Ultrathin Notebooks Get Even Lighter

The Sharp Actius PC-UM32W and Panasonic Toughbook T1 offer good performance in slim packages

By Michael S. Lasky

Owning a thin-and-light notebook used to mean getting low performance at a premium cost. Prices still rise as the weight and size shrink, but these days you are at least promised better performance and longer battery life. I looked at shipping versions of two diminutive, powerful notebooks: Panasonic's 2.4-pound Toughbook T1 and Sharp's 3.1-pound Actius PC-UM32W.

Each notebook sports a 40GB hard drive; 256MB of SDRAM; a 12.1-inch, 1024-by-768 active-matrix screen; twin USB 2.0 ports; Windows XP Professional; ethernet/modem ports; and a lithium ion battery. Sharp claims a 2.4-hour battery life, while Panasonic boasts of a whopping 5 hours for the T1. We seldom find that real-life battery use equals manufacturers' claims, however.

While Sharp built a Wi-Fi (802.11b) adapter into the PC-UM32W, Panasonic calls the T1 "Wi-Fi Ready" (read: $269 extra for that capability). The Sharp notebook includes an external USB 1.1 6X CD-ROM drive; Panasonic charges $439 extra for an 8X DVD and 16X/10X/24X CD-RW combination drive. In addition to a Type II PC Card slot, the Sharp has a CompactFlash slot, while Panasonic put a Secure Digital Card slot in the T1. The Sharp model runs a 1-GHz Low Voltage Intel Pentium III-M CPU; the Panasonic uses an 866-MHz Ultra Low Voltage PIII-M. Both models easily performed basic business tasks.

Many ultraportables sacrifice keyboard size to maintain miniaturization, but I found both keyboards to be touch-typist friendly even though they are 5 percent smaller than the keyboards on most notebook PCs.

The Panasonic unit is lighter, but I feel that the Sharp is the better deal, with its built-in Wi-Fi and included CD-ROM drive.

From the March 2003 issue of PC World magazine

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