Lightweights deliver heavyweight results

Lightweights deliver heavyweight results

Toshiba's 3.4 pound (1.5kg) Portégé 3440CT notebook and Fujitsu's even lighter-weight LifeBook B-2131 deliver a hardware punch that belies their subnotebook size. Both are ideal for travellers who need to access e-mail and use Windows apps but who don't want to lug around a heavy notebook.

My preproduction $US2499 Portégé 3440CT came with a crisp 11.3 inch active-matrix display, a mobile Pentium III-500 processor, a 6GB hard drive, 64MB of SDRAM, an S3 Savage/IX graphics accelerator with 8MB of integrated video memory, and a built-in 56Kbps modem. The lithium ion battery lasted about two hours on a single charge. For an extra $459, you can add a high-capacity battery slice that provides an astonishing eight-plus hours of power but also nearly doubles the unit's thickness and weight. The standard OS is Windows 98, but you can request Windows 2000.

The 3.1 pound (1.4kg) Fujitsu LifeBook B-2131 costs $500 less than the Portégé 3440CT, but it has a slower Celeron-400 CPU and a less impressive Trident Cyber 9525 DVD video chip set with 2.5MB of video memory. Its 10.4 inch active-matrix touch screen is glare-prone but allows you to use a stylus instead of a joystick pointing device. The LifeBook also comes with 64MB of SDRAM and a 6GB hard drive. Its lithium ion battery lasted only about two hours in my informal tests with a shipping unit, however. Fujitsu preloads either Windows 98 SE or Windows 2000.

The differences between these two portables become apparent when you put the machines to real-world use. Consider keyboard design: the Fujitsu's keyboard is noticeably more comfortable to type on than the Portégé's - offering more spring and superior user feedback - even though its keys are slightly smaller.

Regrettably, what the LifeBook B-2131 adds in user comfort it subtracts in awkward key placement. For example, "Delete" is a half-size key above "Backspace", and the notebook-specific "Fn" key sits where we expect to find "Ctrl" - making typing errors all too easy.

These ultraportables pack an amazing number of conventional notebook ports: two USB ports, one PC Card slot, and an ethernet port on the Fujitsu; one USB port and two PC Card slots on the Toshiba. But with either unit, you still must carry the included sub-3 ounce (85g) external port replicator if you want PS/2, serial, or parallel ports (or an Ethernet port for the Toshiba). Each notebook comes with an external floppy drive.

Not surprisingly-in light of its beefier CPU-the Portégé turned in noticeably zippier performance in my informal tests: still, the LifeBook performed most business tasks quite satisfactorily.

Both the LifeBook and the Portégé are high-quality portables that fit easily in an attaché case or suitcase. The Portégé is not great value, however, since you have to pay $578 more for the external CD-ROM drive.the bottom lineFujitsu LifeBook B-2131Pro:- -l Has an integrated modem and an Ethernet portCon-: l Bright but glare-prone touch screen; comfortable keyboard is marred by poor key placementValu--------e: Power, low price make for excellent subnotebook value.

Plat--forms: Windows 98 or Windows 2000 Professional pre-installed.

Price: Available on application from the Web site.

Fujitsu Australia: (02) 9776 bottom lineToshiba Portégé 3440CTPro:- -l -Large screen for a subnotebook; strong performanceCon-: l Price doesn't cover external CD-ROM drive, and unit requires special (and costly) port replicatorValue: Strong product, but extras cost too much.

Platforms: Windows 98/2000.

Price: $4400 RRP or available from websiteToshiba: 1800 680

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