Averatec 3200 Notebook Review (pics, specs)

by Reads (33,311)

by Scott Eggleston

The Averatec 3200 laptop is an ultraportable/thin and light model series from underdog manufacturer Averatec.  This is a full review of the Averatec 3200H1 notebook.

Specs

  • CPU  Mobile AMD Athlon XP-M 2000+
  • LCD  12.1” XGA
  • Optical Drive  DVD/CD-RW
  • Hard Drive  40 GB (4200rpm)
  • Memory  256MB (2700 333DDR)
  • Wireless LAN  802.11g
  • Wired LAN  10/100
  • Modem  56k
  • USB  2.0 (3x)
  • Other ports PCMCIA, external monitor, AC power, headphone, mic
  • Dimensions (WxDxH)  10.9″ x 9.6″ x 1″
  • Weight (lbs.)  4.5 lbs.
  • OS WindowsXP Home

My Search

Averatec 3200 Series Laptop (view larger image)

When I started looking for a laptop, I was planning to record (and edit) video in the field directly onto a hard drive.  This would require several things: firewire (for video), USB (for simultaneous audio capture), and good battery life. Decent hard drive space is plus but not mandatory, since captures I don’t want can easily be deleted.  I also preferred an ultraportable, since I often commute to work on my bike, and did not want to carry more than 5 lbs. of laptop (which adds up with accessories) on my back.  Finally, a DVD burner would be a nice perk.

The “end all, be all” which met every possible requirement on my list was the Fujitsu S6210.  This appears to be a great laptop, with a dual battery system (the DVD burner is removable), Pentium M processor, a large (by ultraportable standards) 13″ screen, firewire input and 3 year warranty.  It also carries a hefty $1700 price tag at laptopsinc.com (the best price I could find).  Another disadvantage was that I could not physically examine this laptop, since no retail chain near me carried it.

Then, while perusing a Staples I came across the Averatec 3150, then later its successor, the 3200.  It had almost everything I wanted, and at half the price of the Fujitsu. I debated, read some reviews, got clearance from my loving wife and dove in!  This model was on sale for $899 with a $100 rebate.  Not bad, I thought.

Averatec right-side view (view larger image)

First Impressions

Upon first examination, the 3200 looks pretty classy.  It has a silvery, metallic look, which feels like a sturdy plastic.  I’m still not sure what it is made of (perhaps a composite?), but it does not feel cheap.  The ports are pleasingly arranged, and even though the battery bulges out a bit in the rear, it does not detract from the overall look.  In fact, I like it–it looks kind of industrial.  When closed, the front edges of the lid do not fit flush with the front of the notebook but curve back a bit.

Averatec 3200 left-side view lid open (view larger image)

Opening the lid requires a bit of heft, and is steadily held in place when you let go of it, no matter what angle you release it.  This reveals the 12.1″ screen, standard in this size of notebook.  I was a little disappointed that there was not more screen taking up the lid space (the edge is about 3/4-1″ around the screen), but this is not a Powerbook–it’s a budget PC.

Averatec 3200 left-side view of ports (view larger image)

Under the hood, there is an attractive dark gray keyboard with white letters for the main keys, blue for the alternate keys.  Toward the top of the keyboard is a wireless switch, a power switch, and some status lights (DVD/CD activity, HD activity, Num lock, Caps lock, and Scroll lock).  Below the keyboard is the touchpad with two buttons flanked by a pair of speakers, grilles facing up.  At the lower left lie three more status lights for power, wireless and battery.  At the very front of the computer there is also a headphone and mic jack, along with a volume knob. 

Overall, I find this laptop pleasing to look at, which kind of surprises me, considering the price.  I like the fact that despite marketing this computer to the budget crowd (like me), Averatec still cares about how it looks.

The Screen

When first powering up, the first I noticed was a bright green dot in the upper left corner of the screen!  Aaaaaarrrggghh!  The dreaded dead pixel!  I packed it up, and went back to Staples for an exchange, which was no problem.

Averatec 3200 Screen (view larger image)

Powering up again, there were no dead pixels (yay!), and I was treated to a nice looking 1024×768 screen (the maximum resolution).   The screen is not as vibrant  as some other laptops I’ve seen, but it is plenty bright and crisp.  In fact, I find a lower brightness level (easily adjusted with the FN-F6/F7 keys) easier on the eyes.  The 12.1″ size may seem limiting for some applications, but I like it, and works well with my editor, Sony Vegas, with little screen clutter.

Speakers

As with most small laptops, the speakers are nothing to write home about.  They are small and tinny, with absolutely no low end.  This may be fine for system sounds, but not much else. The volume also tends to be weak, and you’ll find the handy knob often maxed out to hear a decent level.  Fortunately, the headphone jack is easily accessed from the front of the computer, and sounds great.  Plan on carrying headphones (a good idea anyway) if you care about good audio out coming out of this box.

Performance

The 3200 comes with an Athlon XP-M 2000+ processor.  Being a mobile processor, you are allowed to tweak the CPU speed, affecting battery life as well as performance.  Running full speed takes more power (and more fan activity), while running slower requires less.  This is true of the Pentium M series as well, although the Pentiums get more out of their battery (which they should, as they are more expensive) than the Athlons. 

One feature I really like is the ability to set video ram in BIOS.  You can set it as low as 8 MB or as high as 64.  Since you are sharing video and system RAM, how you set this will affect performance.   My interest in this machine is for business apps, which all run fine using 8 MB.  Hardcore gamers will want to look elsewhere to a notebook with a dedicated video card, but older games should run fine with a higher video setting.

Powering up takes about 26 seconds to get to the login screen, and occasionally you will here “clicking” coming from the under the right hand rest.  This is your noisy hard drive, and is common in the 3200 series–so don’t panic!

I was pleased with the snappy performance this machine yielded, having had no lockups.  Sometimes when running at the slower “Max Battery” setting there is some lag, but basic word processing and web surfing runs fine at this setting.  If there is lag (such as with my video editor), I go full blast with the “Home/Office Desk” power setting.  This will drain the battery faster, of course.

Remember this is a slower machine.  The basic amount of RAM, average processor and standard hard drive are not going to make you a power user.  Upgrading the RAM (there is only one slot available) will most likely be the best performance move, and is easily done through a small door on the bottom of the laptop.

Keyboard

The keyboard is a condensed version of a normal keyboard.  While all the letter keys are normal sized, almost every other key is half-sized.  Although it may seem this would affect typing, I have found it works pretty well.  I have not had too may errors mistyping anything due to the smaller layout, despite my big hands.  The only exception to this is probably the backspace key, which is narrower than normal, and used  a lot.  I sometimes find myself pressing the “reverse slash” key in an effort to correct an error.  I think practice will make perfect in this case.

Averatec keyboard above view (view larger image)

There is also a “subset” of keys which are accessed with the blue “Fn” found in the lower left corner of the keyboard.  These keys have specialty functions and are marked in blue next to their white-marked counterparts.  These include a numeric keypad, Num lock, PgUp, PgDn, Home, End, F11, F12, Brightness control, Hibernate, switch to external monitor, and disable display. 

This is probably only an issue for anyone who uses the numeric keypad a lot, but since most laptops are designed this way (and don’t give you a keypad at all), it’s really a non-issue.  Also, the “Fn” key bumps the CTRL to the right, so anyone who likes to hit CTRL by memory will have to “unlearn what they have learned”.  I just look before I hit this key anyway, so no big deal to me.

The main issue with this keyboard is the way it feels.  The right side of the keyboard is sturdy and firm, while the left is not.  This is due to a cavity under the left side where the fan is housed.  If you press hard, you can see the keyboard sink down a bit.  What this means in real use, however, is that keys on the left side will rattle some when you press them, making typing a bit more noisy than it should be.  Again, this is something I have gotten used to, but others may find it maddening.  Try it in the store first.

Touchpad

This feature is well-implemented and works great.  The pad is very responsive, and double-clicks nicely.  The arrows printed on the bottom and right of the pad act as scroll wheels, and work rather well (which surprised me).  Finally, a nice software program comes with the laptop to configure the pad in just about every way imaginable.  Very impressive.

This touchpad is so sensitive I find myself disabling it when typing.  It is too easy to brush against it, sending your pointer to never never land.  Just make sure you have a mouse connected, so you can reenable it later.

I also like the two buttons below the pad.  They have a nice “soft” feel instead of the usual, hard “clacking” buttons that seem to be on most laptops I’ve played with. 

Ports

The setup here is bare-bones, which is an effort to keep the laptop small.  I’m glad Averatec disposed of all legacy ports (serial, parallel, ps2), keeping the look sleek and stealthy.  On the right side are 3 USB 2.0 ports, placed very close to each other.  While I have not had any problem plugging things in next to each other, getting them out can sometimes be a challenge.  Think ahead, and you’ll be okay (if only using two ports, leave the middle one empty).  AC power is also plugged in on this side, and is nicely out of the way, toward the back.

On the left side, there is the external monitor connector, the modem jack, an Ethernet port, and the PCMCIA slot.  I don’t care about the monitor or modem jack, but I am glad the LAN connection is on the side and not the back where it typically is.  It is much easier to access, with no turning of the laptop necessary.  There are no firewire ports on this machine, but after spending $13 on a PCMCIA card from newegg.com, I had two. I plugged it in, XP recognized it, problem solved.

As previously mentioned, the headphone and mic ports lie in the front, while no ports at all are in the back.  This is excellent design, unless you prefer the cable-less look to the annoyance of having to flip around or lean over your machine to plug something into it.  I’ll take cables at the side and front, thanks.

DVD/CD-RW

This is your basic drawer-style combo drive.  It is on the right side of the laptop, probably the most common location.  It works fine.

Averatec CD Tray / Optical Drive slot (view larger image)

Wireless

The wireless capability of the 3200 is of the 802.11g variety, and works great.  There is a switch just above the keyboard which turns it on or off, to save battery life.  I’ve used this feature in an airport, a hotel room, as well as some wardriving, all with no complaints (aside from normal wireless issues).  The 3200 has no infrared or bluetooth abilities.

Battery

Many have written in several online forums how disappointing the 3200’s battery life is.  I found this to be true as well.  Out of the box, you’ll only get about an hour of life from the battery (not even enough to watch a movie!), which is totally unacceptable.  This is due to the processor running at full speed when running off of the battery, which you cannot throttle down (contrary to the whole point of using a mobile processor). 

Even after changing the power setting, the processor speed didn’t change.  In fact, after plugging in the computer and setting it to “Max Battery”, the speed dropped to around 400mhz, which it should.  Pull the plug and the speed rockets to 1523mhz!

After a little more digging, these same forums reveal that the registry is screwed up and is easily fixed with a patch.  Why Averatec does not post this fix on their web site is beyond me.  See “hackability” at the bottom of this article to find how to fix this problem.  After applying the registry fix, I now get about 2:45 minutes from the battery!   While not up to Pentium M standards, at least I can watch an entire movie when I want to!

Speaking of watching movies, don’t use the PowerDVD program when watching movies off of a battery–it is a power hog.  Download VideoLAN, a free, open source DVD and video player–it is much more energy efficient.

Charging seems to take place in real-time.  It feels like it takes the same amount of time to charge that it does to discharge.  When charging the battery, the green battery light blinks until it is almost fully charged–then it just stays on.

Software

The Averatec comes with WindowsXP Home, and runs just fine.  I have had no major issues with XP, and have come to even like it (my desktop is Windows 2000).  A basic software package is included, which includes Microsoft Works and Cyberlink PowerDVD.

Customer Support

I have not had any problems that would cause me to call customer support.  The laptop comes with a 1 year manufacturers warranty.  Staples tried to sell me their extended policy, which I declined.  If you’re worried something bad will happen to your laptop, purchase away.  I prefer to save money and just be careful.

Hackability

One of the coolest things about this machine is how “upgradeable” it is.  I put that word it quotes because some of the best upgrades are not supported in the documentation.  For example, this model supports up to 512 megs of RAM.  People on averatecforums.com have successfully put a 1 gig stick inside their machines, which XP will apparently recognize.

Another cool upgrade is to add a DVD burner.  There are a couple of models which are easily swapped with your stock drive, cost around $120, and will work with the bezel on your stock drive. 

The hard drive is another story.  I have not found anyone who has successfully swapped out the stock unit, probably due to the fact it is buried inside the computer.  There is no easy way to get to it without disassembling the entire machine.

For more details on any of these topics (and a lot more) consult the excellent forums at averatecforums.com.  Also be aware that you embark on these upgrade adventures at your own risk.  If you are leery, don’t do it–you could blow up your whole box!

Pros

  • Very affordable
  • Nice design
  • Excellent touchpad
  • Compact and light
  • Wireless “g” with hardware switch
  • Ports easily accessible
  • Great for business applications
  • Cool upgrades possible

Cons

  • Noisy keyboard
  • Average battery life (after registry fix)
  • Tinny sound
  • Screen a bit washed out
  • Hard drive “clicks” occasionally
  • Not for graphic-intensive gaming

Conclusion

I like this laptop quite a bit.  Unlike a more expensive machine, it’s flaws can all be forgiven due to the low price.  While it may not be the ultimate field machine I was hoping for, there are enough workarounds to make it a very good one.  I think I’ll keep it.

Pricing and Availability


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