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Rob Pegoraro
Rob Pegoraro
An Annoying Couple of Steps Away From the Perfect Laptop (Mar. 3, 2002)
Good Things Come In Small Packages, If You Choose Well (Aug. 31, 2001)
Washtech: Personal Tech
Recent articles by Rob Pegoraro
Business Section
Business Live Online Transcripts
Washtech.com
Talk: Business and Tech news message boards
Live Online Transcripts

Fast Forward:
Lightweight Laptops

With Personal Technology columnist Rob Pegoraro
Monday, March 11, 2002; 2 p.m. ET

In his most recent columns, Fast Forward columnist Rob Pegoraro reviews lightweight laptops -- stressing that what he's looking for in a laptop is not a machine that offers the same performance as a desktop. Instead, in reviewing the Fujitsu LifeBook P series and the Sony Vaio SRX77, Pegoraro finds that portability and basic functionality beats out the heavier, faster laptops on the market.

Fujitsu's LifeBook P-2046
Fujitsu Lifebook

Below is the transcript.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

dingbat

Rob Pegoraro: Welcome back... in the past two weeks, I've been exploring the world of affordable, ultralight laptops, to see if there's some way I can reconcile my desire for a non-back-breaking computer with the limits of my bank account.

After trying out Fujitsu and Sony's latest, I'm still frustrated in this quest. Let's talk about that--but, as ever, any other personal-technology topic is fair game.


Upper Marlboro, Md.: Trying to decide between:

Compaq Presario 2700
HP Pavilion zt1180/1190
Toshiba Satellite 1805-S274

Portability is important but the two lap tops you just reviewed might be too light for me.

Rob Pegoraro: "Too light"? I guess it's all relative.

The three machines you listed all weigh around 8 lbs. (I can't tell exactly with the H-P, since its Web site only lists the weight with the CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive taken out.) They also all run on Pentium III chips, include both CD-RW and DVD-ROM capability, and 15-inch LCDS.

If you're on a budget, go with the Toshiba--at $1,549, it's the bargain of the bunch. The HP costs $1,900, but for that you get a 40-gig hard drive.

I don't like the Compaq because for $1,800, you oughta get more than a 20-gig drive. Also, it ships with separate CD-RW and DVD-ROM drives, which runs up the weight and complexity.


Perry, Ga.: What is your opinion of the firewire port on Sony Vaio laptops?

Rob Pegoraro: As you can read in yesterday's column--very low. Sony seems to recognize that using a mini-FireWire port means that when you're on the go, you can't use many peripherals that need their own electrical power. But instead of using a real FireWire port, which would solve this problem nicely, it's slapped in a proprietary electrical outlet, which only works with one Sony drive. And it's doing this solely to milk its customers for a few extra dollars on accessory sales. Dumb, dumb, dumb.


Washington, D.C.: Rob:

My small business has had good luck with Dell computers (desktops, servers and a couple of laptops) for the past decade or so. Do you have any idea when Dell will follow Fujitsu and Sony into the "light laptop" arena? Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: Dell's already got one ultralight, the Latitude C400--3.6 lbs., $1,899 and up.


Annapolis, Md.: Last weekend my cable provider gave me a cable modem which I took home and proceeded with an attempted self-install. The instructions were clear and easy to follow.

However, after restarting the PC, I always received a DHCP error.

What is DHCP?

Rob Pegoraro: Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol. It's how your cable-modem provider identifies your computer... to simplify things greatly, it assigns your computer a number called an Internet Protocol address. This number changes each time you connect. If your computer doesn't pick up the new number from your provider's server, it won't be able to connect. You need to call cable tech support and have them check your settings (sorry!)


Rockville, Md.: The new lightweight models notwithstanding, I'm in need of a real brick ... something that can be on the road all the time, thrown in the overhead compartment or kicked under the seat in front of me ... take a lickin' and keep on tickin' as the old commercial goes. Any suggestions for utter physical reliability?

Rob Pegoraro: A good laptop case? Seriously--if you want a damage-resistant laptop, like the Panasonic Toughbook, you will pay in both cost and weight. That's not worth it.


Nairobi, Kenya: Hi Rob

So? Based on what you've seen of the best that the Wintel crowd can offer, do you think there's room in this segment for Apple to come out with the best sub-notebook? Or should they stay out of this fray?

Jeff

Rob Pegoraro: Given the design defects of both the Fujitsu and Sony laptops that I reviewed, I would very much like to see Apple jump into this sector. But I'm not sure the company thinks there's enough room in the market for it... Apple may think that the iBook, at 5 lbs., is light enough.


Washington, D.C.: The latest Toshiba Satellites don't have parallel ports, making it necessary to add some kind of adapter to use them with older printers that only have parallel ports. Is this something unique to Toshibas or is this the trend now for laptops?

Rob Pegoraro: It's the trend. Parallel ports are, to put it bluntly, obsolete. They take up space and system resources, and on a small laptop, something's gotta go.


Highland Park, NJ: Hi Rob,

Do you have any idea when Apple will update the iBook to include a G4 processer? I love the small size of the current iBook, but don't want to go that much backwards from my current G4 tower?

Marc

Rob Pegoraro: Good question. I'm sure that will happen sometime, but I also think that Apple will want to be able to ship the PowerBook with a significantly faster processor--Apple likes to keep the distinctions between its pro and consumer lines clear.

Short answer: probably not in the next six months. But don't quote me on that!


Arlington, Va.: Rob, when are you doing another Video show?

Rob Pegoraro: Once everybody who witnessed the first one has gotten out of therapy to deal with the resulting trauma :)

(Probably end of this month!)


Washington, D.C.: Rob, please help! I am enrolling in a JD-Ph.D. program this August, thus I am in the market for a reliable, lightweight, "desktop relplacement" laptop for heavy word-processing, statistics software, and Internet use. I want a DVD-CDRW internal drive, a nice-sized hard-drive, and ethernet-wireless in a package that I can tote around all day long. My search has turned up the IBM T23, the iBook, and the Powerbook G4, but the IBM seems far too pricy, and I'm worried about whether a Mac will jive with a PC-based campus. Any advice? - Dupont Circle

Rob Pegoraro: The iBook's the steal of the bunch, but the PowerBook G4 is also priced quite competitively these days. I agree that the T-series ThinkPads are overpriced. You won't have any problems using Microsoft Word on a Mac (Office for Mac OS X looks a lot better than Office for Windows), but you should check to see if your statistitics software is available in a Mac version.


Front Royal, Va.: Rob,

There seem to be many ways to connect external devices, especially CD-RW drives, to a laptop, but little indication which is best (data transfer speed, etc).

For CD-RW, is it better to have it connected internally (IDE), externally connected by PCMCIA, or externally connected by USB 2.0? I haven't seen anything that would indicate an answer so far. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: FireWire is the best overall--the connector is small, supplies power to the drive *and* lets you connect it to desktops as well. PC Cards are second best. USB 2.0? Talk to me when any laptops actually support USB 2.0.

Internal drives are also pretty handy, but they can add weight and cost that you may not want to deal with all the time on the road.


Alexandria, Va.: The last two laptops I bought broke within two years of purchase.

When buying a laptop, is it worth it to purchase the three-year extended warranties that some retailers sell? What percentage of the purchase price should I be willing to pay for an extension of the warranty from one to three years?

Rob Pegoraro: I won't give a blanket recommendation--but let's put it this way, there's no way I'd buy a laptop without putting it on AmEx so I can get the warranty doubled.



Washington, D.C.: I'm looking for a laptop for desktop replacement, I've got around $1500 to spend on it, and I plan to keep it for a few years. To be honest, I'd be happy enough with the laptops out there with 10 gig drives and lower-speed processors, but I'm afraid it'll become unusably obsolete too soon. Would going with today's lower-end model cost me in the long run?

Any suggestions on good, reasonably durable models in this price range? By durable, I don't mean industrial, I just don't want the thing to stop working a month after I bring it home because it got jostled a bit on my desk. To be honest, Dell and Gateway seem more interesting for warranty reasons alone-but I may be misinformed.

Rob Pegoraro: Warranty reasons are something you should be thinking about--I think you're considering Dell and Gateway for an appropriate reason. I've generally heard good things about Dell laptops, too.

You can go cheap on the processor, but don't cut corners on the hard drive. You're not going to be able to upgrade that too easily. Buy at least a 20-gig drive.


Minneapolis, Minn.: I am a self-employed art director who travels frequently. While on the road I often use laptop stations at Kinko's as an office away from home. I love the convenience of being able to connect my Apple PowerBook Ti 667 via an ethernet port and access my e-mail, the web, etc. It allows me to maintain contact and sustain productivity while traveling.

The only negative to doing business this way comes in the form of PC owners who inevitably sit next to me and try to get online or print. In my experience, 98% of the time, PC users have difficulty securing a connection and ask for my help.

When will PC owners wake up and understand Apple makes a product superior to any PC on the market? Sure, they cost more, but they're worth every penny.

Rob Pegoraro: Mr. Jobs, I didn't know you visited our chats!


Palm Question: Do you have a recommendation for software for word processing on a Palm? I take my class notes on my Palm and copy them into a Word Perfect document on my desktop and I understand there are software packages out there that will make this easier. And do any of them work with WP, rather than Word?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't know of any that work with WordPerfect files, but WordSmith and Documents to Go (I think) do support .rtf (rich text format) files, which WP and just about every other word processor can read.


Vienna, Va.: Rob, I've owned two Sony Vaio laptops. They're great, except for one thing: they seem to me to be extremely noisy. It's apparently the hard drive. I think it gets noiser after the machine is a few months old. Sony insists there's nothing that can be done. But it's annoying when the machine is right in front of you and you're in a quiet room. Is there anything that can be done? And is there anyone who publishes comparisons of laptops based on how noisy they are? I would definitely choose a quieter laptop if I could find one.

Rob Pegoraro: I didn't find the SRX77's drive all that loud. The drive does click and whir in a strange way, but it's not bothersome. I haven't seen that many noise assessments of laptops myself--I've asked readers to report back on that factor, but most complaints center around cooling fans whining away, not drive noises.


Arlington, Va.: Do all Sony notebooks have problems with non-Sony peripherals?

Rob Pegoraro: With FireWire peripherals, yes. Sony laptops work fine with USB and PC Card accessories--but since FireWire is what most of the pricier, more capable peripherals use, that's an important point.

A lot of PC laptops have this same problem, but Sony departs from the crowd in recognizing the limits of a four-pin FireWire port--and then doing the wrong thing anyway.


Washington, D.C.: Hello,
I just purchased a Gateway Solo 1400, with Pentium III processor for only $1,100. What is your opinion of this entry-level laptop? I understand it gets slightly lower ratings than the equivalent Dell laptop, but I really like the physical presence of Gateway retail stores and wanted to buy from a real person. Did I screw up?

Rob Pegoraro: Do you like the laptop?

Yes?

Then you didn't scew up.


Rockville, Md.: Since we’re now limited to a “personal items” bag and one carry-on on an airplane, Dell’s C-400 3.6 pounder still seems too big to fit into a personal bag. Have you looked at the Sony Vaio SR33, which weighs in at about 2.5 pounds and at least is cheaper than the SRX77?

Rob Pegoraro: The SR33 is the predecessor of the SRX77, but which is still on sale. I wouldn't get it--without built-in Ethernet or built-in wireless, it's a limited-utility machine. As our reviewer noted last year, every time you want to use Ethernet, you'd have to disconnect the CD-ROM drive and pop in an Ethernet PC Card.


Midland, Tex.: What is your opinion on 802.11b? A lot of laptops have this as an option but then there is the 802.11g.

I would prefer a laptop that supported GSM Mobil Phone service so that I could connect wirelessly anywhere...do you see that coming anytime soon?

Rob Pegoraro: 802.11b is *the thing* in wireless these days. 802.11g is supposed to be a faster, but compatible successor--but it's of little relevance in a world where 802.11b base stations are starting to crop up in so many places.


Washington, D.C.: What do you think of the Fujitsu P Series? I am reffering to the one with touch screen capability

Lawrence

Rob Pegoraro: This is the Lifebook P-1000 series, which launched at about the same time as the P-2000 that I reviewed. The 1000 sells for $1,500 and up and is even smaller and lighter than the 2000, by virtue of making the optical drive an external model. The screen is also smaller--just 8.9 inches. I think this may be a little too small for sustained work.


Vienna, Va.: Rob, if something like the Apple Powerbook is too heavy to carry in a standard bag with a strap around the shoulder, how about those 'backpack' style carriers. I'm considering a Powerbook as a desktop replacement, even though it's not in the ultralightweight category. Do you have experience with different types of carriers?

Rob Pegoraro: I've only ever used the over-the-shoulder type of case. I'm sure a backpack, if properly padded, would work fine as well. You probably run less of a risk of it getting dropped that way.

The PowerBook isn't all *that* heavy, either--it is six pounds of travel weight, but most laptops with its features and price are closer to 8 lbs. But the TiBook is heavy enough that you'll want to clear your bag out of all excess junk before taking it along.


Yugoslavia by way of Washington, D.C.: What kind of laptop would you recommend for someone who uses it less for frequent travel (perhaps necessitating a lighter, more portable one) and more as their main computer overseas (perhaps necessitating a larger model more akin to a desktop)? Another concern is international warranties and ability to repair -- any advice on which companies might have better service overseas (for example, IBM)? Thanks!!

Rob Pegoraro: Good question about overseas coverage. I hear from reading another tech columnist's Web log that Apple's overseas warranty coverage is *lousy* (this is from Dan Gillmor's site at siliconvalley.com). You should check this out carefully--laptop repairs are almost always expensive, especially if they so much as look at the screen .



Probably a dumb question but...: I'm thinking of upgrading to Windows XP from my current Win95/98 OS. However, i just read the arrticle in the Post last week indicating that Sun was suing Microsoft because Java wasn't supported by the new XP operating system. Question: if I upgrade to XP, when surfing the internet will I get all of those annoying "you don't have Java" error messages, or will I still be able to read Java-based websites without a problem? Thanks for your response.

Rob Pegoraro: You can download Sun's Java virtual machine at http://java.sun.com/getjava/download.html . This uses the latest code, unlike the older Microsoft-written Java software that many manufacturers still choose to bundle w/ XP.


Vienna, Va.: Unrelated to liteweight laptops --
Are you still an afficianado of PGP? Do you think it will survive the desire of Network Associates to unload it?

Rob Pegoraro: I still have it installed on my computer, and it still isn't getting much use. Network Associates' decision to mothball the software isn't doing the cause any favors--I hope that the open-source efforts (e.g., GnuPrivacyGuard) can rise to this challenge.


Arlington, Va.: Rob:
What is your opinion of the new Toshiba Protege 2000?

Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: At 2.6 lbs. and half an inch thick, I think it looks... scrumptious! But it also starts at $2,199. It's a little expansion-deprived; I'd rather see a 1394/FireWire slot than an SD Card slot.



Bethesda, Md.: Rob, in your article you list the criteria you are looking for. Could you be a little more specific in the minimums that you look for in a lightweight laptop, i.e. processor speed, number of USB ports, Ethernet, number of firewire ports, minimal battery life, etc.

Rob Pegoraro: Sure thing:

Processor - don't really care. 750 MHz or higher P III/Transmeta Crusoe, 400 MHz or higher PowerPC G3?

Hard drive: 20 gig minimum

Ports: Two USB, one six-pin FireWire

Ethernet: Mandatory

Wireless: Antenna should be built-in at the very least, so I don't have to use a PC Card with a portruding antenna.

Battery life: 3.5 hours minimum.


Bethesda, Md.: Is 10/100T the Ethernet you refer to? Could you explain why the feature is important. I'm still living in the 33KBS modem world.

Rob Pegoraro: Yup, 10/100 is Ethernet. The numbers refer to millions of bits per second. It's important because you will need it for many DSL and cable-modem connections. You will also need it if you ever want to take the laptop into an office or college campus, where Ethernet is the standard networking cable.


Somewhere, USA: Note that 802.11b, like most wireless solutions, has Issues with security. - wiredog

Rob Pegoraro: It does--non-trivial ones. But people have decided, I guess, that its convenience and speed outweigh those concerns.

Just like how most people never encrypt their e-mail, or use analog cell and cordless phones.


Tysons, Va.: Great Columns, submitting early.

My question has to do with power adapters. I may go on a long term project that may have me splitting time between the US and Spain. I understand the AC/DC is different over there. Do you know if laptop makers make a lap-top where you can have two power converters (one US; one Spain) that plug in to the same laptop? I know I can get outlet converters, but it would be easier to not have to carry those around when I am in one country or the other.

Also, if I spend more time in Spain than here, am I better off buying there, and using converters here? I think the pricing would probably be better here (no VAT tax, if nothing else). That Fuji sounds sweet - though PC Mag liked the Toshiba.

Rob Pegoraro: I don't know of any computer manufacturer selling, uh, binational AC adapters. You might be able to find one from an aftermarket source.

I would definitely buy the computer here--not only do you have the VAT to contend with, but you'd also most likely get the Spanish version of Windows and a Spanish-language keyboard.


Potomac, Md.: What do you think of the newest Apple laptops, and what are the advangatges and disadvantages of going with an Apple laptop vs something like a Toshiba or HP laptop?

Rob Pegoraro: I got a lot of e-mail along these lines. Basically, Apple's iBook and PowerBook look and work great. They are competitively priced with any PC laptop out there and are better designed than most. They also feature much better battery life than most and weigh less than just about every other machine in their price bracket (this especially true for the iBook).

But... if you use Windows all the time, and the core Windows apps that you need aren't available on the Mac, you're somewhat stuck.


Washington, DC: Will you be reviewing the new Toshiba Portege 2000 or the IBM X series ultralights in the near future?

How does Toshiba manage to cut the weight of their ultra-light down to 2.6lbs when other ultralights come in at 3.5/3.6 lbs? I'm not seeing the differences on spec sheets. What am I missing, or is Toshiba's new hard drive that much lighter?

Rob Pegoraro: I'm not sure about reviewing the Toshiba or IBM laptops. Both cost north of $2,000, sometimes well north. I try to keep my column focused on things that are somewhat affordable to home users, and I'm not sure if either machine is... special enough to depart from that.

The hard drive--which, if I read the specs correctly, is from the same 1.8-in. family as the drive in Apple's iPod--counts for a lot, but more in terms of thickness. The weight savings come primarily from making the CD-ROM drive external--same as in the Sony SRX77.


New York, N.Y.: Both Sony and Gateway have laptops with "portable" docking stations that hold the cd drives. I'm interested in looking for a super light laptop without having all the cables and trying to balance the misc. drives on my lap when I need them.

What's the word on these modulure light-weights?

Rob Pegoraro: I'm not a fan of the docking-station school of design--what usually seems to happen is that the docking station lumps in too many unnecessary extras (legacy ports, maybe a second battery), making the laptop-plus-docking-station bundle too big and heavy. I'd rather have an external drive.


Washington, D.C.: Non-laptop question -- but I think you did an article on this recently -- your review of the Kyocera Palm/phone combination? Is it available on the Post website?

washtech.com: Click here for the review in question.

Rob Pegoraro: Indeed. That's not a "recent" review, though... Kyocera's about due for an update to this model, but I have no idea what might be in it.


New York, NY: AmEx doubles the warranty? How exactly does that work?

Rob Pegoraro: Not just AmEx, but a lot of platinum cards. You need to keep the original paperwork; when the thing goes out of whack two days after the warranty expires, you call the credit card company, say you're filing a claim under this policy, and they (hopefully) reimburse you.

I've never had to do this so far, but that's only because Palm somehow forgot to charge me when they fixed my old Palm III a couple of years ago.


Washington, DC: Neither of the two lightweight laptops that you reviewed (Fujitsu and Sony) meet the minimum criteria that you cite in your answer to the question from Bethesda, MD.

What then are those of us looking for such a lightweight machine to do?

Rob Pegoraro: For now, it looks like you have to compromise--give up on weight, on expansion or on keyboard layout. Or wait for one of these companies to get this stuff right. It *ought* to happen soon enough... I mean, I'm amazed that anybody will still ship keyboards like Sony's or Fujitsu's in this day and age.


Bethesda, MD: In your minimal requirements for wireless you mentioned that it must have a built-in antenna -- no PC card with dangling antenna.

Can you recommend any lightweight laptops with built-in antennas that would allow me to connect wirelessly to an ISP (i.e. not a wireless base station). I'm particularly interested in machines that work better in environments where it's hard to get a good wireless signal.

Rob Pegoraro: That's a different picture--your problem there is that there aren't any good wireless ISPs in the D.C. area. Ricochet has bit the dust, Verizon's Express Network costs a bunch and the fixed-wireless projects at AT&T, MCI and Sprint are all history.



New York, New York: Hello from New York City.

I'd like to try Adobe Premiere on my Toshiba 4600 laptop. What do I need to connect my VCR to the computer?

Rob Pegoraro: Some laptops include an S-Video connector. That's the simplest way.


Bethesda, Md.: We bought a Dell laptop with internal wireless modem for home LAN and connection to printer, etc. Never could get it to work and returned it. Lots of inconsistent technical support. Never figured out if it was a Dell issue or AOL internet issue. Any suggestions for wireless remote and home LAN, etc.?

Rob Pegoraro: Hmm, Dell's tech support is supposed to be *good* compared to everybody else. OTOH, I've yet to hear of any PC-based 802.11b solutions that are simple and easy to set up. I've gotten complaints about all of them, even Intel's (the one exception would be Apple's AirPort).

Having all of your PCs on the same operating system (Windows XP, Windows 98 SE, whatever) seems to help, but even then wireless software may not be so simple.


Olney 20832: Sorry if this seems off-topic, but you mentioned downloading Sun's Java virtual machine. Will this also help with JavaScript problems? I wanted so badly to dump IE for Opera, but Opera 5.1 wouldn't recognize some JavaScript buttons. It may have been only one or two percent, but when you can't submit a form and have to open another browser once a week or two, more if it's a site you frequent, it becomes a huge obstacle.

So can I fix this and go back to Opera?

Rob Pegoraro: No, Java and JavaScript have nothing to do with each other. The JavaScript name came from some marketing droid at Netscape, who, I guess, thought that would make Web scripting somehow "cooler." You'll have to wait for Opera Software to fix their JavaScript code.


Washington, D.C.: Just bought a Compaq EVO as a desktop replacement (<5 lbs and all I give up is the 3.5 disk drive). It was a little pricey, but I love it.

My question is as you go smaller and smaller like the laptops you've been talking about, how do you type on the keyboard and read the screen without going crazy. I really can't see anything smaller than the 4.0-4.5 lb laptop having real-world usefulness (at least where they're being used for word or data processing -- if you're just loading PowerPoint presentations on and hooking them up to a projector, I'm sure they work perfectly).

Rob Pegoraro: I thought the 10-inch screens on the Sony and Fujitsu would bother me, but, really, they worked fine. The type is small, but the LCDs are sharp enough to compensate for that. The keyboard is a bigger problem, but more in terms of stupid layouts than in key sizes. (If your hands are gargantuan, this may not be the case.)


Washington, D.C.: $1,549.00? That hardly seems like a bargain when you can get a brand new desktop for under $1,000. When are these laptops going to come down in price? I'd love to get one, but I think my limit would have to be $1,200. Are there any options out there for me?

Rob Pegoraro: They'll come down in price when color LCDs and miniaturized, ruggedized components cost the same as desktop-grade hardware. In other words, never.

Good news is, the price gap has shrunk a lot in the past few years. You can find $1,000 laptops from a variety of manufacturers; they are all heavy and somewhat thin on features, but they do work. $1,200 buys you somewhat more--the base configuration of the iBook, for instance.


Baltimore, Md.: Rob,
I have two Dell Inspiron 7000 (PII 400 Mhz/192 Mb RAM) laptops approx 3 years old that I bought used. Both have intermittent power problems whereby the laptops will shut off during use, then will not power up. I have talked to other Dell Inspiron owners who have the same problem. They are out of warranty, so I guess I have to live with the problem.
Do you know if this problem has been corrected in the newer Dell laptops? Can a new lightweight model give me the same power and functionality of the Inspiron 7000? What will a new model cost? I need at least 20 GB hard drive, CD-RW, 14 in screen and 256 MB RAM. DVD preferred, but not required.
Stan

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't heard of this issue before... does this happen while you're on battery? If so, I'd try replacing the battery. They do age over time.

Otherwise--I don't know.


New York, New York: Follow-up.

I have no S-video connector. Now what?

Rob Pegoraro: You'll need to get an adapter that plugs into another port (USB, video-out, 1394 or PC Card)... I'm sure that such a beast exists, but I haven't been able to find it in the last 15 minutes of searching. Follow up w/ me in e-mail if you'd like...


Washington, DC: Just skimmed some of the earlier Q&A and saw that you aren't convinced that USB 2.0 is really here yet and are consequently not a fan of external CDRW's for PC's.

I thought that PCMIA adapters were starting to appear that helped external CDRW's (like the one from Maxtor) hit their advertised speed ratings (which seem to be pretty close to internal CDRW read-write speeds.)

Not true?

Rob Pegoraro: PC Card adapters have been around for a while--that slot was the only game in town for a long time. I've used PC Card-based external optical drives and have had zero complaints; the laptop has recognized the drive every time and it's performed well enough for me not to notice any difference.

But if you'd like to use your PC Card drive with a desktop, you'd be out of luck.


Washington, D.C.: Is FireWire coming to PC's generally and soon? Or is just an Apple (Mac) and Sony (PC) thing? And haven't you written that the Sony firewire port is a proprietary design not generally compatible with other manufacturers' devices?

Rob Pegoraro: It's available on many PCs these days--a lot of HP and Compaq desktops ship with FireWire ports, and it shows up as an option on Dell and Gateway computers as well. What's holding it back? It's probably just cost-cutting. The PC market is a commodity business, and companies seem to feel that they can't risk adding this $10 or $20 component.



Bethesda, MD: Rob, in response to "What then are those of us looking for such a lightweight machine to do?" you wrote: "For now, it looks like you have to compromise--give up on weight, on expansion or on keyboard layout..." Given that, if you had to buy a laptop right now, that best met your requirements, which machines would you focus on?

Rob Pegoraro: Of the two I tried, I'd probably grit my teeth and buy the Sony--its battery life is better than the Fujitsu, and the keyboard is less objectionable. But I'd feel a little used afterwards.

But I might also tolerate another couple of pounds of travel weight and get an iBook. Dell is supposed to be coming out with a revised ultralight of its own, so that might be something to wait for.


Vienna, Virginia: I was wondering, when you are talking "ultraportable", why you didn't include the Toshiba Portege series laptops at 1/2" thick and 2 1/4 pounds they are hard to beat.

Rob Pegoraro: If this is the Portege 2000 you mean, I addressed this before--it's just a bit too expensive, particularly with a DVD-ROM drive.


Bethesda, MD: You write, "there aren't any good wireless ISPs in the D.C. area. Ricochet has bit the dust, Verizon's Express Network costs a bunch and the fixed-wireless projects at AT&T, MCI and Sprint are all history."

Is Verizon's Express Network the only choice in the DC area? It seems to me that I turned up one or two competitors when I researched it around the time of Richochet's demise. Do you know how much Express Network costs?

Rob Pegoraro: I wrote about it a few weeks ago.


Washington, DC: What do you think about the AMD line of processors in notebooks? Are they on par with the Intel chips?

Rob Pegoraro: They seem to be. The last time we reviewed laptops--which, granted, was last summer--the AMD-powered laptop had the best battery life of all the Windows machines we reviewed. I don't see any reason to exclude AMD from your computer shopping--desktop or laptop.


Rob Pegoraro: For the person desperately seeking TV output: This Web page may be what you're looking for: http://www.focusinfo.com/products/b_tview_con.htm


New York City: Any thoughts on the Fujitsu's battery life? I've heard that its not great.

Rob Pegoraro: It wasn't as good as Fujitsu advertised--I only got 2.5 hours out of it. I expected better out of the Transmeta processor, honestly. Fujitsu sells a double-capacity battery, but that, of course, will cost you in weight, size and $$.


Rob Pegoraro: And with that, I think I'm going to sign off for the day--I've got so many exciting meetings to get to, and I'd hate to miss a second of any of them :) Thanks for some great questions... talk to y'all soon!

- R


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