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-- by Cynthia Morgan
The Edge Duet notebook: Never was a product so aptly named. This multimedia notebook and docking station combo from Austin Computer makes me wonder how I ever went solo. It's also one of the first NT portables to support advanced features like mobile power management, which makes it a truly leading-edge product. And this is just the icing on the cake.
This unit is both a demure desktop workstation and lightweight globe-trotter. The combined weight of notebook and dock is only 6.75 pounds, still light enough to carry on a plane. The Duet's docking mechanism acts as a cradle underneath the notebook itself, becoming a sleek, if slightly thick, single unit when attached. Undocking the machine is almost entirely mechanical: you pop two toggle tabs in the back and lift out the dock after you run the undocking utility or just shut down the machine. But the dock offers so many goodies you'll rarely pack it away in a suitcase.
The dock includes the Duet's 6X CD-ROM drive, a 10BaseT Ethernet connec-tion, a full complement of ports and a sound system. The only complaint I had about the dock was its front-loading floppy, a bit awkward to use if you're sitting in a cramped coach-class seat. But it's possible to pull out the entire mechanism and connect it externally to the notebook with a supplied ribbon cable, a clever way to have a dock and a traveling floppy in the same package.
The Duet packs an extensible speaker on each side of the case. Pulling them out appears to give the machine ears, but they deliver a very respectable sound for their size. The built-in subwoofer obviously improves the sound quality. I give this machine high marks for providing some of the best multimedia sound around.
The 11.3-inch active-matrix TFT screen is bright and very stable, although the images are not as crisp as those on other new high-end notebooks I've seen. The keyboard, while slightly cramped and a bit flat, is extremely usable, with separate navigation keys. The docking station has tilting feet, which make the keyboard more comfortable to use.
The Duet places a GlidePoint trackpad for cursor navigation in the middle front of the keyboard. I'm not too fond of this, since as I type I tend to lightly brush the trackpad and send the cursor flying across the screen.
The machine I tested, with a 1.3GB hard drive, 32MB of RAM and built-in 28.8Kbps fax modem, came with a dual-boot Windows 95 and NT 4.0 configuration. I used both while testing the system. The Softex drivers (see sidebar) included with the NT installation let me operate power management and insert PCMCIA cards without problems, much as I would under Windows 95.
While not outstanding, the Edge's Wintune scores were respectable for a 133MHz Pentium notebook. Its video scores were low for a notebook computer-I'd love to see how this baby would do with a NeoMagic video subsystem-but well within expected limits.
But the key to the Edge Duet is value. It's not often you find excellent multimedia, substantial components and subnotebook weight so gracefully shoehorned into a reasonably priced unit. Thanks to new drivers, this is one of the first truly portable-by today's standards-NT workstations I've seen. That compatibility, coupled with the strong feature set, secure a place for the Duet on our Recommended List.
Copyright © 1997 CMP Media Inc.