Compaq Contura 4/25C. (notebook computer) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by William Harrel
If you're in the market for a strong, dependable, and relatively inexpensive notebook, perhaps you should check out the Compaq Contura 4/25c. This durable little computer has a power-saving 486SL-25 CPU, a 91/2-inch dual-scan passive matrix display that can show up to 256 vivid colors, and a 120MB hard disk. The basic configuration ships with 4MB of RAM and sells for $2,099. However, to ensure that the machine would run COMPUTE's benchmark tests, we asked Compaq to equip it with 8MB (with the extra memory, the price is $2,338).
To test the Contura's speed, I ran the industry-standard BAPCo SYSmark test (see the notebook roundup in this issue for a description of the test). The test runs several real-world applications and compares the speed to that of a desktop 486DX-33. The Contura runs about 30 percent more slowly than the calibration system, which is good for an SL-25. Many of the notebooks I've looked at lately (even those with faster clock speeds) don't do that well.
Also impressive is the Contura's performance on the battery-life tests. To see how long the battery would last, I ran a macro that performs several commands repeatedly and accesses the hard disk often. The battery lasted almost three hours each time I ran the test. The Contura also has a hibernation feature that shuts it down to almost nil battery consumption when it's not in use.
Like most notebooks, however, the Contura isn't perfect. It doesn't, for example, support PCMCIA expansion, which has become quite popular for today's portable computers. PCMCIA makes connecting peripherals like modems, sound cards, and external hard disks much easier and expands compatibility for third-party devices. If you want to upgrade system memory or add a modem to the Contura, you'll have to open the system and install proprietary cards, which is neither fun nor cost effective.
The Contura's keys are firm and responsive, but the keyboard arrangement is a little strange. The Delete and Insert keys, for instance, are at the top on the same row as the function keys. it's hard to get used to looking for them there. Another drawback is the system's limited external monitor support. Many of today's notebooks support resolutions up to 1280 x 1024 with multiple number-of-color options up to 16.7 million. But the Contura allows you only standard VGA (640 x 480) with 256 colors, which is practically useless for working with graphics and page layout applications. This isn't the ideal notebook for a combination travel and desktop solution.
Unlike many other notebooks, the Contura does come with a great pointing device - a serial, side-mounted trackball. While this one isn't as convenient as the snap-in QuickPort MS Ball-Point trackballs used by some other notebook vendors, it's still large enough to be easy to use. Small, built-in trackballs are often difficult to manipulate; this one isn't.
Granted, the Contura 4/25c isn't on a par with some of the more recent DX4 notebooks with PCMCIA expansion capability, large hard drives, and other valuable options, but it's a strong performer backed by a good company with an excellent support and warranty service record.