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October 1996 Reviews TOC

10/96 Reviews: Systems: WinBook FX

Everything on Your Shopping List

By James E. Powell

The WinBook FX is a notebook you can almost fall in love with--and this puppy's loaded. The model I tested included a 133MHz Intel Pentium processor using the power-saving Mobile Triton chipset with 16MB of EDO RAM (upgradable to 40MB).

The LCD screen supports 800x600 resolution at 64,000 colors on its 11.3-inch SVGA active-matrix display. The video interface to an external monitor can handle 1024x768 resolution at 256 colors. The WinBook FX uses a 32-bit PCI Cirrus Logic GD7543 chip with 1MB of video RAM. The screen is clear and crisp, and you can easily view it from a variety of angles. The notebook has 256KB of pipeline-burst level 2 cache, which accounts for its good benchmark scores.

You can exchange the preinstalled 4X CD-ROM with a provided floppy disk drive or a second lithium ion battery, but not when the system is powered on. Two LEDs indicate the system is operating and that the battery is charging. The power switch, which can be used to put the notebook into suspend mode, is located just above the function keys. To its right is an LCD display window with icons to show the status of the battery, AC power, hard disk activity, floppy disk activity, and key status.

Also on the right are two PCMCIA slots (to hold two Type II, or one Type II PC card and one Type III card).

The hard drive compartment is on the left. The base system comes with a 1.3GB hard disk; 810MB is also available.

On the back are connections for a parallel device, docking station port, 16550A-compatible serial port, external monitor and a PS/2 keyboard/mouse port (which automatically detects when a device is connected). The infrared connector, microphone jack, audio line-in and speaker jack are also on the back. (Two built-in speakers on the palm rest provide plenty of volume for the Sound Blaster-compatible 16-bit sound, but just adequate fidelity). The 81-key keyboard includes a double-sized backspace key and two Windows 95 keys, and it has a nice feel. Unfortunately, the Shift key is too far to the right for my tastes-I kept hit-ting the up-arrow key instead of the Shift key in the inverted arrow-key arrangement.

In the center of the keyboard is a standard TrackPoint pointing device (the one that looks like the tip of an eraser). My test unit came with an optional TouchPad preinstalled ($79.99), which offers tap-and-drag to simulate the drag-and-drop you do with a mouse.

Press the blue "Fn" key and numeric keys to control everything from brightness, contrast and reverse video to volume level, power standby and suspend modes. A pop-up menu shows you the percent of battery life remaining. The battery takes about four hours to fully charge. Auto Dim automatically dims the backlight when you run from the battery. The WinBook FX ran an average of two hours and 50 minutes when working with a mix of applications such as Excel and Word, with frequent saves to the hard disk but minimal access to the CD-ROM or floppy disk. You can set the video time-outs for CPU, video and hard disk to extend battery life.

The WinBook FX came preloaded with Windows 95 and Mediamatics' Arcade Player for playing back MPEG files. Puma Technologies TranXit is also included for using the built-in infrared capabilities for connecting to desktop systems and printers at speeds up to 115Kbps.

The WinBook FX is a good, but not great, performer for a 133MHz Pentium, limited in its video scores (and thus the macro tests) by its 1MB of video RAM. The notebook completed the Excel macro test in 20.33 seconds on average, while the Word macro averaged 31 seconds to execute. In our Wintune 95 tests, the WinBook FX's CPU clocked in at 246.67MIPS, with scores of 2.83MB per second (uncached disk speed) and 7.07Mpixels per second (video).

The documentation is among the best I've seen for both new and experienced users. The user guide introduces you to many Windows 95 features and even suggests you check with your agent to see if your insurance covers theft of the unit. It gives you a thorough introduction to the notebook's features and sufficient technical details so you'll know the answer to software installation questions.

At 2.07 by 11.68 by 8.66 inches, the FX is a standard-size notebook, though at 6.8 pounds (with battery and floppy disk drive installed) it's a bit on the heavy side.

My only quibble is the shift keys position. At press time, a WinBook spokesman told us the FX will ship standard with a 6X CD-ROM drive but only a 1GB hard disk. The notebook will also include a redesigned keyboard. But for long battery life, a fine display and more options than you thought possible on an under $4,000 notebook, the WinBook FX is a good value.

Info File
WinBook FX
$3,679, as configured with optional TouchPad
Pros: Good display; excellent documentation
Cons: Position of Shift key
WinBook Computer Corp.
WinMag Box Score: 4.5

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