Sotec 3120X review: Sotec 3120X

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3 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Exceptionally affordable for a thin-and-light notebook; includes DVD/CD-RW combo drive; solid performance.

The Bad Cramped keyboard; tinny sound; no Wi-Fi, floppy drive, modular bay, or replicator port.

The Bottom Line Sotec's thin-and-light, legacy-free 3120X offers a surprising number of features for a low price.

6.7 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Battery life 6.0
  • Service and support 6.0

If you didn't think you could get a quality thin-and-light notebook for less than $1,000, think again. Sotec's stylish, new 3120X weighs less than 5 pounds, runs fast enough for the average user, and comes with just about everything you could ask for (with the exception of Wi-Fi)--including a DVD/CD-RW combo drive. Unfortunately, the 3120X has no floppy drive, its keyboard is cramped, and it leaves owners of legacy devices out in the cold. Considering its bargain-basement price, however, we're keeping our complaints quiet. Think seriously about this well-priced notebook for cheap portability, but beware the middling performance. If price is no object, consider the sexier Toshiba Portégé 4010 or the faster, equally light Sharp Actius MV series.



The Sotec's square shape isn't boring; in fact, it's ergonomically pleasing.
The first thing you'll notice about the 1.3-inch-thick Sotec 3120X is that, at 10.6 inches wide by 9.6 inches deep, it's squarer than the average notebook. The slightly odd shape gives you more room to rest your palms in front of the keyboard--a nice ergonomic touch. The keyboard itself is another matter; while the keys feel OK, even the most accurate touch-typists will have to hunt and peck for the tiny cursor and editing keys. The four-button touchpad is well placed and responsive, but the rather stiff feel of the left button makes double-clicking harder than it should be.

The handsomely styled, silver 3120X is sturdily built, judging by the lack of flex in the main or screen panels. The unit weighs 4.4 pounds in its stocking feet, but the AC adapter adds about 8 ounces to the traveling weight. If you're absolutely sure you won't be straying from a wall socket during your travels, you can leave the back-mounted battery at home and cut that total by about 10 ounces; you can run the 3120X without the cell.




Unfortunately, the keyboard's tiny cursor and editing keys cramped our style.


A well-placed four-button touchpad suffers from slight stiffness.


Four programmable launch buttons adorn the front edge of the notebook and are preconfigured to start up your e-mail program and Web browser, as well as initiate an Internet search and jump to your favorite site. An additional button helpfully locks down the others to prevent accidental launches.


At the heart of the 3120X, you'll find a set of middling but inexpensive components: a 1.2GHz Celeron; 256MB of SDRAM; and a 20GB, 4,200rpm Hitachi Travelstar hard drive. To help maintain the bottom line, Sotec keeps upgrade options simple and limited by offering only a slightly larger, 30GB hard drive (model 3123X). If you need that space, go for the upgrade. Otherwise, you'll have to take the entire machine apart and make the changes yourself since there's no screw panel that allows easy access. You can expand main memory to a fairly paltry 384MB but only by replacing the resident 128MB SODIMM with a 256MB unit.



The 3120X's 12.1-inch screen looks fine head on, but it's no good in a crowd.


Get thee to a USB adapter--this Sotec is legacy-free.


The 3120X comes with a modest 12.1-inch, 1,024x768 (XGA) color display that offers a crisp picture and a decent range of brightness but limited viewing angles. The display is fine for a single user, but it's not the screen for sharing presentations. An SIS 630T graphics chip borrowing 32MB of main memory handles graphics chores, leaving 224MB for actual system use. If you're looking for a notebook that doubles as a boombox, forget the 3120X--the speakers built into the front corners of the keyboard deck are the tinniest we've heard in years. A good set of headphones is a prerequisite with this unit.

On the other hand, the 3120X is loaded with connectivity and optical-drive goodness. With the exception of Wi-Fi, there's little we'd add to our wish list--but we're legacy-free types. If you're saddled with legacy printers or the like, start looking for USB adapters; the 3120X lacks a floppy drive, as well as parallel, serial, or PS/2 ports, and it has no modular bay or replicator port. In their place are three USB 1.1 ports on the right side of the notebook, directly in front of the unit's 16X/10X/24X+8X DVD/CD-RW combo drive and flip-out v.90 modem port. Sotec sells a USB floppy drive on its Web site for $49.




Ample left-side ports.


Buttons on the notebook's front edge control Internet launching and volume.


The left side of the notebook is home to the AC power jack, an external VGA connector, a 10/100 Ethernet port, and a single Type II PC Card slot. Joining the four Internet launch buttons on the front of the notebook are the unit's mike and headphone jacks, along with a rotary volume control. The 3120's 11.1V, 4Ah lithium-ion battery occupies the back of the unit all by itself.

Sotec ships a useful, if modest, bundle of software with the 3120X. Windows XP Home comes preinstalled. In addition, Microsoft Works is included for everyday business tasks, Roxio's Easy CD Creator 5.0 for burning CDs, and WinDVD 4.0 for DVD-movie playback.


Our 3120X test unit turned in an 87 in CNET Labs' tests, which is right on target for a 1.2GHz system that uses shared memory for graphics chores. However, the Sharp Actius MV12W trounced the Sotec; the Sharp's 1.13HGz Pentium III-M may be slower in megahertz, but it has architectural advantages that allow it to come out on top. In hands-on use, the 3120X's performance was nimble enough for all but power users and gaming diehards. XP proved peppy, and DVD playback was smooth and glitch-free. Quake III gameplay was smooth at 640x480, acceptable at 800x600, but noticeably jerky at 1,024x768.

Mobile application performance
Longer bars indicate faster performance
Sharp Actius MV12W
117 
Sotec 3120X
87 
Toshiba Portégé 4010
64 
 
To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark2002. MobileMark measures both applications performance and battery life concurrently using a number of popular applications (Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Netscape Communicator 6.0, WinZip Computing WinZip 8.0, McAfee VirusScan 5.13, Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1, and Macromedia Flash 5.0).

System configurations:

Sharp Actius MV12W
Windows XP Professional; 1.13GHz Intel Pentium III-M; 256MB SDRAM 133MHz; Intel 830MG integrated graphics 48MB; Hitachi DK23EA-40 40GB 4,200rpm

Sotec 3120X
Windows XP Home; 1.2GHz Celeron; 256MB SDRAM 133MHz; SIS 630ST 32MB; IBM Travelstar 20GN 20GB 4,200rpm

Toshiba Portégé 4010
Windows XP Professional; 933MHz Intel Pentium III-M; 240MB SDRAM 100MHz; Trident Video Accelerator CyberBlade X 16MB (shared); IBM Travelstar 30GN 30GB 4,200rpm


The 3120X managed to run for 2 hours, 48 minutes on its 11.1V, 4Ah, lithium-ion battery--an acceptable performance that fell just shy of the Toshiba Portégé 4010's. The Sotec's battery simply can't counter the fact that its processor's megahertz rating is much higher than the Toshiba Portégé 4010's; the 3120X's CPU simply draws more power than Toshiba's.

Battery-life test
Time is measured in minutes; longer bars indicate better performance
Toshiba Portégé 4010
219 
Sotec 3120X
168 
Sharp Actius MV12W
166 
 
To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark2002. MobileMark measures both applications performance and battery life concurrently using a number of popular applications (Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Netscape Communicator 6.0, WinZip Computing WinZip 8.0, McAfee VirusScan 5.13, Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1, and Macromedia Flash 5.0).

System configurations:

Sharp Actius MV12W
Windows XP Professional; 1.13GHz Intel Pentium III-M; 256MB SDRAM 133MHz; Intel 830MG integrated graphics 48MB; Hitachi DK23EA-40 40GB 4,200rpm

Sotec 3120X
Windows XP Home; 1.2GHz Celeron; 256MB SDRAM 133MHz; SIS 630ST 32MB; IBM Travelstar 20GN 20GB 4,200rpm

Toshiba Portégé 4010
Windows XP Professional; 933MHz Intel Pentium III-M; 240MB SDRAM 100MHz; Trident Video Accelerator CyberBlade X 16MB (shared); IBM Travelstar 30GN 30GB 4,200rpm


Sotec's limited one-year parts and labor warranty is reasonable considering the 3120X's bargain price, but the chintzy six-month warranty on the battery gives us pause (especially since a new battery costs $129). On the plus side, Sotec offers toll-free, 24/7 technical support beyond the warranty life on both hardware and software, as well as such online resources as FAQs, driver upgrades, and e-mail to tech support. The included printed user guide and quick-setup sheet are concise and informative, if not the prettiest we've seen. Sotec also provides a Norton Ghost recovery image on three CDs to make fast work of reinstalling software in case of a hard drive failure or other disaster.

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