In-Flight Entertainment on a Netbook

Last week, while I was jet-setting off to Dell HQ to get a gander at the Adamo XPS (you did read our exclusive look at prototype laptops that'll never make it to market, right?) I found myself with a lot of free time at the airport. I could have been productive and done some writing--but that was prime time to marry my love of laptops with my love of goofing off. This week, I'm telling you how to make the most of a low-powered PC, be it a netbook or humbly equipped business machine.

Pre-Flight Check

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A Beef With Battery Benchmarks

Earlier this year, I remember AMD reps stumping about how laptop battery life gets measured. It's misleading, to say the least. MobileMark07, they said, is a synthetic test that measures idle time before a laptop battery dies. Many vendors use MobileMark07 results because it's a repeatable test, and those are the numbers you see pushed in promotional materials. But is that how you use your laptop? Hell no! You're running apps, watching video, listening to music, firing up the Wi-Fi--you get the idea.

Someone I know recently visited a couple brick-and-mortar stores to try a little social experiment. Playing the dummy, she said she needed a laptop with a long battery life. On every occasion, she got directed to an Intel machine. When I mentioned this to AMD's Leslie Sobon, VP of Worldwide Product Marketing, she: "The way people report numbers needs to change."

Well, obviously, these folks are motivated to find other metrics, since people aren't getting directed to AMD rigs. AMD's Brian Henry told me yesterday that he currently likes to run 3DMark06 (which runs the CPU at about 47 percent) while turning on the Wi-Fi to better reflect what you'd probably do with your machine over the course of a day. Other benchmarking suites try all sorts of things--installing apps, turning on Wi-Fi, downloading files. And yes, PC World has its own suite that we reference in our reviews, PC WorldBench 6--a collection of off-the-shelf apps that hammer a computer into submission. (If you want to learn more about our testing procedures, read "WorldBench 6 Released.") But after hearing about all these different solutions, you can't help but sit and wonder if there is a good single test, or if you need to cook up some massive combination of programs.

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Lenovo: Our Windows 7 Laptops Are Faster

Hope you didn't put away those Windows 7 party hats because, apparently, Lenovo waited a couple days longer to share its news: It has crafted "Enhanced Experience" PCs that are faster and Windows-ier than competitors. Lenovo worked closely with Microsoft on the optimizations, even going so far as to say that its products get the nod from Microsoft for the "Enhanced Experience" certification. Of course, we can't back up these claims with conclusive tests just yet (when some of these new rigs show up, we can give you a better idea where things stand)--but that isn't going to stop me from telling you the how's and the what's....

The Big Claims

Lenovo says that its machines boot 33 percent faster and shut down up to 50 percent quicker than comparable rigs.

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Lenovo Releases New Windows 7 ThinkPad Laptops

Lenovo announced two new additions to the business-oriented ThinkPad family, the 14-inch ThinkPad SL410 and 15.6-inch SL510, both of which come with Windows 7.

Lenovo ThinkPad SL410

These new ThinkPads are designed with small- to-medium businesses in mind and feature higher-resolution webcams, clearer microphones, and a microphone mute button for voice and video conferencing. The higher-end configurations for the SL410 and SL510 feature built-in 3G broadband internet via AT&T mobile broadband, as well.

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Is the World Ready for 3D Laptops? Ask Acer

I'm all for technology advancements--a new OS, a slicker smartphone, Tang, whatever. Now Acer's making an odd-but-interesting bet with its new Aspire 5738DG laptop: a 3D display. Yep, the future is now--watch out for flying DeLoreans!

Before I crack any more jokes, let me explain what goes into Acer's 3D technology. Ray Sawall, senior manager of product marketing for Acer America, took a few minutes to break it down for me. Forget fancy proprietary names (TriDef 3D screen!), what's at work here are polarized plastic shades, a 60-Hz polarized display, and software working in tandem to trick the image into seeming three-dimensional.

With 3D movies (like, say, Monsters vs. Aliens), it works. It also does the best it can to represent 2D images in 3D. I haven't had a chance to test it just yet, but the spokespeople say I need to check out The Lord of the Rings--and I will soon, since I expect to see a review unit any day now.

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Toshiba Dynadock Wireless U: The Perfect Docking Station?

We may be living in the age of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but much of the laptop experience is still heavily wired. Me? I'm tired of being chained to a desk by my speakers, external display, and assorted USB devices. Luckily, Toshiba's Dynadock Wireless U ($300 from Toshiba, $250 from Amazon.com; check out PC World Pricing) wireless docking station showed up at the office. I took a couple days to play with it, and here are my initial impressions.

Wireless Docking in the Real World

The Dynadock Wireless U packs a DVI connector (with VGA adapter), six USB ports, a digital audio port, and an Ethernet port, as well as line-in, headphone, and microphone jacks. Anything you plug in will be usable by your laptop, which it connects to via an included USB stick. You could leave your cameras, phones, speakers, and so on connected to the dock while you roam around the room on the laptop with full access to your devices, or you could work from the hub by connecting a full keyboard and mouse to the USB ports and hooking up an external display while your laptop sits elsewhere.

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Pret-a-Portable: Dell Adamo, HP Envy, and Sony Vaio X

Sleek little laptops are nothing new--I recall drooling over a Toshiba Libretto back in the day--but something's in the water at the design houses lately. We're seeing all sorts of new notebooks pushing the envelope in different directions.

Probably the most obvious place to start is with the new Dell Adamo (check out the funky design) that I got a sneak peek at...and that Dell has started letting slip to different Web sites.

When Dell spokespeople showed off the machine, they were a little too sheepish to talk about what's going on under the hood. In fact, they weren't even certain whether to even bring the new Adamo to market. There's been no discussion of battery life, no mention of what it could muster for horsepower. One could hazard a guess its hardware will probably be less impressive than what Dell squeezed into the original Adamo.

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