Hardware Vendors Are Facing Stiff Competition

Hardware vendors are facing stiff competition

Computer users are increasingly on the road more often than they are sitting behind a desk, and PC vendors are also on the move, working to smaller, lighter notebooks.

Members of the ComputerWorld Canada staff recently tested three Windows-based, lightweight notebooks from various vendors. Here are the results:

Eurocom 5100CT2

A member of Eurocom Corp.’s entry-level line of DeskNotes, the Eurocom 5100CT2 is a good option for those looking for a relatively inexpensive notebook to take on the road.

Targeted at budget-conscious travellers, the DeskNote offers entry-level desktop power with the option to upgrade. For $2,528, this model comes equipped with a 366MHz (to 466MHz) Intel Celeron processor, 64MB (to 256MB) of SDRAM, 4MB of SGRAM for video, a 4GB hard drive, a 24x CD-ROM drive, a 56Kbps Eurocom fax modem, Microsoft Windows 98 and Corel WordPerfect Office 2000.

The notebook has a 12.1-inch SVGA Active Matrix colour display. Despite the somewhat grainy colour quality, the display is large enough to be easy on the eyes even when used for extended periods of time.

The exterior design offers a good size palmrest and an 86-key keyboard which is comfortable and almost as easy to use as the full 102-key keyboard, although numerical and back space keys, which are slightly smaller and closer together, are a bit hard to find and can slow you down.

Moving around the screen is easy, however, with a sensitive touchpad pointing device. An optional French Canadian keyboard is also available.

The portable comes equipped with a built in 24x CD-ROM drive and 3.5-inch 1.44MB floppy drive, eliminating the hassle of carrying along external devices. It also includes a Smart Lithium-Ion battery that offers up to 2.5 hours of battery time.

The 5100 offers 16-bit stereo sound with FM synthesis and 3D sound. While the sound may not compete with higher-end portables, it will allow you to enjoy your favourite CD.

Also included are an external CRT/Monitor port, parallel port, serial port, PS/2 port, 4Mbps IrDA port, audio/speaker line-out, audio line-in, microphone line-in, Universal Serial Bus (USB) port and a Microsaver slot for security cable and lock. What it lacks is a video line-in and port replicator connector.

This portable has a sturdy case and weighs 6.2 pounds, making it heavy for extended carrying.

For greater performance or multimedia presentations, users may want to opt for Eurocom’s mid-range 3400 DeskNote or high-end 3100 DeskNote. But if it’s a small and inexpensive unit you’re looking for, you may find it with the Eurocom 5100 model. And buying from a Canadian company is always a plus.

— Rebecca Maxwell

Fujitsu Lifebook B112

The theme notebook vendors have adopted these days appears to be smaller and lighter is better. And Fujitsu Ltd. is no exception.

Take the company’s Fujitsu Lifebook B112 for example. This tiny mini-notebook weighs in at 2.65 pounds and measures 9 by 6.7 by 1.2 inches. It’s great to carry around because of its weight, and it’s easy to fit in a shoulder bag because of its size, but what about ease of use? Are vendors forgetting about this one important feature?

Using the Lifebook B112’s keyboard, it’s difficult to type without constantly hitting more than one key at a time. I had to pay very close attention and watch every keystroke I made. While this may get easier with practice, unless you have a great deal of patience it can become quite frustrating.

One really useful feature of the Lifebook B112 is the touch screen, which allows use of the stylus included with the notebook as an additional pointing device. You can use your finger as well but the stylus appears to be more accurate. Users can click, double click and drag icons through the screen.

Another good feature is the Touch Screen Calibrator Utility. This assures accurate interface between the stylus and the cursor and allows each new notebook user to set the interface appropriately. Once into the utility, a “+” will appear on the screen and the user calibrates the pointer with this symbol. This only needs to be done once if you are the only person using the notebook.

The B112, which has an 84-key keyboard, an external disk and CD-ROM drive, is powered by a Pentium 233-MMX processor. It comes standard with 32MB of memory (expandable to 96MB), a 3.2GB hard drive, a built-in 56Kbps modem, and a Sound Blaster Pro-compatible sound system with two built-in speakers. It’s powered by a lithium ion battery that Fujitsu claims will run four hours on average. An optional dual-battery configuration ups that figure to seven hours.

Overall, this tiny B112 is an impressive looking notebook and useful when using the stylus and the touch screen. But when it comes to using the keys, you may find you have to exercise your patience.

— Karen Hill


IBM’s ThinkPad 570 is all about options. If you want an ultraportable road machine, it can do that. If you need a desktop replacement, no problem, it can handle that too.

The 570 is really a two-part machine, comprised of the notebook itself and its base-station accessory, called an Ultrabase.

The skinny notebook makes a good travelling companion. Weighing in at 1.83Kg, it sports a solid, near full-size keyboard, a bright 13.3-inch monitor and a built-in modem, and it’s sold with an add-on floppy drive. Add in a few ports – including USB – and all the basic mobile bases are covered. The 570 is well suited to working in planes, in coffee shops or in a back-yard hammock.

But that light-weight convenience means there’s no on-board CD-ROM, floppy, LS-120 or ZIP drive, and no room for additional batteries or hard drives. For that, you have to buy an Ultrabase, which can accommodate two of these accessories in specific combinations.

The Ultrabase has roughly the same dimensions as the 570 itself. Joining the two is awkward at first but soon becomes second-nature. When the Ultrabase is clipped to the 570, the pair look like a typical notebook, although the combo pack is both thicker and heavier than IBM’s workhorse ThinkPad 600E. But that’s a minor quibble: when most users head out the door they’ll opt to leave the Ultrabase on the desk, and with its comfortable keyboard, big screen and expandability the 570/Ultrabase combination makes a viable desktop replacement unit.

And, relative to other ThinkPads, the 570 is a good deal. Equipped, for example, with a Mobile Pentium II 366, 64MB of RAM, a 6.4GB hard drive and a 13.3-inch screen, the retail price is about $5,400. A similarly configured ThinkPad 600, with a CD-ROM, comes in at approximately $6,100.

An Ultrabase equipped with a CD-ROM adds about $370, and while that’s not an inconsiderable amount of money it greatly increases the usefulness of the 570, and is a must-buy option.

The 570’s only real drawback is battery life. IBM uses a six-cell battery to cut back on weight, and in our tests the unit started running out of juice after about 90 minutes. That’s not great, but as a trade-off for reduced back-strain, many will decide to live with it.

— Peter Wolchak