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-- by James Alan Miller
Add the name "techmedia" to the long list of manufacturers offering mid-priced notebooks. The technote S3000 is an extremely portable, modular 133MHz Pentium laptop that starts at $2,499. The 1.88 by 11.8 by 8.65-inch S3000 weighs only 6.3 pounds, including CD-ROM drive, floppy drive and battery.
The technote S3000 ships with a case and 16MB of EDO RAM, expandable to 40MB. It has a 1.44GB hard disk, Sound Blaster Pro-compatible FM synthesis sound, a 12.1-inch display and a trackpad pointing device. The S3000 offers no external cache.
Increasing RAM is easy. Simply unscrew a small panel at the bottom of the unit, remove the cover and put in a new memory expansion module. Our unit came with 8MB of RAM on the system board and an 8MB module installed in the upgrade socket.
The 800x600-pixel, 65,000-color active-matrix display was disappointing. Its brightness wasn't up to the level of other mid-priced portables (like the WinBook FX on our WinList of recommended products). Its images, however, were clear and crisp. The S3000 uses the 64-bit PCI Chips and Technologies 65550 video accelerator with 1MB DRAM, and software rather than hardware MPEG playback.
Like many notebooks, the S3000 has a modular bay, where you can exchange the floppy drive for the CD-ROM drive. You can use both simultaneously by attaching the floppy drive to an external connector on the unit's rear, a trick the WinBook FX will not perform. Also included are a MIDI/game port, microphone, line-in and line-out jacks, a parallel and a 4Mbps IrDA port, and two external PS/2 ports. The Zoomed Video and 32-bit CardBus compatible PCMCIA slot holds either one Type III or two Type II cards. The S3000 keyboard is not quite as comfortable as that of the WinBook, but it's adequate and Windows 95-enhanced. The S3000's trackpad was prone to accidental cursor movements-the scourge of cheaper trackpads. Its activator buttons were at the top of the pad, out of your thumb's reach.
The S3000's performance on our real-world macros and Wintune benchmarks weren't up to the level of the WinBook FX. It earned marks of 241MIPS for the CPU, 2.33MB per second uncached disk throughput and 7.73Mpixels video throughput. Though the S3000 improves on the WinBook's 1.5MBps disk throughput score, it falls short of the FX's 8.33Mpixels per second video throughput.
The S3000 also took 2 seconds longer to execute our Word macro, and more than 4 seconds longer to finish our Excel macro. Quarterdeck's CD Certify PRO showed that the CD-ROM drive performed at its 6X level.
The S3000's Duracell nickel metal hydride battery performed poorly under our rundown test with power management disabled. Under the hard stress conditions of near continuous hard disk access, it lasted only 1 hour and 17 minutes.
The WinBook FX's lithium ion battery, on the other hand, lasted 2 hours and 32 minutes under the same test. An extra battery for the S3000 costs $80 (a much needed feature if you're a serious traveler)
Although the technote S3000 costs less than the WinBook FX, the disparity in price rapidly shrinks if you upgrade the S3000's feature set (CD-ROM drive, cache, hard disk, RAM and video memory) to match the WinBook's superior list of components. The WinBook also offers better overall performance, along with a 33.6Kb-per-second modem, features that prevent the S3000 from replacing the WinBook on our WinList of recommended products.
The mid-priced notebook category is a crowded field. Though the technote S3000 has some nice features, its relatively dim screen, short battery life, slow CD-ROM drive and undistinguished performance fail to make it stand out. And as prices continue to fall, chances are one of the new MMX-enabled, 166MHz Pentium notebooks will be available in this price range in short order.
The S3000 offers a 12.1-inch display, a 1.44GB hard disk, 16MB of EDO RAM and a 6X CD-ROM drive.