Ambra 486DX2-50 notebook. (notebook computer) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by William Harrel
The Ambra 486DX2-50 is a great example of the value available in notebook computers these days. For about $2,000 (street price) you can get a screaming DX2-50 processor, a 200MB hard drive, and a 256-color dual-scan passive-matrix monitor.
The unit I tested had 8MB of RAM to assure it would perform COMPUTE's speed tests. The additional 4MB of RAM, which you really need if you plan to run WordPerfect for Windows or most graphics applications, will cost you an additional $270.
In our BAPCo benchmark test (see this month's notebook roundup in Test Lab for a description of the test), this notebook ran about 85 percent as fast as the desktop 486DX-33 calibration unit. Granted, the Ambra machine sports a faster processor than the calibration computer, but there are several components in notebooks that cause them to run slower than desktops. The miniature hard disks in most portables don't run as fast as those in desktop computers, nor do the video cards. Some companies are now shipping notebooks with 32-bit local-bus video, which greatly enhances speed, but (as I write this) you can't get a local-bus notebook for less than $2,000. However, competition is stiff, and prices are falling almost as fast as my fingers can plunk out this review.) Still, this notebook is plenty fast enough for all but the most taxing graphics applications.
Equally impressive are the battery-life times turned in by the Ambra 486DX2-50. I ran a macro that performed several common Windows functions, including accessing the hard disk often. Each of the four times I ran it, the battery lasted between 21/2 to 3 hours. If all you plan to do is type or work with spreadsheets on the road, this one will get you through most flights Neither application accesses the hard disk often, which conserves battery life.
The Ambra notebook has an easily accessible keyboard with an ergonomically correct wrist rest. You can type for a long time without fatiguing your arms and wrists, and all of the keys are located in the same positions they are on desktop keyboards, practically eliminating the need to hunt and peck. The trackball, unfortunately, is located by the screen behind the keyboard - an unnatural position from which to manipulate the pointer freely. I found myself resting my wrist on the keyboard while using the mouse, rendering the computer inoperable until I realized what was happening.
Another serious design flaw is the placement of the power button, which is right next to the left trackball button. More than once I inadvertently turned the machine off during my work, which, as you can imagine, can be disastrous. With this design, Ambra should have at least built in some kind of warning that allows you to back out of a shutdown. The Packard Bell Statesman, for example, gives you an opportunity to save your data before the machine powers down,
I also didn't care much for this notebook's small 8-inch screen. Many of the other dual-scan notebooks I've seen lately sport 91/2- tO 101/2-inch LCDs. Notebook screens are hard enough to see; you need all the viewing area you can get. The screen on this one is adequate only for traveling. However, Ambra does offer a docking station for increased expansion, and you can hook the notebook up to an external monitor for 800 x 600 resolution with 256 colors. There's also a Type III PCMCIA slot for plugging in modems, sound cards, SCSI, and other expansion options. The slot holds one Type III card or two Type IIs.
This Ambra 486DX2-50 notebook provides raw speed, 256-colors, and expansion options galore at a great price. If you've been waiting for a good deal before buying a notebook, the wait is over.