Technology

Compaq Presario 800


WHAT'S HOT: Compaq's first ultralight notebook for consumers and small businesses is easy on the eyes and

shoulders. The gray-and-silver Presario 800 weighs just 3.5 pounds without peripherals or cables, and measures

just about an inch thick. The tough magnesium-alloy case (with a big, plastic, raised Compaq logo adorning the back)

should protect the pint-size machine from knocks. Five programmable shortcut buttons, located above the keyboard,

let you launch your favorite Web sites, files, or programs. Other useful features include two USB ports (for

connecting peripherals such as printers and mice) and a fast IEEE 1394 port (for connecting equipment such as

CD-RW drives and digital video camcorders).

WHAT'S NOT: The Presario 800 suffers from all of the drawbacks typical of a subnotebook and then some. With no internal bays, it relies

on an external USB floppy drive and an external 8X DVD-ROM drive, which plugs into a proprietary connection on the left side ($250 more

gets you a CD-RW drive instead). The notebook offers no hot- or warm-swapping capability, so attaching or detaching the DVD-ROM drive

requires that you completely shut down the notebook. Compaq doesn't sell any type of add-on base with internal drive bays (which can

be a convenient option when you're working at a desk), and the hard drive cannot be upgraded. This Presario lacks parallel, serial, and

PS/2 connections, so it's not a great choice for users married to their legacy peripherals. It does, however, include a monitor connection.

We found the undersize keyboard uncomfortable for extended typing. Though the small keys (including an extra-petite Shift key) did not

bother us, we chafed at their shallow travel--the keys depressed only 2.5mm instead of the standard 3mm. And every time we aimed for

the spacebar, our thumbs smacked the top edge of the palm rest instead.

The Presario 800 didn't burn up the track in our performance tests, either. It earned a mildly disappointing PC WorldBench 2000 score of

127, about 5 percent behind the average score of 133 for Pentium III-700 notebooks. Worse, the Presario 800's standard 4-cell power

pack lasted only 1.2 hours in our tests--dismal battery life even for a superslim notebook. A more powerful 12-cell battery costs $199.

WHAT ELSE: Aside from its drawbacks, the Presario 800 is well designed, with the headphone jack and volume toggle located

conveniently on the front and most of the remaining connections, including the modem and network jacks, clustered on the left side. Its

sound is surprisingly strong--think loud transistor radio--thanks to built-in stereo speakers that replace the usual single speaker you get

with this size of laptop. Our review unit did not arrive with DVD-playing software, so we could not test how movies fare on the 12.1-inch

screen. Unlike the hard drive, the Presario 800's memory slots are easy to access for upgrades.

Compaq touts high-speed wireless Internet access options for this model, but be warned: Unlike some laptops sold now, the Presario 800

lacks built-in wireless components, so you must dole out extra money for a special antenna-equipped PC Card that will fill the Presario

800's only PC Card slot. For wide-area wireless e-mail and surfing (not just around your home or office), Compaq sells the Novatel

Wireless Merlin Ricochet PC Card, which can reach connection speeds up to a fast 128 kbps, for an additional $299. In addition, you'll need

to subscribe to Ricochet's service for $74.95 a month. Unfortunately, the service areas are limited to 13 large U.S. cities, and even those

regions have dead spots. Moreover, Ricochet recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which could make a Ricochet PC Card an iffy

investment. A better alternative might be Compaq's 802.11b PC Card and an Internet access point, a $399 bundle. Local-area wireless

surfing isn't as glamorous, but it's here to stay.

UPSHOT: Though stylish and reasonably priced, the Presario 800 suffers from too many drawbacks to compete seriously in the

ultraportable market. At this writing, Compaq's other ultraportable, the corporate-oriented Armada M300, was stuck at the Pentium

III-600 processor level. However, it's far superior to the Presario 800 in almost every other way, so of the two it would be our choice.

BUYING INFORMATION

Compaq Presario 800

PC WorldBench 2000 score of 127, Pentium III-700/500 CPU, 128MB of SDRAM, 256KB L2 cache, Windows Millennium Edition, 12.1-inch active-matrix screen, ATI Rage Mobility P/M graphics chip with 4MB of SDRAM, 20GB hard drive, 8X DVD-ROM drive, built-in V.90 modem and network interfaces, touchpad pointing device, 6.3 pounds (including external 8X DVD-ROM drive, external floppy drive, AC adapter, and phone cord). Three-year parts and labor warranty; free unlimited toll-free 24-hour tech support during warranty period.

Street price: $2099

800/345-1518

http://www.compaq.com

BUYING INFORMATION

Compaq Presario 800

PC WorldBench 2000 score of 127, Pentium III-700/500 CPU, 128MB of SDRAM, 256KB L2 cache, Windows Millennium Edition, 12.1-inch active-matrix screen, ATI Rage Mobility P/M graphics chip with 4MB of SDRAM, 20GB hard drive, 8X DVD-ROM drive, built-in V.90 modem and network interfaces, touchpad pointing device, 6.3 pounds (including external 8X DVD-ROM drive, external floppy drive, AC adapter, and phone cord). Three-year parts and labor warranty; free unlimited toll-free 24-hour tech support during warranty period.

Street price: $2099

800/345-1518

http://www.compaq.com

By Carla Thornton


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