December 1996 Reviews This Month
By Jim Forbes
Some notebook computers age well. The latest addition to Hewlett-Packard's go-anywhere ultra-compact OmniBook family, the 800CT, is a great example.
HP reengineered its three-year-old OmniBook line, and its latest version, the 800CT, is a screamer. What's new about this machine? Its screen, 133MHz Pentium processor, video and hard disk subsystems, and the underlying PCI architecture all combine for top-of-the-line notebook performance. Add an ultra-compact design (it measures 1.6 by 11 by 7.25 inches; without its battery charger or external floppy disk drive it weighs only 3.72 pounds), and the HP OmniBook 800CT stands far above the crowd.
The base configuration of the 800CT includes a 133MHz processor, 16MB of EDO system memory, Windows 95, a 2.5-amp lithium ion power cell, an IBM manufactured 1.44GB hard drive, an external 3.5-inch floppy drive and a 10.4-inch active-matrix color screen. It's a snap to connect the 800CT to external devices. The system ships standard with one serial, one parallel, one SCSI, an external SVGA video and one 4Mb-per-second infrared port. It also includes a 16-bit Sound Blaster-compatible sound card and two Type II PCMCIA slots. Although HP touts this machine as a desktop replacement-via an optional docking system-it works best in its portable role.
A second version of this machine, the OmniBook 800CS, comes with a 100MHz Pentium, an 810MB hard drive and a 10-inch dual-scan passive-matrix color screen. I've used the OmniBook 800CS for the last month and really like its lightweight, rugged construction and fast performance. The 800CS is priced at $3,050, whereas the 800CT review unit costs $4,370.
Running our Wintune benchmarks, the 800CT scored a three-pass average of 239MIPS (slightly below average). Its 2.16MB-per-second average uncached disk throughput is about average. Its scorching 8.5Mpixel-per-second video score was surprising, thanks to its 128-bit NeoMagic graphics controller.
The 800CT's scores for our 32-bit Word and Excel applications benchmarks were 17.66 and 16 seconds, re-spectively. These scores are on par with machines like the Dell Latitude LM P-133ST and better than those for machines like Toshiba's Portégé 650CT.
You might have to adjust to the 800CT's keyboard. It's compact, but not to the point where it's uncomfortable or difficult to use. The cursor is controlled by a mechanical mouse that slides out of the case's right-hand side.
You can turn the Omni-Book off in the midst of an application. It's a handy feature, but it can and does lead to infrequent hang-ups, which are easily overcome with hard reboots. Save files frequently and you won't have a problem.
While this system has great audio connectivity, the placement of the speaker within the system case may disappoint the audiophile.
An optional $420 CD-ROM drive connects to a SCSI-2 port on the back of the notebook. Connectors are covered by a hinged plastic door. There's a downside to this arrangement: You need to make sure that the power supply plug, which is actually a plastic block, is oriented vertically so you can open and close this door freely.
The new IRDA port is wickedly fast, sending and receiving information at 4Mb per second. I'm a recent convert to infrared connectivity, and HP's implementation is excellent.
Without stringent power conservation, I got only about 1.75 hours from the 2.5-amp lithium power cell. When I selected a more conservative power-management scheme, battery life increased to more than 2.5 hours, which is well above that for most 133MHz notebooks with active-matrix screens.
HP supplies several handy accessories with the OmniBook, including appointment scheduler and power-management software.
The newest version of this proven line overcomes some of the complaints about this machine's screen size, its overall performance and its video subsystem. But one of the oddities about OmniBook is the propensity of its users to employ it only for portable computing. The paradox here is the price of this system and its power, which combined suggest to me that it's a perfect candidate for a docking station-one of the accessories HP offers for the new OmniBook 800 line.
Priced at about $420, HP's docking solution provides you with the option of increasing your OmniBook's functionality. The docking station will accept either a half-sized 16-bit or 32-bit PCI expansion card and duplicates all of the external connections found on the back of the notebook.
If you need high performance graphics and have deep pockets, OmniBook is probably for you.
Weighing in at less than 4 pounds, the HP OmniBook 800CT is a 133MHz Pentium ultra-compact notebook.
HP OmniBook 800CT
Pros: Lightweight; rugged; excellent video performance; good connectivity
Cons: Price; docking solution seems cumbersome
WinMag Box Score 3.5