The mobile market is booming as users discover the convenience of walking around the office, computer in hand, attending meetings and collaborating with colleagues.

They’re also discovering they can tune out during boring meetings and do e-mail if their laptop is equipped with a wireless network

interface. I regularly watch co-workers in meetings diligently typing away, catching up on correspondence while the presenter talks. Rude, yes, but a fact of our electronic life these days.

I’ve also watched fellow passengers on long flights watching the movie of their choice on their laptop, rather than suffer through the mundane airline fare.

That means laptops have to keep up. They need integrated wireless. They need decent optical drives. And, most importantly, they need the battery life to power all of these activities.

We gathered seven laptops from both familiar and unfamiliar vendors and put them through their paces. The selection criteria: they must have integrated wireless, they must have an integrated optical drive (hauling around and connecting external drives just doesn’t cut it these days), and they must weight 5-lb. or less.

We tested with a combination of normal business usage and benchmark software (FutureMark’s PCMark 2002). All timings were made with wireless active; you can count on extra battery life if you turn it off.

The results may surprise you.

LG LM50

LG is new to laptops, and the LM50 is the top of the line. With its 15-in. screen, it just squeaked under the weight limit. It comes with 10/100 Ethernet, 802.11b/g wireless, a 56K modem, three USB 2.0 ports, IEEE 1394, S-video, external video, and parallel port. Buttons above the keyboard control speaker volume. The optical drive is a combo DVD reader and CD-RW.

Bundled software consists of Norton Anti-Virus 2004, Adobe Acrobat Reader and a couple of utilities to optimize the battery and assist with switching networks. One omission: the other machines all ran Java applets on Web pages with no problems, but I had to go to the Sun site and download Java onto the LM50.

Performance was brisk — this was the second fastest machine in the benchmark. Battery life was adequate, given the larger screen, at two hours and 40 minutes.

HP Compaq NC6000

The NC6000 offers lots of goodies. For connectivity, it has 802.11b/g wireless, Gigabit Ethernet, infrared and a modem. Its optical drive handles DVDs and reads and writes CDs. It’s the only machine in our group with a serial port added to its extensive collection of I/O — it also has a parallel (printer) port, two USB 2.0 ports, external video, microphone and headphone jacks, S-video and docking ports.

Two PC Card slots and a Secure Digital slot round out the interfaces.

Above the keyboard are buttons that let you lock the machine, turn wireless on and off, and put it into presentation mode. On the front, black controls with black icons let you control sound volume, or even mute it, assuming you can see them.

The nc6000 provides both touchpad and trackstick. I found the touchpad erratic — sometimes it would respond to taps, and sometimes I had to use the mouse buttons.

TTX M3000N

TTX’s M3000N is a sleek yet powerful unit with all of the amenities.

It has four USB 2.0 ports, 10/100 Ethernet, modem, infrared, IEEE 1394, parallel port, headset and microphone jacks and external video connection. Though our review unit only had 802.11b wireless, which performed well, by the time you see this 802.11b/g will be available. There’s only a single PC Card slot, but with so much built-in, that shouldn’t be a major inconvenience.

The keyboard looked a bit flat, but actually felt good to type on. It rattled, though, and the keys are quite springy. They’re also translucent, so there’s the shadow of circuitry underneath that’s interesting to see.

Performance wasn’t earth-shattering, but was quite acceptably in the top third of test machines. Battery life was phenomenal, at over four and a half hours.

IBM Thinkpad T41

I was a bit disappointed in the T41. After being spoiled by the last IBM unit I reviewed, which ran close to forever on a charge, the battery life of just over two and a half hours didn’t seem right.

The feature set is good, though, with lots of ports (two USB 2.0, parallel, S-video, microphone, headset, and external monitor), Gigabit Ethernet, infrared, and modem. Wireless on our review unit is only 802.11b, though according to spec sheets 802.11g is available.

IBM’s Active Protection System senses dangerous movement and shuts down the hard drive to protect it. I found it extremely sensitive to certain types of motion, stopping the drive when I shifted position while the machine was on my lap.

Performance-wise, the machine did well — its marginally slower CPU was offset by fast disk and memory scores.

Fujitsu Lifebook S7010D

The LifeBook’s performance was in the middle of the pack in this group.

It is, however, a very well-configured machine, with three USB 2.0 ports, 4 Mbps infrared, Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth, IEEE 1394 (FireWire), modem, external monitor, headphone, microphone, and line-in connections. There are two Type II PC Card slots, plus an embedded SmartCard reader. Four programmable quick launch buttons live above the keyboard, for speedy access to programs.

Fujitsu was one of the first to include 802.11g wireless in its laptops, and it continues to do so with this model. The wireless performed flawlessly, connecting quickly and providing zippy network access at 802.11g speeds.

If there’s one thing I’m ambivalent about, it’s the keyboard. It’s large and flat, and ideal for users with large hands. I’m just not crazy about the feel.

SONY VAIO PCG-TR3AP3

Sony sent a little surprise in the TR3AP3. As you can probably tell from the listed weight, this is one of the tiny notebooks with the half-height 10.6-in. screen. But it fits all of the criteria: it has integrated 802.11b/g wireless, a built-in optical drive (combo CD writer and DVD writer), and at just over 3-lb., it is definitely under the weight limit.

You get two USB 2.0 ports, IEEE 1394, one PC Card slot, 10/100 Ethernet, external video connection, headphone and microphone jacks, and a MagicGate Memory Stick slot. Oh, and a little 640 x 480 camera built into the top of the bezel that swivels to capture you or what you’re looking at.

The keyboard has Chiclet-like keys, half-sized function keys, a tiny right shift key, and a three-quarter-sized touchpad underneath. There’s also a capture button (the camera’s shutter button), volume controls, and a zoom button.

Toshiba Tecra M2

When I think Tecra, I think premium and hefty, so I was surprised when Toshiba sent the M2. Yet this Tecra is relatively dainty at just under 5-lb.

Premium it is, though, with 802.11a/b wireless, Gigabit Ethernet, infrared, Bluetooth, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, S-video, parallel port, IEE 1394, microphone and headset jacks, two PC Card slots, a Secure Digital slot, and a DVD writer.

Both touchpad and trackstick are installed, and the keyboard is responsive and well laid out. For audiophiles, Toshiba has equipped the M2 with an acoustic silencer that slows the optical drive down when it’s playing music to cut down on drive noise.

Battery life was three and a half hours — virtually identical to HP’s — but performance was No. 1 by a long shot. Rather than the usual 4200 RPM notebook drive, the M2 has a 5400 RPM disk, and it shows.

When I think Tecra, I think premium and hefty, so I was surprised when Toshiba sent the M2. Yet this Tecra is relatively dainty at just under 5-lb.

Premium it is, though, with 802.11a/b wireless, Gigabit Ethernet, infrared, Bluetooth, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, S-video, parallel port, IEE 1394, microphone and headset jacks, two PC Card slots, a Secure Digital slot, and a DVD writer.

Both touchpad and trackstick are installed, and the keyboard is responsive and well laid out. For audiophiles, Toshiba has equipped the M2 with an acoustic silencer that slows the optical drive down when it’s playing music to cut down on drive noise.

Battery life was three and a half hours — virtually identical to HP’s — but performance was No. 1 by a long shot. Rather than the usual 4200 RPM notebook drive, the M2 has a 5400 RPM disk, and it shows.

USB flash drives overtake floppies as the accessory of choice in laptops

Portable computers are evolving right before our eyes, and it’s mostly for the better. You may have noticed that nary a word was said in our roundup about floppy drives. They’re now optional, and usually connected via USB. The USB flash drive (“”data key””) is quickly taking over the floppy’s turf, and you’ll see that every machine is supplied with USB 2.0 ports.

During our last look at laptops, less than a year ago, few vendors offered speedy 802.11g wireless; now virtually everyone does, and Gigabit Ethernet is rapidly joining it on the wired side.

All of the machines we tested were respectable systems, well configured and relatively sturdy. Useful features like wireless on/off switches, mandatory in airplanes and helpful elsewhere to save power, are becoming common, so users don’t have to totter through software utilities or Device Manager in Windows to disable wireless.

In scoring, you’ll see that strong points in each machine differed, and balanced out weaknesses nicely. There were no duds in this group.

The winner is LG’s lovely beast. It’s No. 2 in performance, with a full-featured, usable design and an utterly gorgeous screen. Its poor showing in battery life would improve with the smaller screen model. Connectivity was solid, and I liked the keyboard.

Share on LinkedIn Share with Google+
More Articles