Cool Tools

We've got notebook fever.

The scoop: Dell Precision M90 laptop, starting at around US$2,200.

What it is: A high-powered notebook for users who need power for applications such as 3-D design, graphic arts or video editing/production. Fully loaded, the M90 comes with an Intel Core Duo processor T2600 (2.16 GHz), an Nvidia Quadro FX 2500M graphics card with 512MB of dedicated memory, 4GB of RAM, a 5-in-1 memory card reader, six USB ports and a FireWire (IEEE 1394) port. There also is an integrated Gigabit Ethernet port, along with built-in wireless with support for 802.11a/b/g networks. The system is heavy - our test model weighed 9 pounds, and measured 15.5 inches, meaning our standard carrying case couldn't hold it.

Why it's cool: For data-intensive applications such as video editing, "normal" laptops are usually missing that fifth gear to make the user experience such that you could ditch your desktop. The Precision M90 provides that extra gear for those who need to edit video or work with drafting applications while on the road. We've tried running our video editing application of choice, Adobe Premiere, on other machines with poor results. The M90 nearly matched the performance of our Dell desktop we use for video editing, which features dual Xeon processors. The 17-inch WUXGA screen on the M90 was one of the brightest we've seen.

A caveat: We wanted a hard drive option above the unit's 100GB - video files take up a lot of disk space.

Grade: 4.5 stars (out of five)

The scoop: Lenovo 3000 N100 notebook, from Lenovo, starting at $700 ($1,300 for the model we tested).

What it is: The latest widescreen notebook from Lenovo, the N100 models are aimed at small and midsize business (SMB) users or those looking for a notebook to watch movies and play games. The system includes an Intel Core Duo processor T2400 (1.83 GHz), 512MB of system memory (upgradeable to 2GB), an Nvidia GeForce Go 7300 graphics card, 100GB hard drive and integrated Ethernet and V.92 modem ports. The system includes four USB 2.0 ports, a four-pin IEEE 1394 port and a handy 4-in-1 media card reader, among other interfaces. The 6.34-pound notebook included integrated Bluetooth and 802.11a/b/g wireless connectivity.

Why it's cool: The 15.4-inch widescreen LCD screen blew us away - the company's VibrantView feature lets light pass through with minimal diffusion. While intended to optimize multimedia and high-end graphics and video, we found that normal Web surfing and other activities with the notebook benefited as well.

In addition, the integrated fingerprint sensor let us increase security by allowing only registered users onto the system (it was easy to enroll fingers and log on). The Lenovo Care application allows for easy access to maintenance and configuration tasks, something SMB IT departments would appreciate.

Some caveats: While we usually appreciate bundled applications, we were turned off by the inclusion of the Norton Internet Security bundle - while the software aims to protect users from security threats, we were annoyed by constant alert messages and settings that prevented us from connecting to our own network resources (until we discovered the problem, we thought the notebook had a serious flaw).

Grade: 4 stars

Shaw can be reached at kshaw@nww.com. Multimedia Editor Jason Meserve (jmeserve@nww.com) conducted the testing of the Dell M90.

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