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Not quite top-shelf
At 1.7 by 12.8 by 10.5 inches and weighing 7.3 pounds, the $2,500 Omnibook xe4500 packs in all you'll need for an office anywhere. This system is a few ounces lighter than the IBM ThinkPad A31p but heavier than Compaq's upcoming N1000. With its midsized power adapter, a road-ready xe4500 weighs in at just less than 8 pounds.
With a 1.7GHz mobile Pentium 4-M processor, a 40GB hard drive, and 256MB of RAM, the xe4500's specs are solid but one rung down from the top of the notebook ladder. Fed by an ATI Mobility M6 graphics accelerator with 32MB of video memory, the 1,400x1,050 resolution is a nice match for the 15-inch screen. The display was picture-perfect, with even lighting and no bad pixels; the same notebook with an XGA display costs $50 less. Fixed combo DVD/CD-RW and floppy drives (no swapping options here) round out the xe4500's spec sheet.
Good keyboard, port selection
The Omnibook xe4500 stands out from the crowd with an excellent keyboard that is firm, quiet, and easy to master. The keys are a comfortable 19.3mm, and there's an oversized touchpad, which has both a scroll zone and on/off buttons. Around the edge of the system is a first-rate mixture of old and new ports, from the infrared, PS/2, external-monitor, parallel, and serial connections to USB, FireWire, and S-Video ports. Add a pair of PC Card slots, a V.92 modem, LAN, and built-in 802.11b (Wi-Fi) radio, and the xe4500 can remain well connected whether at work, in your home, or on the road.
While this sleekly designed, silver-and-gray notebook would be the envy of any skateboarder, it is at heart a straight-laced business system that makes do without extras such as CD controls on the front edge. The pair of speakers under the screen hinges deliver tinny and frail sound, but there is a convenient, two-button volume control and a Mute button on the side of the machine.
All this adds up to a system that, in terms of performance, is less than the sum of its parts, however. After a high-impact workout at CNET Labs, the Omnibook xe4500 scored a disappointing 143 in SysMark2001's suite of benchmarks. That's well behind the pace set by the Compaq Evo N800v and the larger Gateway 600XL, which came stocked with more system memory. On the other hand, the Omnibook xe4500's 4,000mAh, 14.8-volt lithium-ion battery really shines. It lasted for 3 hours, 7 minutes between charges, which is quite a bit longer than the 600XL's battery or the Evo N800v's. In fact, the Omnibook xe4500 is the current battery-life champion for P4-M systems.
Short on support
In addition to the expected mix of software, including Veritas's RecordNow Max CD-burning program and Symantec's Norton AntiVirus, the Omnibook xe4500 comes with HP's unique Mobile Printing driver, which simplifies the process of configuring a printer and remembers up to 50 individual print settings for instant recall. The company's Web site provides a nearly unlimited source of driver and software downloads, as well as diagnostics, 24-hour chat rooms, and Softex WebLink for updating the system's software. Although HP's support technicians are available on the phone 24/7, you'll have to pay for the call. Finally, it's a shame that this system comes with an all-too-short one-year warranty. We strongly suggest upping the coverage to a more realistic three years.
The last of the Omnibooks, the xe4500 has virtually all the features you could ask for in a desktop-replacement system. The assortment of components, ports, and software means that it will be a good corporate citizen on wired or wireless networks. But it's too bad it falls a little short on performance and support.
--by Brian Nadel
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
|Compaq Evo N800v|
Windows XP Pro; Pentium 4-M 1,700MHz; 256MB DDR SDRAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 64MB; Toshiba MK3018GAP 30GB 4,200rpm
Gateway Solo 600XL
Windows XP Pro; Pentium 4-M 1,700MHz; 512MB DDR (PC2100) SDRAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 64MB; IBM Travelstar 40GN 40GB 4,200rpm
HP Omnibook xe4500
Windows XP Pro; Pentium 4-M 1,700MHz; 256MB DDR SDRAM; ATI Mobility M6 32MB; IBM Travelstar 40GN 40GB 4,200rpm
The HP Omnibook xe4500 disappointed us with its performance scores, falling behind two similarly configured desktop-replacement notebooks. On the other hand, the Omnibook xe4500's 4,000mAh, 14.8-volt, lithium-ion battery powered the system to the longest battery-life score of any P4-M laptop.