Its Sheer Processing Power Is a Major Step Forward

First impression? Remarkable! As the entry unit into the portable PowerPC/Windows NT fray for Canon (first shown at NetWorld+Interop, September, 1995), the company couldn't have done better. A co-venture with IBM and Motorola and weighing in at seven pounds, the sheer processing power of this unit is a major step forward for laptop computing. IBM actually builds the chassis, which is basically identical to 7-series ThinkPads, except for the speakers on the keyboard.

Performance Points
Battery--The PN-100 has excellent integrated power-management features and an intelligent battery with a microprocessor for monitoring power status. It even recovers from user error: I forgot to engage the microprocessor when I first got it. Be sure to switch yours on, or power monitoring will not work properly. The battery should run for about two hours.

Video--A video-capture upgrade will be available in the near future, or you can buy it configured into the system. The PN-100 has a nice 10.4" active-matrix LCD: 800 x 600 pixels with simultaneous display of 65K colors. It's bright, with a good range of brightness and contrast adjustments for optimal viewing. The backlight becomes dim, however, when the unit is on battery power.

Speed--This 603e system is not as fast as the 604-based desktop. Its performance compares favorably with 601-based systems of equivalent clock speeds. Bumping up the memory to 32MB helps.

Audio/CD/Multimedia--These features are excellent, but Motion Picture Expert Group (MPEG) video playback is a little jumpy. The PN-100's stereo speakers are loud enough to listen to either CD or MIDI music (applets are provided for reading standard .MID files, video-CD playback, playing media, capturing/mixing sound). CD audio through headphones is passable with some distortion and clipping, and there is a manual dial to control volume. Video speed is not stellar (e.g., screen updates while objects are moving could be faster), but there is no flicker. The PN-100 will make a great multimedia-presentation box and an even better entertainment platform.

Networking--Configuring an Ethernet PC Card is quick and simple. Automatic Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) is amazing--try it out! I encountered no performance problems.

I/O (SCSI, floppy, etc.)--The external floppy is as fast as any I've tried. The internal hard disk is quick and spacious and CD (double-speed) transfer rates are adequate. The floppy either fits into an external chassis or replaces the internal CD-ROM (with supplied bezel).

Design/Ease of Use--The PN-100 has an excellent modular IBM chassis with a good-feeling keyboard.

General Weirdness--There are some power problems. Applications can crash the machine or prematurely suspend it (DOS or Win16 applications or program faults in 32-bit applications). You must close and reopen the unit's lid to convince the machine to resume.

Compatibility and Software
Software compatibility still is an issue, but more and more vendors are putting out versatile products. Companies such as Deneba Software and Felsina Software spearheaded the effort, and others are coming out all the time.

Right now, the PN-100 can run some 16-bit programs and the available 32-bit programs, but as soon as developers such as Microsoft and Adobe port their applications natively to the PowerPC, the PN-100 will be a machine to contend with and give the Pentium a run for its money. Some common applications, such as Office95 and PhotoShop 3.0, cause system errors, but this can be attributed to NT's meager 286 emulation mode. The next major release of NT will include a 486-enhanced mode emulator for RISC platforms.

Don't try to use the new Explorer GUI with this release of NT Workstation 3.51 PM, PowerPC Edition. It causes a fatal error that prevents you from logging onto your system. The only way out is to completely re-install NT.

Canon doesn't anticipate any problems delivering units (they are available in quantity now), and is trying to move PN-100s through VARs. Both large and small corporations can look forward to quantity discounts.

Future Outlook
A strong commitment to NT from Canon and the Motorola/IBM alliance will spell success for this product. And with major software developers backing it (more than 100 are finally porting packages to the PowerPC), even software availability issues will soon be resolved.

Canon PN-100

  • 100-MHz PowerPC 603e (32-bit external bus, 33 MHz)
  • 256KB L2 cache
  • 16-bit stereo integrated audio, 1/8" I/O ports
  • 16MB of RAM (standard, expandable to 48MB with 16MB DIMMs)
  • PCI Fast SCSI-2 (internal/external)
  • 2&1/2" 810MB internal hard disk (upgradeable)
  • Integrated 2X CD-ROM drive
  • 10.4" TFT LCD (16-bit, 1MB of VRAM)
  • 640 x 480 with video capture option; 800 x 600 without
  • Two Type-II (or one Type-III) PCMCIA slots
  • Serial, parallel, ISA I/O, PS/2 mouse, SVGA connectors
  • Integrated pointing device
  • External floppy
  • NiMH battery

Contact: Canon * 800-848-4123

Price: $7100 (quantity discounts available)