Clearly, Compaq's aim is to provide the perfect enterprise machine for any and every business need. The company meets this goal by releasing a proliferation of portables in three basic categories: "ultraportable," "value" and "power" machines. And within each of these categories, each machine can be further tweaked by specifying a desired display size, processor speed, installed RAM or other options.
I evaluated three of Compaq's newest enterprise portables: The 3500 is aimed at the very-mobile user, the 1500 is a budget machine with a Celeron processor and the 1750 is a solid all-in-one workhorse. Each machine included the standard complement of ports-infrared, enhanced parallel, serial, external monitor, keyboard/pointing device, two PC Card ports with CardBus enabled on the lower slot, microphone in, headphone out and one USB connector.
Compaq uses SMART drives in its portables, which can predict an impending hardware problem and allow IT to set user parameters and perform remote management, thereby allowing efficient asset control over a far-flung computer fleet. Each Compaq portable is backed by a one-year limited warranty (three years for the 3500), with a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day service line and a free one-year, second-business-day pick-up and delivery service from Compaq. Your choice of Windows 95, 98 or NT 4.0 is preinstalled.
Compaq Armada 3500
The Armada 3500 series is squarely aimed at the on-the-go user and is indeed a traveler's dream machine-with one exception: Its battery doesn't last long enough. This is the catch-22 of so many lightweight machines. They're perfect for traveling, but due to their smaller batteries, they don't run for more than a couple of hours unplugged. The 3500's Li-ion battery only managed 75 minutes of power. (An optional Extended Life Li-ion battery is available.) So yes, you are going to have to choose-will it be lightweight or long lived? If the former, it would be hard to pick a better machine for the money than the 3500.
The 3500 sports a super-fast processor (366-megahertz Intel Mobile Pentium II) housed in a slim, dark-gray magnesium-alloy case and measures a mere 1.3 inches thick. The internal hard drive comes in sizes up to 6.4 gigabytes, 32 megabytes of RAM is standard, and the machine can support up to 160 megabytes.
Since the 3500 can't house integrated drives in its thinline case, users will need to tote the external floppy and maybe a CD drive. But the best bet is to purchase the Mobile Expansion Unit (MEU) for another few hundred dollars. The 3500 easily connects to the MEU slice, which contains either a 24X CD-ROM or a DVD drive, an integrated power supply, integrated stereo speakers, a subwoofer and a modular bay that holds an included floppy drive or an optional second hard drive, LS-120 or Zip. The MEU adds a little less than 3 pounds to the 3500's weight and three-quarters of an inch to its profile.
The sound the MEU's speakers produce is outstanding, making this a good machine for presentations. However, the 3500's performance, while not subpar, is not as snappy as one could expect from its system specifications.
The 13.3-inch screen displays a crisp 1,024- by 768-pixel resolution. The full-sized keyboard is firm and responsive, with an inverted-T cursor pad and a full-sized backspace key. The eraser-head pointing device performs smoothly. Above the keyboard are four customizable quick keys that you can program to launch an application or a file.
I was a little disconcerted over the lack of protection for the machine's ports-with the exception of the PC Card slots, they are completely exposed with no sliding doors or snap-down covers to protect them. But by and large, this is a good machine with ultraflexibility as its prime selling point-if you purchase the MEU.
Prices for the Armada 3500 start at $2,499.
The 1500 models are affordable all-in-one machines that include an integrated diskette drive, hard drive, CD-ROM drive and 56K V.90 modem. Here the processor is the Celeron, running at up to 300 megahertz, which provides outstanding performance at a lower price point.
Where Compaq did make a quality cut-and it shows-is in electing to power the machine with a nickel hydride (NiMH) battery. Consequently, the 1500c does suffer from a short battery life; I clocked it at just a minute over two hours with power management fully enabled.
The 1500c is rather plump, weighing 8.4 pounds with its AC adapter and measuring over 2 inches thick, a necessary form factor to house a CD and floppy disk drive internally at the same time. You can swap the floppy disk drive for a second battery ($186 optional). And here again, the uncovered ports offer no protection-it's just too easy to bang or dent them, and even the flotsam in the bottom of a computer bag might get into those naked ports.
The keyboard is comfortable to type on, and the display is a sharp 12.1-inch color TFT with 800 by 600 resolution (up to 16.7 M colors internal). The machine comes standard with 32 megabytes of RAM and can support up to 160 megabytes. The hard drive is a 4-gigabyte SMART drive, and you can opt for a 24X CD-ROM drive or DVD. Bottom line-the 1500c is a good, but not great, computer offered at an outstanding price.
Prices for the Armada 1500c start at $1,499
Compaq Armada 1750
The Armada 1750 manages to feature the latest technology while still keeping the per-unit price low.
Like all Compaqs, the 1750 is easily configured to meet all users' needs and enterprise budgets-you can select from a 233-, 266- or 300-megahertz Intel Mobile Pentium II processor, up to a 14.1-inch TFT display and a 3-, 4- or 5-gigabyte SMART hard drive.
Everything is integrated on the 1750. Even the AC adapter is built in (and a 10-foot power cord is included), as well as the 56K modem, hard drive, CD-ROM and diskette drive. The dual speakers produce excellent sound. The Li-ion battery provides 2.15 hours of battery life. A second battery can be supported in the MultiBay.
The keyboard seemed a bit flimsy to me, but I did like Compaq's trademark four programmable buttons above the keyboard that allow for instant launches of often-used programs or files. Another good feature is the front-facing modular bay, which lets you hot-swap the floppy drive with an optional second battery, an extra hard drive, an LS-120 SuperDisk or a Zip drive. But here again, the ports are unprotected.
The 1750 comes with 32 megabytes of SDRAM standard. It is a bit bulky at 2.3 by 12.5 by 9.9 inches and 8.3 pounds, but it features a shock-resistant hard drive enclosure and a spill-resistant keyboard. These innovations, and the 1750's excellent sound system, are the standout features on this unit. Performance is adequate, but not inspired, though the 1750 would be more than powerful enough for word processing, e-mailing and Web browsing.
Prices for the Armada 1750 start at $2,399.
For more information, contact Compaq at www.compaq.com or call (800) 345-1518.