Sub-notebooks are where computing is most sexy, and the Piranha is one of the more desirable examples we’ve seen. Its design is effectively that of a miniature notebook, with a smaller screen and external CDROM and floppy, as opposed to the esoteric designs favoured by Sony or Toshiba whose compacted keyboards and half-sized screens can make for usability problems.
The case pretends to be metallic, with a silver and black colour scheme, but is actually plastic. However, this proves not to be an issue because the rigid lid protects the screen well. While there’s minor play in some of the hinges of the hatches that allow access to the hard disk, for example, the Piranha largely feels rugged and tough enough for life on the road. At a little under 3kg when weighed on our scales (complete with drives and power supply), it’s also light enough to make transportation easy.
The keyboard retains full-sized dimensions (just about) making for fast touch-typing once you’ve got used to the reduced travel of the keys. And although the 12-inch TFT screen limits you to a mere 800×600 resolution (compared to the 1024×768 that most people prefer on their desktop monitors), at least a nice bright TFT panel is used, which allows full adjustment of brightness and contrast to suit varying environmental conditions. Only 2Mb of display memory is used, though, which limits the resolutions and colour depths you can get if you plug the machine into an external monitor.
Inside the case it’s a rosy picture. There was a time when the components of sub-notebooks would lag behind full-sized notebooks, but this simply isn’t the case any longer. With a mobile Pentium II 400 and 64MB of RAM, the Piranha has a great turn of speed. It’s certainly enough to keep those office applications turning over quite nicely, thank you very much, although don’t expect miracles; it still won’t manage many of the latest 3D shoot-em-ups.
Even the hard drive manages to defy the logic that if you have a smaller notebook then you have to make do with lesser components. At 6.4Gb, it’s large enough to avoid upgrade worries for at least a couple of years.
The touchpad at the front of the machine is large enough and responsive enough to be very useful, although perhaps a little over sensitive – we noticed that it often registered a tap when we were taking our fingers away, causing text to be accidentally highlighted in Word, for example.
The floppy and CDROM drives are supplied as external devices which attach to the side of the machine via a proprietary port. While the floppy can be ‘hot swapped’ (ie. plugged in and unplugged while the machine is up and running), the CDROM drive is only recognised if the Piranha is booted-up with it attached. This is a minor but irritating point. Expansion elsewhere is standard – a single Type II PC Card slot, a single USB port and the usual collection of parallel, serial, VGA and keyboard sockets.
Battery life was also promising and we consistently managed around two and a half hours or so between recharges. Once again, this compares favourably to many full-sized notebooks and certainly defies the idea that sub-notebooks drain the juice quickly.
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