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October 1996 Reviews TOC

10/96 Head to Head: Pentium 150 Notebooks

Step Right Up, Get Your 150s Here

By James Alan Miller

Step right up and take a look at the latest but maybe not greatest in portables: Pentium 150 notebooks.

Micron's Millennia TransPort P150 and Nimantic's Orion 6X 150 are loaded, but they don't leave their 133MHz counterparts in the dust when it comes to performance. The Micron made a strong showing, but was only slightly better than identical 133MHz models. The Nimantic didn't do as well as I'd expect even from a good 133. Battery life of the 150s might also be shorter, since these are power-hungry processors, and the Nimantic fan drinks a lot of juice. If I wanted to spend around $5,000 for a notebook, I'd probably go with a loaded 133MHz system.

Both systems incorporate the 3.1-volt version of the 150MHz chip. A 2.9-volt edition should be available when you read this. Both come with 32MB of RAM and 256KB of level 2 cache. The Orion uses standard RAM or optional EDO. The TransPort gives you the speedier EDO RAM and pipeline-burst cache.

Each notebook has an ample hard disk, 2GB for the Micron and 2.1GB for the Nimantics. Your CD-ROMs will zip along in the Micron with its 8X Sanyo CD-ROM drive. As you can tell from the model name, the Orion 6X comes with a 6X drive. Each has 16-bit sound (Sound Blaster for the Micron and Sound Blaster Pro-compatible for the Nimantics) as well as two built-in speakers and a microphone. Each has an easy-to-use touch pad pointing device. With the Micron, you have the option of switching to an IBM eraser-style pointer located between the G, H and B keys on the keyboard. I give the edge to the Orion's keyboard, as you get a little more feedback and the added benefit of Windows 95 keys.

Large, bright and er-gonomic 12.1-inch TFT active-matrix displays come with both units. Both notebooks have rich color saturation, though you get a slightly brighter picture out of the Micron. The displays support resolutions up to 800x600 pixels at 16-bit color. The Nimantics comes with a generous 2MB of VRAM on its 32-bit PCI graphics accelerator. The Micron comes with 1MB of EDO video RAM.

One of the Micron's nicer features is its Monitor Refresh option under Display Properties in Windows. Here you can adjust the refresh rate for an external monitor at various resolutions. For instance, you may choose anywhere from 60Hz to a steady 75Hz at 1024x768 pixels. The Nimantics has optional hardware MPEG ($349), while the Micron comes with software MPEG. The Micron also has S-Video and NTSC video outputs. You get two PS/2 serial and two infrared ports from Micron, while the Nimantics has only one of each.

Both units have good power management and include suspend/resume buttons. The Orion has a nickel metal hydride battery, while the Micron has a lithium ion "smart" battery. On a rundown test to see how the laptops would do under extreme circumstances, including nearly constant hard drive access, the Orion lasted only 50 minutes or so, while the TransPort survived for almost two hours. Each unit will hold a second battery.

The TransPort has an extremely flexible modular design. With its two modular bays, you can switch between hard drives, batteries and floppy drives. The CD-ROM is also modular, but it only fits in the front bay.

As for performance, the 150s aren't noticeably superior to similar 133s. The Micron's scores were outstanding, but within the range of a 133MHz TransPort with the same configuration. The 150 offers a solid CPU score under Wintune of 274MIPS, up from 245MIPS for the 133. Both the 150 and 133 got similar excellent marks for uncached hard disk performance-3.6MB per second and 3.5MBps, respectively. The margin is even narrower when you look at scores on our real-world application macros. The 150 received marks of 23.33 seconds for Word and 17.33 seconds for Excel, while the 133 attained nearly identical scores of 24.3 seconds and 17 seconds!

The Nimantics scored lower than the Micron in several areas. Its Wintune scores range from good for the CPU (274MIPS) to poor for the hard disk (1.6MBps). Though the Nimantics Orion earned a good Excel mark of 20.3 seconds, it didn't fare as well (32.7) with the Word macro. The TransPort, at an average of 7.9Mpixels-per-second throughput for its video subsystem, performed better than the Orion at 6.53Mpixels per second.

The TransPort is a better-designed, more ergonomic and more powerful unit than the Orion, but you'll pay a lot more for its features. The 150 notebook chip, at least in these two machines, doesn't blow me away. For the latest and greatest, I'd wait for the 166MHz models looming on the horizon-perhaps they'll offer more substantial performance gains. The Nimantics Orion is well equipped, but its performance is only comparable to a 133's and it comes with a nickel metal hydride battery, not a lithium.

-- Info File--
Micron Millennia TransPort P150
$5,547 (with 32MB of RAM and 2GB hard drive)
Pros: Modular design; display
Cons: Performance only slightly better than a 133MHz
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x, NT
Micron Electronics
208-893-3434, 800-243-7615
WinMag Box Score 3.5

-- Info File--
Nimantics Orion 6X 150
$4,599 (with 32MB of RAM and 2.1GB hard drive)
Pros: Display; built-in joystick
Cons: Power; performance similar to a 133MHz
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x, NT
800-646-5005, 714-573-4030
WinMag Box Score 3.0

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