capsule review

Sys Technology Freestyle M7500

At a Glance
  • Sys Technology Freestyle M7500

    PCWorld Rating

Sys Technology Freestyle M7500
Artwork: Rick Rizner

Don't have thousands of dollars to spend on an entertainment notebook decked out with a 17-inch wide screen, TV tuner, and subwoofer? If you can live with its rough edges, the Sys Technology Freestyle M7500 makes a reasonable substitute. This 6.8-pound (sans power adapter) notebook packs a bright 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD, decent stereo speakers, a handheld remote control, and CyberLink's PowerCinema entertainment center software package--all for $1395.

The best knockoff of the Windows XP Media Center 2005 operating system I've seen yet, PowerCinema closely resembles the real thing with its blue-hued main menu. But because it's a quick-boot Linux-based application, it lets notebooks operate as movie, music, video, and slide-show players without sucking up as much battery power as Windows does.

Without turning on the notebook, you can launch PowerCinema from the M7500's keyboard or remote control. I had no trouble moving between and controlling entertainment applications. You don't even have to go through the PowerCinema main menu for some activities; just press the quick-launch button for the appropriate application in the upper right keyboard; these double as PowerCinema hot buttons for when you want to watch a movie, listen to MP3 files, or manage digital photos. Audio CDs require a separate player that you must launch from the PowerCinema menu, unfortunately.

Nicely designed overall, the M7500 is the first notebook I've seen with a front USB 2.0 port--an excellent feature. The notebook's microphone and headphone ports conveniently appear on the front of the case, too, next to separate LED buttons for controlling and monitoring the status of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless communications. Two other USB ports and a four-in-one card reader sit on the right side of the case, while a DVD burner occupies the left.

I liked the keyboard's feel and layout, which includes a roomy touchpad and a four-way scroll button. The top right corner is wasted on the <Pause/Break> key (with the more important <Del> key in second position), however, and the application/PowerCinema hot keys are so small and recessed that they're hard to read and I was never sure whether I was pressing them hard enough.

The screen is more readable than most thanks to its native resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels, which made icons plenty big and crisp.

Performance was a mixed bag. The M7500's battery, which forms the rear of the unit, lasted 2.6 hours on one charge, about 50 minutes shorter than average. But speed was about right for a 1.86-GHz Pentium M 750-equipped notebook with 512MB of RAM. The M7500 earned a WorldBench 5 score of 85, whereas a similarly equipped Asus W3V posted a mark of 89.

The M7500 is user-upgradable, with memory slots and a hard drive situated in easily accessible bottom compartments. The maximum amount of RAM it can use is 1GB, however--that's half the 2GB ceiling available with most current notebooks. In addition to PowerCinema, the notebook bundles such business software as the WordPerfect 11 Productivity Pack and Quicken 2003, along with a hodgepodge of lesser applications like Diskeeper Lite and Eudora Pro E-Mail.

The M7500's users manual, available only in printed form, is rife with misspelled words and awkward translations ("lanuch keys are locatted..."). Still, I found it useful overall. Any manual willing to address the specifics of system upgrades gets a gold star in my book.

This PowerCinema-equipped wide-screen portable has plenty of entertainment features that make it ideal for buyers on a shoestring.

Carla Thornton

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Budget entertainment notebook includes Windows Media Center lookalike application and a remote control.

    Pros

    • Low-priced, offers nice entertainment

    Cons

    • Short battery life
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