What is it: a colour multimedia notebook PC. A modular design allows for CD-ROM, a battery and disk drive
Applications: ideal for informal presentations to small numbers of people; good for sound and video playback
Modern notebook PCs are no longer the one-dimensional portable workstations that will just about run Microsoft Office but do little else. Today's mobile user demands multimedia, and the latest generation of laptops are equipped with CD-ROM drives to meet the requirement for video and audio capability.
Sharp has been conspicuous by its absence from the notebook market for the best part of this decade, and the newly-released PC-9040 appears to be the company's bid to re-stake its claim.
The heavy-duty black plastic case looks and feels as though it could take quite a battering and, because no carry-case was supplied, that's exactly what it got. The canvas briefcase we used afforded little protection, yet the unit came through unscathed after a week of train and tube journeys. The Windows 95 keyboard proved equally robust, surviving hours of gameplay from an over-excited 12-year-old.
A welcome development in notebook architecture is the touch-sensitive Glide Pad, which sends the mouse arrow cruising across the screen with the softest stroke of the finger - this highly-sensitive response is difficult to control at first, but you soon adapt.
The 11.3in super-bright SVGA screen is a great change for those wearied by the dull VGA displays of the past. With only 1Mb of video memory, the PC-9040 coped very well with the majority of the multimedia applications thrown at it in tests. The few deficiencies could be blamed on the limitations inevitably imposed by running Windows 95 with 8Mb of RAM.
On the downside, the base of the unit gets hot when the computer is left running for a substantial time. A more serious disadvantage is the unit's weight. At 3.4kg, the PC-9040 is fairly heavy, weighing more than some of the other manufacturer's machines in the same class.
The battery can be swapped with either the floppy disk or the six-speed CD-ROM drive, which means that one or the other will be unavailable when operating the notebook without a mains supply.
Neither drive succeeds in automatically identifying itself to the system BIOS when inserted. So, for instance, if the battery is replaced with the floppy disk drive while the notebook is switched on, the computer must be rebooted before the floppy drive can be used.
The unit was left running to test battery life and it duly switched itself off after just under two hours. There are a number of power-saving options which claim to prolong battery life, including settings for timed screen and hard disk powerdowns.
There are ports for the attaching a printer, external modem, mouse, keyboard and desktop SVGA monitor. A PCMCIA slot can accommodate a network interface card, fax-modem card or external SCSI device. The PC-9040's video capabilities allow the display to be shown on TV screens through the video output jack.
Verdict: this is a robust multimedia notebook featuring a touch-sensitive glide pad, 11.3in SVGA screen and good bundle of software. Overall, the PC-9040 gets a resounding thumbs up, although you should invest in an extra 8Mb of RAM (u126) if you opt for Windows 95.
Contact: Sharp on 0800 262958
User report: market research firm Spikes Cavell uses the Sharp PC-9040 for presenting to potential and existing clients. A company database stores relevant market research data and is updated on each notebook using the CD-ROM. The notebooks are then taken into the field for client presentations.
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