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-- by Jonathan Blackwood
Life often involves compromises. But compromise on the wrong points, and the result pleases no one. So when I heard that Compaq had a new 120MHz Pentium Armada 1130T notebook with an active-matrix screen for less than $2,000, the first thing I thought to myself was, "What did they leave out?"
But first, the good news. This 120MHz Pentium notebook comes with 16MB of EDO RAM (expandable to 48MB), a 1GB Fujitsu hard disk, an active-matrix Super VGA display, an optical trackball, a built-in floppy drive and two Type II PCMCIA slots. Video is provided by a Cirrus CL-GD7548 chip and 1MB of memory. Ports include parallel, serial, PS/2 and external VGA. Software includes Windows 95, Microsoft Works, Astound CSE (a presentation program) and Netscape Personal Edition (an odd choice for a notebook with no standard modem). The 1130T measures 2.1 by 11.9 by 8.9 inches and weighs 6.1 pounds-call it 7 pounds with the AC adapter.
It's not hard to see what Compaq left out to meet the value-line price. There's no CD-ROM drive and no modular bay. There's no cover over the ports, and the battery is nickel metal hydride rather than lithium ion. There's no level 2 cache. There's no sound. And then there's that screen.
Granted, its active-matrix display provides crisp images and bright colors. But it measures only 10.4 inches, and its maximum 800x600 resolution on a screen that small yields tiny icons and difficult-to-read text. On a conventional monitor, the solution to such a problem would be easy: Change to a lower resolution. But on the 1130T, changing to 640x480 resolution yields a small image with a thick black border on all sides, so the icons and text are no larger.
Balancing this is the system's performance. On our Wintune 95 benchmarks, the Armada 1130T performed surprisingly well for a notebook in this class-especially one without a level 2 cache. Its processor racked up an average of 215.33MIPS. Its average video throughput measured 5.73Mpixels per second, and its average uncached disk throughput was 2.23MB per second. Average times to execute our Word and Excel macros were 36.33 and 25.67 seconds, respectively. For purposes of comparison, the 120MHz Hitachi M-120T on our Recommended List scored 216MIPS, 3.43Mpixels per second video throughput and 3.03MBps uncached disk throughput.
It completed our Word macro in 65.66 seconds and the Excel macro in 30 seconds-but the Hitachi model costs $1,700 more than the Compaq. The more similarly priced 100MHz Toshiba Satellite Pro 420CDT, at $2,499, scored 176MIPS, had an uncached hard disk throughput of 1.77MB per second and registered 4.77Mpixels per second video throughput. It completed our application tests in 62 seconds for the Word macro and 27.33 seconds for the Excel macro. The Compaq is no slouch in the performance department and, compared with these models, is much better priced.
The 1130T's keyboard has well-spaced keys with a pleasant tactile response, but it lacks the special Win95 keys. I also didn't like the arrangement of the keys. Because I do most of my work in Word, I prefer a keyboard that places the Ctrl key, which is used so often for keyboard shortcuts, where my fingers expect to find it-at the bottom left. On the Compaq, that's where the special Fn key resides. Also, though the inverted "T" cursor controls were on the bottom right where they belonged, the Insert, Delete, Page Up, Page Down, Home and End keys were in the top right. I continually had to search for the Delete key.
The 19mm optical trackball, however, is superb. Though trackpads seem to be sweeping the notebook arena due to their low cost, no maintenance and long life, a trackball like the 1130T's offers much better control and is a lot more comfortable to use. It's a nice touch.
Compaq would do well to switch to a lithium ion battery for this unit. Though the company claims up to 3 hours of battery life for the Armada 1130T, I averaged just 1 hour and 47 minutes on a charge on the nickel metal hydride unit with moderate power management.
The Suspend feature couldn't be easier to use: Just tap the power switch. Tap it a second time, and within 5 seconds, you're back at work. And when I deliberately let the battery run all the way down so that the system turned itself off, I found myself exactly where I left off when I plugged the machine in. There's a Status Panel located just above the keyboard, and it's tilted toward the user for easy reference.
Compaq provides a one-year warranty. Though it's a fine performer in its class, the Armada 1130T's relatively small screen and lack of sound or a CD-ROM drive keep it off our Recommended List. Walk down the aisles of your local computer superstore, and you'll find models within 10 percent of the Armada's price with larger, more readable screens, built-in sound and CD-ROM drives. Granted, you'll be looking primarily at dual-scan screens in this price range, but an 11.3-inch or larger dual-scan display is preferable to the tiny, high-res screen on the Armada1130T.
The Armada 1130T's combination of a relatively small, 10.4-inch screen and Super VGA (800x600) resolution results in tiny icons and difficult-to-read text.