cross-weave texture imprinted on the top of the screen cover where most notebooks are only covered with glossy paint. This gives the user a completely different tactile experience: you can feel the difference in texture the moment you touch this laptop. I think it looks kind of cool and unique, but not everyone will agree with that. Inside the U350 you'll find a plastic palmrest painted with a brushed metalic finish to simulate the look of metal. This is one design element I don't agree with, since it gives the illusion of better construction than what plastic provides.

Build quality is still very good thanks to a solid chassis and durable components throughout. The plastic exterior feels strong with very little flex even under moderate pressure. The textured plastic lid not only looks nice, but hides day-to-day abuse by making scratches blend in with the imprinted pattern. It also does a very good job at hiding smudges and fingerprints compared to laptops with glossy plastic exteriors. Inside, the palmrest and keyboard feel solid under the weight of your hands and arms. The chassis doesn't twist or flex when you hold the notebook by the edge of the palmrest. In short, the laptop feels like it should stay in one piece over its lifetime.

People who like to tinker with computers or add aftermarket features will really enjoy the way Lenovo built the IdeaPad U350. A single panel on the bottom of the notebook gives you access to the hard drive, system memory, WiFi card, and an open WWAN slot. While Lenovo doesn't currently offer a WWAN option on the U350 series, the notebook comes prewired with capped off antenna leads in case you want to install your own 3G card. There is a slot for a SIM card underneath the battery for those consumers needing GSM-based WWAN options. We couldn't find any explicit "warranty void if removed" stickers inside the notebook, but there were some Lenovo-branded stickers covering the edges of the RAM, Wi-Fi card screws, and heatsink screws which may be used to indicate tampering.

Screen and Speakers
The 13.3" screen is average, providing decent color and contrast but suffering from noticeably shallow viewing angles. Low-quality TN display panels are normal since most of the thin-and-light notebooks costing very little, but some displays are better than others. For standard activities like browsing the web or typing documents you don't really notice the color shift, but when viewing pictures or watching a dark movie the color shift is very noticeable and distracting. Vertical viewing angles are good until about 10 degrees forward or back when colors start to shift considerably. Horizontal viewing angles are a little better as colors remain true except at very steep angles. The screen backlight level is rated at 200nit by Lenovo, and in our testing it works very well under bright office lights. The screen isn't quite powerful enough to overpower the reflections off the glossy screen outdoors under direct sunlight.

The speakers are fine for listening to streaming radio or the occasional TV show. That said, headphones are a much better option to really enjoy music and movies from this notebook thanks to the weak bass and midrange from the built-in speakers. Another alternative is using the HDMI-out to pass digital audio to a home stereo.

Keyboard and Touchpad
The full-size keyboard is great for typing and the 13" form-factor is the perfect compromise between size and user comfort. Too much smaller and the palmrest won't actually support your wrists. Any larger and the notebook becomes too large to be travel friendly. Key action is smooth and quiet with a very mild click emitted when you fully press a key. Key wiggle is minimal and each key top is solidly attached to the scissor mechanism below. We didn't notice any keyboard flex unless we pressed down very forcefully on the keys. In short, the keyboard on the U350 easily ranks as one of the nicest ones we've used on a thin-and-light notebook.

The IdeaPad U350 offers a spacious Synaptics touchpad that is one of the better models we've seen in this form-factor of notebook. The surface texture is mildly rough and gives good traction without making it difficult to slide your finger across when moist. Speed and accuracy are great and we barely noticed any lag in our tests. Refresh rate of the touchpad surface is very good and prevents any "stutter" like what we've recently seen on a few Synaptics touchpads. The acceleration on each axis is adequately matched and helps guarantee that cursor movement on the screen matches your finger movement on the touchpad. The touchpad buttons were excellent thanks to a soft, springy action with a very long throw. The only complaint I have regarding the buttons is you need to make a full press all the way down as far as the buttons will go, otherwise you don't fully engage the button.

Ports and Features
Port selection is very good with three USB ports, VGA and HDMI-out, gigabit LAN, audio in/out, and an SDHC card slot. The SDHC-slot is spring loaded, but doesn't allow the card to sit flush in the slot. When you fully insert a standard SDHC card into the slot it still sticks out partially. Don't expect to see a built-in optical drive in this notebook, so if you plan on reinstalling the OS or ripping DVDs, pick up an external USB optical drive. Multimedia keys are limited to a mute button and a direct access button to the Lenovo recovery software suite.

Lenovo IdeaPad U150

The Lenovo IdeaPad U150 is an 11-inch notebook featuring the latest Intel CULV processors for extreme battery life combined with HDMI output for mobile entertainment. This attractive netbook alternative packs enough performance for everyday tasks yet is small enough to be your constant companion PC. Should you spend your next $750 on this impressive little laptop? Keep reading to find out.

Our Lenovo IdeaPad U150 Specifications:

* Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
* Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 Processor (1.30GHz, 800MHz FSB, 3MB L2 cache)
* 4GB DDR3 SDRAM (1066MHz)
* 320GB 5400 rpm SATA HDD
* 11.6-inch diagonal WXGA (glossy, 1366x768)
* Intel X4500M integrated graphics
* Intel 5100AGN, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
* Dimensions: (LxWxH) 11.4 x 7.5 x 0.5-1.35 inches
* Weight: 2.97 lbs. (not including weight of AC adapter)
* 6-cell 57Wh battery
* One-year standard warranty
* MSRP: $749 (configurations starting at $649 at

Build and Design
Lenovo is best known for the ThinkPad line of business notebooks that the company inherited from IBM, but the new IdeaPad line of consumer-oriented laptops has managed to generate some buzz thanks to unique designs and a modest price. The Lenovo IdeaPad U150 continues that trend by offering an attractive 11-inch notebook that rivals the Dell Inspiron 11z and the HP Mini 311. Like most 11-inch notebooks currently on the market, the U150 walks the fine line between a full-featured notebook PC and an Intel Atom-based netbook. The U150 is larger and more powerful than the typical $400 netbook, but lacks the impressive features and size of a standard laptop with a high-end Core 2 Duo processor in the $650-$900 price range. That said, the U150 certainly offers an attractive design with a combination of matte black, glossy black, and glossy silver plastics.

The lid of the U150 features the same cross-weave texture imprint seen on the larger IdeaPad U350 and it's a nice alternative to the glossy lids seen on most 11-inch notebooks. Build quality is acceptable thanks to a solid bottom half of the chassis, but the plastic screen lid with thin metal texture panel and plastic palmrests suffer from a bit more flex than we like to see in notebooks that cost more than $600. Granted, most consumers probably won't notice the flex in the plastic exterior unless they apply significant pressure to the palmrests or the screen, but 11-inch notebooks are usually carried inside backpacks with heavy school books ... so we'd like the U150 to be a bit more solid. On the other hand, the textured matte lid (again, a combination of plastic and thin metal) not only looks nice, but hides day-to-day abuse by making scratches blend in with the imprinted pattern. It also does a very good job at hiding smudges and fingerprints compared to laptops with glossy plastic exteriors. The IdeaPad U150 will probably hold up quite well to typical user abuse ... but you certainly don't want to try standing on this laptop.

People who like to upgrade their laptops with aftermarket parts (extra RAM, a new hard drive or SSD, or a new wireless card) will find the U150 is extremely easy to upgrade. One panel provides access to the hard drive and RAM while a second panel gives you access to the wireless card and mini PCI-E card slot. We couldn't find any explicit "warranty void if removed" stickers inside the notebook, but there were some Lenovo-branded stickers covering the edges of the RAM, Wi-Fi card, and heatsink screws which may be used to indicate tampering.

Screen and Speakers
The 11.6" screen on the U150 is average, providing decent color and contrast but suffering from noticeably shallow viewing angles. Most thin-and-light notebooks come with low-quality TN display panels, but this display produces somewhat "pastel" colors using our test image. For standard activities like browsing the web or typing documents you don't really notice the color shift, but when viewing pictures or watching a dark movie the softer colors are a bit distracting. Vertical viewing angles are good until about 10 degrees forward or back when colors start to show visible shift. Horizontal viewing angles are a little better as colors remain essentially unchanged except at very steep angles. The screen backlight works very well under bright office lights, but the screen isn't quite powerful enough to overcome reflections off the glossy screen outdoors under direct sunlight.

The built-in stereo speakers are fine for listening to streaming radio or the occasional TV show, but lack much bass. Since the speakers are located at the bottom front edge of the notebook the audio output tends to sound muffled when you use the notebook as a "laptop." However, if the U150 is resting on a desk then the sound bounces up off the surface of the desk and toward the user. Still, headphones are a much better option to really enjoy music and movies from this notebook thanks to the weak bass and midrange from the built-in speakers. Another alternative is using the HDMI-out to pass digital audio to a home theater system.

Keyboard and Touchpad
The nearly full-size keyboard is great for typing and is about as good as you can expect on a notebook with an 11-inch chassis. The space bar is a little small and the tilde key has been shrunk to fit, but overall the keys feel like they are the size they should be. The editors in our office are evenly split between those of us who prefer the "Chiclet-style" keyboards that provide additional space between the keys and traditional keyboards like this one that offer larger keys. Honestly, keyboard preference is largely a matter of personal taste, so keep in mind that there are 11-inch notebooks with traditional keyboards and notebooks with Chiclet/island keys. The keyboard itself is quite firm and free of any flex even under heavy typing pressure. Each key emits a soft "click-clack" when pressed and isn't too disruptive for classroom typing. Key wiggle or travel is minimal and each key top is solidly attached to the scissor mechanism below. In short, the keyboard on the U150 is one of the nicer ones we've seen on an 11-inch notebook.

The IdeaPad U150 offers a reasonably large Synaptics touchpad and it's one of the nicer touchpads we've seen on an 11-inch notebook. The plastic surface texture is mildly rough and provides good traction without making it difficult to slide your finger across the surface. Speed and accuracy are great with the default settings and we didn't notice any cursor lag in our tests. Refresh rate of the touchpad surface is very good and prevents any "stutter" like what we've recently seen on a few Synaptics touchpads. The acceleration on each axis is adequately matched and helps guarantee that cursor movement on the screen matches your finger movement on the touchpad (unlike the touchpad on the Dell Inspiron 11z). The touchpad buttons are fantastic thanks to a perfectly deep, springy action with quiet "clicks" when pressed.

Ports and Features
Port selection is surprisingly good on the IdeaPad U150. You get VGA and HDMI-out, gigabit LAN, audio in/out, and an SDHC card slot, and three USB ports (two standard ports and one combo USB/eSATA). The eSATA port allows you to use much faster external hard drives with this notebook, and we're glad that Lenovo used a combo USB/eSATA port for those customers who need USB and don't use eSATA.

The front-mounted SDHC-slot is spring loaded, and unlike the card slot on the larger U350, this one allows the card to sit flush in the slot. When you fully insert a standard SDHC card into the slot it doesn't stick out. Don't expect to see a built-in optical drive in this notebook, so if you plan on reinstalling the OS or playing DVDs you will need to pick up an external USB optical drive. Multimedia keys are limited to a mute button and a direct access button to the Lenovo "OneKey" recovery software suite used for creating a system backup or recovering from a system crash.

Dell Latitude Z

When you want to buy a good looking business notebook you are typically limited to industrial designs which are rugged and durable but not really stylish. Usually the only attractive option was the Apple MacBook Pro up until recently. Dell hopes to change that with the new Latitude Z ... a super thin, high-end, 16-inch notebook aimed directly at business professionals.

Our Dell Latitude Z 600 Specifications:

* Windows 7 Professional 32-bit
* Intel Core 2 Duo SU9600 Processor (1.60GHz, 800MHz FSB, 3MB L2 cache)
* 4GB DDR3 SDRAM (1066MHz)
* Two small form-factor 128GB Samsung SSDs
* 16.0" Wide Screen WXGA HDF+ Display WLED Panel (1600x900)
* Intel X4500M integrated graphics
* Intel 5300AGN, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, Dell AT&T Wireless 3G
* Dimensions: (LxWxH) 15.6 x 10.7 x 0.57-0.79 inches
* Weight: 5lbs 2.6oz with 8-cell battery
* 8-cell 80Wh battery
* Three-year standard warranty
* MSRP: $3,591 (price includes wireless docking station, extra 4-cell battery)

Build and Design
It has been a long time since I have opened box containing a new notebook where I had to step back and just say "Wow." The Latitude Z makes that sort of impression on you from the moment you start to take it out of the box. The quality of everything down to the packing materials is a step above anything else I have seen. The next thing you realize is how huge the footprint of the notebook is when compared to the thickness of the chassis. Most thin and light notebooks are based on the 13.3" form-factor, whereas the Dell Latitude Z is 16". The Z is razor thin for a notebook of this size making it stand out even when compared to a MacBook Pro.

The looks are nothing short of amazing. Dell has given the Z a perfect mix of stylish brushed metal, clean side panels, and industrial rubbery surfaces. It is almost as if Apple and Lenovo collaborated to make a high-end business notebook. The screen cover has a rubbery metallic-paint trimmed with chrome-plated screen hinges. The side panels walk a fine line between function and form with ports sparsely scattered around the edges ... keeping just above the bare minimum to keep users happy. Apple crossed this line with the MacBook Air and its infamous single USB port. Opening up the notebook we see the clean design continued with a wide brushed-metal bezel surrounding the rubbery keyboard tray and touchpad. If you hadn't already picked up on it I really like the looks of this notebook.

The Dell Latitude Z is built almost as good as it looks. Some limits are pushed with the thin chassis which can be seen with some mild chassis flex when you try to carry the notebook by the corner of the palmrest. I think if the design was slimmed down to 13 or 14-inches this wouldn't be as much of a problem. With the notebook lying flat on a desk the body has almost no flex whatsoever, including key areas like the screen cover, palmrest, and keyboard tray. Two items that really made a good impression on me out of the box were the screen hinges. They were very solid and had absolutely no wobble to them when the screen fully opened. If Dell put the same attention to detail into their other notebooks as they did with the Latitude Z we would have far fewer complaints with most Dell notebooks.

Screen and Speakers
The Latitude Z offers a spacious 16-inch display with a resolution of 1600x900. Compared to most thin and light notebooks the Z offers more screen real estate and is much easier on the eyes after a long day of typing. The panel offers LED-backlighting and rates above average compared to other similarly sized displays. On completely dark screens like those seen while booting the computer we noticed some mild backlight bleed but it was only apparent with the screen brightness turned up. Even with its matte finish display the screen still offered good color reproduction and nice contrast. The matte finish also helped reduced glare and when paired with the higher brightness backlighting it was still usable outdoors. Vertical viewing angles were better than average with colors staying accurate until tilting the screen 20-degrees forward or back. Horizontal viewing angles were good to nearly 90-degrees but some color dimming was noticed at the 45-degree mark.

Dell mounted the speakers on the Latitude Z on the bottom edge of the notebook which muffles the sound if you have it resting on your lap. Compared to other similarly-sized notebooks the Z sounds above average with a hint of midrange and plenty of volume. It might not hold a candle to systems that include a subwoofer, but it sounds very good for a notebook so thin. For the discreet professional on the road headphones are still the preferred choice.

Keyboard and Touchpad
Dell designed a great keyboard for the Latitude Z. It has the visual qualities of an island-style keyboard with the concave keys of a standard keyboard. The typing surface was responsive and offered excellent support. Even with heavy typing the keyboard didn't flex under pressure. I had no problems typing for hours at the keyboard, including typing most of this review on the Z itself. For low-visibility conditions Dell includes a LED-lighting for the keyboard which can be set in on, off, or auto positions. In auto the light will activate when you start typing and turn off after a short delay to save power.

The Z includes a spacious multitouch-enabled ALPS touchpad. I found it offered good sensitivity and no noticeable lag. In testing I did find its tap-to-select feature would hold onto objects without releasing but some software adjustment helped fix that. The touchpad buttons were large and easy to trigger with the edge of your finger. They offered a soft clicking action with a medium throw distance. Overall the touchpad when paired with the EdgeTouch screen bezel really made using the notebook an enjoyable experience.

Ports and Features
Port selection on the Latitude Z is limited compared to other 16" notebooks. Users are limited to one USB port, an eSATA/USB combo port, DisplayPort-out, LAN, and a headset jack. If you plan on hooking up a lot of peripherals at your desk the optional wireless docking station is highly recommended.

The Latitude Z packs quite a few surprising features inside its thin chassis. You can configure the Z with an inductive charging system that lets you power the notebook without connecting any wires. The Z also offers EdgeTouch which is a touch-sensitive strip built into the edge of the screen bezel. With the included software you can configure tap-zones to launch programs or use the strip as a huge scroll wheel. As someone who doesn't like multitouch-enabled screens for the hazy screen covering or fingerprints this is a great alternative. Another cool feature of the Latitude Z is the touch-sensitive volume controls. This in itself isn't a surprise to see on a notebook, but its haptic feedback when pressed is. Each tap is met with a soft beep and vibration that gives you a very noticeable indication that you pressed the button.

Compaq Presario V2000

As a busy medical student, I was looking for a portable notebook computer that would fit easily into my bag and would not weigh me down. I did not need an expensive, top-of-the-line computer for high-demand applications or gaming. I simply needed a computer for writing emails, browsing the internet, writing papers, creating Power Point presentations, working with Excel spreadsheets, syncing with a PDA, watching DVD movies, and listening to music. My new computer had to have a built-in wireless card, a DVD-ROM drive, a long battery life, an audio output port for connecting headphones or external speakers, and USB ports. The most important feature, however, was a price that a student can afford.

I was willing to forego some features in order to keep the price below $1000. I considered several popular computer models, including Dell Inspiron, Sony Vaio, Toshiba Satellite, and IBM ThinkPad. Most of these brands came with price tags that placed them just beyond my reach. Although I knew that Hewlett Packard and Compaq made affordable computers, I associated these brand names with heavy, bulky notebooks. After a few weeks of searching for an affordable computer that satisfied my demands, I discovered the Compaq Presario V2000 and its Hewlett Packard cousin, the DV1000. I checked out both of these models at a local office supply store. I was surprised to find the HP and Compaq names on smaller, more compact notebooks. Much has been written about the similarities and differences between these two computers. For my needs, the only obvious advantage I saw in the DV1000 over the V2000 was the Quick Play feature, which allows you to watch movies or listen to CDs without going through a complete Windows start-up. Because I could not see myself using this feature very often, I decided to buy the slightly less expensive Compaq V2000, which is marketed as the "take it anywhere" model in the Presario line.


I found that I could get the best price on a V2000 by ordering a custom notebook on the HP website. Customizing the V2000 allowed me to save money by downgrading some of the options that were not very important to me. I saved even more by taking advantage of HP's student discount. The major decisions in customizing my V2000 were the operating system, the processor, the display, memory, hard drive size and speed, CD drive, battery, and wireless option. The configuration I purchased is as follows:

* PROCESSOR: Intel Pentium M 710 -- 1.4 GHz
* SCREEN: 14.0" WXGA Widescreen (not the BrightView)
* MEMORY: 256 MB SDRAM (1x256)
* HARD DRIVE: 40 GB 4200 rpm
* CD DRIVE: DVD/CD-RW combo drive
* BATTERY: 6-cell lithium ion
* WIRELESS: Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG WLAN (without Bluetooth).

The HP website seems to always be offering specials or rebates. Sometimes you can get lucky and find a coupon code for additional savings. At the time that I placed my order, HPShopping was offering free shipping, a $30 rebate on custom notebooks, and a free upgrade to the DVD/CD-RW drive. Shipping to most states in the US does not incur a sales tax. The total on my computer with the student discount was $920.26, and the $30 rebate brings it down to $890.26. I also purchased the 2-year Express Repair extended service for an additional $99.99. In the course of shopping, I also talked myself into buying the HP Deskjet 5850 wireless inkjet printer for $101.24. Purchasing the computer and the printer at the same time entitled me to an additional rebate of $50. I was very happy with these prices, but the only drawback to ordering a custom notebook on the website is that it may take a few weeks to deliver. My computer took 13 days from order to delivery.

Form & Design

The V2000 is well-designed and sharp-looking. The inside of the notebook is silver, and the top and bottom are black plastic. The specs from the website report the weight as 5.21 lbs, and the physical dimensions as 13.15 in. x 9.1 in. I was pleasantly surprised when I first picked it up -- the computer looks as though it should be a lot heavier than it is. The widescreen design allows for a very functional screen size that does not make the computer too bulky or heavy. The thickness of the computer is greater at the rear (1.53 in.) than it is in the front (1.29 in.). This puts the keyboard at a slight upward angle, which turns out to be a comfortable ergonomic feature. But it may look strange when you first close the display and notice the top is not level.

The design of the V2000 has a few minor flaws. First, the power cord connects to the back of computer. This can be cumbersome when you need to go to AC power. Second, there is a little slack in the door for the CD drive on the right side panel. I notice it when I pick up the computer from the sides. In order to protect the CD drive door when I travel with the computer, I bought a new bag that came with a protective laptop sleeve. The only other significant design issue is the thickness of the unit. It is slightly thicker than I initially expected. Using the protective sleeve adds even greater thickness to the unit. This takes up precious space in my school bag.


The screen size is where the V2000 earns my respect. The 14-inch widescreen design gives a screen height comparable to a standard 12 inch or 14 inch screen, but the width of a 15 inch display. This keeps the dimensions of the computer small and portable while providing a display that is very functional and easy to use. The widescreen design allows me to see the entire width of a document, even when working in landscape mode. It also allows me to easily view two documents side-by-side. I have also discovered that I can play a DVD movie in a small window in the corner of the screen and still have enough usable screen area to work on other applications.

The V2000 only has two custom options for the display: widescreen or widescreen with BrightView. The BrightView screen is a more reflective surface that provides more vivid color and higher contrast. Although I read many glowing reviews of the BrightView screen, I decided against it. I was concerned that the increased reflectivity of the brighter display would cause problems with glare and increased visibility of dust and fingerprints. Also, the BrightView screen seemed to be an additional cost that I did not think was absolutely necessary for my needs. At the time that I bought the computer, the BrightView option added $50 to the price. Since that time, HP has dropped the price to $25 for this upgrade. I do not regret choosing the standard display, as the image quality is sufficient for most of my needs. The only time I really notice the shortcomings of the standard display is when I watch DVD movies. The DVD video quality is a little washed out and grainy, especially when viewing in full screen mode. If I were buying the V2000 at today's prices I would probably spend the extra money and get the BrightView.


The V2000 comes with JBL stereo speakers mounted on the front panel. The audio quality is great for watching movies, listening to CDs, or streaming audio. I am very pleased with the quality of the sound at all volume ranges. I hooked the computer up to a set of external speakers, and it sounded even better. Like most notebook computers, the audio quality of the V2000 cannot compete with your home entertainment center. But for a computer, the audio is pretty impressive.

Processor and Performance

At first I considered ordering my V2000 with a Celeron processor to save even more money. But after doing a little research, I decided that this was one area where I did not want to downgrade too much. I decided to go with the least expensive Centrino option, which at the time was the Pentium M-710, 1.4 GHz. I also selected the least expensive hard drive option (40 GB, 4200 rpm) and the minimum amount of memory (256 MB). At first I noticed that the performance of the computer was not as snappy as I would have liked. Some programs and windows seemed to take a long time to open and close. I tinkered with the visual effects and startup options to minimize the number of processes that were running in the background. This seemed to help somewhat, but it became obvious that I had underestimated the amount of memory that I would need. Luckily, the V2000 has two memory card slots, and I was only using one slot with the 256 MB that I ordered in the initial configuration. I installed an additional 512 MB card into the second slot. I purchased the additional memory card from a local computer store for about $60 after rebate. The memory upgrade has greatly enhanced the computer's performance. Programs seem to open and close a lot faster and I no longer feel that the computer is running a few seconds behind me. Furthermore, I was able to get a 768 MB of memory for less than it would have cost me to order the initial configuration with 512 MB. I do not regret my choices on the processor or the hard drive size. After the memory upgrade, the performance is snappy enough for my demands, and I still have 30GB of free space available on the hard drive.

The computer gets a little warm during routine use, but not beyond what I would expect for a notebook computer. The cooling fans kick on occasionally when running high-demand applications or multiple processes. The cooling fans are slightly louder than I originally expected, but it is not a significant issue. The cooling fans activate periodically when playing DVD movies or listening to music directly from a CD. This can drown out the audio if you are listening at low volumes.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard and touchpad are among the nicest features of the V2000. The keys have a comfortable, springy feel. The widescreen design accommodates a wider keyboard layout. Above the keyboard there are several buttons: main power, wireless button, and volume controls. I like the placement of these additional buttons because they are close enough that they are easily accessible but still separate from the main keyboard. The touchpad and mouse buttons work extremely well. The touchpad also has a region that serves the same function as the scroll wheel on a mouse. The only problem that I have noticed with this feature is that my right palm sometimes brushes the touchpad when I am typing and the screen scrolls a few lines. This is easily remedied by turning the touchpad off when typing long documents or when using an external mouse. The touchpad control button sits between the space bar and the touch pad. There is an orange LED that lets the user know if the touch pad control is on.

Input and Output Ports

There are multiple ports on both side panels of the computer. The left side panel contains the following ports:

* PMCIA slot
* USB 2.0 port
* Phone line and Ethernet ports
* Expansion base port (expansion base is sold separately)
* VGA monitor video output

In addition to the CD drive, the right side panel contains the following ports:

* 6-in-1 memory card reader
* Firewire port
* Two USB 2.0 ports
* S-Video output

The front panel contains the audio output, the microphone input, the display release button, various status lights, and stereo speakers. The AC power input port is located on the rear panel. Overall, I am impressed with the input and output port options on the V2000. It is nice to have three USB ports, and it is even nicer to have them on both side panels. My only complaint with configuration of the ports is that the AC power input is not very convenient to access on the rear panel. I would rather have the AC input port on one of the side panels, and have one of the less frequently used ports (VGA monitor or S-Video output) moved to the rear panel.


I ordered my computer with the Intel PRO/Wireless 2200 (without Bluetooth). The wireless card can be turned off directly from the keyboard by pressing the wireless button. There is a blue light on the wireless button that tells you when the card is turned on, and there is also a blue indicator light on the front panel that lets the user know when the wireless card is turned on. The wireless card has worked for me every time, and I am happy with its range and performance.


There are two battery options on the V2000: 6-cell lithium ion or 12-cell lithium ion. Because I was trying to minimize both the cost and the weight of the computer, I ordered the V2000 with the 6-cell battery. With everyday use, I can get almost three hours out of the 6-cell. This has worked out very well for my demands. I mainly use the computer at home, the school library, and at coffeehouses. Because I never seem to be very far from a power source, the battery life of the 6-cell has worked well for me. However, for those who need a longer battery life and are not bothered by a little extra weight, the V2000 can be ordered with a 12-cell battery (instead of the 6-cell) for an additional $25.

Operating System and Software

The V2000 comes with either the Home or Professional editions of Windows XP. The operating system was already installed when the computer was delivered, and the operating system disks were included with the manuals. The computer was delivered with a thin "Getting Started" manual. The more comprehensive manual is on a CD that comes with the computer.

Warranty and Customer Support

Although I was on a quest to keep the cost of this computer as low as I could, I purchased an additional warranty so that I could have a little extra peace of mind. I bought the 2 year Express Repair coverage for $99.99. The warranty information was delivered in a separate box with the extended warranty information, a warranty sticker, and mail-in registration forms. I have not had a chance to evaluate this coverage yet because I have not had any problems with the computer.


Although the Compaq Presario V2000 is not the smallest and lightest notebook on the market, I am happy that I bought this computer. The widescreen design gives the V2000 a significant functional advantage with little impact on its portability. Despite a few minor design concerns (the AC input on the back panel, the CD drive door, and the thickness), I would recommend this to computer to someone who wants a middle-of-the-road computer for decent price. The custom options allowed me to build a computer that suited my basic needs while keeping the cost within my range. The custom options are also flexible enough that more sophisticated users can upgrade to more powerful options. This makes the V2000 well-suited to a wide range of users.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fujitsu LifeBook N6470

Historically, Fujitsu has made some of the nicest, most well-constructed portable business notebooks around. The company's more consumer-oriented laptops are more of a mixed bag, however, offering features sets that clearly target home users but lacking the strong styling cues of some of its competitors.

In a specs sheet comparison, our 17-inch Fujitsu LifeBook N6470 review unit seems competitive enough. Of more concern is the fact that the N6470, while a solid performer in most respects, may not do enough - in terms of styling or build quality - to justify its slightly high price and entice buyers.

Full specs for the specific N6470 configuration used for this review are as follows:

* Screen: 17-inch WXGA+ (1440x900)
* Processor: 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8300 (800 MHz FSB, 3MB L2 cache)
* Hard Drive: 250GB, 4200 RPM SATA x 2 (500GB total capacity)
* Memory: 3GB DDR2 667 MHz SDRAM (2GB + 1GB)
* Optical Drive: Dual-Layer Multi-Format DVD-R
* Ports and Slots: Five USB 2.0, IEEE 1394, multi-format (SD/SDHC/MMC/MS/xD) card reader, HDMI, VGA, S-Video, 10/100 Ethernet, modem, PC Card, ExpressCard, microphone in, headphone out
* Wireless: Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n)
* Graphics: ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2600 (256MB shared and 256MB dedicated memory)
* Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium
* Dimensions: 15.8 x 11.5 x 2.0 inches (WxDxH)
* Weight: 10.2 pounds
* MSRP: $1,799 as configured

Styling and Design
There's not a lot to say here, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your perspective. For a comparatively expensive, high-spec notebook, this LifeBook doesn't do a lot to assert itself visually. The gray plastic (yes, it's all plastic) top vies for the most boring and empty piece of 17-inch real estate we've seen come through the office in awhile.

Opening the lid, things don't get a lot better: a glossy black plastic insert complete with wireless hard switch, volume control, and a four-way controller that can be configured to either provide multimedia controls (play, stop, etc.) or serve as a set of user-defined program "quick access" buttons suggests the N6470 as a multimedia-focused desktop replacement. The rest of the LifeBook's control surface, however, doesn't really follow through on this idea, with a bland keyboard and touchpad design.

Overall, acres and acres of monotonous gray plastic don't commit any styling atrocities, but don't do a lot to distinguish the LifeBook either.

These days, most desktop replacement notebooks include a multimedia remote - often with some sort of innovative in-body storage solution to make sure you can always find the remote when you need it. Fujitsu chose to move in another direction: make the remote so outrageously large that it becomes impossible to lose site of it.

The button layout is fine, and the remote is solid enough: it's just the size that makes it seem ridiculous, even for a notebook that's barely portable itself.

Build Quality and Physical Specs
While there's nothing inherently wrong with plastic as a notebook shell material, the N6470 serves as a reminder of everything that can make plastic unappealing for large, heavy notebooks: the lid flexes, the palm rest flexes, the keyboard flexes, the bottom flexes. Picking up the LifeBook one-handed (if you can), it feels like the entire computer is bending precariously under its own weight.

Thin plastics also find their way to the lid latch and button, which are especially unpleasing and look to be in imminent danger of snapping off if forced. Likewise for the retaining tabs on the LifeBook's tiny battery.

So long as it rarely leaves the open position on your desk, you might not find the N6470's lack of solidity concerning, but how well the LifeBook would hold up to even light travel given its apparent lack of ruggedness is worth asking.

At 10.2 pounds and nearly 2 inches thick, portability is obviously secondary with the N6470. Even with all that plastic and a battery designed to save weight more than optimize performance, the LifeBook is still alarmingly heavy, however. While it might work in a limited sense as a portable gaming or graphics device (it is appreciably easier to carry around than, say, my desktop and display), I shudder at the thought of schlepping the LifeBook through an airport. In fairness, this clearly isn't the kind of use that Fujitsu's designers had in mind, but with significantly more portable 17-inch models on the market, the Fujitsu's weight and bulkiness shouldn't be overlooked either.

The N6470's screen is truly a bright spot on an otherwise average notebook. The 17-inch display is gorgeous, glossy, and extremely vibrant. Gloss is well controlled without too much glare, and calibrated colors are dead-on accurate as well. Brightness is adjustable in 8 steps.

While horizontal viewing angles are very good (ideal for a multimedia machine), vertical angles aren't the best. This would probably only matter greatly, however, if you ever intended to put the N6470 on your lap (and you don't: trust us).

Keyboard and Touchpad
Again, the word of the day here is "flex." Our LifeBook test unit's keys offered up almost no resistance, making typing a tiring experience. Similarly, the keyboard exhibits some flex before "bottoming out" on an extremely rigid subsurface. On the plus side, keys are well spaced and a full number pad is included as well - expected amenities with a notebook of this size.

The touchpad feels nice enough under your finger, with a little bit of texture, but also shows some odd flex on one side, as though it's not completely anchored in place. Buttons offer about the right amount of resistance, however, and aren't excessively noisy when clicked.

Ports and Drives
Ports on the LifeBook are as expected for a notebook of this physical size, with five USBs, FireWire, S-Video, VGA, HDMI, and PC Card and ExpressCard slots providing a fairly comprehensive range of connection options. Likewise, the N6470 sports a dual-layer, multi-format DVD writer.

Fujitsu LifeBook E8410 Penryn

Fujitsu has officially joined the Penryn party with multiple LifeBook models now available with Intel's newest generation of Core 2 Duo processors. We took a closer look at the LifeBook E8410 to show you exactly how much a new processor can improve overall system performance.

Our review notebook features the following specifications:

* Intel Core 2 Duo T8100 Processor (Penryn, 2.1GHz, 3MB L2 Cache, 800MHz FSB)
* Microsoft Genuine Windows Vista Business
* 15.4" Crystal View (Glossy) WXGA Display (1280x800)
* Integrated 1.3MP Webcam
* Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100
* 2GB of DDR2 667MHz RAM
* Fujitsu 120GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive
* Modular Dual-Layer Multi-format DVD Writer
* Modem, Intel 4965AGN (802.11a/b/g/n) WiFi, 10/100/1000 GigE LAN, Bluetooth
* 6-cell, 10.8V, 5200 mAh, 56.2 Whr Battery
* One year international warranty
* Price as configured: $1,589

Build and Design
At first glance the E8410's exterior looks rather plain with black matte plastic with some glossy highlights in the front edge. Granted, this business-oriented notebook isn't designed to attract consumers who are looking for the latest "eye candy" but the design isn't too professional looking either.

The interior of this laptop is mostly light-silver/gray with a white keyboard. The keyboard, palmrests and most of the other surfaces are all plastic. The speaker grills on either side of the keyboard are the only parts that stand out as having metal construction. Unlike most consumer laptops there are no LED status lights. Instead, Fujitsu uses a black/white LCD display that provides a range of information about the current status of the notebook without any annoying bright lights.

As shown in the picture below, the LCD "status display" shows symbols for power status, if the battery is charging or discharging, the remaining charge in the battery, optical or storage drive activity, wireless activity, and more. Overall, the status display is a great feature ... particularly since it doesn't have those annoying blue LEDs. However, it might not have been a bad idea for Fujitsu to have included an LED warning light for the low battery indicator.

Despite the fact that the E8410 is designed for business users the build quality isn't quite what we expected for a business laptop in this price range. Fujitsu has built some genuinely sturdy (almost rugged) business laptops in the past. While most of the notebook chassis has a solid feel the areas around the optical drive and RAM bay cover have some pretty obvious flex. Granted some amount of the flex is due to the modular optical drive bay ... which has to be built in a way that makes it removable. We were just a little surprised by the flex in the plastic.

The screen housing also suffers from similar plastic flex. I can twist the screen a little bit more than I should, but the screen does not distort when being flexed. Additionally, I can only produce ripples on the screen by pressing quite hard on the back surface. It would be very difficult to damage the LCD under normal usage and the notebook should survive regular travels in a backpack or shoulder bag.

As mentioned above, the optical drive is modular, meaning that any type of optical drive supported by Fujitsu can be placed in the E8410. Or, one could put the included weight saver plastic insert in the slot to reduce the weight of the laptop. Users can also insert a secondary battery instead of an optical drive to get a longer battery life ... a serious advantage for road warriors.

The one negative aspect of the modular optical drive is the position of the release. I accidentally ejected the drive several times while transporting it to and from the office. Yes, the modular drive is a great feature, but I would have liked to see a lock switch or button to prevent accidental release of the drive.

Screen and Speakers
The Fujitsu E8410 features a 15.4" wide-screen WXGA display with a resolution of 1280x800 pixels. This resolution is "acceptable" but still pretty low for a 15-inch notebook. Luckily, you can configure the E8410 with a display resolution as high as WSXGA+ (1680x1050 pixels), and the better screen only costs an additional $75 at the time of this writing.

The low-resolution screen in our review unit is bright enough for office and home use. In fact, it's bright enough that you can easily set the display at 50% screen brightness in average office lighting (which is great for battery life).

Unfortunately, the screen in our review unit has poor vertical and horizontal viewing angles. When you view the screen head-on it looks fabulous, but move a few degrees above and the color washes out. Move a few degrees below center and the colors become inverted. Move a few degrees left or right and colors will again appear distorted.

Keep in mind that these type of viewing angle issues might not be common to all versions of this notebook. The older version of the E8410 that we reviewed last year was praised for having excellent horizontal viewing angles.

There are two speakers located on each side of the keyboard when you open up the laptop. The speakers produce distortion-free sound at even the highest volumes. However, like most laptop speakers they do suffer from a little of the "tin can" speaker effect and lack bass. For business purposes the speakers are fine.

Processor and Performance
The E8410 features the latest in processor technology with the newest Intel Penryn CPU. Our review unit of the E8410is equipped with integrated Intel X3100 graphics but Fujitsu offers the Nvidia GeForce 8400M G dedicated graphics card as an option in other configurations. The benefit os integrated graphics is lower cost and slightly lower power consumption, and most business professionals don't need dedicated graphics.

All of the following synthetic benchmarks were performed with the laptop set into 'Performance' mode.

At 2.1GHz, the T8100 (Penryn) processor found in the review laptop does quite well in PCMark05 benchmarks. As shown below, it managed to pull a score of 4,211 PCMark points. That said, a previous version of the E8410 equipped with the older 2.2GHz T7500 (Merom) processor produced a score of 4,618 PCMark points.