January 02, 2004
Perhaps the biggest portable trends of 2003 were Intel Centrino systems and letterboxed-DVD-worthy, wide-screen notebooks. WinBook's $1,999 newcomer combines the two, fitting a 15.2-inch display, 1.6GHz Pentium M power, wireless networking, and Nvidia GeForce FX Go graphics into a 6-pound slimline. Is it a business traveler's trump card, a multimedia fun machine, or both?
Pros: A wide-screened notebook that's lighter than many regular-screen models; good performance (except for tough 3D games); good battery life
Cons: Keyboard feels frail; like other Centrino systems, 802.11b instead of faster 802.11g wireless.
You normally think of affordable portable vendor WinBook as competing with Gateway and Dell, but somebody at the Ohio company seems fixated on Apple's wide-screen PowerBook G4. The new WinBook W160 has the same display size (15.2 inches diagonally) and resolution (1,280 by 854) as the middle version of the laptop Mac, with the same silvery finish.
It doesn't have the PowerBook's backlit keyboard, but its white, semi-translucent keys are the sincerest form of flattery. At 6 pounds, it's only 6 ounces heavier. Of course, being a WinBook, it's about $500 cheaper.
We'll drop the comparison before being burned by flame-mailing Apple fans (yes, we know, the PowerBook comes with more software and faster versions of FireWire and wired and wireless Ethernet). But we needed an angle to explain why shoppers should consider a $1,999 notebook from a firm often associated with $999 notebooks.
A Wireless Wide-Body
The Centrino sticker tells you the system is built around Intel's efficient Pentium M processor with 400MHz front-side bus and 1MB of Level 2 cache, while the W160 model number tells you it's the 1.6GHz version. Other familiar Centrino components include Intel's 855GM chipset and Pro/Wireless 2100 network adapter -- sticking with the trusty 802.11b instead of faster 802.11a/g WiFi flavors. But instead of settling for Intel's integrated graphics, WinBook opted for Nvidia's more 3D-game-worthy, or at least letterboxed-DVD-worthy, 64MB GeForce FX Go5200.
The 1,280 by 854-pixel panel is bright, crisp, and colorful; our test unit had no flawed pixels, and we admired its even, above-average backlight -- we often judge all but the top one or two too dim, but could see comfortably with all but the bottom few of the WinBook's eight screen-brightness settings.
And the GeForce FX Go5200 controller kept graphics moving smoothly. Aside from the usual, minimal, tinny speakers, the W160 was a fine DVD movie viewer, and it sprinted through the ancient Quake III Arena benchmark at 169 frames per second and an Unreal Tournament 2003 flyby at 79 fps (both at 1,024 by 768 resolution).
Its FutureMark 3DMark 2001 SE (freeware) score was a fair-to-middling 5,978, though it stumbled in the newest, most demanding 3D simulations -- a 3DMark03 score of 887, AquaMark3 GFX rating of 687, and stuttering, frequent-freeze-frame 9 fps in Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory.
Like other Centrino slimlines, however, the WinBook is intended more for business travelers than avid gamers, and its performance is more than adequate for office applications. FutureMark's PCMark 2002 scored it at 5,224 (CPU), 4,666 (memory), and 583 (hard disk), and it earned a rating of 159 -- Internet content creation 184, office productivity 138 -- in BAPCo's SysMark 2002. That's right on par with other Pentium M/1.6 portables we've tested, and not bad even for an entry-level desktop.