Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 129 / MAY 1991 / PAGE 36

Packard Bell PB286NB Notebook. (evaluation)
by Peter Scisco


PACKARD BELL 9425 Canoga Ave. Chatsworth, CA 91311 (818) 773-4400

CPU Type: 80286; CPU SPeed: 12 MHz Conventional Memory: 64OK; Extended Memory: 384K

Ports: 1 serial, 1 parallel, 1 VGA, 1 keyboard/keypad, 1 floppy drive, 1 mouse

Drives: 3 1/2-inch 1.44MB floppy, 21 MB hard Video Modes: text, CGA, EGA, VGA

Screen Type: LCD with CCFT backlight

List Price: $3,995.00 Street Price: $2,008.79

Compact design, crisp display, and performance options make Packard Bell's PB286NB a solid contender in the notebook arena, although the list price isn't as competitive as the marketplace demands.

The PB286NB is a capable road warrior, as I found out while taking it on several cross-country jaunts. The unit's size and weight made it practically unnoticeable during transport. I found it quite easy to set up and use during plane rides, without breaking the tray tables or crowding the passengers around me.

The PB286NB stretches its ni-cad battery life with a series of power-down options that you can define during setup. Automatic power-saving functions help to extend the reach of the system whenever you're running it from the battery and include a slower rate of DRAM refresh, shutdown of the floppy drive if it isn't in use, and a slowdown of the CPU (from the standard selectable 12- or 6-MHz clock speed to 0. 125 MHz) when processing activity is absent.

You can disable or add to these power-saving functions during setup. At this point, you can set the screen back-light and LCD screen power to shut off when not in use, disable ports, and set the hard disk to shut down after a predetermined period of inactivity. I found that setting the power-saving functions to their maximum efficiencies did not adversely affect my work with the system.

If the PB286NB can be singled out for praise, it must be for its sharp LCD display. The VGA-compatible resolution of 640 X 480 maps 16-color applications to 16 shades of gray. A 256-color video mode will map to 32 shades of gray, giving you a clear view of even your most advanced graphics applications.

Expandability must also play a role in a well-designed mobile system. Packard Bell has built into the PB286NB the capabilities for attaching external options like a mouse, a keypad, an external keyboard, an external monitor, and an external floppy drive. The traditional parallel and serial ports and the usual external bus connector (for connecting an external chassis that can hold two AT-class interface cards) round out the expansion options.

All of the ports are concealed behind hinged television-style doors that pop open at the press of a finger. Although I like the look and operation of this design, I have reservations about its stability. Small hinges and quick-release doors don't hold up on the road too well. Sliding covers made of high-quality plastics and possessing fewer parts tend to hold up much better.

The field of notebook computers is full of competitively priced machines that will let you take your office on the road without sacrificing your ability to perform. The PB286NB notebook is no exception. It brings all the performance most mobile workers will need to a compact system. Its comparatively high list price ($3,995) will discourage the casual traveler. If you're interested in this system, however, you should know that the actual selling price is closer to $1,800. That price is much more in line with current market trends and may attract mobile computer users who need a topnotch display for their applications. PETER SCISM

Memory Tests

The memory tests performed by COMPUTE's BenchMark program count the number of memory reads the microprocessor can make in a second. The resulting indication of memory speed, along with computer speed and processor type, determines how well a system performs in real life.

These tests may not yield results directly proportional to the speed of a computer or the processor type. Other factors such as memory speed, bus size, and DRAM refresh affect overall performances.