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-- by James Alan Miller
Movie studios value directors who deliver action-packed films with lots of special effects-on a low budget. You want the same qualities from your notebook computer, the director of your data. WinBook Computer's FX notebook makes a strong case for the job.
WinBook is a company known for providing a lot of bang for the buck, and the FX is no exception. This 7.1-pound portable uses a powerful 133MHz Pentium CPU. It bundles 32MB of EDO RAM, expandable to 40MB. Other features include 256KB of synchronous-burst cache, an 8X TEAC CD-ROM drive and a 2GB removable Toshiba hard disk. Located behind a fold-out door on the rear left side of the system, the hard disk (and SIMM slots) are easy to reach. The FX, with two speakers in the front, has a good 16-bit Creative Labs Sound Blaster Vibra FM synthesis sound system.
WinBook bundles a ThinkPad-like eraser pointing device. For an extra $79, you can combine the eraser pointer with a trackpad. This lets you simultaneously access both devices, so you won't need to reboot should you tire of one. I preferred the eraser, as you don't get the accidental cursor movements common with some trackpads. The unit's keyboard is exceptional, with excellent feedback and full-size keys with 3mm travel. It has Windows 95 keys and a great function-key system. WinBook uses words rather than icons to better mark each key's second purpose.
The FX conserves PCMCIA slots in two ways: It includes a 33.6 internal modem, and it provides an extra wide area for PCMCIA slots. You can install either two Type II cards, or one Type II and one Type III (most laptops can't take more than one card when a Type III is installed)
At 2.15 by 11.3 by 8.98 inches, the FX is a relatively compact notebook. Its I/O ports include a serial, parallel ECP, external monitor, docking station, two PS/2 and one MIDI/game port, as well as the standard array of audio connectors and a 115Kb IrDA infrared port (you'll find faster 4Mbit IR ports in some other laptops)
I liked the unit's bright and clear 12.1-inch display. Its maximum resolution is 800x600 at 65,000 colors. Though some other systems offer you the same color depth at 1024x768, this screen fits in nicely with the unit's lower price. The rest of the video subsystem consists of 64-bit PCI architecture (Cirrus Logic 7548 1.35 chipset) with 2MB of standard DRAM (you'll find EDO or VRAM in FX's more expensive competitors). It uses software rather than hardware MPEG.
Like most current high-end laptops, the FX uses a modular bay for flexibility.
Located on the right side of the notebook, the bay holds either the floppy or CD-ROM drives, or an optional 39-watt battery. You must reboot when switching drives. The unit uses a 59W lithium ion main battery in a bay located in the front. The two bays have different form factors, so you can't use two of the more powerful batteries simultaneously. As of this writing, the only extra batteries available are of the 39W variety, as supplies of the main battery are currently limited. The unit gets excellent battery life for its class, rating 2.5 hours with power management disabled, and 3.5 hours with it enabled. The unit lasted for 2 hours and 32 minutes under a stringent battery rundown test with no power management. For comparison, the Sharp 9080 notebook reviewed in this issue lasted only 1 hour and 20 minutes.
The WinBook's performance compares very favorably to the notebooks in its category on our Recommended List. Under Wintune, it earned a raw score of 245MIPS for the CPU, 1.5MB per second for uncached hard disk throughput and a very good 8.33Mpixels per second for video. The application benchmark times averaged a respectable 24 seconds for Word and an excellent 16.67 seconds for Excel. The NEC Versa 6030H, for instance, scored 242MIPS, 1.73MB per second uncached disk throughput and 6.13Mpixels per second video throughput; its average macro times were 18 and 30 seconds for Excel and Word, respectively. The NEC comes with a similar 12.1-inch display, a smaller 1.35GB hard disk and a slower 6X CD-ROM drive. However, it has MPEG hardware rather than software. The Versa 6030H may be a little lighter at 6.9 pounds, but it doesn't offer the PC Card flexibility of the FX. Furthermore, NEC's built-in modem is a 28.8 compared to the WinBook's 33.6.
Since the FX compares so well with its competitors, it replaces the NEC on our Recommended List. The battery life and excellent keyboard are key factors, but the clincher is the price, which is $500 less than the Versa 6030H. In addition, the FX is sturdy, a good performer and comfortable to use, characteristics that more than make up for WinBook's cost-cutting measures.
Copyright (c) 1997 CMP Media Inc.