One problem continues to haunt notebook vendors who try to engineer the perfect desktop replacement: Big features make for big notebooks. Sceptre's Soundx S69502 has the weight and girth to encompass almost every feature you'd want for serious productivity on the road and boasts good battery life. But its middling speed may make you yearn for that desktop back at home. One problem continues to haunt notebook vendors who try to engineer the perfect desktop replacement: Big features make for big notebooks. Sceptre's Soundx S69502 has the weight and girth to encompass almost every feature you'd want for serious productivity on the road and boasts good battery life. But its middling speed may make you yearn for that desktop back at home.
All the features
The $2,713 Soundx S69502 costs less than comparable notebooks, but it packs a good amount for the price. The best feature is its spacious, 15-inch (diagonal) display. In fact, the display is so big that the lid is slightly larger than the notebook's body. The display's native resolution of 1,400x1,050 pixels is impressive, too, but take a good look before you buy. While the display looks crisp even at the brightest setting (white backgrounds are clean and even, and colors appear rich and saturated), squeezing that many pixels into a screen of this size results in an image that may look too compressed for some. And as is the case with all LCDs, adjusting it to a nonnative resolution results in some image degradation.
Beyond the exotic display, the Soundx S69502's innards include an 850MHz Pentium III processor with 128MB of memory (expandable to 256MB for $80 extra); a spacious 20GB hard drive; and a 16MB ATI Mobility 128 AGP 2X video controller that can drive an external monitor at 1,600x1,200. The hot-swappable bay on the front edge comes with a 24X CD-R/RW drive; you can save $210 by requesting a DVD instead. Other options for the bay include a Zip drive for $350 and a second battery for $135. The system also has a built-in floppy drive; an infrared port; a V.90 modem; dual Type II (single Type III) PC Card slots; plus one USB and one PS/2 port for an external mouse or keyboard. There's one oversight, especially noticeable in a desktop replacement: no built-in Ethernet. For that, you'd have to buy the $199 port replicator.
All the weight
To make room for all this, the Soundx S69502 spreads across 13 by 10.5 inches and measures a hefty 1.6 inches thick. The total weight of this monster is 7.6 pounds (8.5 with power supply).
The other features on the Soundx S69502 highlighted the pros and cons of a bargain-priced machine. Some details pleased us, such as the full-sized keyboard's quiet, responsive keys and the simple touchpad with two big buttons. The power button is placed above the keyboard, a safer location than on a side panel, where pencils floating around in your briefcase might press it. Less commendable were its tinny, annoying speakers and the lack of any bundled software.
The tortoise and the hare
The Soundx S69502 may be able to hold its own on features in the desktop-replacement category, but when it came to speed and battery life, it had some tough competition. We compared it to two other similarly configured notebooks, the WinBook Z1 and the Fujitsu LifeBook E-6595. The WinBook Z1 came with Windows 2000 installed, while the Soundx S69502 arrived with Windows 98. Maybe that explains why the Z1 left the Soundx S69502 eating dust in CNET Labs' tests. The Soundx S69502 was nearly 18 percent slower than the Z1 in battery-optimized mode; in maximum-performance mode, the spread was even greater--more than 22 percent. Even compared to the Fujitsu LifeBook E-6595, which ran the same Windows 98 OS, the Soundx S69502 fell short by 5.6 percent in battery-optimized mode and 8.5 percent in maximum-performance mode. Such mediocre performance will not impede your basic business apps, of course, but more processing-intensive activities such as gaming may feel the pinch.
Still, as with the tortoise and the hare, raw speed is only one factor; endurance also counts. In maximum-performance mode, the Soundx S69502's battery held out for just less than three hours, tying the Z1 for a competent score. In battery-optimized mode, the Sceptre did even better, surpassing the WinBook by 22 minutes. The Fujitsu LifeBook E-6595 outlasted the Sceptre in both modes, but its smaller (and less power-hungry) 14.1-inch display, in contrast with the 15-inchers on the Sceptre and WinBook, makes the comparison unfair.
We figure any company that picks a Komodo dragon as its mascot must have some tricks up its sleeve, but we couldn't uncover much in the way of support at the Sceptre site. The Soundx S69502 has a short, industry-standard one-year warranty, sweetened with lifetime access to tech support (available weekday business hours Pacific time on a toll-free number). The unit comes with a generic manual full of troubleshooting and Windows information, but it contains no details on the Soundx S69502. Online help is limited to driver downloads and a page of FAQs.
The Soundx S69502 is a desktop replacement that's priced for tighter budgets. It's significantly cheaper than other notebooks with 15-inch LCDs, and it runs fast enough and long enough for most purposes and provides a good selection of supporting hardware. On the other hand, you may have to turn around and pay for the software it doesn't have. If power takes second priority to features, the Soundx S69502 may satisfy you.
Applications: 100=performance of Dell Dimension XPS with a 600MHz Pentium III, 128MB of RAM, and a GeForce 256 SDR graphics card
Longer bars indicate better performance
Battery life test
Time is measured in minutes; longer bars indicate better performance
Sceptre Soundx S69502
Windows 98 SE, mobile Pentium III-850, 128MB RAM, Rage Mobility 16MB, Fujitsu 20GB 4,200rpm
Fujitsu LifeBook E-6595
Compared to a similar system from WinBook running Windows 2000, the Sceptre Soundx S69502 delivered a weak performance, which we thought could be explained by its Windows 98 OS. But the Sceptre also lost out to the Fujitsu LifeBook E-6595, which runs Windows 98. This middling performance is still adequate for mainstream business applications, however.