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WinBook J4 731 review: WinBook J4 731

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The Good Inexpensive; four USB 1.1 ports; one FireWire port.

The Bad Heavy; no integrated wireless networking; slow performance; short battery life.

The Bottom Line With its slow performance and mediocre specs, the J4 731 will appeal only to students and homebodies on extremely tight budgets.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

6.1 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 5
  • Battery 5
  • Support 7

Review Sections

Review summary

Only those on an extremely tight budget should consider the new WinBook J4 731. The low-end model starts at a very affordable $799, but it offers mediocre components and performance. Our nine-pound test unit came with a 2GHz desktop Celeron processor, 256MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive, and a 14-inch screen. It also includes a snappy keyboard, four USB 1.1 ports, a FireWire port, and Ethernet connectivity, but there's no built-in wireless networking--a must-have at many schools across the country. If you can afford to spend a bit more, WinBook does offer other J4 configurations with faster processors, more screen real estate, bigger hard drives, and built-in, wireless networking. Still, before you plunk down any money, we recommend that you check out a system with more configuration options, such as the Compaq Presario 2100 series.

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The touchpad is responsive but a bit small.

This mainstream notebook's inconspicuous, black-plastic case with silver trim around the edges won't turn any heads when you take it through airport security or into the campus library. However, even if it had the flash and style of a Sony or Toshiba notebook, the J4 731 isn't easy to lug from city to city or classroom to classroom. The case measures 13 inches wide by 11 inches deep by 1.8 inches thick, and it weighs nine pounds, including the rather hefty one-pound AC adapter. In fact, the J4 731 will feel most comfortable parked on your desk at home or in a college dorm room.

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The full-size keyboard feels snappy, but the hard-to-reach Delete key may pose problems for touch-typists.
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The notebook has four USB 1.1 ports for quick connections.

The system comes with a 14.1-inch display. A power button and two programmable launch keys sit above the keyboard amid the speakers, which sound clear but almost completely lack bass tones. The full-size keyboard feels snappy; however, the Delete key is located in the top row with the function keys--an unintuitive and inconvenient location. Below the keyboard, there's a small but responsive touchpad and two mouse buttons.

The edges of the J4 731 look bare. The notebook's front corners feature perforated sections at the corners for airflow, while the left side offers a single four-pin FireWire port, one Type II PC Card slot, and an Ethernet jack. On the back, there are more air vents, as well as S-Video-out, parallel, VGA, and IrDA ports. The right side features four USB 1.1 ports and a DVD-ROM drive. An external USB floppy drive is an expensive $99 option.
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The single drive bay holds either a CD-ROM or a DVD-ROM drive.

Like most budget notebooks, the $799 J4 731 offers mediocre components. It comes with a 2GHz desktop Celeron processor, 256MB of memory, and a 20GB hard drive. The single drive bay holds either a CD-ROM or a DVD-ROM drive. The standard SIS 650 chipset, which borrows 32MB of main memory, handles the graphics chores. Unfortunately, you can't configure your own machine or upgrade any of the specs. WinBook does, however, offer several configurations in the J4 series. They range from the frugal $799 mainstream system that we reviewed here to a packed, $2,999 desktop replacement with an Intel Pentium 4 processor and a 15-inch screen.

The J4 731 comes with a 10/100 Ethernet port for hard-wired LAN connections, but no wireless networking option is available. Instead, you'll need to add a wireless PC Card or USB adapter, a wise investment if you plan to frequent hot spots or attend a school with wireless-equipped classrooms.

WinBook bundles only one software application with the J4 731: InterVideo's WinDVD 4.0 for DVD playback. However, the company does ship a real copy of Windows XP Home Edition (not a restore CD version) with the entry-level model.
Mobile application performance
The WinBook J4 731 that we tested offered uninspiring mobile performance. In fact, it scored 41 points less than the Dell Inspiron 1100 and trailed the Toshiba Satellite 1135-S155 by 66 points. Why the large gap? The Inspiron 1100 and the Satellite 1135-S155 simply work more efficiently. For starters, both systems house 2GHz mobile Celeron processors compared to the 2GHz desktop Celeron processor used by the J4 731. The shared memory architecture used by the three systems also affected the mobile performance scores. The J4 731 uses a SIS 650 chipset, which borrows 32MB of system memory. The Inspiron 1100 and the Satellite 1135-S155, on the other hand, use an Intel graphics controller, which borrows memory for only graphics-intensive applications.

Mobile application performance  (Longer bars indicate faster performance)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 performance rating  
Toshiba Satellite 1135-S155
128 
Dell Inspiron 1100
103 
WinBook J4 731
62 

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).

Find out more about how we test notebooks.

System configurations:

Dell Inspiron 1100
Windows XP Home; 2GHz Intel Mobile Celeron; 256MB SDRAM 133MHz; Intel 82845G Graphics Controller 64MB; IBM Travelstar 30GN 30GB 4,200rpm

Toshiba Satellite 1135-S155
Windows XP Home; 2GHz Intel Mobile Celeron; 512MB SDRAM 133MHz; Intel 82852GM Graphics Controller (up to 64MB shared); Toshiba MK4018GAS 40GB 4,200rpm

WinBook J4 731
Windows XP Home; 2GHz Intel Celeron; 256MB SDRAM 133MHz; SIS 650 32MB (shared); IBM Travelstar 20GB 5,400rpm
The battery specs largely determined the winner of this race. The WinBook J4 731 came in last place, thanks to its relatively low-power, 14.8V, 4,000mAh (59WHr) battery and power-hungry 2GHz desktop Celeron processor. Running just less than two hours, it will be enough to get you through an intro-to-psych lecture. With its 14.8V, 4,300mAh (64WHr) battery, the Toshiba Satellite 1135-S155 came in second place at just more than three hours, while the Dell Inspiron 1100 with its 14.8V, 6,450mAh (95WHr) battery lasted four hours.

Battery life  (Longer bars indicate longer battery life)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 battery life in minutes  
Dell Inspiron 1100
240 
Toshiba Satellite 1135-S155
183 
WinBook J4 731
116 

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).

Find out more about how we test notebooks.

System configurations:

Dell Inspiron 1100
Windows XP Home; 2GHz Intel Mobile Celeron; 256MB SDRAM 133MHz; Intel 82845G Graphics Controller 64MB; IBM Travelstar 30GN 30GB 4,200rpm

Toshiba Satellite 1135-S155
Windows XP Home; 2GHz Intel Mobile Celeron; 512MB SDRAM 133MHz; Intel 82852GM Graphics Controller (up to 64MB shared); Toshiba MK4018GAS 40GB 4,200rpm

WinBook J4 731
Windows XP Home; 2GHz Intel Celeron; 256MB SDRAM 133MHz; SIS 650 32MB (shared); IBM Travelstar 20GB 5,400rpm
The WinBook J4 731 comes with decent support for a budget notebook. The standard one-year warranty includes free return shipping with a 5- to 10-day repair turnaround. WinBook also offers extended warranty plans. For example, $179 buys you three years of coverage with a 48-hour repair turnaround and free pickup. In addition, you can buy two- or three-year screen coverage for $89 and $119, respectively. Unfortunately, phone support is available only Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET.

The company's support Web site is easy to navigate and offers plentiful resources, including specs for each WinBook model, tech articles, manuals in PDF, driver downloads, tech support via e-mail, and a search function.

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