This is only the Laptop Centre's second appearance in PC Advisor, but it has already impressed us with its low prices and decent build quality. The PS1 is among the initial batch of notebooks we've seen using Intel's Sonoma technology.

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The first thing to bear in mind is that we looked at an early build of the PS1 and by the time you read this, slightly higher-spec versions will probably be available.

Centrino technology - the trinity of the Pentium M processor, the Intel chipset and built-in Wi-Fi technology - had a massive impact on the way notebooks were built when it first hit the market nearly two years ago. The low power consumption and speed of the processor made a huge difference to the
thin and light category.

Now for something different

Sonoma is the next generation of Centrino technology. The processor previously known as Dothan is in the middle of this mix - all but two low-voltage versions of this CPU have a frontside bus speed of 533MHz, as opposed to the 400MHz offered by the pre-Dothan Pentium M processors. The chip has 2MB of Level 2 cache as well and comes at speeds of between 1.2GHz and 2.13GHz.

The chipset, codenamed Alviso, is compatible with DDR2 memory. This is RAM that uses a lower voltage than standard DDR, and therefore the notebook ought to be able to make more of its battery power. However, DDR2 should also offer increased performance. In terms of wireless facilities, Sonoma is compatible with the 802.11a/b/g standards.

What this all adds up to, in theory at least, is something that picks up the baton from the original Centrino offering and takes it even further. So how did the PS1 fare in our tests?

Well, the 1.74GHz Pentium M processor combined with the Alviso chipset and 512MB of DDR2 RAM helped the PS1 to a WorldBench 5 score of 77. This isn't quite as high as we'd have expected, although to be fair it isn't bad and, as we said earlier, this is an early-build system. It's not beyond belief that Sonoma-based notebooks will give far better results in the near future.

Battery life results were also slightly disappointing, as the PS1 lasted only three hours in our tests. Again, this isn't a terrible result but we'd have liked a slightly longer time. The rest of the specification offers a 15in screen with a native resolution of 1,024x768, a 40GB hard drive and a CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive. If you think this is rather stingy, have a look at the price tag - under £700 inc VAT. We're told that later configurations will have DVD-RW drives and, although they will presumably cost a bit more, this still looks like good value for money to us.

Cheap as chips

In fact, to get this new Sonoma technology in a notebook for £695 is a good sign as it means that it should be within everyone's price range - and it's certainly a good thing for Intel. The Centrino brand is already tried and trusted - new advances in this technology at low prices are bound to attract buyers from the consumer and business markets.

There are enough connectivity options to satisfy most users, with modem and network ports, three USB 2.0 ports, VGA and S-Video out and a memory card reader. There is a distinct lack of software but, at this price, we're not arguing. The warranty only lasts for a year, too, which isn't the best deal around but longer warranties do cost more to support.

The Laptop Centre PS1: Specs

  • 1.74GHz Pentium M 740
  • Windows XP Home
  • 512MB DDR RAM
  • 40GB hard drive
  • 15in 1,024x768 TFT screen
  • 24x/24x/10x/8x (CD-ROM/-R/-RW/DVD-ROM) drive
  • 802.11b/g facilities
  • 2.7kg
  • 330x278x35mm
  • 1-year collect-and-return warranty
  • 1.74GHz Pentium M 740
  • Windows XP Home
  • 512MB DDR RAM
  • 40GB hard drive
  • 15in 1,024x768 TFT screen
  • 24x/24x/10x/8x (CD-ROM/-R/-RW/DVD-ROM) drive
  • 802.11b/g facilities
  • 2.7kg
  • 330x278x35mm
  • 1-year collect-and-return warranty

OUR VERDICT

Sonoma technology is here - and it doesn't cost the earth. We don't think we've seen the best results yet, but the PS1 didn't perform too badly in our tests. And considering the price, we're prepared to overlook the slightly disappointing benchmark results and battery life. However, it doesn't do quite enough to win a Gold award.

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