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-- by John M. Cummings
Mobile users itching for higher bandwidth need wait no more. Acer/Texas Instruments addresses this persistent and persnickety problem with its Extensa 660 notebooks. If you need high-speed networking or hardware MPEG II, or if you're an early adopter of FireWire (IEEE 1394) technology, you'll find the new 660s (along with Acer/TI's Extensa 900 series) to be unsurpassed by other laptops.
The Extensa 660CDT is built around an internal PCI bus and features an Intel 166MHz, MMX-enabled Pentium processor, 16MB of EDO RAM (expandable to 80MB), 256KB of level 2 cache and a 2.1GB removable hard drive. The NeoMagic MagicGraph 128ZV video-controller chip provides superb performance. There's 16-bit stereo sound with two integrated speakers. A modular bay accepts the included 10X CD-ROM drive or the floppy disk drive. The optional lithium ion secondary battery and magneto optical drive also fit in the modular bay. The Extensa 660CDT's SVGA (800x600 native resolution) 11.3-inch active-matrix screen, despite providing a bright and detailed image with good color rendition, is a bit small for a notebook in this price range. Acer/TI also offers an Extensa 660CD model for $3,299. It comes with a 12.1-inch dual-scan, passive-matrix display and a 1.35GB (nominal) hard drive.
Two stacked PCMCIA slots accept one Type III or two Type II devices simultaneously; the bottom slot supports Zoomed Video. Ports include parallel, serial, IrDA (4Mb per second), external monitor and PS/2. The 86-key keyboard is exceptionally comfortable to use and provides Win95-specific keys and 3mm of travel. It has a nice layout, with the cursor control keys in an inverted "T" arrangement at the bottom right. The touchpad (sloped for comfort and easy navigation) is located in the center of the palm rest with two control buttons below.
During our WinLab battery rundown test, with power management disabled and constant disk access, the Extensa 660CDT's nickel metal hydride battery lasted 2 hours and 1 minute-an exceptional score. You can expect about 3 hours for normal use with power management enabled. An even longer-lasting lithium ion battery is available as an option. Recharge time is 2 hours with the system off and 9 hours in use. The Extensa 660CDT weighs 6.9 pounds with its battery, about average for a notebook with a modular bay; it measures 2.1 by 11.9 by 9.5 inches.
The Extensa 660CDT performed exceptionally well on our Wintune benchmarks. It averaged 319MIPS, with 1.43MBps uncached disk throughput and a video throughput of 11.33Mpixels per second. Average times to execute our Word and Excel macros were 15.33 and 13.33 seconds, respectively. The Dell Latitude LM M166ST on our recommended WinList averaged a bit higher, with 326MIPS, a notable 4.46MBps uncached disk throughput and 13.33Mpixels per second video throughput. The WinList notebook blazed through our Word macro in an average of 14.22 seconds, and executed the Excel macro in an average time of 11.33 seconds.
Unique to the Extensa 660 and 900 series is a proprietary PCI Card connector that provides access to Acer/TI-branded peripherals for 100BaseT networking, hardware MPEG II video acceleration and FireWire connectivity. The upside is that Acer/TI provides a solution to the problem of high-bandwidth connectivity in a notebook; the downside is that its solution is proprietary and is probably more expensive than an open standard connection.
The Extensa 660CDT is a strong competitor of the Dell Latitude LM M166ST and other 166MHz MMX notebooks, such as Gateway 2000's Solo 2200 S5-166BB (see WinLab Reviews, May). The Dell Latitude's larger screen and unsurpassed performance give it the edge, and it keeps its spot on the WinList. However, if you've been waiting for a solution like the Extensa PCI Card connector, the wait is over.