Digital Gear: LAN Party Showpieces

For gearheads on the go, ever-smaller computers mean the capability to pack ever more power in a bag or even a pocket. Party-going gamers may want to take a look at Dell's recently launched desktop-replacement gaming laptop, while folks who are all thumbs might like Vulcan's palmtop that has the capabilities of a laptop.

Hearty for a LAN Party

Inspiron XPS
Gaming enthusiasts at LAN parties may now be seen lugging Dell's latest gaming laptop, the Inspiron XPS, which provides the processing power, graphics, and sound that gamers crave.

The $2449 laptop is loaded with the latest technologies: an Intel Pentium 4 or Pentium 4 Extreme Edition processor running at 3.4 GHz, ATI Technologies Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics card, and a gigabit ethernet port. It also has a six-speaker system with a subwoofer, a 15.4-inch UXGA screen, and a DVI port. It comes standard with 512MB of DDR RAM (expandable to 2GB) running at 400 MHz, a DVD-RW drive, four USB 2.0 ports, and an IEEE 1394 port. Buyers have a choice of a 60GB or 80GB hard drive.

The Inspiron XPS has an S-Video out port and one PC Card slot, and it runs on a lithium ion battery. The battery lasts just 60 to 90 minutes on a single charge, but that is the price you pay for a laptop that has three fans. Dell wouldn't identify recent problems it had with the XPS that held up deliveries, but shipping resumed quickly.

The Very Portable FlipStart

Also very portable, but less useful at LAN parties is the FlipStart PC, a palmtop computer demonstrated by Vulcan at the Demo trade show earlier this year.

This PC is similar to the one OQO displayed at CES. It runs on a 1-GHz processor, comes with a 30GB hard drive, has 256MB of RAM built into it, runs Windows XP, and weighs less than 16 ounces. That easily beats the 30-pound desktop I have at home.

It also has a QWERTY keyboard, a 3D graphics card, USB 2.0 capabilities, and built-in Wi-Fi networking. This computer has a few disadvantages associated with its size--it has a tiny screen and needs a dock for a CD/DVD drive. Modules let you attach a monitor, keyboard, and mouse for a traditional PC-like experience. Vulcan has not yet revealed the price.

TiVo on your PC

Instant TV Deluxe
TiVo, the digital video recorder, has become so popular that it is now used as a verb. A competing product is the ADS Technologies Windows-based Instant TV Deluxe, a USB 2.0-based cable-ready TV tuner that lets you watch and record TV shows on your computer. The device modulates cable TV, digital cable TV, satellite TV, and standard UHF and VHF signals. You can record video on the computer in MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 format at up to 15MB per second.

The SnapStream Beyond TV application that comes with the Instant TV Deluxe lets you pause, rewind, or forward live TV. The application also has a programming guide, and you can schedule the device to record a TV program to a hard drive, CD, or DVD up to seven days in advance. It comes with an infrared remote control. It started shipping in March priced at $229.

A low-end version of the Instant TV Deluxe, the Instant TV USB cable-ready TV tuner can also record TV shows and modulate different TV signals, but does not include an infrared remote control or the SnapStream Beyond TV application. Instead, it comes with USB cables and Ulead Systems Inc.'s Video@Home2 TV application. It costs $99.95 and was released in the United States in February.

Biometric Hard Drive

Outbacker hard drive
A biometric hard drive capable of delivering the storage power of a PC in a pocket-sized data device was launched by Memory Experts International in March.

Based on the 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard, the Outbacker hard drive activates only after a fingerprint is authenticated, and access is restricted to users whose fingerprints are registered. It comes in capacities of 20GB and 40GB and can withstand a 10-yard drop.

After you plug the hard drive into a USB port for the first time, you can enroll up to ten prints. Users access the hard drive by entering a nine-digit personal identification number on a pad accompanying the device. The hard drive is USB 2.0 backward-compatible, and works only with computers running certain Windows systems. Macintosh and Linux compatibility should come soon, according to the company.

The Outbacker is scheduled to ship later this year, with prices around $450 for the 20GB model and $650 for the 40GB model.

Handheld Ultrasound Device

A quick diagnosis of heart conditions can be done through the Titan ultrasound device from SonoSite.

This handheld system can perform both radiology and cardiology examinations, including full echocardiography and vascular studies. At 7.7 pounds, the portable device is targeted at physicians and hospital emergency departments. The Titan uses a custom chip and can boot up in less than 12 seconds. It has a magnesium body, with an 8.4-inch LCD screen and can run for 2 to 3 hours on a single battery charge. It has two compact flash slots--one for image storage and the second for upgrades to the device. It can withstand a 30-inch drop.

Titan is scheduled for worldwide delivery in mid-June and its estimated price will be around $40,000.

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