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-- by Joseph C. Panettieri
If you're seeking a full-featured notebook to replace your desktop PC, put the Dell Latitude XPi CD M166ST on your short list of possible buys. This Sony-built 166MHz Intel MMX-enabled Pentium notebook combines impressive performance with a lengthy list of mobile and multimedia features. The only catches are its price ($4,599 as configured) and weight (more than 7 pounds)
The Latitude XPi CD M166ST comes with 16MB of EDO RAM, which is expandable to 80MB; the system we tested had 32MB. There's also an IBM 1.4GB (nominal) EIDE hard disk, upgradable to 3GB; our test system was 2.1GB. Other attractive features include a vivid 12.1-inch active-matrix SVGA display and an optical trackball, as well as a built-in floppy drive and 10X CD-ROM (most previous Latitude models offered a 6X CD-ROM drive). A PC Card slot supports up to two Type II PCMCIA cards simultaneously or one Type III and one Type II card simultaneously-a nice touch for multitasking road warriors.
Video is provided by NeoMagic's 128-bit MagicGraph128ZV video controller with 1.1MB of memory. Ports include parallel, video, PS/2, serial and docking. Software includes Windows 95, Sidekick 95, LapLink 95 and America Online. Options include Windows NT 4.0 with power management and Plug-and-Play features, Windows 3.x or Windows for Workgroups 3.11. The XPi CD M166ST measures 2.48 by 11.06 by 8.95 inches and weighs 7.26 pounds (not including the AC adapter, which brings total weight closer to 8 pounds)
Dell's new notebook is chock-full of bells and whistles. For multimedia buffs, it comes with the ESS 1888 audio chipset (which is Sound Blaster Pro-compatible), two full-range speakers and two tweeters. A spatializer component transmits sound in a wider arc, thereby giving it an impressive 3D quality-call it "notebook Surround Sound." Moreover, audio jacks, located on the left side panel of the notebook, let you listen to CD-quality sound via headphones. The jacks also let you attach external speakers or a microphone to the system.
Dell has also paid close attention to the XPi CD M166ST's design and keyboard layout. It offers 85 full-size 18.25mm keys, including special Win95 keys. We found the keyboard both comfortable and responsive. Even better, the system's ergonomic design includes a convenient palm rest, which makes typing during long airplane flights or business trips easy on your hands and wrists-as we discovered while testing this system on the road. Its optical trackball also impressed us. Even the dexterity-challenged should find the trackball a snap to use when it's time to point and click on menu choices or the very smallest of icons.
You get plenty of on-screen real estate for multitasking between numerous applications. The display offers almost as much viewing space as a 14-inch desktop monitor. We tested the system under glaring sunshine, as well as in near-total darkness during an evening airplane trip.
Its display was easily viewed in both environments.
Considering its price, you'd expect the notebook to offer impressive performance. For the most part, it does. On our Wintune benchmarks, the Latitude XPi CD M166ST performed admirably. Its processor cruised at an average 322MIPS-only 1MIPS slower than Dell's LM M166ST (see WinLab Reviews, May), which uses the same MMX-enabled microprocessor and is currently the top performer on our WinList. The XPi CD's average uncached disk throughput was an even more impressive 4.5MB per second.
In terms of video performance, however, the notebook just didn't keep pace with the competition. Its average video throughput was 18Mpixels per second, considerably slower than the 23Mpixels pumped out by its stablemate. It completed our Word macro in 19 seconds and our Excel macro in 14.33 seconds, also significantly slower than the Dell LM M166ST.
Overall, the XPi CD M166ST is slightly slower than our current WinList champ, the Dell LM M166ST. But if you're seeking a laptop that boasts both a CD-ROM and a floppy drive-and don't mind lugging around 7-plus pounds of notebook-the XPi CD M166ST warrants strong consideration.