$1,499, http://www.fujitsu-pc.com, 877/372-3473

Specifications: 12.1-inch active-matrix display, 366 MHz Intel Celeron processor, 256 kb L2 cache, 64 mb memory, 4 mb video memory, 4.01 gb hard drive, 24x CD-ROM, 56-kbps modem, two Type II (or one Type III) PC Card slots.

Support: One-year warranty; 24-hour, toll-free hardware support for one year, bundled software support for the life of the product.

The first thing you notice about the Fujitsu LifeBook C4120 is the way it sounds. With two Pioneer speakers at the base of the keyboard, even Microsoft Windows' opening symphonic chord is majestic. Pop an audio CD into the machine and the laptop becomes an impressive, albeit pricey, stereo system. The Lifebook is more than just a glorified boom box, though, combining sleek styling -- its silver-and-black case and dark blue keys give the machine a trendy, futuristic look -- and impressive performance in a solidly constructed package.

Although somewhat wider than most notebook computers, the LifeBook is thin and weighs in at a little under 5.5 pounds, total. Despite the light weight, the computer has a nice, sturdy feel about it: Easily breakable components such as monitor latches and hinges appear able to take the day-to-day abuse that is a laptop's lot in this world. Also a nice touch is the 56-kbps modem's regular phone jack, which does away with easy-to-lose modem-to-jack adapters.

The cursor is controlled by a small "ErgoTrac" pointing device that, although unwieldy for those used to touchpads, can be mastered. Unfortunately, this coin-sized disc lacks a labor-saving equivalent for touchpads' tap-and-hold feature that eliminates the need to reach for a mouse button. The LifeBook also provides programmable buttons on the base of the computer to open frequently used applications, which double as controls for audio CDs.

The active-matrix screen looked sharp, but the expanse of plastic surrounding it makes clear what you give up in this value-priced bundle -- the C4120's higher-end siblings offer 14-inch displays.

On the software side, though, the LifeBook comes with Microsoft Works installed instead of a real word processor; there's also Quicken Basic 99 and a copy of Netscape Navigator. Tech support is toll-free and available 24 hours a day; both times I called I was able to talk to a human within five minutes and get fairly clear answers.

With 64 megabytes of memory (a rarity in this price bracket), the LifeBook can handle multiple applications with limited performance loss. The battery can power the machine for a little over two hours, but the last 15 minutes of use are infuriatingly punctuated by warning beeps; a five-minutes-left alarm would have sufficed.