capsule review

WinBook X540

At a Glance
  • WinBook X Series

WinBook X540
Artwork: Rick Rizner, John Goddard

At just 4.6 pounds, the WinBook X540 is the most portable combination laptop-DVD player we've seen yet. The Power Cinema launch button, which sits next to the power button, lets you watch DVDs, listen to CDs, or view a slide show of your digital photographs without having to first launch Windows. But the experience is not perfect.

The built-in stereo speakers--which emit sound from outlets on the laptop's short, sloped front--are weak, and the X540 has no volume or playback-control buttons. You have to use software to control music playback and to play DVD movies. We could also complain about the uneven-looking Power Cinema application, in which a polished Media Center-like CD player interface sits cheek by jowl with a DVD player that consists of a row of bare-bones buttons along the bottom of the screen. But that would be picky--the X540 is still a cool little multimedia machine.

Among ultraportable laptops, the stylish and well-equipped X540 holds its own and then some. The small black unit with snazzy silver lid and accent stripe includes a nice 12.1-inch screen, a multiformat DVD burner, a three-in-one media card reader, a FireWire port, and a TV-out port, in addition to the other laptop connections. There's one PC Card slot, filled with a white placeholder. The X540 even manages to squeeze in three USB ports: one on either side of the case for quick plug-ins, plus a third tucked away on the bottom of the laptop behind a removable cover, for a mouse or keyboard.

We found the X540's slightly cramped keyboard a little mushier than we prefer, but it's laid out well enough for fast touch typing, including a Delete key located conveniently in the upper-right corner. Our only serious complaint is the horizontal, rather than vertical, arrangement of the Page Up and Page Down keys. The X540 is easy to upgrade, with two user-accessible memory slots and the 80GB hard drive sharing a bottom compartment.

A good performer, the X540 comes with Intel's 2-GHz Pentium M 755 chip and 512MB of RAM, which helped earn it a pretty good WorldBench 5 score of 83. (It lagged a similarly equipped laptop we tested by 6 percent--the Acer TravelMate--which earned a score of 89.) Away from an electrical outlet, you can expect the X540's rear-mounted battery to last about 3 hours, judging from our tests.

We could find little wrong with the X540. It has no parallel port, a legacy connection often omitted from ultraportables. We found the system status panel, which runs down the right side of the keyboard, less than useful because of its opaqueness. It also took some time to get used to the optical-drive eject button, which lies across a beveled edge--you have to press the part of the button below the edge or it won't eject the tray. We're disappointed that WinBook, which once bundled an excellent printed user manual, has gone the way of other PC vendors by switching to electronic documentation for the most part. But the X540 itself? A winner.

The X540 offers trendy ultraportability with its fast Intel processor, state-of-the-art optical drive, huge 80GB hard drive, and the capability to act as a stand-alone DVD player.

Carla Thornton

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At a Glance
  • WinBook X Series

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