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-- by James Alan Miller
Sharp mixes a lot of features into its new PC-9080 and comes up with a well-designed, high-end notebook. On the whole, you'll find the 9080 is a reliable, solid travel companion. But even its great feature mix probably doesn't warrant the $4,999 price tag.
A 133MHz Intel Pentium processor drives the 9080. You can expand its memory from the standard 16MB of EDO RAM to a maximum of 48MB. Like many laptops in the upper price echelon, it contains 256KB of pipeline-burst cache. In addition, the PC-9080 includes a 6X CD-ROM drive, a touchpad and a 1.3GB removable 2.5-inch hard disk.
This notebook's most commendable features are its active-matrix display and sound system. Although 13.3-inch displays are becoming available, the 9080's 12.1-inch screen should satisfy all but the most demanding user. It should consume less power than the larger screens, a plus for the often power-deprived traveler. Next to those 13.3-inch displays, this is the best display I've seen on a laptop. It's extremely bright, which is no surprise, since Sharp employs what it calls "Super High Aperture" screen technology. This promises 50 percent brighter screens and better color gradation over older-generation displays, while lowering power consumption by up to 38 percent.
The results are impressive. The display supports resolutions up to 1024x768, and the video subsystem can handle this resolution simultaneously on an external monitor. Also, you get up to 65,000 colors at 1024x768. The 9080 supports 800x600 in color depths up to true-color mode.
Unfortunately, when I changed to lower resolutions, the picture filled up only part of the screen. Sharp says the problem is peculiar to my review unit. If you plan to buy the 9080, test it to be sure it meets your needs. The rest of the video subsystem comprises a 64-bit S3 video accelerator chip, PCI architecture, 2MB of video memory and a standard VGA port, as well as S-input and video connectors.
As for sound, the 9080 has good Sound Blaster 16-compatible sound, adequate (for a notebook) speakers, a built-in microphone, an external volume control, and in, out and mike stereo jacks.
The system features modular bays, an increasingly common feature in high-end notebooks, so you can swap the CD-ROM drive for the floppy drive or a second lithium ion battery (optional). You get one battery with the unit that promises up to 2.5 hours of life and takes around 3 hours to charge. Under a stressful power test with no power management enabled and continuous hard disk access, the battery lasted 1 hour and 21 minutes. With power management, it should approach the rated time. Sharp bundles the power brick inside the unit; all you need to do is plug in the unobtrusive AC adapter cord. The 9080 weighs a heavy 7.5 pounds, which is in line with other notebooks of this caliber. Though you get an internal 28.8 fax modem, you might expect a 33.6 at this price. It has a high-speed 4Mb-per-second IrDA port, and one Type III or two Type II PCMCIA slots that support Zoomed video.
The 9080's performance was disappointing. Under our WINDOWS Magazine Wintune benchmarks, it cranked out 245MIPS and a poor 1.4MB-per-second uncached hard disk throughput. Video performance was quite good, at 8.93Mpixels per second. Its average real-world application macro times, 25.33 seconds for Word and 24.33 seconds for Excel, fall a bit short of similar units on our Recommended List. For example, the Dell Latitude XPi CD P150ST has marks of 17 seconds for Word and 19.33 seconds for Excel, while the Dell Latitude LM P133ST's marks are 16.67 and 15 seconds, respectively, and the Hewlett-Packard OmniBook 800CT's scores are 17.66 seconds for Word and 16 seconds for Excel.
Despite its outstanding screen, this Sharp notebook does not make our Recommended List. Though the CPU is powerful and you get a decent amount of RAM and a good-sized hard disk, several notebooks on our Recommended List in the same category improve on any one or all three of these features. The Dell Latitude XPi CD P150ST delivers a faster 150MHz CPU and a larger 2GB hard disk (but the same amount of RAM) for a few hundred dollars less. Dell's Latitude LM P133ST has the same 133MHz processor and a much smaller hard disk, but you get a whopping 40MB of memory for only $3,299. The 9080 compares more favorably to the Austin Edge Duet, which has twice the amount of bundled memory but the same size hard disk and CPU. You should expect a dramatic price drop from all these systems once the 150MHz and 166MHz MMX laptops hit full production. (Prices for the initial batch range from $4,900 to $6,000.)
For this configuration, the 9080 is too pricey, and it doesn't attain the same performance level of other notebooks in its category. But it's got some intriguing features going for it, especially the screen.
Copyright (c) 1997 CMP Media Inc.