Leo BabyNet PC

The Leo BabyNet PC made a stay in our Test Centre this month amid comments of "oh, that's pretty" and "ooh, what's that?" from curious co-workers. Its appearance is nowhere near that of the traditional beige box, and neither is its internal design. The Leo BabyNet PC attempts to make using a PC a straightforward task by eliminating legacy devices such as serial ports, parallel ports, PCI slots and ISA slots. For connectivity, five USB ports are at your disposal, two located on the front panel of the system for easy access. The BabyNet also has a standard VGA port on its rear end as well as built-in modem and Ethernet connections. A floppy drive ships with the system, which is not built-in and uses a USB connection.

The BabyNet's oval shape is unique, to say the least, and its colour scheme follows closely on the trails left by the blazing iMac - it is available in five flavours (or colours) and implements translucency. And the translucency is not limited to the main unit, as all peripherals, including the monitor, sport see-through designs. The monitor, however, has a familiar beige bezel, which does seem oddly out of place with the rest of the system. The BabyNet is not an all-in-one unit, and the monitor and speakers enjoy freedom from the main unit. This is not a bad idea, as it gives you the flexibility of perhaps attaching a larger monitor or more powerful speakers in the future. By getting rid of all the legacy support, the size of the unit has been reduced, and, barring notebooks, how many PCs can you lift with only one hand? Well, the BabyNet is one of them. The power supply has also moved out of the PC enclosure, with electricity provided via an external 60Watt transformer.

It is a non-user serviceable unit; with the exception of the hard drive and the memory, nothing can be added or upgraded. The CD-ROM drive is located on the front panel of the system and the lid flips up to allow you to insert a disk. This design does leave the sensitive laser pick-up system exposed to the elements or accidental contact when it is open.

To access the internal components, you need to slide the chassis of the system out of its case from the front. This reveals only one memory slot, which is occupied by a 32MB stick, and gives the system a maximum memory capacity of 128MB. The 6.4GB hard drive can be removed quite easily to add more gigabytes. The legacy free motherboard is based on AMD's Easy Now! platform and houses a 450MHz AMD K6-2 processor in its Socket 7 slot.

One of the more exciting features of the Leo BabyNet is the implementation of a home phone line networking device, which allows you to network your computers by simply plugging them into your existing phone sockets.

For our benchmarking tests we used PC WorldBench 98 to gauge 2D-application performance and 3DMark 99 Max to test 3D performance. In PC WorldBench 98 a score of 139 was achieved, roughly comparable to a 300MHz Celeron computer, while in 3DMark 99 Max the system was a no-show, scoring a mere 326 points. It's a great little unit for getting on the Internet or for using a few office applications. During the course of the tests we did notice that the supplied 15in Leo monitor suffered from terrible regulation, that is, every time a new window was opened or closed the screen would give the illusion of moving in and out. The elimination of legacy devices is designed to reduce the loading time of the system, although it still took us 120 seconds to get up and running.

One of the features that makes this PC so user-friendly is the single button on top of the unit which can be used to turn it off, without needing to navigate to a shut-down menu, although it seemed that this button only put the computer to ‘sleep', rather than turning it off completely. Also adding to the user-friendliness is a start-up poster, which illustrates and ex-plains how to set up the BabyNet PC quickly. Unfortunately, half of this guide was printed in a language other than English, but because the only peripherals you need to plug in are all USB, there is little to no chance of making a blunder. Simply plug the keyboard into one of the front-loading USB ports, attach the mouse to the keyboard, plug in the floppy, attach the monitor and speakers, hook up the modem cable and give it some power. This PC is meant to be as easy to set up and use as any other home appliance.

The Leo BabyNet PC represents a new era of legacy-free computing and is aimed at helping newbies join the PC revolution. For $1699 you get a computer with all the basic requirements, but the one-year warranty is a little skimpy.

Leo BabyNet PC

Price: $1699

Distributor: Retravision (selected stores)Phone: (02) 9745 1133URL: www.retravision.com.au

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Elias Plastiras
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