Notebooks costing less than a grand including VAT have a regrettable tendency to be complete crap, so we approached the Umax Actionbook 345T with some circumspection, eyes open for the killer defect that would consign it to the skip.
The big question of course is ‘How did they do it?’, to which the first part of the answer is: ‘By not giving large amounts of money to Intel’. The Actionbook is, in fact, the proud owner of an AMD K6-2/450 processor, which sits on one of those equally inexpensive motherboards that shares main system memory with the graphics chipset, saving more money in the process. This means that the integrated Trident CyberBlade graphics accelerator nabs 4MB from the 64MB of base RAM, so we’d be tempted to add another 32MB module right at the outset just to keep everything running smoothly.
The rest of the spec is perfectly reasonable considering the price, with a 6GB Hitachi hard disk and 24-speed TEAC CDROM in the moving parts department, and an integrated V.90 fax modem just to prove that Umax hasn’t cut to the bone to get the cost down.
The machine weighs 3.1kg, which isn’t bad considering that it’s an all-in-one design, but it does look a bit chunky at 44mm thick with the lid shut. Some of the weight saving might be down to the fact that the case wasn’t terribly robust, but at least the plastic lid surface stood up to pressure reasonably well, which will help prevent damage to the screen when the machine is packed away for travel.
Keyboards can be problematic even on more expensive notebooks, but we were pleased to find that the Actionbook’s was neither too crowded for comfort nor badly laid out. The Spacebar, Enter and Backspace keys were all a reasonable size too, which greatly facilitates fast, accurate typing.
We weren’t really expecting to find a TFT screen on a notebook this inexpensive, and so we weren’t put out to find that it did in fact come with a ‘high performance’ dual-scan panel. This had a 12.1-inch diagonal which was well suited to its native 800 x 600 resolution, and as dual-scan screens go, it went pretty well. The picture was quite brightly lit, and didn’t suffer too much from the blotchiness and ghost lines that sometimes mar DSTN panels.
Price and performance often tend to go hand in hand, but the Actionbook turned out to be somewhat above average for its class, with no bottlenecks in the disk and graphics sub-systems pulling overall speed down. This was encouraging, but we have to say that battery life from the NiMH pack wasn’t great at just under two hours, and the battery will need periodic conditioning to avoid memory effect too, unlike the newer Li-Ion type.
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