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-- by Jim Forbes
Two new portable computers, namely the Fujitsu LifeBook 655Tx and the IBM ThinkPad 380D, aim to deliver fast performance to corporate users. Both employ the mobile computing version of Intel's 150MHz Pentium MMX processor, but the ThinkPad outpaces its competitor.
Fujitsu LifeBook 655Tx
In the past nine months, Fujitsu has launched several new machines, including the LifeBook 555T (see WinLab Reviews, April). The LifeBook 655Tx is the newest member of this family and, unlike most notebooks, ships standard with a docking station.
The 655Tx's configuration has been pared down to reduce travel weight. Standard components include a 150MHz Pentium MMX processor, 16MB of memory expandable to 80MB, 256KB of level 2 cache, a 1.3GB hard drive, a single Type II PCMCIA slot and a self-contained 33.6Kb-per-second modem. Serial, parallel, PS/2 and audio ports are also built in.
Unlike the ThinkPad, the Fujitsu lacks an internal 3.5-inch floppy disk drive. Instead, it provides an external drive that connects to a special port with a 9-inch cable. Without the floppy disk drive, the notebook weighs only 4.4 pounds. With the drive, power supply and cables, the total weight is slightly more than 5.5 pounds-which still makes the 655Tx a good travel companion. The notebook is also extraordinarily thin, measuring 1.2 by 11.7 by 9.2 inches.
The Fujitsu 655Tx's docking station duplicates external ports; it adds an internal 8X CD-ROM and 3.5-inch disk drive, as well as a MIDI port and two small stereo side-mounted speakers. The notebook can be easily mated to the docking station with or without its extra battery, which attaches to the bottom of the system case. The docking station measures 1.12 by 11.7 by 10.5 inches and weighs 3.6 pounds.
The 655Tx uses a touchpad and a standard notebook keyboard layout. The keys have approximately 3mm of travel, but feel somewhat mushy. The ThinkPad's keyboard wins this matchup.
The 655Tx's lithium ion battery life is short-only 55 minutes. If you mount the second battery, set the power management to advanced and turn down the screen brightness, the total battery life is a more acceptable 1.9 hours, which is closer to the ThinkPad.
The 12.1-inch active-matrix color screen is very bright and displays crisp colors. However, the 655Tx has an effective resolution of 800x600 pixels at 16 bits per pixel (while it can be driven at 24 bits per pixel, its performance suffers). Most new notebooks with 12.1-inch screens-including the ThinkPad-can drive their panels at 1024x768 at 8 or 16 bits. An SVGA connector can be used to connect this notebook to external displays. The video controller used in the 655Tx is one of its weakest components when compared to other notebooks in the same price range.
This unit's processor performance was not on a par with other 150MHz Pentium MMX systems we've tested, and slightly below the ThinkPad's. Running our Wintune benchmarks, the Fujitsu 655Tx produced an average of 283.33MIPS. Its IBM/Toshiba 1.3GB hard disk had an average uncached throughput of 1.4MB per second. It took 20.33 seconds and 13.66 seconds, respectively, to run our 32-bit Word and Excel macros.
The Fujitsu 655Tx is a good-looking computer with a great screen, weight and overall size. However, this notebook is deficient in important areas such as battery life and performance.
IBM ThinkPad 380D
The $3,899 IBM ThinkPad 380D beta we tested is at the high end of a new three-member family. It includes a 150MHz Intel MMX processor, a 12.1-inch active-matrix TFT screen, an IBM 2.1GB hard drive and a base memory configuration of 16MB (expandable to 48MB). The notebook comes with standard external connections, including one serial, one parallel, an external XGA video connector and two Type II PCMCIA slots.
Other noteworthy features include an IrDA4 infrared transceiver and a dual disk-drive module, which houses a 3.5-inch floppy disk drive and an 8X CD-ROM drive.
The 380D's Lexmark keyboard has a tactile response superior to that of its competitors. In addition, the notebook provides an integrated palm rest with two paddle switches for the TrackPoint III pointing device.
The ThinkPad's 12.1-inch active-matrix color screen is reasonably bright, and the video controller has the muscle to quickly paint pixels for presentations. The native display resolution is 800x600 pixels at 8 bits. The notebook supports Zoomed Video and has external connections for audio and a microphone. The audio chip used in this portable unit is 16-bit SoundBlaster-compatible, though its speaker leaves much to be desired. No modem is included. There are two optional PCMCIA modems: a 33.6Kbps and a 56Kbps.
All members of this ThinkPad line have the same dimensions-2.3 by 11.8 by 9.2 inches. The 380D has a travel weight of 7 pounds including its power supply. In our tests, the notebook's lithium ion battery delivered just over two hours of battery life, which is better than that of similar notebooks equipped with 150MHz processors and 12.1-inch active-matrix screens.
The unit we examined was a prototype system, and it was evident that some of its subsystems had yet to be tuned. In the past, the shipping versions of IBM ThinkPads have tested much better than the prototypes.
When running on our Wintune benchmarks, the 380D delivered 296MIPS and 1.5MBps uncached disk throughput. Average times to execute our Word and Excel macros were 19 seconds and 12 seconds, respectively.
IBM's design for the ThinkPad is growing old, but the company is staying abreast of new technology. For instance, the 380D's 2.1GB hard drive performs as well as, if not better than, IBM's older 1.3GB storage system. The 380D also offers sound performance, rock-solid construction and a modest price.
And the winner is ...
When you look at these two machines side by side, it's hard not to prefer the Fujitsu 655Tx's compelling package to the ThinkPad's more familiar design. However, we'd opt for the ThinkPad given its better feature set, performance and price. The ThinkPad replaces the previous WinList favorite, the Hitachi M-120T, because the 380D provides a faster MMX processor and has a clearer, larger screen that supports XGA video output.