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Compaq Evo: Best of Both Worlds

By Patrick Morton and H. David Womack

Compaq Computer Corp.’s Evo N400c lives up to its claim as an “evolutionary ultra-portable” by combining the features of a full-size portable computer with the form factor of an ultra-portable.

The marriage of a full keyboard—including a large shift key, as opposed to the small ones found on many notebooks—and a 12.1-inch display in a machine that only weighs 3.5 pounds and is less than 1 inch thick creates a laptop that feels bigger than it actually is. Add to this the power of a 700 MHz low-voltage mobile Pentium III processor with 256K of onboard cache, 128M of RAM, and a 20G hard drive, and the Evo N400c is a workhorse of a laptop for both office-bound and mobile educators.

A smart traveler, the Evo N400c’s Pentium processor uses SpeedStep technology that allows the user to control processor speed when in AC or battery mode. In the battery-optimized mode, one can expect two to two-and-a-half hours of battery life.

The Evo N400c includes parallel, serial, USB, VGA, modem, Ethernet, and audio ports, meaning many traveling users may not need a port replicator. For those who need external drives and more ports, Compaq offers an optional mobile expansion unit (MEU) that clips to the bottom of the computer and offers two expansion bays (ours came with a floppy and DVD drive) and duplicates many of the ports found on the Evo N400c.

Unfortunately, it d'es not appear that the MEU was incorporated into the original design of the well-crafted Evo N400c case. One-half inch longer in the back than the notebook, the expansion unit almost seems to have been an afterthought of the design process. When connected, the two units have an insecure fit and give the laptop an overall feeling of imbalance.

However, traveling users will appreciate the bright screen, the ultra-slim power adapter, and the modem and Ethernet ports that do not occupy the PC Card slot, or require hardware keys or special cables.

Our review unit came with the 802.11b wireless module, and within a few moments we were logged on to our wireless network. The beauty of this multiport is that you no longer have to take up precious PC Card slot space to run a wireless card while on the move.

Instead, you can now use the multiport wireless card and use another adapter in the PC Card slot (we tested an IBM Corp. microdrive). As more multiport modules become available, this feature will quickly become the hallmark of laptop design.

Unlike many ultra-portables that include a reduced-size keyboard, the Evo N400c has a comfortable full-size keyboard. The mouse buttons and pointing stick are flush with the keyboard and take some getting used to, but they do not detract at all from the user’s overall comfort.

As far as ultra-portables go, this is a serious choice for educators who need a great deal of horsepower without the weight of a horse to drag around. Unfortunately, to make the most of this system, especially in the area of multimedia, they will need to invest in the MEU.

Patrick Morton is a technology engineer and H. David Womack is an information technology specialist at Wake Forest University.

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