Invasion of the large-screen notebooks: Bigger really can be better

Entertainment and business multimedia go hand in hand with these three big notebooks, but which one is a true blockbuster?

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Eurocom M590KE Emperor-X

From a distance, Eurocom's M590KE Emperor-X looks like a typical mainstream notebook that's been doubled in size. Get up close, though, and you'll note some differences: for example, the M590KE is thinner than the competition and has a TV and FM radio built in. However, it also breaks the bank at $4,310.

At 18.7 by 13.4 inches, the footprint of the M590 is within a tenth of an inch of HP's HDX; it's 1.5 inches high in the front and 2.5 inches high in the rear. It weighs 15.1 pounds, a few ounces less than the HDX. Add in the monstrous 2.5-pound AC adapter and you have a backbreaking 17.6-pound travel package. It's a good thing that Eurocom sells a $117 backpack for this oversized system because it won't fit into the typical notebook bag.

Large notebooks
Eurocom M590KE Emperor-X

Inside the silver and black case is a 2.3-GHz AMD Turion 64X2 processor that's 300 MHz slower than the HDX or 8920's Core 2 Duo CPU, and has much less performance-boosting internal cache.

The test system came with 4GB of system memory and a pair of high-performance 200GB hard drives. Happily, the data is striped across the drives, which increases performance and consolidates the drives to one letter. An 8X Multi DVD burner rounds out the basics, although it can't play Blu-ray discs.

The center of attention is the M590's 20.1-in. display. Capable of showing 1680-by-1050 resolution, it is clear and rich, but it can't show high-definition movies in full 1080p resolution. Behind the scenes is an nVidia GeForce Go 7950 GTX graphics engine with 512MB of video memory. Above the screen is a 1.3-megapixel webcam.

With only an on-off switch, four instant-start application buttons and a key to turn on full-power graphics, the M590 has a Spartan look to it compared to the elaborate control panels of the other two systems. The 19.1mm keys have a generous 2.8mm of travel for comfortable typing, and the touch pad has a dedicated scroll area on the right side, but it lacks the HDX's touch pad on-off switch for using an external mouse.

With five USB ports -- one more than each of the other two notebooks has -- the M590 is on a par with desktop PCs. It also has FireWire, LAN, S-Video and modem ports, as well as a DVI connector for driving an external monitor. There's a traditional PC Card slot, flash card reader and an antiquated RS-232 serial port, although the M590 lacks the SATA hard drive connector and HDMI jack that the others deliver.

Its Gigabyte W10GT Wi-Fi radio can connect with 802.11b and g networks, was able to move 15.9Mit/sec. and had a range of 110 feet, a little faster and longer than with the others. An 802.11a/g/n radio costs $95 more, while adding Bluetooth costs $80.

The M590's Realtek audio chip uses SRS Wow 3-D technology to help it make the most of its four speakers. The sound is a little thin, but (neighbors, take note) the system can blast a lot of volume.

The internal AverMedia M103 TV tuner can handle analog and digital TV from broadcast or cable as well as FM radio. My favorite feature is its 16-channel preview screen of what's on. Certainly, when it came to TV, the M590 was the fastest of the three systems, taking 11.9 seconds to turn on and .75 seconds to change channels, but the image wasn't as sharp or bright as that of the HDX or the 8920.

Setting up the tuner to record any show is a straightforward process, but the onscreen program guide was a bit problematic -- unlike every other TV schedule I've seen for this type of computer you can't just click on a show to record it. In addition, the range of its clunky remote control wasn't as far as that of the HDX or the 8920, but it should be more than enough for even the laziest couch potato.

The M590's four cooling fans can sound like a helicopter, but the review unit still had an annoying hot spot on the right side of the wrist rest. Performance is a mixed bag, with a 578.9 score on PassNark's Performance benchmark, 30% off the pace set by the HDX. On the other hand, the M590 had the strongest hard drive performance.

The 6,600 milli-amp hour battery pack powered the M590 for only 50 minutes, not enough time for a full episode of CSI and one-third as long as the HDX's battery lasted. The system uses roughly 50% more power than either the HDX or the 8920, which translates to an estimated $80.74 annual power bill.

The M590 comes with Windows XP Pro, but not much more in terms of software. Its one-year warranty can be upgraded to three years of coverage for $223. At $4,310, it's more expensive and comes up second best.

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