Hewlett-Packard's Omnibook 510 lets you have it both ways, marrying a travel-ready ultralight with an expansion base that turns this notebook into a desktop replacement. You can haul it all with you or leave some features back at the ranch. This distinctive design is pricey and only moderately powerful, but its versatility could make life a lot easier for frequent corporate travelers. Hewlett-Packard's Omnibook 510 lets you have it both ways, marrying a travel-ready ultralight with an expansion base that turns this notebook into a desktop replacement. You can haul it all with you or leave some features back at the ranch. This distinctive design is pricey and only moderately powerful, but its versatility could make life a lot easier for frequent corporate travelers.
Dual size fits all
One half of the Omnibook 510 consists of a light (3.7 pounds), compact (1 inch thick by 10.9 inches wide by 8.7 inches deep) notebook. Our $2,899 test unit came with a 1.13GHz Mobile Pentium III-M, 256MB of memory ($132 extra for 512MB), a 30GB hard drive, and Windows XP Pro. The 12.1-inch (diagonal) LCD is on the small side, but it displays crisp text and bright, saturated colors at an eye-pleasing 1,024x768 resolution. The display can run at a dimmer setting to extend battery time when you're off the grid. The notebook's host of communication links includes built-in Wi-Fi (802.11b) controlled by a power button on the front edge, as well as infrared, modem, and Ethernet. Also included are a single Type II PC Card slot and dual USB ports. For mousing, you get a pointing stick wedged into the keyboard (almost too tightly for easy manipulation) along with two mouse buttons underneath. This arrangement freed enough space for fairly large keys, which felt great to type on but clattered a bit.
When you add the expansion base, the Omnibook 510 becomes a full-featured portable. Two modular bays housed floppy and 8X DVD drives in our unit; the bays can also hold options such as the $175 8X/24X/8X/4X combo DVD/CD-RW drive or one or two extra batteries ($209 each). The expansion base adds more connectivity options, including parallel, serial, VGA, and PS/2 ports, plus S-Video, headphone, and microphone jacks. Stereo speakers rise out of a lip on the front of the base. Together, the two Omnibook 510 sections measure 1.7 inches thick by 10.98 inches wide by 9.8 inches deep and weigh just shy of 7 pounds (7.75 pounds with the AC adapter).
Middling performance and battery life
As versatile as this two-part design is, the Omnibook 510 is at heart an ultralight and suffers from the category's typical performance and battery trade-offs. Our unit lasted for 128 minutes on its smallish 11.1V, 3,100mAh battery--short enough to make additional batteries worth the expense if you're away from AC frequently. Performance also came up short; the notebook did reasonably well in Internet-content-creation tests but sagged in office-productivity benchmarks. Dell's similarly sized Latitude C400, with a 1.2GHz Pentium III-M and Windows 2000, raced through CNET's performance tests 25 percent faster overall than did the Omnibook, and the Dell's bigger, 11.1V, 3,600mAh battery lasted 67 minutes longer. IBM's ThinkPad X22, with an 800MHz Mobile Pentium III and an ATI Mobility Radeon graphics system equipped with 8MB of its own memory, was nearly as fast overall as the Omnibook 510 and got a far better 217 minutes out of its 10.8V, 4,000mAh battery.
Three-year warranty a big plus
HP backs the Omnibook 510 with a three-year warranty and free (though not toll-free) tech support, which is available 24/7 for as long as you own the computer. If the notebook breaks down, HP pays to pick it up and return it. The company's well-stocked online support includes downloadable drivers and manuals, a knowledge base, discussion groups, and other useful resources. And the documentation included on the CD is superb. It covers day-to-day use of the dock and the notebook in great depth, and you can launch utilities such as the defragmenter from within the manual's explanations of how to use them.
The Omnibook 510 offers the versatility of an ultralight notebook and a desktop replacement in one package. That's more convenient and less expensive than owning two separate systems, although, in this case, less expensive does not mean cheap. Busy travelers who use their notebooks more for e-mail and memos than graphics-intensive applications will be willing to trade this system's moderate performance for the freedom of choice it provides.
100=performance of a test machine with a PIII-800, 128MB of PC133 CL2 SDRAM, Creative Labs GeForce Annihilator 2 32MB, and Windows 2000 (Service Pack 1)
Longer bars indicate better performance
Battery life test
Time is measured in minutes; longer bars indicate better performance
Dell Latitude C400
Windows 2000 SP2; Pentium III-M 1,200MHz; 256MB SDRAM; Intel 830M graphics controller 8MB; IBM Travelstar 30GN 30GB 4,200rpm
HP Omnibook 510
Windows XP Pro; Pentium III-M 1,133MHz; 256MB RAM; Intel 830MG intergrated graphics 32MB; Toshiba MK3017GAP 30GB 4,200rpm
IBM ThinkPad X22
Windows XP; Pentium III 800MHz; 256MB; 20GB; ATI Mobility Radeon with 8MB; IBM Travelstar 20GN 20GB 4,200rpm
HP's Omnibook 510 comes stuffed with memory and a blazing-fast processor, but the memory-dependent graphics controller drags down the system. The Omnibook beats IBM's ThinkPad X22--which has a much slower processor and the same memory but a standalone graphics controller--by only 6 percent. The Omnibook 510's battery life is also unimpressive; the IBM holds on for 89 minutes longer. But HP endowed the Omnibook with a secret weapon: two bays that can hold back-up batteries.