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Widescreen Notebooks: More Than Just Expensive DVD Players?


Our tests made one thing clear: notebooks with a widescreen display are not only geared for watching DVDs and videos. For everyday work use in an office application environment when you have several windows and applications open at once, you will quickly learn to appreciate the wider display and greater resolution.

Depending on the graphics chip used in the device, notebook computers can also be used as gaming PCs. Acer's TM8103WLMi is definitely best suited for this purpose, the graphics subsystem of which is based on the Ati MRX700. Above and beyond that, however, Acer has packed all the technology into its machine that makes notebook life worth living, despite its hefty price. However, not everybody is going to be willing to spend $1900/€2500 for an extremely well-equipped notebook, especially one with a not-so-robust-looking display lid and relatively poor screen brightness.

If you seek stability, an excellent display and a desktop-like keyboard, we would recommend the Dell Inspiron 6000d. However, these modern and mobile "travel typewriters" with integrated WLAN and PAN functionality do admittedly have certain deficits in the areas of audio playback and 3D graphics using the MRX300 processor. For the performance and features offered, $1,600 seems like a fair price. It is a mystery though why Dell advertises the 6000d as, quoting the website, "A powerful multi-media system with dedicated Ati graphics processor. ...". We would expect a bit more from a real multimedia notebook than thin sound from basic, two-channel stereo loudspeakers.

The Gateway M460XLb, in part, turned out to be a real surprise. The product version we tested with two batteries not only evidenced acceptable battery life, it also revealed itself to be an all-around high-performance mobile PC due to its fast hard drive in combination with Ati's robust MRX600. While the display lid is also instable like that of the TM8103WLMi, its case design is almost as elegant, too. This machine also gets points for audio quality, thanks in large part to its integrated subwoofer. Sure, an optical audio output or at least multi-channel sound would be great, as well as a display offering WSXGA+ instead of only WXGA resolution - but there had to be some way for the company to lower its retail price to a measly $1,500. Heavy-duty typists will be annoyed by the keyboard's giving way with every stroke, but this may not bother most users. The same goes for occasional travelers concerning the four kilos extra carry-on weight it registers, armed with two batteries and a fast, multi-format DVD burner.

Here a few concluding thoughts on notebook HD video playback and battery life: over the medium term, playing HD content could turn out to be the principal argument, along with cutting-edge gaming, in favor of dedicated, high-performance graphics chips in notebooks - at least in the consumer segment in any event and no matter how drastically this impacts battery life. Again, we ask what sense it makes to develop a mobile PC platform featuring a power-saving CPU, only to let the extra battery life that is offered to be eaten up by the graphics subsystem. Well, maybe the PCIe interface is to blame. However, that doesn't make the situation any better though, nor contribute anything towards notebook mobility.