- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2000

One of the things I've found in working with portable computers is that there is, frankly, a "religious" component to them: people tend to treat their favorite choices with a fanaticism and a tenacity usually reserved for sectarian theological conflicts.

I know a fellow in Northern Virginia who is devoted to the "pointing stick" method of navigating a portable PC's operating environment, which is why he's dedicated to IBM's ThinkPad line. Others swear by the "touchpad" design favored by Compaq, Hewlett Packard, Gateway and others. Try to persuade one side of the virtues of the other and get set for an uphill battle.

But if you're in the "pointing stick" camp, then there's a new machine to contemplate: Toshiba's Tecra 8100, which is now available, built-to-order, with several Intel Pentium III processors, up to 128 MB of RAM installed, a 12-gigabyte hard disk drive, and a 14.1-inch active matrix color display.

Also on board are a built-in 56 kbps modem and a DVD-ROM drive; the latter should be helpful when you want to catch a movie on the road. Retail price on the computer is $3,599, which while not especially cheap is in line with earlier high-end Toshiba portables.

This is a machine designed primarily for "enterprise" computing operations as opposed to home users: "The Tecra 8100 series is ideal for medium- to large-sized corporate customers who require a stable, scalable solution that allows them to support multiple configurations throughout the enterprise with a consistent software image, accessories and spare parts," the firm stated in announcing the product.

That "consistent software image" means a preloaded package including operating system and basic applications (customizable, of course). That is important to a firm's information technology department, which may want to buy a few dozen computers, deploy them and not have to worry about configuring replacement models from scratch.

The same applies to parts and expansion components. In fact, many enterprises will hold on to outdated portables (as well as a few relics worthy of a display case at the Smithsonian) just because they've got the little beasts under control and can easily provide service for the devices.

There are, however, several compelling technology features that could propel the most recalcitrant into upgrading and buying this new technology. For one, three of the Pentium III CPU chips offered feature "Speed Step" technology. This feature automatically reduces power consumption when the battery is in use, resulting in increased computing time.

In demonstrations when playing a music video, Speed Step cuts the power use, but doesn't miss a beat when it comes to computing function: The video played as quickly and smoothly as when connected.

Next to mouse options (pointer or touchpad), power is perhaps one of the most critical factors for notebook computer buyers. It's no fun to be in the middle of a cross-country flight (or a library or a meeting) and have your PC lose power.

Another plus is the inclusion of the Windows 2000 operating system as an option. It is what I found on the unit Toshiba sent me to test, and I was glad. Windows 2000 is generally more solid and stable than its Windows 95 and Windows 98 predecessors and in business computing stability is good.

Having the latest operating system meant one sacrifice in terms of "fancy" features, however: The unit's DVD-ROM player balked at playing DVDs, despite my coaxing. Still, it worked perfectly well with music CDs and CD-ROM discs. While one imagines that Toshiba will offer a "fix" at some point, those wanting to play DVDs will want to get their Tecras with Windows 98.

Once the DVD/Windows 2000 issue is resolved, business people will have a very powerful system that can meet a variety of needs. More details about Toshiba's line of portables can be found at (www.csd.toshiba.com/ cgi-bin/ tais/home.jsp).

Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to MarkKel@aol.com, or visit the writer's Web page, www.markkellner.com.

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