Rejuvenated Compaq back in the good books

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2000, 12:00am

If you need a good, sturdy notebook for your own use and are on a fairly tight budget, take a serious look at the Compaq Presario 1900.

I'm certainly not used to this - saying good things about Compaq notebooks. There used to be a time when I would do it all the time - that was when they had the sturdy and reliable Contura.

Then, somewhere in the late 1990s, Compaq started losing its edge and market share producing machines such as the LTE series and the early Armadas.

Compaq does not like to be reminded of those days but I would never let them live it down. The story changed however when they bought Digital Equipment in 1998. Digital was ahead of everyone, and I mean everyone, in the miniaturisation of notebooks.

Six years ago they introduced the Digital HiNote. which was just 2.54 centimetres deep. It was a really big deal at that time because the average 'slim' notebook looked suspiciously like aircraft carriers retired from the US Army.

Compaq's ambitious merger with the tech giant proved difficult and the two companies integrated slowly.

It was not until the latter half of last year that integration finally came together and Compaq started leveraging on Digital's strengths.

The engineers at Compaq swept the dust off the HiNote and went back to the drawing board. That effort paid off handsomely.

The launch of the super-svelte Armada 300 was a great success. Here was a notebook so pretty and chic it could be a Prada.

Now back to the Presario 1900. In a nutshell, it is a good machine for all but speed-seekers. This is a high-end system with Intel's fastest mobile chip, the 450 megahertz Pentium III, and 128 megabyte RAM, which seems way over-configured for the average home user.

I had high expectations for its performance because of the impressive hardware specifications. While I was not running any benchmark tests, I had on hand a lower-configured ThinkPad 570 which gave a comparatively better performance from just opening and closing applications, running games and video compact discs.

The performance shortcoming was probably due to the system's extra software, such as touchpad-enhancing and task-monitoring programs, which, while helpful, drain system resources.

After disabling those applications, performance was perceptibly improved.

Battery life also improved, lasting for slightly more than two hours, whereas it previously died after about 100 minutes.

It is a handsome model with a hood shrouded in azure. At just three centimetres thick, it is fairly slim and lightweight for an American model.

Like the ThinkPad 570, the 1900 supports a drive wedge that resembles a miniature docking station. The Presario's wedge includes a 2X DVD-Rom drive and an Imation LS-120 drive, which snaps onto the unit's underside, allowing you to leave the wedge and its extra 1.1 kilograms behind.

The wedge also tilts the keyboard to a comfortable angle. Unfortunately, you cannot swap either the DVD-Rom or LS-120 drive for other modular drives, such as a Zip or an extra battery to extend the mobile longevity of the system. The wedge is included in the system price.

There are more impressive features: its 33.7 centimetre, active-matrix screen is bright, and its 10 gigabyte hard drive is sufficient. It comes with JBL Pro speakers which gives good sound.

Compaq has replaced the Presario's traditional CD-player buttons with the same four convenient user-programmable buttons found on its Armada and Prosignia laptops.

A 56k V.90 modem is integrated.

Compaq has bundled in an expensive copy of Microsoft Office Small Business Edition with a year's warranty. Altogether, it has put together a rather compelling package at just US$3,199.

REVIEW PROS AND CONS Product: Compaq Presario 1900 Price: $21,888 Pros: Big, bright screen; good price; good-looking machine Cons: Not as fast as it should be