A GREAT LEAP FOR LAPTOPSIntel's Tillamook processor makes the new models lighter yet more powerful
Who says you can't get something for nothing? The newest notebook computers, built around Intel's latest Pentium processor, offer more speed, extra memory, huge disk drives, and, in many cases, bigger displays, often at lower prices than the models they replace. Falling computer prices are nothing new, but these laptops provide a bonus: More power with less weight and longer battery life.
The key is a new processor design, code-named Tillamook. These MMX chips run at 200 and 233 megahertz, up from a previous top of 166 Mhz in mobile computers. In addition to being faster, the latest chips burn less power and run cooler. Most manufacturers claim at least 30 minutes of added battery life.
MULTIMEDIA PERKS. Nearly all laptop manufacturers have brought out premium notebooks using the new chips. The Toshiba Tecra 750CDT (table) is a good example of these high-end models. If you need the ultimate in a multimedia notebook, I think the $6,799 Tecra is a great choice, although I find its eight-pound heft a bit much for travel. Remarkably, it costs about the same as its predecessor, the 740CDT, when the 740CDT was introduced last spring--and it weighs a half-pound less.
You don't have to fork over that much for a Tilla- mook notebook. A Micron Transport XKe 2000, with fewer multimedia features but 48 MB of RAM, goes for $5,699, as does a Gateway 2000 Solo 9100 with 64 MB. Dell Computer's Inspiron 3000 M200ST offers a bargain price of $3,399.
Laptop manufacturers bill these heavy-duty units as desktop replacements, but their performance lags behind the hottest desktops, which come with 266-Mhz (and soon 300-Mhz) Pentium II chips. The price difference is even bigger: A new IBM ThinkPad 770 costs nearly $3,000 more than a top-of-the-line Aptiva S6S. The power gap should close next year when Intel releases a mobile version of the Pentium II, code-named Deschutes. But progress will come at a price. Laptop makers report that in tests, Deschutes is hot and power hungry and will more than reverse Tillamook's battery-life gains.
One effect of Tillamook has been to drive down the cost of older models. The street price of the 166-Mhz MMX Toshiba Tecra 740CDT has fallen nearly $2,000, to $4,850. If you can take a little less all around--a 12.1-in. active-matrix screen and a 3-GB drive, for example, you can buy an IBM ThinkPad 380ED for $3,600.
UPGRADES. Passive-matrix displays are dimmer and display data more slowly, making them less suitable for games or video, but they're a lot cheaper. A Compaq Computer Armada 1500DM with a 133-Mhz MMX processor, 1.4- GB disk, and a 12.1-in. screen sells for $2,500, and an NEC Versa 2730M with similar specs has a price tag of just $2,200. These laptop models feature built-in floppy and CD-ROM drives and are fine for all but the most demanding applications.
Most of these lower-cost notebooks come with 16 MB of memory. I strongly recommend spending $200 to $300 to upgrade to 32 MB. A program such as Microsoft Word will perform a lot better on a 133-Mhz laptop with 32 MB of RAM than on one with 166 Mhz and 16 MB.
If Intel follows its usual practice, Tillamook technology will move into all mobile Pentiums in coming months. And by the time this process is complete, Deschutes will come along to give prices another jolt downward.
BY STEPHEN H. WILDSTROM
Updated Oct. 2, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1997, Bloomberg L.P.