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Sharp Actius UM32W (Pentium III-M 1 GHz review:Sharp Actius UM32W (Pentium III-M 1 GHz

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MSRP: $1,999.00
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The Good Very thin; fast; integrated 802.11b wireless; springy, comfortable keys.

The Bad Low battery life; limited memory expandability; cumbersome external cables.

The Bottom Line The UM series' extralean chassis is impressive, but low battery life mars this otherwise pleasing picture. Choose it only if you buy a second battery, too.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 6
  • Support 7

Review Sections

Notebooks don't get much thinner than those in the Sharp Actius UM series. This cool, silver ultralight measures just 0.7 inches thick and weighs a mere 3.1 pounds. Despite the Sharp's small size, its 12.1-inch screen, springy keys, and fast performance allow for a decent night's work on a red-eye flight--at least until the batteries run out. If you can turn a blind eye to its wimpy battery life, however, the Actius UM series makes for a nice traveling companion, especially considering its many networking options.



This superthin Sharp manages to squeeze in a healthy selection of ports.
The Actius UM is so thin, you may not even notice it sitting on a table. Its extremely slender, magnesium-alloy case measures 11.3 by 9.1 by 0.7 inches and weighs just 3.1 pounds. This puts it in the running for the thinnest laptop around, with stiff competition from the 0.7-inch-thick Toshiba Portégé 2000.

It's easier to stay slim when you lack a lot of internal components and connectivity ports. Specifically, the Actius UM excludes a DVD/CD-RW drive and a parallel port. The single-spindle Actius UM's only internal storage is its hard drive, which comes in 20GB and 40GB sizes; the optional CD-ROM ($229) and USB floppy drives ($99) are external only. We find it slightly odd that Sharp doesn't offer a more cutting-edge DVD/CD-RW option for the system, as well.

Aside from its CompactFlash slot, Sharp sticks to the straight and narrow with most of the Actius UM's ports. The system's battery consumes the space along the back edge, while the right edge offers just headphone and microphone jacks, plus two welcome USB 2.0 ports. The left edge features FireWire, one Type II PC Card slot, a CompactFlash slot, and a proprietary port that supports an included dongle with standard VGA and parallel ports. Add in the two cables for the external CD and the floppy drives, and you'll have a lot of extra cords on your hands; all plugged in at once, these attachments create quite a tangle.




This notebook doesn't have a lot of expansion options, but you can use the single PC Card slot for a Bluetooth card.


Although not the widest we've seen, this keyboard is comfortable, with a springy and responsive 3mm stroke.


Additional design features help keep the Actius UM light. Its small yet bright, 12.1-inch, antiglare screen is one example. Sharp also eliminates any extra programmable buttons, opting for a straight-up, square touchpad with two mouse buttons underneath. The keyboard isn't the widest on record, but the keys sport a comfortable 3mm stroke, making them springy and responsive. Like its slightly larger counterpart, the Actius MV series, the UM features a lone, muted speaker on the bottom of its case.




The Actius UM's straightforward touchpad with no extra programmable buttons helps keep the system slim. The touchpad has another twist: you pop it up to get at the memory slot.
Most ultralights offer only one set of features, but Sharp pleasantly breaks from this tradition by touting four Actius UM models on its Web site: the UM10, UM10M, UM30W, and UM32W. (We tested the high-end UM32W.) The systems include a wide range of components: 600MHz, 750MHz, 866MHz, or 1GHz mobile Pentium III-M processors; 128MB or 256MB of 133MHz SDRAM; 20GB or 40GB hard drives; and an integrated 802.11b wireless option.

However, the 12.1-inch XGA display and the Intel 830MG graphics chip, which swipes up to 48MB of video RAM from the main memory, remain static across the line. Secondary storage comes in external modules only, with your choice of reasonably priced CD-ROM ($229) or USB floppy drives ($99); unfortunately, Sharp doesn't offer the increasingly common DVD/CD-RW drive. Still, these specs prove more than powerful enough for the typical e-mail and Web surfing activities of any road warrior.

It's a good thing the Actius UM is fast, too, because its single RAM slot lets you upgrade to 512MB only. In an unusual yet convenient twist, the slot lies beneath the touchpad; Sharp includes a tiny tool for popping up the pad to get to the slot. Sadly, the system's short, 125-minute battery life does not match its speed (see the battery-life section for more on this).

The Actius UM comes with almost no additional software. Aside from your only operating system option, Windows XP Pro, the system ships with just a network setup utility.


Mobile application performance
Our performance tests of the Sharp Actius UM32W were pleasantly surprising. For a system with the relatively slow 1GHz Intel Pentium III-M CPU, the Sharp Actius UM32W showed impressive mobile performance, coming out on top in our roundup of systems. In fact, the Actius UM32W even compared favorably to systems we've tested with processors as fast as 1.6GHz. In short, the Sharp Actius UM32W should have no trouble running office and multimedia applications with impressive efficiency.

Mobile application performance  (Longer bars indicate faster performance)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 performance rating  
Sharp Actius UM32W
107 
Panasonic ToughBook T1
97 
Toshiba Portégé 2010
72 
 
Find out more about how we test notebooks.

System configurations:

Panasonic ToughBook T1
Windows XP Professional; 866MHz Intel Pentium III-M; 248MB SDRAM 133MHz; Intel 82830M 48MB (8MB shared); Toshiba MK4020GLS 40GB 4,200rpm

Sharp Actius UM32W
Windows XP Professional; 1GHz Intel Pentium III-M; 256MB SDRAM 133MHz; Intel 82830M graphics controller 48MB; Fujitsu MHS2040ATD 30GB 4,200rpm

Toshiba Portégé 2010
Windows XP Professional; 866MHz Intel Pentium III-M; 240MB SDRAM 133MHz; Trident Video Accelerator Cyberblade XP Ai1 16MB (shared); Toshiba MK3004GAH 30GB 4,200rpm


Sadly, the Sharp Actius UM32W's battery life proved disappointing in our tests, lasting slightly more than two hours. The Actius UM32W placed a distant second in our roundup of systems, beat by the Panasonic ToughBook T1 by nearly one and a half hours. The Sharp Actius UM32W's 14.8V, 1,800mAh battery just didn't have the juice to get it much further--disappointing for a notebook that's intended primarily for the road. If you're seriously considering this notebook, don't buy it without a second battery.

Battery life  (Longer bars indicate longer battery life)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 battery-life minutes  
Panasonic ToughBook T1
212 
Sharp Actius UM32W
125 
Toshiba Portégé 2010
101 
 
To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark2002. MobileMark measures both application 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:

Panasonic ToughBook T1
Windows XP Professional; 866MHz Intel Pentium III-M; 248MB SDRAM 133MHz; Intel 82830M 48MB (8MB shared); Toshiba MK4020GLS 40GB 4,200rpm

Sharp Actius UM32W
Windows XP Professional; 1GHz Intel Pentium III-M; 256MB SDRAM 133MHz; Intel 82830M graphics controller 48MB; Fujitsu MHS2040ATD 30GB 4,200rpm

Toshiba Portégé 2010
Windows XP Professional; 866MHz Intel Pentium III-M; 240MB SDRAM 133MHz; Trident Video Accelerator Cyberblade XP Ai1 16MB (shared); Toshiba MK3004GAH 30GB 4,200rpm


Sharp will hold your hand for one year with its Actius UM, during which time the company supplies free, return-to-depot parts-and-labor service, as well as toll-free phone support around the clock--overall, an acceptable but uninspiring warranty.

For an additional $199, you can extend the warranty for another two years. During the extended warranty period, Sharp will even send you a replacement system to use while yours is in the shop. Considering the price of this small system, the warranty extension is a worthwhile upgrade; you'll probably want to keep this notebook around for a few years.

Sharp's support Web site is underwhelming, lacking the helpful forums and chat capabilities of other notebook manufacturers, such as Dell and Fujitsu. The only slightly helpful area is the knowledge base, which includes a few random FAQs about the UM series.

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