High-end features such as HD-DVD drives and flashing lights are certainly fun when it comes to laptops, but there's a very large segment of the public primarily interested in the smallest, simplest tool available. For those consumers, the ultraportable laptop is where it's at, but that convenience doesn't always come cheap. By focusing on value rather than aesthetics, Micro Express manages to get a well-equipped ultraportable laptop under the three-pound mark while keeping the baseline price below $1,300 (our review unit included extra RAM, bumping the price up to $1,449). No doubt about it: the Micro Express NP6260 Rugged UltraLite won't win any design awards, but it is both lighter and less expensive than name-brand alternatives, such as the Dell Latitude D420 and the Gateway E-100M, while also incorporating an optical drive, a rarity among ultraportables.
The magnesium-alloy chassis gives the NP6260 Rugged UltraLite a sturdy feel, but to the untrained eye, the laptop's lightweight silver body looks like plastic--almost like a toy laptop. But magnesium is both lightweight and sturdy, so we wouldn't be too concerned about putting this system through the rigors of the road. It's worth noting that while it has the word "rugged" in its name, the NP6260 is not a truly rugged or semi-rugged laptop in the sense of a Panasonic Toughbook or the Itronix Hummer, so liquid spills and 15-foot drops aren't recommended.
When you pick it up, the NP6260 Rugged UltraLite feels even lighter than you'd expect from a system that measures only 11.2 inches wide, 9.5 inches deep, and 1.25 inches thick. Without the A/C adapter, the NP6260 is 2.8 pounds (3.7 pounds with the adapter), a good deal lighter than other ultraportables from Dell and Gateway. The lighter weight is especially impressive, because the system includes a built-in DVD burner. Optical drives are rare in ultraportable laptops, especially in those at the very bottom of the weight scale.
The monochrome interior is sparse, with a compact but usable keyboard and a power button, a Wi-Fi on/off switch, a slightly-too-small touch pad, a fingerprint reader, and a built-in mic. There's also a tiny but greatly appreciated button located right above the keyboard for temporarily disabling the touch pad. Connections include three USB 2.0 ports, a mini FireWire port, headphone and mic jacks, a PC Card slot, a media card reader, and a VGA connection for hooking up an external monitor. Networking connections include modem and Gigabit Ethernet jacks, plus 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
The 60GB hard drive is a fast 7,200rpm drive, and you can upgrade it to 100GB for a reasonable $75. You might want to upgrade from Windows XP Home to Windows XP Professional, which will cost you $90, although both of those upgrades eat into the price advantage. Note that ordering the system with XP Pro gets you a coupon for a free upgrade to Windows Vista.
With the prevalence of wide-screen LCDs at all price points, the NP6260's 12.1-inch display with its 4:3 ratio seems almost archaic by comparison. It features a 1,024x768 native resolution. On our tests, we found the image quality to be more than acceptable with pleasing brightness.
While a laptop such as this one might once have featured a Celeron M or Pentium M CPU, the Intel Core Solo is now the processor of choice for systems with price and size restraints. The Intel Core Solo U1400 (and the Intel 945GM chipset) in the Micro Express NP6260 was clearly outclassed in CNET Labs' Multitasking test by ultraportable systems that have stepped up to Intel's Core Duo CPUs, such as the Dell Latitude D420 and the Gateway E-100M (Intel's latest CPU, the Core 2 Duo, isn't yet available in an ultra-low-voltage version for ultraportable laptops).
Despite the slower CPU (and thanks to its 1.5GB of RAM), the system felt responsive and proved itself more than powerful enough for basic Web surfing and productivity tasks. Battery life was decent, at 4 hours, 2 minutes, via a four-cell battery; no battery upgrades are offered. The aforementioned Dell and Gateway ultraportable offer better battery life, but that's with larger batteries that extend beyond the system's edge, adding bulk and weight.
Micro Express offers a standard two-year warranty for desktops, but only one year of coverage for laptops, although toll-free telephone tech support, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, is available "for as long as you own your computer." Two and three-year extensions are available, but since Micro Express says that the extended warranty "does not cover mechanical parts and LCD screen and batteries," it hardly seems worth it. We tried calling the tech-support number, but after being told by a recording that all the technicians were busy, we were shunted to a voicemailbox and told to leave a message.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)