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March 1996 Reviews

Click here to see a list of all products reviewed this month.


(Editor's Note: The WinMag Box Score rates products on installation, usability, supporting materials, functionality, performance and utility. We use a 5-point scale:
1 poor, 2 fair, 3 good, 4 very good and 5 outstanding. A list of recommended desktop systems is at the end of the Reviews section; in future months, other hardware and software products will be added to the Recommended list.)

AST Ascentia J30

Good-Looking Book Sips Juice Slowly

By Jim Forbes

AST's Ascentia J series is the pony car of notebook computers. It's fast, has a great design and is suitable for use almost anywhere.

The Ascentia J series notebook is a value-line machine with pricing that starts in the mid-$2,000 range and rises according to your chosen options. The J series is available with a variety of processors, hard disks and a large dual-scan passive-matrix or active-matrix high-resolution screen. Its total travel weight is just over 6 pounds. The basic configuration should meet the needs (and wishes) of almost any notebook computer user.

The Ascentia J line comes standard with 8MB of RAM, two Type II vertically stacked PCMCIA slots, a great 84-key keyboard, a SmartPoint pointing device and a self-contained upgradable 14.4Kbps modem. Ports include one parallel, one serial, one IRDA-1 compatible infrared transceiver and an external monitor connector. Windows 95 and communications software are also included. There's no business applications suite, however. The unit's available with either a 75MHz or 100MHz 3.3-volt Pentium processor. I tested a 100MHz model, the Ascentia J30, equipped with a beautiful 10.4-inch active-matrix screen.

I liked its design and smaller-than-normal case. Another interesting touch is the use of a large PCMCIA card ejector button on the case's right-hand side. You have to be careful, however, when packing the Ascentia J30 to avoid ejecting its cards.

The Ascentia J30 features a keyboard-forward design with integrated palm rest. Controls for the SmartPoint are located on the palm rest and are unobtrusive. Although the keyboard's layout is nonstandard, the keyboard is easy to use and has a good feel. I liked it every bit as much as those on IBM's full-sized ThinkPads.

Using the advanced power setting, I got more than 3 hours of life from its lithium ion battery. The screen is large, bright and easy to read. In fact, it's one of the best active-matrix color screens I've seen on a value-line notebook. This notebook is well-suited for computer-based presentations. A Sound Blaster 16-compatible sound system is included, and speakers are located atop the screen on either side of the display.

Its processor cranked out an average of 183.67MIPs on our WINDOWS Magazine Wintune benchmarks. Its Toshiba 810MB hard drive had an average uncached throughput of 1.73MB per second and its video subsystem pumped out 2.93Mpixels per second. The average times to execute our 32-bit application macros were 26.00 seconds for Excel and 127.33 seconds for Word. These scores are quite good for a notebook and comparable to those of many desktop computers. They show this is indeed one fast, sturdy pony.

-- Info File --
AST Ascentia J30
As configured, $3,599
Pros: 100MHz Pentium processor; screen; battery life
Cons: PCMCIA ejector buttons easily activated
AST Research
800-876-4278, 714-727-4141
WinMag Box Score 4.5

NMB RT-8200W

Handy Keyboard for Win95

By Hailey Lynne McKeefry

NMB Technologies had Windows 95 users in mind when it designed and built the NMB RT-8200W. Several features on this full-size, 105-key keyboard should appeal to you whether or not you're using Microsoft's newest OS.

Three keys marked with the Windows 95 logo are sandwiched between the Control and Alt keys at the bottom of the keyboard. Pressing these keys automatically pops up the Start menu, so you can navigate through the menu (using the arrow keys) without ever reaching for your mouse. The Application key, which sits next to one of the Windows logo keys, pops up context-sensitive menus within the program that you're using, similar to a right-mouse-button click.

The spacebar on the RT-8200 has been split, and while the right-hand portion acts as a normal spacebar, the left-hand side (called the Erase-Eaze key) lets you backspace without ever removing your hands from the touch-typing position. At first, I often forgot to access this feature, but once I retrained my hands to make corrections with it, it became a handy addition. Press the Erase-Eaze key in conjunction with the Ctrl key, and you can erase whole words at a time. I really liked this keyboard's tactile response. Each key makes an audible click when pressed, so there's no mushy feel with the RT-8200W.

Innovative keys and great tactile feel make this keyboard a joy to use, and the pricing ($69.99) makes the RT-8200W just that much more attractive.

-- Info File --
NMB RT-8200W
Pros: Innovative keys
Cons: Requires practice
NMB Technologies
800-662-8321, 818-341-3355
WinMag Box Score 4.5

Princeton Graphic Ultra 17+

Degreed Princeton Graduate at Head of Class

By Michelle A. Tyrrell

Princeton Graphic Systems has made a successful debut in the high-end monitor market with the Ultra 17+, a 17-inch flat-square monitor priced attractively at $799. There are a lot of things to like about this monitor, including the handy menu buttons up front and the BNC connectors on the back of the unit.

Eleven smallish buttons positioned just below the screen control the on-screen display system and allow great flexibility in adjusting the image. The display system handles degaussing, horizontal size and positioning, vertical size and positioning, pincushion distortion, trapezoidal distortion, RGB intensities, color temperature and rotation. There's also a recall button to return to any of the 17 factory presets. The contrast and brightness dials and the on/off button are located on the front as well.

Those who work in a CAD environment, as well as anyone who uses applications at very high resolutions and refresh rates, will like the fact that the Ultra 17+ can be connected to a video adapter that requires the higher bandwidth of a BNC connection.

The Ultra 17+ displays 1024x768 pixels at an ergonomic 100Hz refresh rate. Resolution goes as high as 1280x1024 pixels, and the refresh rate as high as 75Hz. The screen has a 0.28mm dot pitch, dark-tinted nonglare glass and an Invar shadow mask, which combine to produce clear, vivid images suitable for users with high-end graphics needs. The tilt-and-swivel base is sturdy and easily adjustable.

The Ultra 17+ is Energy Star and MPR II compliant, and it recognizes VESA DPMS signals to power down in the appropriate mode: standby, suspend or off (in the "off" mode, a low-power detection circuit allows the monitor to turn on when the computer wakes up). It measures 16.9 by 16.1 by 17.3 inches and weighs about 43 pounds.

Most of Princeton's monitors--which have until now been lumped in the low-end and midrange markets--would be considered adequate choices for home users or those with limited business needs. The Ultra 17+ could change all that. The $799 price tag and easily adjustable screen image make this monitor a sensible choice for state-of-the-art corporate warriors as well as ambitious homebodies.

-- Info File --
Ultra 17+
Pros: Controls; image quality; BNC connectors; price; ergonomics
Cons: No moiré interference adjustment
Princeton Graphic Systems
800-747-6249, 714-751-8405
WinMag Box Score 4

Labtec LCS-3210 and the Game Series LCS-2612

Lend These Speakers Your Ears

By Ian Etra

Until recently, if you mentioned "Labtec" to a PC user, the second word that came to mind was probably "speakers." Unfortunately, the first word was usually "cheap," in the worst possible sense. But all that has changed with Labtec's new generation of high-quality multimedia speakers.

The LCS-3210 speakers have several innovative design elements, the most obvious being their distinct space-saving profile. The speakers measure 12 by 3.5 by 9 inches. Thanks to custom-made, high-excursion 3-inch drivers and a transmission line enclosure, the speakers produce a wide sound range with a cleaner, deeper bass than you'd expect from units of this size. If you need an added punch, the speakers include a dedicated subwoofer output.

The three-piece Game Series speakers are even more space-efficient. The satellites mount on any size monitor with a sound-insulated bracket that allows you to angle the speakers up and down. The sleek, magnetically shielded subwoofer can sit on your desk or be tucked away underneath. The satellites use the same 3-inch drivers as the LCS-3210s for crisp, clean highs, while the subwoofer is powerful enough to knock over furniture. While they are indeed great for games, I enjoyed listening to a wide range of music on these speakers--provided I kept the subwoofer on a tight leash.

Both units feature a button that enables Spatializer audio, a 3-D sound process that creates the illusion of a wider sound field from two speakers. While not as dramatic as SRS, a similar technology, I found Spatializer pleasing and nonintrusive.

Both models also offer a headphone jack and a front-mounted microphone input. The Game Series also features a mute button. Considering the audio quality and clever design of these speakers, the $119 price tag is remarkably low. Labtec speakers may still be cheap--but now they're good, too.

-- Info File --
LCS-3210 and the Game Series LCS-2612
$119 each (street)
Pros: Sound quality; price
Cons: None
Labtec Enterprises
360-896-2000, fax 360-896-2020
WinMag Box Score 5

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