Whatever potential a system holds, without a kick to lift it from its energy well, nothing happens. That law of physics extends to the way technologies spread. For example, given our love of power in small packages, laptops would seem to have nearly limitless potential for success. Yet year after year they failed to break out of the business world. Price drops helped, but the Big Bang that created the consumer-laptop universe was multimedia.
In this expanding continuum, the systems that become bright stars coalesce around bright screens. Of the five systems in these reviews, all but the Toshiba Satellite P25-S670 have high-gloss displays that make colors pop and bring DVD view-ing to a new level. The P25-S670 still produces admirably sharp images, though, by combining a high-quality standard LCD (which doesnt suffer from the glare its glossy counter-parts exhibit, to varying degrees, under bright light) and a first-rate graphics subsystem. You also enjoy 17-inches of screen real estate.
We looked at three laptops that had 17-inch displays, and although all these units are big and heavy, the Gateway M675XL and HP Pavilion zd7000 (BrightView) use the extra space to include separate numeric keypads. Frequent travelers wanting good multimedia capability in smaller, lighter, widescreen-format packages will be drawn to the HP Pavilion dv1000 with its 14.1-inch LCD or the even more compact Sony VAIO VGN-S150, which incorporates a 13.3-inch display.
All these mobile entertainers have good optical drives—the least sophisticated are the DVD-ROM/CD-RW units of the Pavilion dv1000 and the VAIO VGN-S150. Both Pavilions come with remotes, and the dv1000 is an instant entertainment machine, letting you play DVDs and MP3s without booting. Each of these systems has built-in FireWire and at least two USB ports. The Satellite P25-S670, with its impressive array of extras, like component out for connecting to HDTVs, surround-sound Dolby Digital-out, and more, earned a rating of 4.5 stars (out of 5) and an Editors Choice when we reviewed it separately. The other systems, except for the three-star Gateway M675XL, received ratings of four.
For the best advice on purchasing a laptop, be sure to check our complete guide by contributing editor and industry expert Bill Howard.