by Scott Tranter, California USA
Specs of my Chembook 2030 (Compal FL30)
- 1.86Ghz Centrino
- 1.25GB RAM
- 60GB 7200 RPM
- Geforce Go6400 64mb (shows 256mb of Video Ram in Control Panel and on all PC & 3dmark tests)
- Wireless A/B/G
- Windows XP Home
- 14″ widescreen WXGA
- Full specs here
- Price – $1595 shipped
I have owned a Dell Inspiron 8200 for the past three years. The specs for the 8200 I had are as follows:
- 1.6 Pentium M
- 512mb RAM
- Geforce 440go 64mb
- 40 GB 5400 RPM HD.
- Windows XP Home
The 8200 did what I wanted it to do but eventually the poor build quality and the hefty 8lbs made me want to get something with a little more portability.
I was willing to sacrifice some Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) power and screen size to get the portability, but I did not want to compromise on build quality.
I started by looking at the ASUS z63a and z33a, but was worried about the integrated video. I had thought about the Sony VAIO S480 and VAIO S360, but due to price and its inferior Geforce go6200 video card I decided against it. So when I heard about the Chembook 2030 it seemed like a perfect fit – 5lbs w/battery, decent video card, and it was a pretty good price.
The Chembook 2030 is not an ultra-portable, but rather it falls under the thin and light category. By looking at the images you can tell that it is just as wide as my 15″ Dell Inspiron 8200, but it is about an inch shorter. It is definitely thinner as the images show and it does in fact weigh 5lbs with battery which is about 3lbs less than the Dell.
Chembook versus Dell (larger image)
Dell side by side with Chembook (larger image)
Chembook thickness compared to 8200 (larger image)
Build and Design
The computer top is smooth and glossy and colored “pearly white with grey wisps.” When I first opened the computer I thought I saw scratches as I could see a lot of “grey wisps” on the top. After closer inspection I can tell that they are intentional. They are hard to capture in a photograph and in person they are a lot more obvious but below is an example of what I’m talking about.
Wisps (view larger image)
Top cover wisps (view larger image)
logo (larger image)
The rest of the computer is made of a very hard and rigid plastic. The edges of the keyboard do appear to be painted silver. There is no palmrest flex, or any other flex that I can detect.
keyboard edge (larger image)
The hinges that hold the screen up are little tight but I guess that will loosen up with use. On the Dell 8200 I could open the screen up with one hand, but with my Chembook I have to use two hands – one to hold the laptop down and the other to lift the lid. The good news is that the Chembook does not creak when I open it.
I like the display a lot. I was a little bit worried about the WXGA resolution because I liked the SXGA I had with the Dell 8200 (I like to have multiple windows on the desktop). So far I can say the screen is bright and sharp enough for me has no dead pixels that I can see.
Resolution example (larger image)
Screen (view larger image)
Ports, Speakers, Wifi
- 4 USB Ports
- 1 S-Video
- 1 4 in 1 Card Reader
- 1 Ethernet
- 1 Modem
- 1 Microphone input
- 1 Microphone (to record for webcam)
- 1 headphone/speaker out
I like the location of the audio ports on the front as well as the memory card slot. I’m not a fan of all the USB ports being located on the sides (2 on each side). When I plug my mouse in the cord gets in the way or if I plug it in on the other side the cord is too short. S-Video is in the back and the modem and Ethernet are on the sides, since I haven’t used either of these ports yet I can’t comment on their location, but it will depend on your unique situation if you like them. The Chembook 2030 came standard with 802.11 A/B/G and I can connect at the same speed and distance from my Access Point as my Dell which is about 150-200 feet. There is no Bluetooth or infrared wireless included. You plug the power adapter in on the left side and although this hasn’t posed a problem yet I think I’d prefer it to be on the back. The speakers are definitely weaker than my Dell, but I was not expecting much.
Leftside thickness compared to quarters (larger image)
Right side (larger image)
The Chembook 2030 includes a built-in webcam that works, although when the video shows up on the screen it seems like the picture is in slow-motion or has lots of lag. It’s a novelty and toy right now and the fact it works is already a bonus. It takes pictures and short videos so maybe it will move from a toy to an actual utility later on.
webcam (larger image)
I consider the Widescreen a neat feature as this is the first widescreen computer or TV I have ever owned. I’ve watched a few minutes of a DVD movie on it and there is still a sliver of black bars on the top and bottom but I guess that’s because this screen isn’t 16:9? It looks better then my Dell 15inch screen, so that is a plus to me.
Having a Memory Slot is a big plus to me except for the fact that when I stick my SD memory card in it sticks out like 2cm. Since the slot is in the front of the computer I can see it getting caught on something in the future. It works just like a USB thumb drive in recognizing the flash media as an external drive to write or read files from, and since my phone and camera use SD memory it is really useful. I used my 1 GB PNY SD card (normal speed) and was very impressed at how quickly the images are pulled off the card. Transfer speeds were excellent and there was no lag when I was browsing the thumbnails off of the card.
INSERT “SD MEM” IMAGE
I had two batteries installed on my Dell and could watch almost 4 hrs of DVD’s on it. This computer claims 3 hours of life so I am guessing that would end up being about 1 2-2-hour DVD. When I mouse over the battery meter at full it fluctuates between indicating 2.5 hrs and 3hrs at full charge. You can turn off the WiFi so that should help too. I got a little over three hours while just typing and having WiFi on. Another neat bonus – the computer came with a power adapter, looks like a European adapter?
Adapter (larger image)
Keyboard, Touchpad and Heat
As I type this review on the keyboard the touchpad is getting in the way. It is annoying, but I imagine I will get used to it. The keys feel good. The keyboard is white just like an iBook. On my Dell I had volume buttons, there are no such buttons on this unless I use the Fn key. I like the scroll button on the touchpad, makes it easy for scrolling through such things as webpages. The touchpad is rectangle and not a square. The Palmrest area is warm but by no means uncomfortable; it is definitely cooler than my Dell. The heat is distributed evenly on both sides of the palmrests. The bottom of the laptop is surprisingly cool and the only warm spot is in the upper left (if it is sitting in your lap).
keyboard (larger image)
keyboard (larger image)
The Chembook 2030 comes with a carrying case, although it is more like a glorified sleeve, but it fits. I may buy the Shinza or Booq Vyper as a more stylish option for carrying my laptop around.
Performance and Benchmarks
This computer is definitely quicker than my Dell and so far no complaints with performance. For example – Normally I turn off all icons on the desktop to give my desktop a clean look, when I do this on my Dell it takes about 20-30 seconds to make all the icons disappear (the 8200 just hangs while I do this) with the new Chembook it takes less than 3 seconds (and yes I made sure I had the same amount of icons). I run multiple programs at a time (usually Mozilla with 5+ tabs, word and/or excel, AIM, and usually Musicmatch) and this computer is up to the task and has no problems.
Programs seem a little quicker and the games I play definitely load faster and play more smoothly than with my 8200. The most recent game I’ve been playing is Rise of Nations and C&C Generals — they both work terrifically. The 1.25GB of RAM and 7200 RPM HD probably have a lot to do with this.
I ran the benchmarks for this machine straight out of the box. The only thing I updated was Windows Media player so I could run 3dmark 05 as well as some Windows XP updates.
I was disappointed with the results I got, I was told to expect these numbers:
- 3DMark 03 – 3065 (expected)
- 3DMark 05 – 1061 (expected)
When in actuality I got these numbers:
- 3d mark 03 – 2562 (actual)
- 3d Mark 05 – 953 (actual)
Maybe it’s my drivers? I guess a trip over to laptopvideo2go will be in order and hopefully that will help. Post any thoughts on this in the forums as any help would be appreciated. Another problem I had when running benchmarks was that I could not publish my scores due to “inconsistencies in my computer” – maybe the benchmark application can’t recognize the geforce 6400, on the 3dmark 05 application it said my processor couldn’t be clocked accurately, quite odd.
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|ChemBook (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 49s|
|Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 53s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M) ||1m 45s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 52s|
|Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|Sony VAIO S360 (1.7 GHz Dothan Pentium M)||1m 57s|
|Sony VAIO S170P (1.5 GHz Dothan Pentium M)||2m 07s|
|Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m|
PC Mark 04 – 3611
PC Mark 05 – 2562
|Chembook 2030||Dell Inspiron XPS2|
|Minimum Transfer Rate||14.3 MB/sec||18.5 MB/sec|
|Maximum Transfer Rate||35.7 MB/sec||34.7 MB/sec|
|Average Transfer Rate||27.8 MB/sec||28.3 MB/sec|
|Access Time||15.5 ms||18.0 ms|
|Burst Rate||72.4 MB/sec||62.1 MB/sec|
I have a 160GB Western Digital 8mb cache External Drive on FireWire. I used it as backup for my Dell (which had a 5400RPM drive) and it took a little over 10 minutes to transfer 7GB. When I transferred that same 7GB from the External Drive to my Chembook (7200rpm drive) it took a little over 8 minutes.
And just to make me feel better:
3D Mark 01 – 10021
I also downloaded and tested the Battlefield 2 Demo – It worked pretty well and felt like it had some power to spare – here were my settings:
- All settings medium except for textures which was high
These were the settings BF2 automatically set for me during its installation process. I just played a single player map game with 16 bots and it played just as smoothly as Counterstrike 1.5 and looked much prettier.
Note on Geforce go6400
The Geforce go6400 card in this system has 64mb of dedicated built-in video RAM. It does have TurboCache that enables it to take up to 192mb of system memory to use for graphics functions. As you can see below it does take system memory and PC Mark 05 identifies it as Video RAM
video card info (larger image)
From what I have read this is just the same as Hypermemory (ATI equivalent to Turbocache) except it cannot take more than 192mb of system memory which Hypermemory appears to be able to do. You can read more about TurboCache and Hypermemory here:
- http://www.nvidia.com/page/go_6400.html – Nvidia Spec page, basically propaganda
- http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=2413 – good in depth review and comparison of the nuts and bolts of the technology
- http://forum.notebookreview.com/showthread.php?t=18685&highlight=turbocache – forum discussion on Hypermemory but since HM is similiar to Turbocache the basic principles can be applied.
I bought my computer from discountlaptops.com and was very, very pleased with the service. I ordered the computer on a Wednesday evening and received the computer the following Wednesday. What makes that great is that to save me tax (I live in CA) they had the computer shipped to them in Las Vegas first and then shipped from Las Vegas to my home all inside of a week, this saved me 7.5% sales tax. I emailed a billing question the night I ordered the machine at around 9pm and I received a response a little after 10pm that same night!
I got several emails updating me on the progress as well as tracking numbers for the computer when it went from California to Las Vegas and then from Las Vegas back to California. I received the computer in your standard box and it was wrapped up well (sorry no pics). I got actual copies of the XP Home OS as well as Nero, the Webcam Utility, and Power DVD. I haven’t used tech support yet but it came standard with a 2 year mail in warranty (1 way paid shipping) and lifetime tech support. Also, the forum they have for discountlaptops.com is constantly monitored by two employees (they might be owners?) and they respond very quickly.
After using the computer for a few days I am definitely happy with the Chembook. The computer is a little bigger than I expected, but then again I’ve never owned a widescreen anything so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. The weight is exactly what I expected and I am pleased. The performance benchmarks, as I said above, is a little below what I expected, but hopefully that can be fixed via drive updates, hardware tweaks and OS settings.
- Weight is as advertised at 5lbs
- Decent video card that can get the job done, although it is by no means high performance
- Widescreen – never owned one but so far it’s cool
- White cover and keyboard – adds a little bit of class and uniqueness
- Not as small as I expected in terms of dimensions
- Video Card did not initially perform as expected
- USB Ports on the sides and Memory cards stick out slightly – yes I was really digging to find a third con
As long as I can figure out how to get the benchmarks up I can’t see why anyone would not be satisfied with this computer. On paper this computer is cheaper and has more features than the Sony S360/S480, ASUS Z33a/Z63a and, in my humble opinion, the W3V (due to HD options and better price). If you are looking for a thin and light laptop with some graphics power then this is the one.
size comparison (larger image)
Note from Author:
If you have any questions please feel to PM me at “stranter” on notebookreview.com forums .