Many portables are on the market, but few offer the options, power, and ease of use of the Compaq LTE 5000 series. These features come at a price: $6700 for the base LTE 5200. However, if you're looking for a system that's as close to plug-it-in-and-run as you can get on a portable running Windows NT, an LTE is your best bet.

Power on the Road
Compaq sent the Windows NT Magazine Lab an LTE 5200 with all the fixin's, including 40MB of RAM, a 1.35GB hard drive, a quad-speed CD-ROM drive, and a docking station. The 120-MHz Pentium CPU is fast, and with 40MB of RAM and 256KB of L2 cache on the system board, this machine really gets up and goes. If that much memory and disk aren't enough for you, note that the unit can take up to 72MB of RAM by using a dedicated dual-card memory expansion slot for a 64MB module. In addition, you can get up to 2.7GB of disk internally, not to mention what you can add through PC Card (formerly PCMCIA) slots or a docking station.

Speaking of expansion, you get several options for mass storage, too. The floppy drive slides out of a multifunction MultiBay to make room for a CD-ROM drive. You can easily remove the internal hard disk, which even comes with a heavy-duty carrying case. Another option is Compaq's MultiBay Expansion Base. The only missing option is a SCSI-2 connector for extra peripherals on the road, and the expansion base doesn't have one, either (see the sidebar, "Adaptec SlimSCSI," on page 32).

The whole 5000 series, including the LTE 5200, has an excellent display: a 10.4", 800*600 pixel, full-color (65,000 colors) TFT active-matrix LCD. It's bright and easy to read. Although the display is smaller than the new 12.1" displays on high-end IBM portables, the Compaq offers plenty of screen real estate to work in and probably draws less power than IBM's large screen. A handy addition would be a switch to turn the backlight on and off to preserve battery life.

Features and Expansion
Like all high-end Compaq systems, the LTE 5200 has features galore. In addition to the memory and disk upgrades, the 5200's MultiBay can accommodate a CD-ROM drive, floppy drive, second hard disk (thus, with two 1.35GB drives, you can have a total of 2.7GB internally), or second battery.

The quad-speed CD-ROM drive will accept most formats (video CD, CD-I, Kodak Photo CD, Audio CD, ISO 9660/CDFS) on both 5.25" and 3.5" CDs. Through the expansion base, you can have up to 5.4GB of disk storage (with 2.7GB in the notebook, and 2.7GB in the base) or simultaneous CD-ROM and floppy.

The MultiBay Expansion Base also offers built-in 10BaseT Ethernet connectors (RJ-45 and coaxial). We didn't find an NT driver for this controller, and it had an address/interrupt conflict with the EtherLink III card we had already installed in the 5200. We had to either remove the card or disable the built-in controller to make the expansion base work. Disabling the base's controller and using a PC Card network interface is the only way to connect to a network until a proper driver is released. Other features include pass-through connectors for video, parallel, serial, audio, and keyboard/mouse, and a game/MIDI port. You can also get two additional Type III PC Card slots (which can also take Type I and II cards), an Infrared Data Association (IrDA-1) compatible optical data port (which is also on the portable), two additional MultiBay device bays, and a special connector for Compaq's MPEG and TV Video Adapter.

The system's built-in video support includes hardware-based Motion Video Acceleration (MVA) for improving smoothness and image flow. The MPEG option allows decompression, video playback and capture, Audio/Video Interleaved (AVI) video capture at full-motion speed, and a standard NTSC video output.

The 5200 has the standard suite of expansion connectors (SVGA, enhanced parallel, serial, PS/2-style keyboard/mouse), and a one-eighth-inch line-level stereo input, one-eighth-inch headphone and microphone ports, and an internal microphone.

Architecture and Performance
The LTE 5200 is not a workstation, but it's as close as any portable today will get. It has a 64-bit cache and memory bus, 32-bit PCI local bus video (1MB of DRAM), IDE controller, and extensive audio capabilities.

Based on a Cirrus Logic chipset, the LTE 5200's audio is fully SoundBlaster Pro compatible in both Windows NT and DOS mode. You will have to download the appropriate NT 3.51 driver from Compaq's FTP site (retrieve file ftp://ftp.compaq.com/pub/softpaq/drivers/sp1460.exe), and be sure to read the included instructions before using this driver. At the same location (sp1461.exe), you'll find a video driver file for the system's Cirrus video chips. So, with the proper driver, you get 16-bit, CD-quality stereo sound from the twin speakers on either side of the display--you even get a manual system volume control.

Portables do not typically use the very high-speed data and I/O buses that are on standard workstations. Although people don't usually choose notebook computers for compute-intensive applications, this system performs well on tasks such as multimedia presentations and office automation. Its high-end processing power means a multitude of applications can simultaneously run without any noticeable drop in performance.

Pros and Cons
The LTE 5200 is powerful, but setting it up for ordinary use revealed some interesting pros and cons. On the positive side, the LTE 5200 is compact yet solid, weighing 7.4 pounds. Upgrading the system is quick and easy: The memory module slides into a dedicated slot, and the BIOS autodetects it. You can swap devices in and out of the MultiBay with the flip of a latch. Setting up the operating system is painless, and all the software we tested on it, including audio and video applications such as Apple's QuickTime for Windows, works flawlessly.

On the less positive side, to change between an internal floppy and CD in the MultiBay, you must physically cycle the power, rather than just warm-boot it. The audio is noisy, with some buzz, hum, and static, because a little fan is directly adjacent to the audio circuitry. At the same time, this fan is a positive attribute, because it cools the system enough so that its 120-MHz CPU won't burn a hole through your lap. The system still has no power management. Although this lack is disappointing, it's not Compaq's fault, because NT does not support power management without specially written software. On the subject of power, note that the LTE 5200 has only a NiMH battery, instead of the Lithium-Ion battery that some of its competitors have, and we got only about 1.5 to 2 hours of serious use per charge. Be sure to disable the power management in CMOS, or your system will lose its mind when the hard drive spins down.

Like every system, this one has its flaws. But, make no mistake: The LTE 5200 is an excellent portable NT workstation, with everything you will need for power computing on the road.

Compaq LTE 5200
System Configuration: 120-MHz Pentium, 256KB of L2 cache; 40MB of RAM, 1.35GB hard drive; 4X PCI-IDE CD-ROM; TFT active-matrix display: 800x600x64K colors; MultiBay Expansion Base
Compaq * 800-888-5858
Price: Base configuration: $6499 (8MB of RAM, 1.35GB hard drive); 32MB memory module: $2149; Expansion Base: $489; 4X CD-ROM drive: $389


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