Sharp Actius RD review: Sharp Actius RD

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MSRP: $999.00

The Good Rich, bright 3D screen; flash memory-card slots; sturdy keyboard; great included software.

The Bad Huge and heavy; slow; expensive; no built-in Wi-Fi; limited content available to take advantage of 3D screen.

The Bottom Line If you crave the most bleeding-edge equipment, including a 3D screen, check out the Sharp Actius RD3D. Otherwise, skip this expensive, 10-pound monster.

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6.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 5
  • Battery 5
  • Support 7

With the big Actius RD3D, Sharp introduces the world's first notebook that lets you view 3D images, no special glasses needed. This high-tech screen puts you in the middle of the action with games, but it also sheds light on more serious pursuits, such as computer-aided designs and medical images. Unfortunately, its remarkable screen aside, this humongous 10-pounder is a low-performance slug that runs for only about two hours on battery and sells for twice the cost of a typical notebook. Unless you have a special need for a 3D screen, skip this novelty.

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The big keyboard is one of the best on the market.

To put it mildly, the Sharp Actius RD3D is like no other notebook on the market. With a 3D display, it can put you inside a computer game, a computer-aided design, or a complex medical image. By alternating images meant for the right and the left eye, it tricks the brain into perceiving depth from a flat screen, but it requires that the viewer's head be about 21 inches from the display for it to work. You won't have to wear annoying 3D glasses, but if you move slightly, the 3D effect is lost. Until we were used to the screen, we felt a little motion sickness.

Interacting in three dimensions is the name of the game with the Actius RD3D. First-person shooter games become much more gory, while driving games take on an added element of excitement, and the landscape on outdoor adventure games looks extremely realistic. (We used Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 and Need for Speed Hot Pursuit 2 to test the screen.) But the screen is not a completely satisfying experience: during particularly quick action, the screen can have blips, and sometimes you'll see a double image. If you get tired of the 3D effect, a large button above the keyboard turns the display into a standard LCD.

Key to the RD3D's stunning graphics is its Sharp-made, 15-inch XGA screen. Despite having its extra LCD panel built in for the 3D effect, the display pumps out the brightness of a desktop monitor. Powered by an Nvidia GeForce4 440 Go accelerator with 64MB of its own memory, images look crisp and rich.

At 13.9 by 11.9 inches and between 1.9 and 2.1 inches thick, this is one big notebook; it stretches the definition of portable computer. The black-and-silver case is nevertheless solidly built, although one plastic panel on our early production unit didn't fit properly. The notebook tips the scales at 10 pounds, and its enormous AC adapter adds 1.7 pounds, making for an unwieldy travel weight of 11.7 pounds--roughly the equivalent of two thin-and-light notebooks.

With all that space at Sharp's disposal, the Actius RD3D has one of the best keyboards around. Solid and firm, its 19.1mm keys have a comfortable 2.7mm of depth. Unfortunately, despite a huge fan at the bottom, which seems to run more often than not, the machine has a large hot spot on the left side.

Sharp stocks the Actius RD3D full of desktop features, which explains why it seems to weigh almost as much as one. You'll find flash-memory slots for the major formats, including Secure Digital, Memory Stick, SmartMedia and CompactFlash. All of the ports are present, including four USB 2.0, FireWire, audio, and PC Card, as well as S-Video and external monitor. But the RD3D is the rare recent notebook that comes without a built-in Wi-Fi data radio. It does have a built-in Wi-Fi antenna, however, to which you can add wireless capabilities with a wireless PC Card, ranging from about $40 to $75.

The Actius RD3D's case may be fully equipped, but internally, the Actius RD3D leaves much to be desired. It uses a 2.8GHz desktop Pentium 4 processor, which lacks the latest Hyper-Threading technology. Its 6,000mAh lithium-ion battery can run this power hog for only 2 hours, 8 minutes, although a Sharp representative warned us that "this notebook is not designed to be used while unplugged." Fortunately, the system can hold up to a gigabyte of memory, and our test unit came with 512MB of 266MHz memory. In addition to a 60GB hard drive and a floppy drive, the RD3D has a DVD-RAM optical drive that can read and write discs in just about all of the popular formats.

As expected, other than games, there aren't many 3D-ready applications available to take advantage of the Actius RD3D's cutting-edge screen, but Sharp includes a good assortment to help showcase the possibilities. A cool molecular viewer shows chemicals as stick-and-ball models, but you'll probably need a PhD to get the most out of it. Rounding out the software package, there's also a slide-show program from Sharp, TriDef's movie player, and three Electronic Arts game CDs (James Bond 007: Nightfire, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003, and Need for Speed Hot Pursuit 2).

Mobile performance
The Sharp Actius RD3D came in last in mobile-application performance--that is, performance when unplugged--in this small test group. While unplugged, the system's processor throttles down its speed to conserve battery life. As you can see in the chart, with the same processors, the Toshiba Satellite A25-S279 and the Sony VAIO PCG-FRV37 both score higher than the Sharp--67 and 78 points, respectively, because the Toshiba and the Sony don't throttle as much. But because the Sharp Actius RD3D is a desktop replacement, not much weight should be put on its unplugged performance.

Mobile application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark 2002 performance rating  
Toshiba Satellite A25-S279
Sharp Actius RD3D

SysMark 2002 performance
In maximum performance, the Sharp Actius RD3D shows its true capabilities, coming out on top of the Sony VAIO PCG-FRV37. Ultimately, however, the 4,200rpm hard drives held back both systems, accounting for low office-productivity scores. The Toshiba Satellite A25-S279 did not complete this test.

Maximum application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2002 rating  
SysMark 2002 Internet content creation  
SysMark 2002 office productivity  
Sharp Actius RD3D

To measure maximum notebook application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).

3D graphics performance
Both the Sharp Actius RD3D and the Sony VAIO PCG-FRV37 have lower-than-top-rung video adapters. So, when it comes to 3D performance, they score lower than better-equipped notebooks, which is a shame for the Sharp. We expected higher scores from a notebook whose primary goal is displaying 3D graphics. The Sony VAIO PCG-FRV37 with its ATI Radeon IGP 345M scored higher than the Sharp Actius RD3D with its Nvidia GeForce4 440 Go. The Toshiba Satellite A25-S279 did not complete this test.

3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Futuremark's 3DMark2001 SE  
Sharp Actius RD3D

To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark 2001 SE. We use 3DMark to measure desktop replacement notebook performance with the DirectX 8.1 interface at the 32-bit color setting at a resolution of 1,024x768.