Let’s be perfectly clear: a desktop replacement laptop computer is not meant for laps – not unless you want to sacrifice the circulation in your legs. Let’s be perfectly clear: a desktop replacement laptop computer is not meant for laps – not unless you want to sacrifice the circulation in your legs.
These are hefty contraptions, meant to be portable, not mobile. Yes, fold them up, put them in the car, carry them into your residence and work at home, but don’t delude yourself that galloping through an airport carrying the monster will be a trivial task. The largest in our roundup weighs over nine pounds.
Mind you, what can you expect from a machine with a 17-in. display? No, that isn’t a typo. Some of the systems we looked at rivaled desktop computers in everything but size. They have tons of RAM, generous-sized hard drives, all the ports you’d want, optical drives and both wired and wireless networking. That’s why they’re called desktop replacements.
Some also featured the newest trend in display technology: wide aspect screens. First seen in ultraportables like the Sony PictureBook, these screens are half the height you’d expect for their width. For example, a “normal” display resolution of 1280 x 800 (1280 pixels wide by 800 high) ends up being 1280 x 400, so the image appears slightly squashed and, on small screens, text can be well-nigh invisible with default fonts. But it makes monster screens manageable and the results are quite acceptable.
We asked vendors for their desktop replacement machines, without specifying size or weight or anything else, and got quite a mix. Let’s have a look at the many faces of desktop replacement laptops.
All prices are list, in Canadian dollars. Performance benchmarking was conducted with Futuremark’s PCMark04.
Fujitsu Lifebook n6210Fujitsu Lifebook n6210
There was a monumental wow factor attached to this beauty. For one thing, it’s huge — more than 9.5 lb. For another thing, its 17-in. screen, with resolution of 1440 x 900, combined with the ATI display adapter, provides lovely images. The machine is promoted as a multimedia computer that can play entertainment titles without booting. It even has an LED audio level indicator.
The processor is no barn-burner at 1.86 GHz, but combined with a gigabyte of RAM and two 80 GB hard drives, performance was quite respectable.
Connectivity is via Gigabit Ethernet or 802.11 a/b/g wireless (and there’s a hardware on/off switch for the wireless), plus four USB ports, one IEEE 1394 (FireWire) port, S-Video and external monitor connections and audio connections. One PC Card slot, one ExpressCard slot, and a four-in-one slot for SD, xD Picture or both types of Memory Stick, plus a dual-layer multiformat DVD writer, round out the configuration.
There’s a full-sized keyboard, with numeric pad, and you mouse on a generous-sized touchpad.
An included software bundle contains time-limited versions of Microsoft Office Small Business Edition and Norton Anti-Virus, plus full copies of Quicken New User Edition and Microsoft Works.
HP Comqaq NX9600
This one, too, elicited a wow when I hauled it out of the box. It’s another biggie, in all ways. Rather than being sleek silver, like the N6210, it is basic black, with 17-in. screen, driven by an ATI RADEON X600, blazingly fast 3.6 GHz processor, one gigabyte of RAM and 100 GB hard drive.
Like Fujitsu, it offers a full-sized keyboard with numeric keypad and touchpad. However, I found the touchpad awkward to use — the screen is so big, it took a lot of swiping to get anywhere. HP must have thought so too — there’s a button above the touchpad that disables it so you can use an external mouse without worrying about inadvertent cursoring as your hand brushes the touchpad. There’s also a hardware on/off for the 802.11 a/b/g wireless.
Ports include the usual suspects: four USB, VGA, S-Video and IEEE 1394, and there’s a single PC Card slot.
The A/C adapter is, literally, the size and weight of a brick, and gets very hot, as does the PC. The fan, which is loud, has to blast away in an attempt to keep things cool.
Performance-wise, this system blew the socks off everything else.
TTX’s sleek silver wide screen unit uses an ATI RADEON 9700 video adapter, whose less-than-wonderful performance pulled the machine’s overall score down. Its other specs saved the day, though — it has a 2 GHz processor, 1GB RAM, a fast 60GB hard drive, dual-layer DVD recorder, gigabit Ethernet and 802.11 a/b/g wireless.
Ports include three USB, IEEE 1394, external VGA and S-Video.
There is, of all things, a button to control the fan — I’m guessing it’s to stifle the noise during presentations. This is the only system that came with a carrying case — a modest one, to be sure.
A substantial software bundle is included.
Lenovo Thinkpad R52
With the ThinkPad, we revert to a 15-in. screen with ATI’s Mobility RADEON X300 adapter and resolution of 1024 x 768. With half the video memory of the bigger systems, graphics performance suffered badly, pulling the machine way down in the ratings.
Processor is 1.86 GHz, RAM 512 MB, and the hard drive is 60GB; an 8X recordable DVD rounds out the storage. The machine boasts Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11 a/b/g wireless; ports include a parallel port, S-Video, VGA, two USB, and an IEEE 1394 port. There’s one PC Card slot and one ExpressCard slot.
Software consisted of a 90-day version of Norton Anti-Virus 2004.
Toshiba Satellite M40
Toshiba opted for an nVidia g-force adapter to drive its 15.4-in. screen, which did wonders for its graphic performance. It’s another multimedia machine, with Harman Kardon stereo speakers and separate CD control buttons and volume wheel.
The processor is 1.86 GHz, with 512 MB RAM, DVD burner and an 80GB hard drive. 802.11 a/b/g and 10/100 Ethernet connect to the rest of the world, and the port and slot collection consists of three USB, IEEE 1394, S-Video, external VGA, one PC Card slot, and one combo SD/MMC, Memory Stick/xD Picture slot.
Sony Vaio FS550
The Vaio was the slowest machine in the roundup, both in specs (1.6 GHz) and in testing. It has 512 MB RAM, an 80GB hard drive, a dual layer DVD writer, 10/100 Ethernet, and 802.11 b/g wireless (with hardware on/off switch). It offers three USB ports, IEEE 1394, external VGA, and one PC Card slot and one Memory Stick slot.
The keyboard is wide, with flat, full sized keys. I wasn’t crazy about it, but keyboard preference is a personal thing.
The software bundle consists of Microsoft Works, Quicken 2005 New User Edition, and trials of Microsoft Office 2003, Intermute SpySubtract and Norton Internet Security.
Unlike some of the biggies, it runs virtually silently.
Dell Latitude D810
Dell’s D810 is the top end of its corporate line. These machines are bred for standardization and predictability, not major sexiness. Nevertheless, the unit we got was loaded for bear — it has a 2.13 GHz processor, one gigabyte of RAM, a 100GB hard drive and gigabit Ethernet adapter. Most desktops aren’t that well configured.
With Dell, you can roll your own configuration, and whoever built this system went wild. It has 802.11a/b/g wireless, Bluetooth and a DVD writer.
The screen is 15.4-in., the display adapter an ATI Mobility RADEON X600; Dell offers three screen choices, with normal resolutions from 1280 x 800 to 1920 x 1200.
For pointing, it includes both touchpad and trackstick. The keyboard is a standard laptop keyboard, with decent, firmish touch. There is a nice collection of ports, including four USB, speaker, microphone, infrared, Ethernet, modem, S-video, serial and external monitor, and there’s one PC Card slot and a Smart Card slot.
Performance was neither great nor awful. Dell’s warranty, however, does qualify as great.
LG LW60 Express
LG does have a 17-in. model, but didn’t have one available for review so we ended up with the 15-in. version, and it’s a thoroughly decent machine. With a 1.73 GHz processor, 512 MB RAM, Super Multi DVD recorder and a 60 GB hard drive, it was an OK performer, and the display was driven briskly by the ATI X600.
This is another unit aimed at the multimedia set, and even has a credit card-sized remote tucked into a slot on the side. Connectivity comes as 10/100 Ethernet or 802.11 b/g wireless, and the system boasts four USB ports, IEEE 1394, a parallel port, VGA, infrared, and the usual audio and modem ports. A PC Card slot, ExpressCard slot, and slot that accommodates SD, MMC or either flavour of Memory Stick round out the features.
One wonderful thing LG managed to pull off was to fit a numeric keypad in next to the keyboard and still preserve an uncramped feel.
Plugged into the juice for maximum performanceYou may notice there’s not a peep about batteries here. Desktops, and desktop replacements, are usually plugged in, so we didn’t worry about battery performance, which is just as well – these monsters gobble power like mad things. You can only count on a maximum of a couple of hours off the mains.
Most of these machines also suffered from the lack of a numeric keypad, almost a necessity on a desktop system, but on the whole, most of them could certainly pass the test of performing as someone’s primary computer.
Sony’s machine is a budget box. It still has adequate features, but it’s primarily aimed at the home user.
Lenovo’s unit suffered from lackluster video performance and lack of a numeric keypad (which many users won’t care about). Other than that, it’s a utilitarian workhorse, not very exciting, but still quite functional.
I loved LG’s imaginative way of fitting in a numeric keypad while preserving typing comfort. Other vendors should do the same thing — and they should also emulate LG’s clever automatic driver updating. It lost points for short warranty, slower performance (though its video
performance was wonderful) and slower Ethernet.
Dell’s unexciting performance cost it, although its keyboard (aside from the lack of numeric keypad) is lovely and its three-year onsite warranty stellar. It is, however, pricey once you start adding features.
Toshiba, although it has plenty of muscle and great video performance, has a slower network adapter and no numeric keypad. It, like most of the others, also lost points for its one-year warranty.
TTX’s elegant unit lost points for its wimpy video scores, but won big time for its overall performance, three-year warranty (second only to Dell’s) and its amazing software bundle.
Fujitsu’s solid performer gained points for its numeric keypad and software bundle, and lost them for the short warranty and slightly slower performance.
HP’s performance blew everyone else away. I liked the cutoff switch for the touchpad — with that machine, an external mouse is the best pointer to use. I hated the monstrous brick of an A/C adapter with its industrial-strength cord and massive heat generation. And the one-year warranty isn’t enough.