WinBook's latest N4 tries to shine by incorporating the new 2GHz mobile Pentium 4-M chip as part of its husky, desktop-replacement configuration, which includes a big screen, a combo DVD/CD-RW drive, and a comfortable keyboard. But the system is still undermined by its older, slower graphics system, turning in lackluster performance compared to that of similarly equipped desktop-replacement systems. Nevertheless, the WinBook N4 is still a well-configured machine at a relatively attractive price. WinBook's latest N4 tries to shine by incorporating the new 2GHz mobile Pentium 4-M chip as part of its husky, desktop-replacement configuration, which includes a big screen, a combo DVD/CD-RW drive, and a comfortable keyboard. But the system is still undermined by its older, slower graphics system, turning in lackluster performance compared to that of similarly equipped desktop-replacement systems. Nevertheless, the WinBook N4 is still a well-configured machine at a relatively attractive price.
The $2,595 WinBook N4 is expensive, but its fairly full configuration is built for business, and it's still less costly than some of the competition. Our test unit included the new 2GHz mobile Pentium 4-M, 256MB of RAM (expandable to 512MB), a 16MB Nvidia GeForce2 Go graphics chip, a 30GB hard drive, and a DVD/CD-RW combo drive, as well as a floppy. The long list of ports is missing only FireWire; you also get a 56Kbps modem, 10/100 Ethernet, and one Type II PC Card slot. Aside from Windows XP Professional, bundled software was limited to InterVideo's WinDVD.
But if the WinBook N4's going with you on your next trip, you'd better visit the gym beforehand. This black-and-gray bruiser tips the scales at 8 pounds (8.7 pounds with the power supply) and measures a bulky 1.4 inches thick by 12.9 inches wide by 10.9 inches deep.
Big and familiar
There's some benefit to bulk, however. Typing on the WinBook N4's broad, solid-feeling keyboard, with all the important keys in the right places, was a pleasure, as were the smooth touchpad and mouse buttons beneath the keyboard. We also liked the view on the 15-inch LCD, even though text labels and icons look somewhat small at the native 1,400x1,050 resolution. It's best to get used to it; text smears somewhat at lower resolutions.
Fast CPU hobbled by slow graphics
When you're paying top dollar for a high-end notebook, you expect to be impressed, and the WinBook N4 fails to do so in a crucial area: performance. Granted, it feels plenty fast in regular use. But in CNET Labs' tests, it finished well behind another 2GHz P4-M notebook, the Dell Inspiron 8200. In fact, we've tested several notebooks with slower P4-M processors such as the Toshiba Satellite 5105-S607, the Gateway 600XL, and the Dell Latitude C840, all of which offered better overall applications performance.
At least two items slowed down the WinBook. First, its older Nvidia GeForce2 Go graphics chip caused the WinBook N4 to struggle in SysMark2001's disk-intensive office-productivity test. In contrast, the Inspiron 8200 sports one of Nvidia's GeForce4 440 Go chips with 64MB of RAM. Second, the WinBook N4 includes only half the memory (256MB) of the Inspiron 8200 configuration we tested.
On battery tests, the WinBook N4 was merely average. Despite its big, eight-cell, lithium-ion battery with a relatively high 59.2 watt-hour rating, the WinBook N4 lasted for 2 hours, 21 minutes--10 minutes shy of the Inspiron 8200 equipped with the same processor. This is a far cry from the current P4-M champ, the HP Omnibook xe4500 (3 hours, 7 minutes), but the WinBook N4's battery life is still acceptable for a system in its class.
Good documentation, upgradable warranty
WinBook's service and support for the N4 is pretty good. The warranty is a scant year for parts and labor, but you can extend it to three years for $119. Toll-free technical support is free for the life of the product, and the lines are open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET Saturdays; support is also available via e-mail. The company's Web site is well stocked with FAQs and updated drivers, while the notebook's user manual is reasonably thorough and well illustrated.
The WinBook N4 could've been a contender, with its heavy-duty processor and good configuration. But its graphics chip makes it noticeably slower than the competition. However, the WinBook N4's lower price and weight may make it attractive to bargain hunters.
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 Inspiron 8200 (Pentium 4-M-1.6GHz)
Windows XP Home; Pentium 4-M-1.6GHz; 128MB RAM; GeForce2 Go 32MB; IBM Travelstar 40GN 20MB 4,200rpm
Dell Inspiron 8200 (Pentium 4-M-1.8GHz)
Windows XP Home; Pentium 4-M-1.8GHz; 256MB DDR RAM, Nvidia GeForce4 440 Go 64MB; Toshiba MK4019GAX 40GB 5,400rpm
Dell Inspiron 8200 (Pentium 4-M-2GHz)
Windows XP Pro; Pentium 4-M-2GHz; 512MB DDR SDRAM; Nvidia GeForce4 440 Go 32MB; Toshiba MK4019GAX 40GB 5,400rpm
Windows XP Pro; mobile Pentium 4-M 1,700MHz; 512MB RAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 64MB; IBM Travelstar 40GN 40GB 4,200rpm
Toshiba Satellite 5005-S607
Windows XP Pro; Pentium 4-M-1.7GHz; 512MB DDR RAM; Nvidia GeForce4 440 Go 32MB; Toshiba MK4019GAX 40GB 5,400rpm
Windows XP Pro; Pentium 4-M-2GHz; 256MB DDR (PC2100) SDRAM; Nvidia GeForce2 Go 16MB; Toshiba MK4018GAP 40GB 4,200rpm
Powered by a 2GHz mobile Pentium 4-M chip--but hobbled by an older-generation Nvidia graphics chip--the WinBook N4 can't keep up with the competition. Battery life, at 141 minutes, is merely adequate.