A subnotebook that performs like a full-size laptop

If you travel frequently with your heavy full-size laptop, you might want to make a subnotebook your new traveling companion. But if a subnotebook invokes visions of tiny screens, cramped keyboards, small hard disks, and slow processors, you haven't seen the newest models.

Hewlett-Packard's (HP's) OmniBook 900 F1770W subnotebook provides the power and capacity of a full-size notebook, but is only 1.3" tall, 11.9" wide, and 9.3" deep. With an AC adapter/charger, the product weighs 5.4 pounds, which is about 2 pounds less than a full-sized notebook. The OmniBook 900 is a single-spindle machine with disk and 24X variable-speed CD-ROM drive modules that connect to the computer through an external module bay. When you add the weight of the bay and the CD-ROM module, the package weighs 6.75 pounds—still lighter than most notebooks.

My review unit included a 500MHz Pentium III processor, 64MB of SDRAM that can expand to 320MB, a 12GB removable hard disk, a 13.3" Thin Film Transistor (TFT) display with a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels, an ATI Technologies RAGE Mobility-M AGP graphics subsystem with 4MB of graphics memory, and a full-size keyboard. HP also provides pointing-stick and touch-pad user interfaces (UIs.) At press time, HP advised me that the company will upgrade the CPU to a 600MHz Pentium III processor for no added cost, or to a 650MHz Pentium III processor for an additional $500.

The OmniBook 900 keyboard's layout is excellent, and it has a better feel than the keyboards on some full-size notebooks. Both UIs worked well, but the touch pad is slightly smaller than a full-size notebook's touch pad. The wrist rests on either side of the touch pad are comfortable, but are also a bit smaller than those of full-size notebooks.

I ran BAPCo's SYSmark 2000 application-based benchmark test, and my Windows 2000 Professional (Win2K Pro)-equipped test unit performed well when you consider its relatively small standard RAM. However, BAPCo's office productivity applications tests on 500MHz Pentium III-equipped desktops and notebooks running Win2K Pro with 128MB of RAM show that the additional memory can increase performance by about 30 percent. If you purchase the OmniBook 900 with Win2K Pro, buy an additional 64MB of RAM.

When you run the OmniBook 900 on AC power, the TFT screen is fairly bright and colors are intense. You can select a BIOS setting that reduces the brightness to conserve battery power. On my battery rundown test, the test unit had a battery life of 1 hour and 50 minutes, which is at least 30 minutes shorter than that of most full-size notebooks I've tested. To measure the battery life, I ran the SYSmark 2000 test in a continuous loop until I exhausted the batteries. This test runs the applications through scripts without letting power management cycle down components. As a result, battery life under typical use is likely to be longer than the test time result.

The OmniBook 900 features 16-bit Sound Blaster Pro-compatible audio but has only one speaker. HP provides a stereo headphone jack and line-in and microphone inputs next to the infrared communications and external keyboard and mouse ports. A built-in microphone sits just below the LCD panel. Parallel, serial, USB, and external monitor ports are on the rear panel. The OmniBook 900's module bay connector is on the system's right-hand side, next to the PC Card slots. The system can support as many as two Type II or one Type III PC Cards. These sockets were empty in my review unit because the OmniBook 900 doesn't include a modem.

HP offers several options for the OmniBook 900, including a port replicator, a mini docking station with monitor stand, and a full docking station with two 5.25" modular bays. The company also offers several modules, including Iomega's Zip 100, SuperDisk LS-120, and DVD drives, and 4GB, 6GB, 12GB, and 18GB hard drive modules. The OmniBook 900 comes with a 1-year parts and labor warranty that the company's pick-up and delivery service handles.

If portability is important to you, then the OmniBook 900 needs to be on your shortlist. Although the product's battery life and warranty are shorter than I prefer, its many strengths make it a good choice if you can live with external CD-ROM and disk drives.

OmniBook 900 F1770W
Contact: Hewlett-Packard
Web: http://www.hp.com * 650-857-1501
Price: $2499
Decision Summary:
Pros: Lightweight; small size; powerful processor; large memory and disk capacity; excellent keyboard layout and feel; pointing-stick and touch-pad interfaces; large screen
Cons: Short battery life; short warranty; external disk and CD-ROM drives; small standard memory configuration