Micro Express NP5015A
The Micro Express NP5015A offers good performance at a very reasonable price, but you'll have to look for this model on the Micro Express site by typing the model name (NP5015) into the search box; if you try to configure it on the company's main laptops page, you'll pay far more. This good-looking charcoal and blue-silver notebook with a 14.1-inch screen weighs a moderately light 6.1 pounds without the AC charger. A Centrino model, it lasted 4 hours, 41 minutes on one battery charge, 40 minutes longer than the NP500A we reviewed in December. Though it carries a slightly less powerful processor than the earlier unit, it turned in a virtually identical PC WorldBench 4 score of 128.
The NP5015A is well equipped with all the expected notebook connections, including three USB ports, a FireWire port, and an S-Video-out port, plus the old standby parallel port. A combination drive is located on the front of the notebook; such positioning can be handy, though we did find ourselves occasionally pressing the release by accident and having to push the tray back in. The drive is removable, but the only other add-in Micro Express sells is a DVD burner (a $175 upgrade). An SD (Secure Digital) card slot is a small but welcome extra.
A wireless communications switch on the left side of the notebook turns the Intel 802.11b card on and off. The hard drive and RAM are both user-accessible, ensuring easy future upgrades. (The manual warns against removing the hard drive, but Micro Express assured us that doing so would not void the warranty.) The NP5015A suffered neither of the minor construction issues we found with the NP500A, which had a PC Card slot release that wouldn't stay stored and a key so loose it popped off the keyboard. However, the NP5015A's poorly arranged PgUp and PgDn keys did cause us some consternation. We could live with these keys laid out horizontally next to each other (instead of vertically, which is more intuitive), but getting used to their order was hard: PgDn is on the left and PgUp is on the right, which felt backward to us.
DVD movies looked fine, and the stereo speakers were loud enough for us to enjoy them without headphones. The only user manual we received was on CD and referred to another notebook model; it seemed to accurately describe the NP5015A, however, so we found it useful. One nit we'll pick for notebook fashionistas: The white lid release jumps out of the dark case.
If you're willing to overlook its minor imperfections, the Micro Express NP5015A is a good deal for home users and small businesses. A big-enough screen, a high-end optical drive, basic connections, great performance, and more features are all there for a very reasonable $1199.
Micro Express NP5015A