The Everex StepNote NC1500 first came to our attention as a potentially interesting preholiday Wal-Mart special--a sub-$500 laptop. But the low price isn't the most interesting thing about the StepNote NC1500. First, there's the unusual choice of CPU. Virtually every other desktop or laptop on the market goes with Intel or AMD, but Everex features a CPU from Via, a company with a niche market in lower-end processors found in thin clients and consumer electronics products. Second, the 1.5GHz Via C7-M processor in this system is designed for ultralow power consumption. Everex claims the system requires only 12 watts to operate and is the world's most energy-efficient notebook. Despite (or perhaps because of) the low price, the $498 StepNote NC1500 isn't suitable for anything but the most basic productivity and Web surfing, but with its environmentally friendly vibe, there's a potential for a niche audience. Users less interested in saving the Earth will want to add a couple hundred dollars and get a more robust system, such as the Averatec 3360.
For a budget notebook, the Everex StepNote NC1500 is surprisingly large. It has a 15.4-inch wide-screen display and measures 14.2 inches wide, 10.8 inches deep, and 1.4 inches thick. It weighs 5.6 pounds; add the AC adapter, and that rises to 6.2 pounds. That's a bit too bulky for carrying around on a daily basis, although it is nice and thin. It's obviously a budget notebook, but it doesn't look cheap or feel poorly manufactured. While we wouldn't risk knocking it around too much, the construction and hinges feel solid.
Connections and features are sparse, as you'd expect from a $500 laptop. You'll find headphone and mic jacks, three USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet and modem jacks, and a VGA output. Networking comes from a standard built-in 802.11a/b/g connection. On the keyboard tray, there's only a power button, a slightly cramped keyboard, and a standard two-button touch pad, with lots of wrist-rest room.
The included 512MB of RAM wasn't a surprise, but it was nice to find a DVD burner and a decent-size 60GB hard drive, albeit of the slower 4,200rpm variety. Although these specs are certainly not out of line for a system in this price range, this is a fixed-configuration system, and these are the specs you're stuck with, so make sure it's enough for your needs. The 15.4-inch wide-screen display is large for a budget laptop and has a standard 1,280x800 resolution. It's fine for DVD movie watching and Web surfing and is one of the few components that doesn't scream "budget."
The secret to the StepNote NC1500's low price and energy efficiency is the 1.5GHz Via C7-M processor. The system was able to perform basic office and Web surfing tasks with hardly any noticeable stuttering, but when you compare it to other laptops with low-end processors, it faired poorly. In CNET Labs' Multimedia, Photoshop CS2 and iTunes encoding tests, the StepNote was a distant last place when measured against the HP Compaq Presario V5000T (with a 1.46GHz Celeron M), the (1.6GHz Intel Pentium M), and the Toshiba Satellite M115-S1061 (1.6GHz Celeron M).
It's also worth noting that budget laptops generally use ATI or Intel integrated graphics chips, but the StepNote uses an S3 Unichrome Pro chip, which shares 64MB of the main system memory. Gaming, of even the most basic sort, is not in the cards for this system.
Battery life was relatively short, at 1 hour, 44 minutes--about 40 minutes less than the HP Compaq Presario V5000T or the Toshiba Satellite M115. A six-cell extended-life battery is available for $64 from Everex, but keep in mind the larger battery would stick out from the end of the system. We expected better battery life, given the system's claim of energy efficiency, but while it may not draw much current when plugged in, the tiny three-cell battery just doesn't have the juice to run for long. To its credit, Everex claims that you'll get between 90 and 120 minutes from the battery.
The StepNote is covered by a standard one year parts-and-labor warranty. A 24-hour toll-free tech support line is available, as well as e-mail support, FAQ pages, and a user forum. On the Everex Web site, we found a customized page for each model, with easy to access downloads for instruction manuals and drivers.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)