The 3700-EH1 may be more expensive than rivals, but it boasts a bright screen, long battery life, and comes nicely packaged
Averatec is not a name I've been familiar with in the computer business. Based in Orange County, Calif., the three-year-old company specializes in lightweight, affordable notebook computers -- a perfect fit for our ongoing round-up of low-price laptops (see BW Online 11/21/05, "Toshiba's Superb Sound and Light").
I asked Averatec to send over its lowest-priced model, and I was surprised right away. The company sent its 3700-EH1, a fairly standard model with a 12-inch screen, putting it in the class of ultra-portable notebooks that travel easily and don't weigh much. But what catches the eye is the white plastic outer shell.
You're probably thinking a small white notebook can't help but look like a knockoff of Apple Computer's (AAPL) iBook line. But Apple's machines have a smooth, glossy finish, making them at least partly a fashion accessory for the image-conscious. The Averatec notebook has a matte finish, giving it more of the day-to-day look of a kitchen counter or the tabletop of casual restaurant.
PRICIEST OF THE BUNCH.
This difference isn't a bad thing. Notebooks are meant to be carried around. You shouldn't have to fuss or be self-conscious about the fingerprints, dings, and scratches that will inevitably result.
But enough about its appearance and industrial design. Is it a good notebook? On the whole, I would say yes. This model carries a suggested retail price of $899 and can be found for $850 with rebates from online retailers -- I found that particular price on Amazon.com (AMZN). The price makes it the most expensive in the group of notebooks reviewed so far. They've averaged $583, including rebates.
The Averatec's main processor is a Sempron 3000+ from Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Intel's (INTC) perennial rival. While Intel has for some time all but cornered the market on chips for small notebooks with its Centrino platform, AMD has begun to make a notable comeback.
The other notebook in the group with an AMD chip was the Acer Aspire 3000 (see BW Online, 10/31/05, "This Notebook Aspires to Adequacy"). That machine suffered from the worst battery life of the bunch, lasting only 53 minutes of what I call the "the Rocky test," which involves playing a DVD of the movie Rocky on battery power alone, with the screen turned to maximum brightness until the machine powers down.
The results with the Acer machine had left me a little leery of the AMD chip, though many other factors certainly contributed to that machine's dismal battery performance. After running the Rocky test on the Averatec, I'm convinced the weakness had more to do with "something else" and less to do with the AMD chip.
The Averatec had the second-best battery performance of the test group. It played the movie for an hour and 54 minutes (it conked out just as the final round of Rocky's fight with Apollo Creed was starting). The best of the bunch on battery life is still Gateway's NX200S, which lasted 2 hours and 9 minutes.
LOUD AND CLEAR.
On the other hand, the Averatec is the lightest so far, weighing in at a shoulder-strap-friendly 4.2 pounds, with dimensions to match: 10.8 inches wide, 8.8 inches deep, and 1.2 inches thick, or about the size of your fifth-grade math textbook.
The screen may be small, but it packs a visual punch, never wanting for brightness. The sound quality of the internal speakers was excellent and suitably loud for a small space.
A few nice touches include a four-in-one flash memory-card reader, a FireWire port for connecting things like video cameras and fast external hard drives, and three USB 2.0 ports. They're conveniently located on the right side of the machine, toward the front, though I think at least one on the back would be nice. My one complaint -- and this applies to all notebooks with screens in the 12-inch range -- was with the keyboard. My hands are just too big for smaller keyboards.
Overall, I found the Averatec 3700-EH1 to be an excellent notebook -- though I would like it more if it were priced a little lower.