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-- by Jim Forbes
The Texas Instruments TravelMate 6050 notebook isn't what you'd expect from one of America's oldest computer companies. On the surface, it appears to offer just about everything you need-a 150MHz processor, a zippy 6X CD-ROM drive, a big, bright 12.1-inch screen and 32MB of EDO memory connected to a PCI bus. Behind the impressive feature list, however, lies disappointing performance.
One of three offerings in the TravelMate 6000 Series, the 6050 is designed for corporate notebook users and those needing high-performance mobile computing. The notebook includes a preconfigured 28.8Kb-per-second modem loaded into one of the two PCMCIA slots. The unit I tested came with 32MB of memory, but you can upgrade to a maximum of 72MB.
In addition to Intel's 150MHz Pentium, system memory, modem and optional CD-ROM drive, the basic configuration includes a removable 1.35GB hard drive, 256KB of level 2 cache memory, and a full complement of external ports-parallel, serial, SVGA, PS/2 and port replicator connections. A high-performance video controller with 2MB of video memory supports the TravelMate 6050's extremely bright active-matrix color screen.
At 12 by 9 by 2 inches, the 6050 is only fractionally larger than most value-priced notebooks. Its 6.4-pound travel weight (including charger and cord) makes it much lighter than comparable portables, including the latest members of the popular Toshiba Tecra line.
In addition to its weight, performance and battery life are also surprising. This notebook's 4-amp lithium ion battery performed for 2.75 hours on several occasions without recharging. During battery rundown tests, the 6050 consistently turned in results between 2.9 and 3.0 hours. If battery life is a concern, an optional second battery ($199) fits into the same bay as the 6X CD-ROM and 3.5-inch drive (such modularity is common on current notebooks). TI uses a magnesium plate, not a fan, to dissipate heat out the back of the system. This design helps extend the battery life as well.
The 6050's keyboard is large enough for comfortable use over extended periods. Although the touch seems a trifle soft, the keys are positioned nicely.
The TravelMate 6000 Series also includes an integrated palm rest and uses a pointing device called The Point, which is identical to Accutrack and other pointers. Controlled by a single, large oval-shaped button and a smaller rectangular button, both located in the middle of the palm rest, The Point's position does not interfere with routine typing.
TI's attention to detail is evident. The release buttons for the battery and drive bay are on opposite sides of the case, so you don't have to close the notebook and turn it upside down to release the drives or access the battery. Even the battery compartment is clearly labeled. The on/off switch, PCMCIA bays, power connection port and PS/2 port are conveniently located on the computer's left side. I found, however, that the cover lock needed more force than usual to open.
A 16-bit audio subsystem and two internal stereo speakers are among the notebook's multimedia features. The audio quality is good, and there's enough power to adequately project sound in limited settings.
Given the outstanding feature set of this notebook, its performance tested below average. The processor turned in a sluggish three-pass average of only 247MIPS, with hard disk throughput performance of only 2.03MB per second. Its video system exhibited a mere 4.63Mpixel-per-second throughput. Worse yet, our benchmark results were a glacial 50.33 seconds for both our 32-bit Excel and Word application macros. The problem stems from TI's core logic, which inserts a wait state in memory accesses. The company only recently became aware of this unfortunate glitch and will make a software BIOS upgrade available, which should boost performance by about 20 percent.
While I liked the graphics appearance on this screen's 800x600-pixel resolution, overall performance did not surpass other 150MHz Pentium notebooks. The 6050 can be used with PCMCIA cards that support Zoomed Video, allowing you to play full screen images at 30 frames a second.
Although it comes loaded with Windows 95, the 6050 can also run Windows NT 4.0 Workstation.
Since the TravelMate 6050 falls short of the performance offered by the Dell Latitude XPi CD P150ST, already on our Recommended List, it does not earn a spot alongside the Dell.
I think I'll pass on the TravelMate 6050 for now. More's the pity, since with some tweaking of memory and a replacement of the slow hard drive, this could have been a great notebook computer. If TI fixes these problems, it'll be well worth considering.