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-- by Cynthia Morgan
They say you get only what you pay for, but CTX makes two notebooks that at least partially disprove that old maxim. The CTX Ez750MT and Ez764MT, 150- and 166MHz Intel Pentium MMX notebooks at $2,599 and $3,249, respectively, are loaded with features normally found in higher-priced models. Though minor design flaws keep these machines from making our WinList, they're still reasonable choices if you're a budget-minded power user, particularly if you need fast video and multimedia action on the road.
The systems are virtually identical except for processor speed, hard drive size and memory. Both notebooks come with a nickel metal hydride battery, which lasted a little more than 3 hours in our battery rundown test. CTX loads each system with Windows 95, Microsoft Plus and ClarisWorks, an integrated office suite. Each machine comes with 256KB cache, a 16-bit Creative Labs Vibra audio system, two Type II PCMCIA slots, headphones, a touchpad, a game controller/joystick and a segmented carryall that's big enough to hold a drawer full of files. The 750, with the 150MHz Pentium MMX chip, offers 16MB of EDO DIMM RAM and a 1GB hard drive. The 764's $600 difference gets you the faster 166MHz MMX processor, 40MB of DRAM and a 1.3GB hard drive; this system would be our first choice.
Both systems connected smoothly to our NT 4.0 test network on the first try and had no problem with a PCMCIA card we tried. However, they did have trouble accepting PS/2 mice from Microsoft and Logitech, and the notebooks had to be reconfigured before they could use the mice. One evaluation system arrived with power supply problems and had to be returned; its replacement worked well.
These are modular mobiles. Slip out the battery and add the included floppy disk drive, perfect for desktop use when you don't need a battery. The CD-ROM is also removable, which should make upgrades easier. Unfortunately, the unit does not include the parallel connector that would let you use the floppy disk drive while charging the battery inside the notebook. An external charger is optional.
These notebooks' 12.1-inch TFT displays were sharp and clear, with good color but slight fading at the edges of the screen. A NeoMagic 128-bit PCI graphics accelerator with 1.5MB of VRAM powers the display, offering 800x600 resolution in 16-bit color on the notebook screen, or 1024x768 with 256 colors externally. It supports MPEG I for faster video playback.
The keyboard sits behind the trackpad and has a near-desktop feel, although it is slightly too clickety for our tastes. CTX chose a notebook key arrangement that puts the function key at the bottom-left corner, where you'd normally expect to find the Ctrl key. That may be irritating if you regularly use Ctrl-key shortcuts and frequently move between this notebook and a desktop computer. However, if you buy the CTX as your sole PC, you'll quickly get used to this key-placement scheme.
The L-shaped power connector either interferes with the adjacent PCMCIA card bays or slips under the notebook and keeps it from lying flat on the table. A straight-in power connection farther away from the PCMCIA bays might have been a better design choice. The hinged doors covering the ports were flimsier than we'd like; they were somewhat difficult to close and likely to break off with rough handling. Other controls, such as the power switch, mouse buttons, component locks and PCMCIA eject buttons, were easy to operate.
The Ez764MT's performance was about average for a 166MHz Pentium machine, desktop or notebook, but its 31Mpixel-per-second video score was actually much faster than that of its competitor, the Dell Latitude LM M166ST-it's a more-than-respectable score for many desktop machines. The Ez764MT's scores on our new application tests were 77 seconds for Word, 198 seconds for Excel and 22.31 minutes for the DeBabelizer Pro/Photoshop/MMX script. Corresponding scores for the Ez750MT were 87 seconds for Word, 222 seconds for Excel and 26.18 minutes for the MMX script, confirming our belief that the faster Ez764MT is easily the better buy for the long term.
While these notebooks cost several hundred dollars less than many rival systems, neither matches the combination of performance and design excellence of the Dell Latitude LM M166ST or the IBM ThinkPad 380D, our closest WinList recommended product. Still, if you're looking for a value-priced multimedia portable, you'd do well to check out these notebooks.