Zepto Notus A12 Review

by Reads (22,483)

The Zepto Notus A12 is an innovative notebook which combines a very usable WXGA display with a low power CPU to give adequate performance with all-day battery operation and a cost lower than other notebooks with similar characteristics.

Readers of my reviews may recall that I was enthusiastic about the Sony G11 which had a 12.1" display, 1.13kg (2.49lb) weight and offered 9 hour battery life in return for accepting compromises on performance (link to that review). I can’t be the only person who wants a lightweight portable notebook with very good battery life for basic tasks while on the move but doesn’t want a very small display.


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The Notus (right) outside next to the Sony G11 (left). The glossy screen can be used as a mirror! (and I could get a wireless connection to the router inside the house)

Reasons for Buying

I haven’t bought the Notus. I just borrowed it so that I could share my findings. However, if I hadn’t bought that Sony G11 last year then I would be very tempted to buy the Notus for the same reasons as I bought the G11.


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The 12.1" Zepto Notus between the 14.1" Zepto 6024W and the 12.1" Sony G11 (all displays at maximum brightness)


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The Notus’s display next to the 10" display of the Fujitsu P2020

What’s in the Box?

The Notus came in a small box containing:

  • The Zepto Notus notebook
  • The PSU, power cable, a battery and a modem cable with a European phone socket adaptor
  • A sheet of paper with getting started instructions
  • A driver CD (including the 145 page manual as a PDF file)
  • Operating system DVD (if Notus ordered with optional operating system)
  • A small microfibre cleaning cloth

The review machine was supplied with Vista Business and the optional Samsung SE-T08L slot-loading external optical drive. Purchasers may select one of the various versions of Vista or no operating system at all. Windows XP is not offered since the display size of the Notus makes it ineligible for Microsoft’s continuation of XP for the small, low-powered notebooks.

Hardware Specs: Zepto Notus A12

The standard configuration comprised the following hardware and specifications:

  • CPU: Intel A110 (800MHz) with Intel 945GU chipset
  • Display: 12.1" WXGA (1280 x 800) glossy LCD with LED backlight
  • Memory: 1GB (1 x 1GB) DDR2 RAM running at 400MHz
  • Hard Disc: 80GB 4200rpm 1.8" HDD (Toshiba MK8009GAH)
  • Graphics: Intel GMA950 integrated GPU
  • Optical Drive: None built in, optional Samsung SE-T084L USB optical drive
  • Network: Realtek Gigabit Ethernet
  • Bluetooth: Cambridge Silicon Radio USB Bluetooth
  • Modem: HDAUDIO Softdata fax modem
  • Wireless: Zepto 802.11abgn wireless (Atheros AR5008X)
  • Ports: 3 x USB 2.0, gigabit network (RJ45), modem (RJ11), VGA, microphone, headphone, 1 x PC Card slot (Texas Instruments PCIxx12)
  • Media card reader: Texas Instruments PCI 7612 controller supporting SD/SDHC/MS/MS Pro/MMC
  • Audio: Realtek ALC262 high definition audio  + 1 x 1W loudspeakers and microphone
  • Touchpad: Synaptics touchpad 50mm x 29mm
  • UPEK fingerprint reader  + TouchChip fingerprint coprocessor
  • Smartcard Reader: Texas Instruments GemCore based SmartCard controller
  • 6-cell battery (10.8V, 5100mAh = 55.08Whr)
  • 45W (15V, 3.0A)  power supply with 2-pin connector
  • Dimensions: published:- 296 x 209 x 13.5mm, actual 296 x 205 x 21~36mm (10.9 x 8.43 x 0.8~1.4" (including feet)) . The size is almost the same as an A4 sheet of paper. The advertised thickness is misleading:
  • Weight : published = 1.3kg, actual = 1.36kg (2.47lb)  with 6 cell battery
  • Travel weight including PSU and cables 1.65kg (3.64lbs)
  • Price: £752.35 and up

 

A 3G datacard slot is a factory option but is not currently being offered by Zepto


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The weigh-in: Without and with PSU and power cables (kilograms)

Software

  • Windows Vista Business (as supplied – other options available)
  • Standard Notus Drivers and Utilities

Design and Build

One dominant feature is the wedge shaped design. Another dominant feature of the Notus is the extensive use of magnesium alloy metal in its construction with the display back, chassis and palm rest all being metal. The result is very solid build and a rigid chassis. Drop this notebook on your foot and it will hurt! At first look the Notus’s colour scheme appears to be black but it is actually very dark grey mottled (metallic?) paint. It looks quite durable but I didn’t try scratching it.

During travel the display is held closed by spring-loaded hinges. The hinges are very stiff and hold the display very firmly in position. It is necessary to use two hands to open the display. As new, the display has no wobble, although the hinges may loosen with time.

The bottom of the computer has small protruding feet about 1.5mm (1/16" long). There is a single removable cover for the mini PCI-E slot which contains the wireless card. There are no air vents on the bottom so this notebook is suitable for use on the bedclothes without sucking in fluff. The standard 6 cell battery fits at the back of the notebook and is held firmly in place by two latches.


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Underside of the Notus: The only
removable cover is for the mini PCI-E s
lot.
The small grille near bottom left corner of
the photo covers the loudspeaker

The battery appears to be the main reason for the back of the Notus being relatively thick. Sony had addressed this problem on the G11 by letting the battery be exposed at the back of the keyboard. The Notus would have benefited from the same approach, which would have also made the battery gauge accessible.

The Keyboard

The front edge of the palm rest is bevelled and is a very low 14mm from the table surface. The keyboard on the Notus has an almost standard layout. The Fn key occupies the front left corner which some people will dislike (is it time for two keyboard options with the Fn and Ctrl keys transposed?). There are 83 keys which have clear white markings on a black plastic background. The keys have slightly smaller than normal 17.5mm pitch. Personally, I miss dedicated Pg Up and Pg Dn keys and would have been pleased if these had been squeezed by, for example, shortening the enter key and using the empty space above the cursor right key.

The keyboard includes accented characters which can be created using the Alt Gr key (this also works with a normal keyboard, but I never knew that before!).


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The Notus keyboard. The palmrest attracts fingerprints

The keyboard is responsive has a comfortable action with reasonable travel. The Fn keys include the usual options for display switching, brightness and volume controls.

The touchpad is a miniscule touchpad (50mm x 29mm active area within area of 61mm  x 35mm). The touchpad buttons are right on the front edge of the palmrest. I am puzzled by the decision to not utilise the full area of the touchpad.


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The shiny surround to indicator lights
makes them difficult to read.
The touchpad is only active within the line.

There are six indicator lights with symbols on the edge of the chassis in front of the palm rest. The surround to the lights is glossy, which makes it difficult to read the symbols. From left to right the lights are: WLAN on; 3G on (will need 3G factory option); Bluetooth on; Smart card reader activity; Power indicator; Battery charge indicator.


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Buttons and lights at back of keyboard

The power button is located above the Prt Scr key with a blue light illuminated when the computer is on. There are three dim indicator lights to the left of the power button. These are Caps Lock, Num Lock and HDD activity. There are two other buttons above the F2 and F3 keys. One button (P1) is user-configurable. The other (ECO) toggles Economy mode. The fingerprint reader is at the back right, next to the display.

Ports and Features

Overall, the ports are quite well laid out. The fan exhaust is near the back on the left side. However, the audio ports are at the right side at the front and wires with straight plugs could get in the way of a mouse. There are three USB ports, which is good. The media card slot is shallow, so it would not be convenient to permanently leave a card in the slot for ReadyBoost.


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SD card sticks out of the media card slot

 

 Let’s have a tour of the sockets, clockwise starting at the front.


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The thin front has only the smart card slot, indicator lights and a microphone.


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Left side from back to front: VGA port, fan exhaust, wireless switch, USB2.0 port, media card reader


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The back: Security slot, battery and power socket


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Right side from front to back: audio ports, two USB ports, PC card slot, network port, modem port

The Display

The display is 1280 x 800 (WXGA) glossy LCD with LED backlight. The brightness, at the maximum setting was a close match to the Sony G11 without the slight unevenness in the LED backlighting I observed on the G11. I found that the contrast was best if the display was pushed back slightly. Reflections are the main issue with this display and I am surprised that Zepto opted for a gloss finish. The monitor code is LCD5860, which gives me no clue about the manufacturer.


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Display comparison: Notus on left and Sony G11 on right

There are 16 brightness levels. The lowest is too dark to be usable but 4/16 gives adequate lighting to extend battery time. Viewing angles are typical for displays of this type. The horizontal viewing angle range is good and the vertical range moderate for text work.


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Display viewed from different angles – it is best when pushed back a little

Audio Quality

The Notus contains one very small loudspeaker located on the bottom under the right palm rest. Not surprisingly for such a small notebook, the audio quantity and quality from this loudspeaker is poor. It is best described as a beeper. This is not claimed to be a multimedia notebook.

Processor and Chipset

The Notus A12 is designed for stamina, not speed, and is powered by the Intel A110 CPU. This CPU is effectively a "Dothan" Pentium M CPU with only 512kB cache. The maximum Thermal Design Power (TDP) rating of 3.0W is lower than the 5.5W of the U1500 Core Solo CPU and the power consumption drops to below 1W in the low power states.


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CPU-Z reports for the Notus A12 CPU. There is only one memory slot, or maybe it is on the board

This A110 CPU has voltage range of 0.812V at 600MHz / 800MHz. Intel’s data sheet shows that individual A110s may be set to voltages in the range 0.796V to 0.94V (but a quick trial with RMClock revealed that the voltage on this Dothan CPU can be lowered). The memory runs at a leisurely 400MHz but with low latency. Lower speed means less power consumed.

Alongside the low power CPU is the Intel 945GU chipset which is a lower power version of the normal Intel 945GM chipset. Features include the use of only a single memory channel with a maximum speed of 400MHz and maximum address capability of 1GB and the GPU clock is only 133MHz.

Hard Disk

The supplied hard disk is a 80GB 1.8" 4200rpm Toshiba MK8009GAH using the PATA interface. 1.8" HDDs have smaller size, lower weight and less capacity than the 2.5" HDDs used in most notebooks. They also have lower power consumption but are slower compared to the current generation of 2.5" HDDs. The MK8009GAH had a maximum transfer rate of 28MB/s dropping down to 13MB/s. The user guide indicates that the HDD has rubber protection at 4 corners, and a G-Sensor function. HD Tune’s results for this disk are below.


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Optical Drive

The optional optical drive is a Samsung SE-T084L external USB unit. This is a slot loader which supports LightScribe and 8cm discs. It can be powered through either the USB port or the supplied PSU.


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The box for the SE-T084L describes most of its features

I had previously bought the SE-T084L for myself and discovered a poorly-documented feature: When the optical drive is powered by USB the speed is automatically reduced to 10 x (for CD) and 4 x (for DVD) for both reading and writing. Unless Mt Rainier support is needed, I would recommend to the LG GSA-E50L external USB tray loading optical drive which will run at full speed on USB power when connected to the Notus (I tested it) or, if mobility is not a requirement, a standard size optical drive with USB connection.. The SE-T084L’s basic weight is about 0.42g and the PSU and cables add another 0.2kg, so the Notus plus optical drive will weigh in at nearly 2kg. However, most other notebooks in this weight range do not offer such long battery life.

Notus BIOS and Utilities

The Zepto Notus BIOS is accessed by pressing the Enter key or the left mouse button while the initial boot screen is displayed. These will bring up a boot options menu:


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Notus boot menu

The Notus offers a good range of boot device options including USB CDRM, USB HDD and USB key.

A system tray utility is provided which enables quick access for: (i) configuring the ECO button; (ii) the quick bar, which can be used to turn Bluetooth on or off; and (iii) defining the P1 button.


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So how does the Notus Perform?

Windows Vista Experience Index

Vista on a low-powered computer doesn’t seem to be the best choice but Microsoft has left Zepto with no choice unless the purchaser either has a valid XP licence or opts to use Linux.


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The G11 scored 1.0 on the Windows Experience Index. The weak link was the gaming graphics with 1.0, followed by the desktop graphics at 1.9 and the CPU at 2.1. Surprisingly, the RAM scored 4.5. It appeared that Vista had automatically disabled some of the eye candy to avoid overloading the GPU during normal usage.

SuperPi

SuperPi is often used as a test for raw CPU performance and there is a large database of results for the older CPUs. The 800MHz A110 CPU in the Notus needed 3 minutes 51 seconds to complete the calculation to 2 million digits.


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The table below compares the Notus’s SuperPi score with some other notebooks. It is about three times faster than a 633MHz Transmeta Crusoe CPU. Although the A110 is of the Pentium M family it is 65% as fast as a 1.6GHz Banias Pentium M so the small cache doesn’t adversely affect the SuperPi result.

Notebook

Time

Zepto Notus A12 (800MHz Intel A110)

3m 51s

Sony Vaio VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500)

1m 46s

Zepto 6024W (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 with 800MHz FSB and 667MHz RAM)

0m 59s

Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200 with 667MHz FSB & memory speed)

1m 02s

Samsung Q35 (1.83MHz Core 2 Duo T5600 with 667MHz FSB and 533MHz RAM)

1m 16s

Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo (T2300) with 533MHz memory speed)

1m 29s

Sony Vaio TZ90HS (1.2GHz Core 2 Duo ULV U7600)

1m 50s

HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz Turion 64×2 TL-52)

2m 05s

Fujitsu S6120 (Pentium M 1.6GHz)

2m 29s

Dell Inspiron 2650 (Pentium 4 Mobile 1.6GHz)

4m 05s

Fujitsu P2020 (Transmeta Crusoe TM5600 633MHz)

13m 42s

 

It has been suggested that SuperPi should be superseded by wPrime. The U1500 completed the 32M calculation in 212.232s. This is much, much slower than we are used to seeing for the recent dual core CPUs, slightly slower than the 900MHz mobile Celeron in the Eee PC, but it is faster than the 1.6GHz Pentium 4 mobile.


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Notebook / CPU

wPrime 32M time

Zepto Notus A12 (800MHz Intel A110)

212.232s

Zepto 6024W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz)

42.385s

Hewlett Packard DV6000z (Turion X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz)

38.720s

Samsung Q35 (Core 2 Duo T5600 @ 1.83GHz)

46.274s

Lenovo ThinkPad X300 (Intel Core 2 Duo L7100 @ 1.20GHz)

98s

Fujitsu S6120 (Pentium M 1.6GHz)

113.705s

Sony Vaio VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500)

124.581s

Asus Eee PC 701 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz)

200s

Dell Inspiron 2650 (Pentium 4 Mobile 1.6GHz)

231.714s

Fujitsu P2020 (Transmeta Crusoe TM5600 633MHz)

608.792s

 

The Notus’s memory performance is of interest because it uses the Intel 945GU chipset with a single memory channel. WEI gave the RAM as score of 4.5 which is almost as high as the score for my Zepto 6024W (4.8 for dual channel DDR2 667MHz Intel 965 chipset). SiSoftware Sandra reports a memory bandwidth of about 1700MB/s compared to 2200MB/s for the Sony G11 (single channel but two modules at 533MHz) and 3800MB/s for my Zepto 6024W. WEI’s memory score is anomalous and confirms that WEI should be used for entertainment purposes only.

PCMark05

The PCMark05 score for the Zepto Notus A12 was 1,554 PCMarks. The table below compares the PCMark05 test result with some other notebooks. Out of curiosity I also ran PCMark05 on the G11 with the CPU locked to 800MHz and it scored 952 PCMarks.

Notebook

PCMark05 Score

Zepto Notus A12 (800MHz Intel A110 and Intel GMA950 GPU)

964 PCMarks

Fujitsu S6120 (1.6GHz Pentium M and Intel GM855 GPU)

1246 PCMarks

Sony Vaio VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500)

1,554 PCMarks

Apple MacBook Air (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7500, Intel X3100)

2,478 PCMarks

Sony Vaio TZ90HS (1.2GHz Core 2 Duo ULV U7600)

2,517 PCMarks

Samsung Q35 (1.83GHz Core 2 Duo T5600, Intel 945GM)

3,059 PCMarks

Samsung R20 (1.73GHz T2250 and ATI 1250M chipset / GPU)

3,498 PCMarks

Lenovo ThinkPad X300 (1.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo L7100 + X3100)

3,467 PCMarks

Zepto 6024W (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and Intel X3100 GPU)

4,063 PCMarks

Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI X1700)

4,555 PCMarks

3DMark05

The Zepto Notus A12 managed a score of 188 3DMarks for 3DMark05. This score is about half of the result for the Sony G11, with the slower CPU, slower RAM and slower GPU being the likely factors. The Notus is compared below with other results for notebooks with integrated graphics. So don’t think of playing 3D games on this machine.

Notebook

3DMark05 Score

Zepto Notus A12 (800MHz Intel A110 and Intel GMA950 GPU)

188 3DMarks

Sony Vaio VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500 and GMA950)

357 3DMarks

Samsung Q35 (1.83GHz Core 2 Duo T5600, Intel 945GM)

447 3DMarks

IBM Thinkpad T43 (1.86GHz Pentium M, Mobility Radeon X300)

727 3DMarks

Zepto 6024W (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and Intel X3100 GPU)

910 PCMarks

Samsung R20 (1.73GHz T2250 and ATI 1250M chipset / GPU)

1,151 3DMarks

Battery, Power Supply and Cooling System

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Zepto Notus is the power management and whether the claimed 10 hours of operation away from a power socket is realistic.

The power supply is small and light 45W (15V, 3A) unit with 1.8m power cables and has a 2 pin power connector.  The 2 pin connectors have thinner and lighter mains power cables but mean there’s no grounding. The PSU does not have a power light. I could feel some electrical charge on the metal palm rest when I brushed my fingers over it although there is no potentially dangerous voltage on the metal parts. The PSU draws about 1W of mains power when the computer is off.


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The Notus’s 45W PSU (top left) the G11’s 45W PSU (top right) and my 6024W’s 90W PSU (bottom)

The 6-cell battery is rated at 10.8V, 5.1AH, 55.08WHr. RMClock reported a fully charged capacity of 53.525WHr which is almost 3% less than the nominal capacity. The charging rate is up to 25W but reduces once the battery approaches full charge. The user guide indicates that charging may take up to 4.6 hours when the computer is on and four hours when the computer is off. Recharge only starts when the charge level is below 90% in order to reduce the number of charge cycles used for small top-ups.


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The battery has a gauge, but it is only visible when the battery is removed

Other demands on my time meant I was unable to carry out a full day test on battery but it is possible to draw conclusions by looking at the power drain under different load conditions (these tests had wireless and Bluetooth switched off and no connected mouse). The observed power consumption could fluctuate by about 10 percent.

Usage condition

Power drain

Potential time

Computer on idle and display on lowest brightness

5.5W

10 hours

Computer on idle and display on 4/16 brightness

6.5W

9 hours

Computer in use and display on 8/16 brightness

8.8W

6 hours

Computer in use and display on full brightness

10.6W

5 hours

Full load (3DMark05 test) and display on full brightness

12W

4.5 hours

 


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87% charge and forecast over 8 hours remaining!

Therefore the claimed "up to 10 hours" on battery assumes the backlight on the minimum setting, which is too dark to use, and the battery drained from fully charged to zero (but Vista normally goes into hibernation when there’s 3% charge remaining). However, I believe that, from my experience with the Sony G11 over several months, 7 or 8 hours is achievable under light usage doing tasks such as Word or email and that time can be easily extended using a short time setting to turn the backlight off and go into sleep mode. Not many people work at a keyboard for 8 hours continuously without breaks. The power consumption difference between idle and full CPU load is about 2W so no "tweaking" is required to squeeze the maximum time out of the battery.

What about heat and fan noise? Under light usage the fan stayed off and only came on when the CPU was under load for some time. The fan is relatively noisy due to its small size but the noise would only be noticeable in a quiet room.

Heat is not a problem with this notebook. The left side of the bottom (under the CPU) gets slightly warm but not uncomfortable and there would be no difficulty in using this computer as a genuine laptop. I suspect the substantial amount of metal in the construction helps to dissipate the heat which maintaining temperatures at an acceptable level.

Warranty and Customer Support

Zepto provide a one year return-to-base warranty as standard. Unfortunately, Zepto’s base is in Denmark and Zepto use 3-day shipping so a notebook can be gone for a couple of weeks for a one day repair. There have been recent problems with notebooks waiting for more than a week before they get to the front of Zepto’s service queue.

Conclusion

This is the computer equivalent of a saloon car with a 500cc engine: It will get you from A to B, but never very quickly, and you can drive it all day on a gallon of petrol while sitting idle in traffic jams doesn’t cost much fuel.

The Notus will appeal to people who find the battery life of the Dell D430 too short, or are reluctant to pay the price of notebooks such as the Sony G series (now hard to find) or the Toshiba R500 (which also has a relatively short battery life) or find the display of the smaller notebooks such as the Sony TZ series to be too small. Features such as the fingerprint reader (which I did not test) and smart card reader will appeal to businesses concerned about security. I would have preferred the Notus to have a non-glossy display but it appears that Zepto believe the majority of users prefer glossy displays.

The extensive use of magnesium alloy in the construction suggests that the Notus can survive a lot of abuse. The Notus doesn’t need to be pampered in a padded bag. A simple sleeve will keep the dirt off and reduce the travel weight and volume.

Potential owners who already have a valid XP licence can buy the Notus without an operating system. Although XP drivers are not currently provided by Zepto, I understand that there should be no problems in installing XP. I also tried the Ubuntu Linux 8.04 Live CD which appeared to install OK and I could connect to my router and browse the internet. The Linux power gauge indicated that battery life would be similar to Windows.

Pros

  • Compact design with excellent construction quality
  • Bright and legible display
  • Impressive battery life
  • Reasonable hard disk capacity and speed for this form factor
  • Small and light power supply
  • Excellent attention to detail

Cons

  • Glossy display causing reflection problems
  • Very slow CPU
  • 1GB RAM limit
  • Mediocre audio through the internal speaker
  • Very small usable touchpad area
  • Half depth media card slot


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