Grid 1720. (laptop computer) (evaluation)
by Denny Atkin
Laptops are great, but it's rare that you would choose one over a comparably equipped desk-top computer. That's exactly, however, what the Grid 1720 convinced me to do. Ever since I've had my review unit, I've only turned on my 386SX desktop to play Lexi-Cross. This sleek, black, 6.9-pound Grid packs enough power to run all but the most demanding applications. Its 80C286 microprocessor runs at 16 MHz, and my review unit was packed with 3MB of memory. Only the 20MB hard disk left me feeling a bit cramped for space.
The two most important parts of any laptop, arguably, are the screen and the keyboard. These are the parts that you have to interact directly with, and the Grid has the best-feeling keyboard and the nicest screen I've ever used, laptop or desktop. Keyboard springs are used in the Grid to provide excellent tactile feedback without annoying clicking sounds. The keyboard spacing is the same as you'd find on a stand-alone PC keyboard, so your fingers aren't cramped as you type. The 12 function keys are arrayed across the top of the keyboard, and the cursor keys are in a standard inverted-T layout. You can reverse the positions of the Ctrl and CapsLock keys by simply switching the key caps and flipping a switch on the bottom of the computer. Only the lack of a separate numeric keypad would ever tempt you to take advantage of an external keyboard.
You owe it to your eyes to check out the Grid's LCD VGA screen. Easier to look at for long periods of time than even the sharpest Super VGA monitors, the Grid's screen produces crisp, solid black characters on a gray background. Best of all, you won't notice any of the ghosting common to VGA-resolution LCD screens. (The monitor was noticeably sharper than that of Tandy's similar 2810 notebook PC.) I felt the desire to use an external VGA color monitor only when I played games.
The Grid 1720 has most of the amenities you'd expect on a modern laptop. Along with VGA and keyboard ports, it comes with serial and parallel ports, a 1.44MB floppy drive, and an internal Hayes-compatible modem. Grid chose a 20MB hard disk to save space and weight--it's one of the new 2 1/2-inch models. Despite the limited capacity, it's quiet and uses very little power compared to larger drives.
Normally I find Windows too sluggish on a 286 system, but the extra zip provided by the Grid's 16-MHz clock speed makes all the difference. The 3MB of memory in the system I tested allowed me to set up a large disk cache, speeding operations even more. Add one of the new clip-on track-balls, and you've got a nice, portable, no-compromise Windows system for the road.
While the 1720 can handle up to 5MB of memory, each additional megabyte increases power drain and decreases battery life. With 3MB I was able to use the 1720 for about 3 hours. Removing the 2MB of expansion memory increased that duration to a little over 3 1/2 hours. Unless you absolutely require 5MB of memory, the 3MB-configuration compromise between battery life and performance will serve you well. Adding memory or an 80287 math coprocessor won't cause you much trouble--just remove a panel from the bottom of the computer and plug in the SIMMs or math chip.
The Grid has above-average power-management capabilities. The hard drive and screen will automatically power down after a user-selectable period. You can also selectively disable the speaker, serial port, LCD display, and hard drive in order to save power. For non-speed0sensitive software applications, such as word processing, toggling the system down to 8 MHz will extend battery life even further. A key combination will put the computer in standby mode, turning off the hard disk, LCD, backlight, and floppy disk controller. The program in memory resumes upon the first keypress.
The concise 97-page owner's manual covers all the computer's features and provides a brief introduction to MS-DOS. While other computer packages may include larger, more detailed manuals, average users will probably find all the information that they need here. And this manual is small enough to slip into your laptop carry case.
The Grid 1720 is speedy, well-constructed, and an ergonomic marvel. And it's certainly one of the most attractive MS-DOS computers I've ever used, desktop or laptop. Now I understand why NASA has flown Grid laptops on the space shuttle.