Very affordable portables – Compaq Armada 1120T and IBM ThinkPad 365X portable computers – Hardware Review – Evaluation

Rick Broida

Just because you have a limited budget doesn’t mean you have to settle for a limited notebook. The latest notebooks from IBM and Compaq offer Pentium power and dazzling displays for under $2,500. These affordable portables aren’t equipped for multimedia presentations and don’t have the latest and fastest Pentium microprocessors under the hood, but they’re perfect for such road chores as word processing, number crunching, contact management, and e-mail.

On paper, the $2,299 Compaq Armada 1120T and $2,399 IBM ThinkPad 365X could be twins. Each boasts a 100MHz Pentium processor, a 10.4inch active-matrix screen, an 810MB hard drive, and 8MB of RAM. They’re the same weight (just under six pounds) and covered by comparable service policies: 24-hour toll-free phone support and a one-year warranty. But despite their similarities, the Armada and ThinkPad are two very different notebooks. Since both units share the same fast Pentium processor, we decided to focus on the often-overlooked questions of comfort, flexibility, and bundled software.

If money is really tight, save a few hundred dollars by sacrificing the active-matrix screen. With a dual-scan display, the Armada costs $1,899; the ThinkPad, $1,999.


Compaq Armada 1120T

Manufacturer: Compaq Computer Corp., 800-345-1518

Avg. Street Price: $2,299

System Configuration: Pentium 100MHz processor, 810MB of hard-disk space, 8MB of RAM, 10.4-inch activematrix color screen, trackball pointing device

Compaq Armada 1120T

Rating: * * 1/2

WIN 95

We felt like we’d seen the Armada 1120T somewhere before. Possibly because it’s a dead-ringer for Compaq’s now-discontinued Contura. On the inside, however, there’s a Pentium processor where once stood a 486, an active-matrix screen in place of passive matrix, and a much larger hard disk. These are welcome improvements, but the Armada is just an upgraded Contura with a new name. As such, it possesses many of the same strengths–and shortcomings.

For instance, the Armada retains the Contura’s outstanding keyboard. The full-size keys are firm and responsive, and the wrist rest makes typing quite comfortable. Cursor control comes from an optical trackball that’s sunk into the wrist rest and sandwiched between two concave mouse buttons. The trackball proved oversensitive until we adjusted its settings in the Windows control panel. The mouse buttons, however, couldn’t be adjusted: They’re stiff and offer minimal feedback. Fortunately, the Armada has a PS/2-style mouse port, allowing you to substitute your favorite rodent when working on the desktop.

The Armada’s no-frills approach goes a bit too far, however. Even an entry-level notebook requires audio capabilities, an infrared dataport, and an optional audio card or CD-ROM drive, but the Armada lacks them all. (The unit does have two Type II PC Card sockets, should you wish to attach a third-party CD-ROM drive.) On a positive note, the Armada’s Duracell nickel-metal-hydride battery (good for two to three hours between charges, according to Compaq) is nonproprietary, so spares should be inexpensive and easy to come by.

Compaq’s software bundle is an intelligent mix of online documentation and basic applications. Among the latter are Microsoft Works 4.0 for Windows 95, Gold Disk’s Astound CSE (a business-presentation program), and Netscape Personal Edition. Missing are start-up kits for America Online and CompuServe–both of which are present in the Contura’s bundle.

Two other important items vanished in the transition from Contura to Armada: the carrying case and Compaq’s three-year warranty. Although the Armada scores points with its fast processor, attractive screen, and comfortable keyboard, it lacks a strong set of features and applications.


IBM ThinkPad 365X

Manufacturer:IBM, 800-426-2968

Avg. Street Price: $2,399

System Configuration: Pentium 100MHz processor, 8lOMB of hard-disk space, 8MB of EDO RAM, 10.4-inch active-matrix color screen, TrackPoint III pointing device, 16-bit audio

IBM ThinkPad 365X

Rating: ***1/2

WIN 95

The latest in 1BM’s ThinkPad 365 series serves up Pentium power at a palatable price. Although it costs $100 more than Compaq’s Armada, the ThinkPad is superior in many ways, offering features that more than make up for the difference in price. For starters, it employs EDO RAM, the new, highly charged memory that tests have shown can boost system performance by up to 15 percent. Furthermore, the ThinkPad includes the important features the Armada lacks: 16-bit stereo audio, an infrared dataport, and the ability to add an optional external CD-ROM drive from IBM.

The ThinkPad’s keyboard matches the Armada’s in terms of comfortable, full-size keys, but it lacks a wrist rest. As a result, the rather crisp corners of the notebook tend to dig into your palms as you type. The ThinkPad employs an eraserhead-like pointing device for cursor control. As with the Armada, the problem lies with the mouse buttons: They’re stiff and unresponsive, making it difficult to know when you’ve registered a click.

Along with sound capabilities, the ThinkPad features a builtin microphone, line-in and line-out jacks, and a socket for an optional port replicator, which increases the notebook’s expandability. According to IBM, the ThinkPad’s nickel-metal-hydride battery is good for two and a half hours. Unfortunately, you have to raise the keyboard to get at the cell–a process made awkward by the flimsy plastic clasps that lock and unlock the keyboard.

Bearing the fruits of the recent IBM/Lotus merger, the Thinkpad includes Lotus SmartSuite 96, a collection of powerful office applications. This generous offering could prove to be a mixed blessing if you’re using a desktop system that doesn’t have SmartSuite 96 on it.

An extremely well-rounded notebook, the ThinkPad 365X is a fine choice if you want portability, performance, and software in the $2,500 range.

Rick Broida

COPYRIGHT 1996 Freedom Technology Media Group

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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