Tiny FireAnt more than carries its weight

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 October, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 October, 1998, 12:00am

Gateway recently blew into Asia with a whisper, quietly setting up its regional build-to-order PC business to rival the more aggressive Dell Computer.

The South Dakota-based vendor's use of folksy bovine images in its marketing may leave Asians at a loss, but its computers have won a solid following in the United States consumer market.

In Asia, Gateway is targeting products for professional corporate users, offering moderately priced, high-powered desktop and mobile PCs.

Products can be viewed on its Web site (www.gateway. com.my) and ordered in Hong Kong through a toll-free number.

Gateway's Solo 3100 series laptop, codenamed FireAnt, is tailored for people on the move who want a PC with power, portability, and easy integration with other computers and peripherals. The XL model has USB and infrared ports, so users can quickly hook up to an office environment when they are not on the road.

Its eye-catching casing sports a silver magnesium top closure that is thinner and sturdier than standard plastic casings.

One of the best things about the 3100 series is its weight - only 2.3 kilograms. With a width of 3.1 centimetres, it is thin - although not the thinnest on the market.

The Solo is aimed at power users, not the weak-shouldered.

The top-end Solo XL model arguably is the lowest-priced thin notebook to sport a DVD drive. Look for price wars to erupt soon.

But in order to make the laptop small, the DVD/CD-Rom drive fits into the main body, while the floppy drive was made an external device (connected by parallel port).

The XL uses a 300 MHz Pentium II chip, making it a speedy devil that has power-saving features.

I worked on the laptop for nearly three hours before it warned that the battery power was getting low.

I hate laptop pointing devices and the XL reminded me why. When I changed the setting to 'high-sensitivity' to correct its stiff movements, I was left with a cursor that drifted whenever I removed my finger from the pointer.

A PS/2 port is available for an external mouse, but a trackpad option - available on other Gateway laptops - should have been offered for the XL.

I was unable to test the infrared port as I am not a fan of electronic gadgets and could not initialise my office printer without the Windows 98 installation disk. However, the XL was able to identify and make initial contact with the printer via infrared.

Solo's 12-inch screen was ample for my near-sighted eyes. Digital pictures read from CD-Rom and floppy disks displayed well. Full-screen CD-Rom movies were a treat to watch, with crisp colours and no distortion. I did not try a DVD movie.

Gateway's cheaper LS and SE series feature a CD-Rom drive which, given the high price and the limited choice of DVD software in Hong Kong, may be adequate for most laptop users.

The XL may be inconvenient for floppy-reliant users, but is well equipped for those who would send in work via the Internet or private networks. It is superior in power to a palmtop and has enough attractive features to make most sub-notebooks look weak by comparison.

The XL's price is among the lowest in the market for a brand-name 300 MHz Pentium II laptop with DVD drive. If Gateway can provide better technical support than its rivals, it is a great buy.

PROS AND CONS Product: Gateway Solo 3100 XL Standard configuration: 300 MHz Pentium II processor, 12.1-inch SVGA TFT screen, 64 MB SDRam, 4 gb Ultra ATA hard drive, 256-bit graphics accelerator with 2.5 MB video Ram, DVD/CD-Rom drive, Xircom 56K PCMCIA modem, external 3.5-inch diskette drive, Windows 98 Price: $24,980 (in the above configuration) Pros: Sturdy case, lightweight Cons: Unruly pointing device