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-- by Amy Helen Johnson
The Compaq Presario 1080 multimedia notebook is like the ugly-duckling cousin that your grandmother predicts will grow into a swan. This second-generation portable design, based on Compaq's popular multimedia home-desktop line, has swan potential. However, Compaq has to tailor the machine's feature set to the home audience it wants to attract-as well as provide more value for the dollar-before it can hope to rate with the likes of competitor Dell's Latitude LM M166ST (see WinLab Reviews, May)
Compaq has done a nice job of shrinking the Presario's renowned multimedia capabilities into the portable 1080. It includes a built-in 10X CD-ROM, full-motion MPEG video and gorgeous 16-bit stereo sound piped through integrated speakers, powered by a 166MHz Intel Pentium MMX processor and 16MB of RAM. The 1080 also features a 1.44GB hard drive, a built-in 3.5- inch disk drive and a 12.1-inch SVGA TFT display. It has every connection you need for a standalone setup: parallel and serial ports, a bundled 33.6Kb-per-second modem, headphone and microphone jacks, a PCMCIA slot, external monitor and keyboard ports, and a MIDI port. Unfortunately, those capabilities come at the price of a few ounces; the Presario 1080 tips the scales at 7.5 pounds, while the Dell weighs in at only 6.9 pounds.
The software bundle, on the other hand, is lightweight, centering around Microsoft Works instead of the more useful Office package. The multimedia utilities-CD and video players-and communications programs are well chosen for the home market.
Ironically, the Presario 1080 is a better machine for business than the home. The $4,199 price tag, more than twice that of a comparable desktop system, won't cause a corporation to gulp. The only missing element is an Ethernet connection, which is easily added via the PCMCIA slot. The Presario's 166MHz MMX chip and 16MB of memory provide sufficient power to run common productivity applications with pep, despite a grade-B showing on our benchmark tests when compared to the Latitude's A+ speed marks.
The Presario's Wintune 97 scores were 317MIPS, 25MB-per-second cached disk throughput and a 21Mpixel-per-second-video throughput. Application performance was significantly worse than the Dell's: 33 seconds for our Word macro, 43 seconds for Excel and 25.85 minutes for our DeBabelizer Pro/Photoshop/MMX script. By comparison, the Dell's scores were 326MIPS, a 23MBps cached disk throughput and a 23Mpixel-per-second video throughput. Its average times for our application macros were 14 seconds for Word, 11 seconds for Excel and 22.78 minutes for the MMX script.
On our battery rundown test, with power management disabled and constant disk access, the Presario managed to squeeze 1 hour, 37 minutes from its lithium ion battery. This is about average for a 166MHz Pentium notebook and should translate to more than 2 hours in normal use.
The Presario has a few nervous tics. The cursor jumps around like a hungry jackrabbit. The placement of the glidepad-centered between the notebook's left and right sides instead of relative to the F and J keys-means that your right hand hovers over the pad. If you drop your right wrist, you can send the cursor on a wild and unplanned journey, accidentally deleting large chunks of text or launching unwanted applications.
Its other quirk is a lack of LEDs to indicate important events, such as low battery, keyboard status and Caps Lock. Instead, it uses hard-to-read stationary icons on an LCD display that measures only 1.63 inches wide and 0.25 inch high, tucked into the bottom of the display. There is a beep for low battery, but, as we learned, it's not much help when you mute the sound.
Compaq has much to do on this work in progress. The Presario 1080's only outstanding feature is its beautiful sound. Its performance is unexceptional, it's heavy, and it costs about $700 more than the Dell Latitude LM M166ST.