Kris Master. (notebook computer) (Evaluation)
by Peter Scisco
Sleek, fast, powerful, responsive--all suitable adjectives for this 7.1-pound 386SX notebook from Kris Technologies. From the sharp charcoal-gray housing to the agile keyboard to the powerful and functional 20-MHz processor, this machine is everything you might want or need when you take your office on the road.
Underscoring this conclusion is the Kris Master's inclusion of Windows 3.0 and a Logitech serial mouse. This notebook certainly has the muscle to run Windows, if that's the environment you've chosen for your applications. It goes without saying that it's suitable for straight DOS applications. If you've chosen another environment, such as GeoWorks Ensemble, you'll also be pleased with the notebook's performance.
The system I reviewed shipped with DOS 5.0, which, when combined with Windows, formed the basis for a powerful mobile office. I added Ami Pro and several DOS-based applications, including XyWrite, a contact manager called Maximizer Life, GrandView, Quicken, The Norton Utilities, and a few others. All my applications performed as well as or even better than they do on my home office system, a 16-MHz 386SX.
Other system specifications include a backlit VGA-compatible display with 640 x 480 resolution in 16-shade gray scale, a high-density 3 1/2-inch floppy disk drive, a socket for a 387SX math coprocessor, a hard disk (20, 30, 40, or 60 megabytes), two serial ports and one parallel port, and a PC-compatible keyboard with embedded keypad. I found the display quite clear and the keyboard comfortable and responsive. I did wish for a trackball or similar pointing device--I swapped the Logetech serial mouse for a MousePen Pro from Appoint because it's much more portable. Topping off the system is a nylon carrying case--a nice touch, even though the bag isn't large enough to hold the Master and the AC adapter unit at the same time.
Installation of a fax/modem card took five minutes and couldn't have been easier. With the extraction of one screw and the removal of a cover, the receptable was in view. The small 4 X 4 inch card eased snugly into the socket, and the provided screw held it in place. After replacing the cover, I was in business.
The 2400-baud modem worked like a charm. I did have to run the setup program to turn it on, but that illustrates one of its strong points--you can turn it off to save power. A fax/modem card works wonders while on the road to keep you in close touch with your office and help you communicate with associates.
The purpose of a notebook, of course, is to take all of this technology on the road. The Kris Master draws portable power from a rechargeable ni-cad battery ratted at 2 1/2 hours of operation, depending on the power-saving features you've enabled. When the battery is fully discharged, a fast-charge feature allows you to charge the battery pack in 2 1/2 to 3 hours, also depending on the power-saving features you've enabled. I found that the system lived up to both of these claims. Note, however, that the battery charges only when the computer is turned off--it doesn't charge while you're using the computer from an AC power source. The battery-charging indicator lights are located on the AC power adapter unit rather than the computer itself.
As previously mentioned, you can extend the Master's battery operation by enabling a host of power-saving features. While enabling these features makes power management an automatic function, there's also a manual power-management technique that makes use of the suspend-resume switch located just above the keyboard on the right, next to the on-off switch. By pressing this button, you can suspend all computer operations--disk access, screen display, and so on. While in the suspend mode, your work is maintained in memory. Pressing the button again awakens the notebook and returns you to where you left off. The power LED below the screen blinks green when you place the system in suspend mode. I used the suspend-resume feature anytime I paused my work while running off battery power, and it added noticeably to the unit's battery life.
You can access the automatic power-saving features through the Setup screen by pressing the Ctrl-Alt-S key combination. The setup program consists of three screens, which you page through by pressing FnDgDn. The first page displays basic CMOS data such as time, date, disk type, memory setup, CPU speed (fast or slow, but there's no reason to set it at slow unless your application requires it), and the initial state of the video display.
The second page of the setup program contains the computer's memory map. Although the screen displays a detailed map of the computer's memory allocation, the only areas you should concern yourself with are the Shadow BIOS ROM and the 640K-1MB Relocation (you can enable or disable either or both of these). Enabling the Shadow BIOS ROM will speed up the computer's performance. Enabling the Relocation option maps all unused memory found between 640K and 1MB as extended memory. The Kris Master ships with 2 MB of memory in its standard configurations; enabling this feature will give you even more extended memory for your applications.
The third page of the setup program lets you set the computer's power-saving features to the most effective setting for your travel use. The hard disk, LCD display, and suspend mode features can all be set to take effect in 1-minutes (you can disable the hard disk-saving feature by setting the time increment to 0). Doze mode, which controls the main CPU, can be set to take effect in as little as 1/8 second. Sleep mode, which controls the peripherals, can be set for between 1 and 15 minutes.
Despite the flexibility and power of this notebook, there are some curious oversights. For example, neither of the small manuals lists a technical support number or even a main company number. I had to call directory assistance to track down Kris Technologies. My call was precipitated by another omission from the documentation--there was no explanation of how to access the setup program, though the explanation of the program and tips on optimum use were well written and clear.
Power users may shrug off these omissions and look to the Kris Master for its solid performance and speed. On that level, the Master gives all you'll need in a powerful notebook configuration--even if you keep it on your desktop.