The Sharp PC-UM20 is one of the thinnest and lightest business ultraportables you can buy, and the base model is competitively priced. But like most ultraportables, it has some significant holes. Though optional accessories can plug some of those gaps, they can also quickly boost the price. If size and weight are your primary concerns, the PC-UM20 is worth a look, but most frequent fliers will be better off with a more complete ultraportable. The Sharp PC-UM20 is one of the thinnest and lightest business ultraportables you can buy, and the base model is competitively priced. But like most ultraportables, it has some significant holes. Though optional accessories can plug some of those gaps, they can also quickly boost the price. If size and weight are your primary concerns, the PC-UM20 is worth a look, but most frequent fliers will be better off with a more complete ultraportable.
Ultralight notebooks are nearing PDA territory, and the PC-UM20 is a leading example of this trend. It measures .8 inches at its thickest point, about the same as recent ultralights such as the Dell Latitude X200 and the Toshiba Portégé 2000. The PC-UM20 weighs a featherlight 2.9 pounds, and the power supply adds a little more than a half-pound to the total travel weight. The PC-UM20 even looks as good as it feels; the frosted, silver magnesium exterior and purplish inside casing give it a sophisticated appearance.
The $1,699 configuration we tested included Windows 2000, 256MB of memory (not expandable), a 20GB drive, an ATI Mobility P/M graphics controller with 4MB of its own memory, and a 12.1-inch display with a resolution of 1,024x768 pixels. Bucking the trend toward detachable "slices" that hold drives and other components, the PC-UM20 offers only external, optional peripherals, including a $99 USB floppy, a $229 USB CD-ROM drive, a $129 port replicator, or a second battery. Sharp doesn't offer a CD-RW drive, even as an option.
Wireless networking is also strictly à la carte. You'll have to install a third-party Wi-Fi module in the single PC Card slot. Finally, you'll find a pass-through port for Ethernet on the main unit but not the port replicator; when you return to your desk, you still have to plug in several wires.
One of the more innovative aspects of this ultraportable line is its keyboard, which rises slightly when you open the case and retracts when you close it to provide better key travel without fattening up the notebook. Though it looks cool, this feature is less than successful in practice. The keyboard sags disconcertingly under pressure, and though the keys are plenty large, they're packed uncomfortably close together. Another casualty of the ultrathin case is audio; even in a quiet room, the one tiny speaker barely makes a whisper.
Keeps going and going&
In CNET Labs' tests, the Sharp's performance fell midway between that of two comparable ultraportables, the Portégé 2000 and the Latitude X200. All three use Intel's low-voltage Pentium III-M (at 750MHz for the PC-UM20 and the Portégé 2000 and at 800MHz for the Latitude X200), but the Toshiba and the Dell both have integrated graphics controllers that rely on system memory.
The PC-UM20 zoomed right past the competition on battery-life tests. The standard 1,800mAh; 14.8 volt; 4-cell battery kept the PC-UM20 running for a respectable 2 hours, 41 minutes--47 minutes longer than the Latitude X200 and a whopping 1 hour, 9 minutes longer than the Toshiba. We were most impressed with the performance of the second battery (12-cell; 5,400mAh). Sure, it costs a hefty $349 and adds 1.2 pounds to the travel weight if you bring both batteries, but it helped the PC-UM20 deliver an amazing 8 hours, 40 minutes of uptime.
Sharp backs the PC-UM20 with an abbreviated one-year warranty; the Dell and the Toshiba, by contrast, have three years of coverage. The company's next-day replacement policy for repairs and free lifetime tech support (available toll-free 24/7) help compensate for the short warranty. A brief manual covers the basics reasonably, but there's no onscreen help, and Sharp's Web site doesn't provide much guidance, though you can e-mail the company's support techs.
We expect a few compromises in an ultraportable, but the PC-UM20 asks us to sacrifice too much:no media slice, no CD-RW, and no integrated wireless networking, for starters. Though it is notable for its highly compact design and excellent battery, the Sharp PC-UM20 ultimately can't match the current competition in ultraportables.
Editor's note: This page has been altered from its original version. Please see our .
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 X200
Windows XP Pro; Pentium III-800MHz; 248MB SDRAM; Intel 82830M Graphics Controller 32MB; IBM Travelstar 30GN 30GB 4,200rpm
Windows 2000 SP2; mobile Pentium III-750MHz; 256MB SDRAM; ATI Rage Mobility M PCI 4MB; Hitachi DK23DA 20GB 4,200rpm
Toshiba Portégé 2000
Windows XP Pro; mobile Pentium III-750MHz; 256MB SDRAM; Trident Video Accelerator Cyberblade XP Ai1 16MB; Toshiba Mk2003GAH 20GB 4,200rpm
In CNET Labs' tests, the performance of the PC-UM20 on typical applications fell midway between two comparable ultraportables, the Portégé 2000 and the Latitude X200, though all three use Intel's low-voltage Pentium III-M processor. But the PC-UM20 zoomed right past the competition on battery-life tests.