Intellect Pronote 5760
It is difficult to get excited about the rather drab-looking Pronote 5760. It follows the increasingly popular trend of using a silver chassis and has a semi-translucent keyboard, but it falls short of the stylish Vaio and Acer models.
However, it is one of the better-equipped notebooks. It uses a 2GHz central processing unit and has 1GB of double data rate 2 (DDR2) 533 RAM, one of the fastest memories available. It also has an 80GB Fujitsu hard drive with a 5,400rpm spin-speed for fast access times.
Notably, it has an integrated Express Card slot, as well as a standard Type 2 PC Card slot. Currently there aren’t any expansion cards available for this, but it helps make the notebook slightly more future-proof than many of its rivals.
The Pronote 5760’s strong connectivity features are helped by the inclusion of a full-sized FireWire port, which provides devices with power as well as data. This means users will be able to charge the battery of supporting devices such as an iPod, while accessing any stored files. Unfortunately there are only three USB ports, so customers may need to buy a USB hub if they have a large number of peripherals. Like other laptops of a similar type, the Pronote has considerable wireless capabilities and is compatible with all three current 802.11x wireless network standards.
Given its solid core spec, users might expect the Pronote 5760 to have a separate graphics card. Intellect has instead used the integrated Intel graphics chip, which may limit its appeal.
On the positive side though, the Pronote 5760 had one of the longest battery lives around. It lasted three hours, 17 minutes, which was an impressive feat. This is one of the better models around. It lacks the aesthetic appeal of some of its rivals, but it is fast, functional, and well-priced.
Laptop: HP Compaq NC6120
Unlike the notebooks in Hewlett-Packard’s (HP’s) consumer range, the business-oriented NC6120 has a rather sober design. It is reminiscent of an IBM Thinkpad notebook, with its keyboard and mouse touchpad paying particular homage.
Some useful security functions are included, such as support for the Trusted Platform Module, which can encrypt data and demand user authentication before starting Windows. This limits the chances of unauthorised users accessing data should the notebook be lost or stolen. The NC6120 also incorporates the HP Mobile Data Protection System, which cushions the hard disk from potentially damaging shocks or harsh vibrations.
A 1.73GHz central processing unit is more than adequate for its intended uses, but it is perhaps surprising that HP supplied 512MB of double data rate (DDR) 333 RAM. The quantity isn’t a problem, but by not using DDR2 RAM, HP has failed to take advantage of Sonoma’s superior memory capabilities.
Fortunately, most business users won’t notice this drawback. Likewise, its integrated graphics should be fine for its target audience. Whereas the previous generation of integrated graphics chips were capable of running little more than Solitaire, the NC6120 will happily run DirectX 9 games such as Far Cry, albeit at a low resolution.
The NC6120 has excellent connectivity, offering both parallel and serial I/O ports, so the laptop is compatible with any ageing printers, scanners or mice. Oddly, there are no PS/2 ports, but there are four USB ports, a mini FireWire one and two PC Card slots.
It is not the best example of a next-generation Centrino notebook, but it is ideal for business users who want a reasonably priced machine that has good data-protection facilities.
Linux: Mandrakelinux Powerpack 10.1
French company Mandrakesoft almost disappeared last year, heading towards bankruptcy. Fortunately, it managed to pull through, and the company continues to sell its Mandrake Linux product line. This is the latest boxed Powerpack 10.1 edition.
Like Fedora, Mandrake Linux was originally based on Red Hat Linux, but the connection and similarity has all but disappeared.
It now shares a similar market with SuSE: a general environment, suitable for servers, workstations and home PCs, although Mandrake’s offering is slightly more home-desktop orientated than its long-running competitor. The Powerpack comes with two high-quality printed manuals and six CDs. Unfortunately, there isn’t a DVD included. This was particularly noticeable when adding a piece of software required four CD changes.
The installation is reasonably easy to perform. Its appearance is somewhat ugly and dated, especially compared to Fedora’s, but it gets the job done. The partitioner makes good, sensible decisions and supports a variety of configurations, although it does not allow for software RAID.
A selection of package types is offered, such as games and development tools and the default selections are well-chosen. The system can be set to auto-login as a user, complete with a picture, similar to Windows. After the packages are installed, there is an option to download the latest updates.
Once booted up, the graphical system starts smoothly. nVidia and ATI drivers are already included, making life easier and giving good performance. Mandrake has always favoured the Kool Desktop Environment (KDE) desktop and there’s no exception here. The Galaxy theme Mandrake uses is pleasant, although it is not quite up to Fedora’s or SuSE’s efforts. The Gnome desktop is provided on the CDs should users prefer to use that instead.
A good basic set of applications is provided, meaning the menus are clean and easy to navigate. Oddly, Mozilla is not installed by default, and Mozilla Firefox is not available at all. Plug-ins for Flash, Java and PDFs are all ready to use.
For multimedia use it is impressive: mp3s and other popular music formats play perfectly and even mpeg4 video (such as Divx) plays without a hitch. Generally there are applications ready to run any kind of standard file, making Mandrake a great choice for beginners to Linux.
System configuration can be performed with the centralised utility Drakconf. Here there are various options for controlling hardware, the network, users and software. Drakconf is an elegant piece of software and there are no problems making changes with it. The update procedure was slow but completely straightforward: updates are divided into three categories, and each one has a description of the problem fixed.
However, there were disappointments. Removable hardware support appeared very limited: nothing happened when inserting a USB pen drive, even though the device is fully supported by the operating system (OS).
When a Bluetooth device was plugged in there was no response, although a utility was hidden away on the discs that would enable its use. Updating the kernel (the core of the OS) has to be performed manually, something not attractive to new users. There is no easy access to network shares from the desktop or any way to configure Windows shares. Plenty of server software is provided, but there are few utilities to make configuring these simple.
Mandrake Linux is available in several versions, including a free-to-download edition. The Powerpack edition retails at £79 (about £55) and includes 60 days’ web support. Also available is the three-disc Discovery edition at £44 (£30), although this lacks a large amount of useful software, even when compared with the free version. A 64bit version is available, but cannot be downloaded free of charge.
Reviews first published in Personal Computer World.
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