Take the next speed step

Thankfully, notebook cooling systems have improved a great deal via the re-engineering of air vents, heatsinks, fans and the introduction of innovative pipe systems, resulting in the fastest notebook to enter the PC World Test Centre - the Gateway Solo 9300xl Deluxe - sporting a blazing 850MHz CPU. Other systems with speeds ranging from 600 to 800MHz were supplied by Compaq, Dell, IBM, NEC, Pioneer Computers, Sharp and Toshiba.

These latest mobile processors are manufactured using a 0.18-micron die size, reducing the physical size of the chip and producing less heat. These chips add performance-enhancing features such as 256KB of on-die L2 cache and 100MHz bus speeds, boding well for power-hungry users. Intel is expected to up the ante to 1GHz in the first half of next year.

Coincidentally, as CPU power has increased, so, too, has screen size. Notebook computer manufacturers such as Gateway and Dell have many "desktop replacement"-type units that sport the biggest and best of everything. Screen sizes over 15in are not uncommon, nor are beefed-up graphics adapters, although the 16MB ATI featured in the Dell Inspiron is one of the biggest we've seen.

A typical notebook computer will usually ship with a 6-12GB drive while desktop replacement models boast capacities up to 20GB and showcase multiple-spindle configurations (i.e., more than one hard drive can be installed). The advent of smart, modular and hot-swappable drive bays also gives greater versatility than ever before - you can simply remove that tired CD-ROM drive and pop in a DVD drive or even a CD burner.

Battery life has also been tremendously improved - our battery tests show that, on average, a desktop replacement notebook with at least a 14.1in screen will last approximately 110 minutes. The technology used in these batteries is called Lithium-Ion and endurance is affected by the number of these cells in the battery. Some notebooks offer the option of installing more than one battery.

Intel's SpeedStep technology also improves portable system availability by stepping down CPU frequency speed and, in turn, the power consumption. User-configurable adjustments of screen brightness, hard drive activity and sleep modes settings also help extract as much portable life from the system as possible.

We tested battery life by first draining and then fully charging the battery, switching off all power-saving features, and then looping a "worse case scenario" batch file that continually worked the screen and spindle devices until death. To measure performance, background tasks were disabled then all notebooks were connected to mains power and tested using their native screen resolution with 16-bit colours, under Windows 98. We used PC WorldBench 2000 and SYSMark 2000 to gauge 2D business performance, and 3DMark 2000 to gauge 3D performance. In all cases, higher scores are better.

Sharp PC-AX20

IBM ThinkPad A20m

NEC Versa Lxi

Dell Inspiron 5000e

Toshiba Satellite Pro 4300

Compaq Armada M700

The heat is on - Pioneer Powerbook and Gateway Solo 9300xl Deluxe

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