Gateway Solo 3450
WHAT'S HOT: The Solo 3450, complete with a bundled docking base, lets you enjoy a super-light notebook without giving up a decent-size screen or the option to add internal bay devices. A thin unit with a tough magnesium-alloy case, the Solo 3450 measures 1 inch tall and weighs just 3 pounds, yet it includes a 12.1-inch screen and most standard ports.
Snap on the 0.8-inch-thick base, and the 3450 morphs into a fully equipped laptop with an internal floppy drive, an internal optical drive (a 8X/4X/24X CD-RW model in our test unit) and a complete set of connections, including three USB ports. Altogether the laptop, base, and oblong-shaped AC adapter (with a handy power cord slot) weigh 6.4 pounds, less than the average laptop, which tips the scales at between 7 and 8 pounds with its traveling accoutrements.
WHAT'S NOT: The Solo 3450's most disappointing feature is its short battery life. In our tests, the notebook's four-cell lithium-ion battery lasted only about 90 minutes on one charge--not unusually poor for an ultralight, but about half what you'd get with a typical laptop. The hard drive is fixed, so if you want to upgrade it or if it fails, you'll have to ship the entire notebook to a service center. The 3450 can handle serial and network connections, but you'll have to keep track of two adapter cables that take turns sharing one mini-connection on the left side of the notebook.
To connect a parallel-port device you'll have to add the docking base (which also provides a standard network port). Since you can't connect either a floppy drive or a CD-RW drive to the notebook, you'll need the base to use these, too. The base's weak, tinny stereo speakers are worse than most we've seen on docking stations. For a quick musical interlude, you can always plug in headphones, but that doesn't solve the 3450's other audio problem: No hardware volume control. With no thumbwheel, toggle, or even function-key shortcut, you'll have to use software every time you want to lower, raise, or mute the sound.
WHAT ELSE: The 3450 has a sleek look, with a back devoid of ports and a right side fitted with just a monitor connection. All the action is on the left side of the unit, where you'll find one PC Card slot, one USB port, a pop-out X-jack-style modem connection, a high-speed IEEE 1394 port, and the serial/network mini-connection.
The 3450's narrower-than-standard keyboard felt a little shallow to us, but it was fairly easy to type on. Its most annoying drawback: You have to use a Fn key combination to page up and down.
The docking base snaps on and off the notebook easily. In addition to the bay drives, stereo speakers, standard network connection, and parallel port, the base contains two more USB ports, a TV-out port, and one PS/2 mouse/keyboard port.
Our review unit came with Windows 98 SE and a whopping 320MB of memory, the maximum amount; the 3450's standard memory allocation is 192MB. In our performance tests, the extra RAM gave the 3450 a PC WorldBench 2000 score of 145, a 7 percent boost over the average mark for a Pentium III-750 laptop with 128MB of memory and the same OS.
You'd be better off investing the $100 extra you'd have to spend for the 320MB memory configuration in something more useful, such as Gateway's $199 eight-cell replacement battery, a $49 USB floppy drive, or the $99 WordPerfect Office 2002 software bundle.
The 3450's thick manual mainly caters to novices; at least half of it is devoted to tips for using Windows and the Web. More experienced users can easily skip these areas, however, and find all the advanced information they need.
UPSHOT: The 3-pound Gateway Solo 3450 offers snazzy looks and a pretty good keyboard, and a 12.1-inch screen, the biggest you'll find on this class of notebook. It's no multimedia machine, but with a longer-lasting replacement battery the Solo 3450 would make a terrific portable for getting work done on the road.
By Carla Thornton