Motherboard and peripheral supplier PC Wave is venturing into new waters with its own brand of laptops. One of the first is the mainstream DeskNote A901, which the company is pitching as a "portable desktop" rather than a notebook. Though the company deserves points for creativity, perhaps PC Wave should have stuck with system components because the DeskNote A901 offers neither the portability of a notebook nor the performance of a desktop. Motherboard and peripheral supplier PC Wave is venturing into new waters with its own brand of laptops. One of the first is the mainstream DeskNote A901, which the company is pitching as a "portable desktop" rather than a notebook. Though the company deserves points for creativity, perhaps PC Wave should have stuck with system components because the DeskNote A901 offers neither the portability of a notebook nor the performance of a desktop.
Form over function
The DeskNote A901 looks like high-style camping gear, with its angular shell (available in yellow or blue) and gray highlights. The notebook's size (12.5 by 10.5 by 1.6 inches) and weight (5.8 pounds; 6.8 pounds with power supply) are typical for a mainstream laptop, but oddly enough, these specs don't include the external battery (more on that later).
If the DeskNote A901 looks sophisticated on the outside, it's anything but on the inside. PC Wave cut costs by equipping the system with older components, including a desktop Celeron processor running at 1.1GHz, a 10GB hard drive, and an integrated SiS 630 graphics controller that shares system memory. The system has one fixed optical drive--you can choose either an 8X DVD or a 24X CD-ROM drive--but it has no floppy. Nor does the DeskNote A901 have a PC Card slot, so you can forget about adding an external drive or any other peripherals unless they have a USB interface.
Available direct from PC Wave, the DeskNote A901 costs $1,139 with 128MB of RAM, a 14.1-inch LCD (1,024x768 resolution), the DVD drive, and Microsoft Windows XP Home. PC Wave snuck an extra 128MB of RAM into the system CNET Labs tested--presumably to give it a boost in our benchmark tests--even though the company currently doesn't list this configuration on its site. If you were to install it separately, a 128MB upgrade would add perhaps $40 to the total system price.
Battery outside the box
Instead of an internal battery, the DeskNote comes with an external "power subsystem," a 1.4-pound battery (8.3 by 3 by 1.3 inches) that plugs in between the notebook and the AC power supply. PC Wave describes this combination as an "uninterruptible power supply" and claims the battery will keep your unplugged A901 running for about an hour. In CNET's tests, however, this interruptible power supply dried up after an unacceptable 41 minutes.
Unfortunately, performance wasn't any better. In fact, the DeskNote A901 came in dead last when compared to similarly configured mainstream notebooks with mobile (not desktop) Celerons. For example, the Gateway Solo 1450SE, with a 1.2GHz processor, was 15.5 percent faster overall, and the Dell SmartStep 100N, with a 1.06GHz processor, was 17.5 percent faster.
Aside from these quirks, the DeskNote A901 includes some standard mainstream-notebook features, including four USB ports, a PS/2 port, a modem, a 10/100 Ethernet adapter, and an infrared receiver. The keyboard is crisp and quiet, and all keys are generously sized except for the spacebar--it's crowded by the Insert key, which could lead to a touch-typist tragedy by triggering Windows' Overwrite mode. Below the keyboard is a touchpad and two narrow click buttons.
Skimpy software, standard support
The DeskNote A901 comes with Windows XP Home (XP Pro is a $50 option) but does not include an office suite. PC Wave backs the DeskNote A901 with a one-year warranty and one year of telephone tech support available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT on a toll line.
It's nice to see companies try new things, but ultimately, PC Wave's DeskNote A901 is not a successful experiment. If you don't really need a notebook, you'll get a lot more for the money with a budget desktop. And if you really do want a laptop, you'll be better off with a mainstream notebook such as the Dell SmartStep 100N or the Gateway Solo 1450SE. Both offer more features and better performance for about the same price.
Editor's note: This page has changed from our original version. Please see the corrections page.
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 SmartStep 100N
Windows XP Home; mobile Celeron 1,066MHz; 120MB RAM; Intel 830M Graphics Controller-0 32MB; IBM Travelstar 20GN 20GB 4,200rpm
Gateway Solo 1450SE
Windows XP Home; mobile Celeron 1,200MHz; 256MB RAM; Intel 830M Graphics Controller-0 32MB; Toshiba MK2018GAP 20GB 4,200rpm
PC Wave DeskNote A901
Windows XP Home; Celeron 1,100MHz; 240MB PC133 SDRAM; SiS 630/730 16MB (shared); IBM Travelstar 15GN 15GB 4,200rpm
The DeskNote A901's external, "uninterruptible" power supply was more like an interruptible power supply in CNET Labs tests, delivering just 41 minutes of power. Unfortunately, the notebook's performance wasn't any better. In fact, the DeskNote A901 came in dead last when compared to similarly configured mainstream notebooks with mobile (not desktop) Celerons.