by Alan Zisman (c)
1993. First published
in Our Computer Player, February 19, 1993
As long as there've been personal computers, people
have been wanting
to take it all with them.
Back in the days of the CPM standard, even before the
there were KayPro and other machines sporting 64k, and real picture
in a package that was portable, as long as you didn't have to go too
Then there was the classic Tandy Model 100... a handheld computer
(and still used) by many reporters. Unfortunately, it was compatible
nothing much else.
Ten years ago, with the emergence of the PC, Compaq
started its climb
to fame and fortune with a portable PC-compatible that, legend has it,
was designed on a napkin in a restaurant late one night.
And for every successful design, there were then, as
now, the clones.
I still think fondly of a Coredata portable PC, from about 1985, a
of the original Compaq. It sported 512k RAM, a 5 1/4" floppy, a 9"
CRT, and a 20 meg hard drive, and ran at the same speed as the original
IBM PC. Weighed in at about 40 lbs, and didn't use batteries. You can't
use it on an airplane, and don't try to put it on your lap!
Slowly, over the last ten years, portable computers
have become smaller,
and more powerful, but have always lagged behind the best desktop
in features, while carrying a price penalty.
We've left behind the big old luggables, the 14-17 lb.
the under 7 lb. notebooks, and the under 4 lb sub-notebooks. Gone are
days of double-scan CGA screens, replaced by 64 grey-scale VGA and even
With the performance and price both coming closer to
notebook sales continue to rise. And the last couple of years has seen
a new phenomena-- a wide range of inexpensive clones. The availablity
cloners to market inexpensive, powerful desktop systems knocked down
on those systems, but state-of-the-art laptops were for a long time,
available from a few manufacturers. Now, a number of factories, mostly
in Taiwan, have started producing portable computers to order, under a
variety of brand-names.
Richmond distributor, Pacific Royal, is marketing a
range of notebooks
that are available in a number of local computer stores: the JETBook,
five models ranging from a 386SL-25 to a powerful 486DX-33. They loaned
me a 386DX-33 JetBook. (Much to my children's disappointment, I don't
to keep the systems I review. Too bad!)
The system came with 4 mb of memory, 80 meg 2.5 inch
hard drives, and
grey-scale VGA screen. There's also a colour 486DX-33 model currently
in the US that will be out here as well, soon. The JETBook carried a
list of $2525, with one local store discounting it to $2400. There is a
The JETBook weighs in at a convenient 6 1/2 lbs,
and feature about 3 hrs of battery life. A handy switch lets you put
computer to 'sleep' to conserve on battery power without losing your
An AC power supply is included, which can be used to recharge the
while you work. As well, it comes with a nice carrying case.
I installed Windows 3.1, which ran quite happily on
this machine. This
was attributable a number of positive features, not available on many
their name brand competitors, such as a real DX chip, rather than the
chip found in many others, along with enough memory to work comfortably
in WIndows. The 32k memory cache for an additional speed boost also
If desired, it can be upgraded to 8 meg RAM. If you
want even more power,
the 386DX-33 chip in the JETBook is user exchangeable... for $230 it
be swapped for a 486SX-25, or for $695, you can change it into a 486
Until quite recently, the only way to get portable 486 power, was in
sized and shaped luggables, such as the Dolch. Ironically, the list
of buying a JETBook 386DX-33, and swapping the processor for a 486DX-33
is $150 less than simply buying the 486 model from the start!
The JETBook features a docking station port. This
allows you to buy
an expansion base for $395 into which you slip your laptop, effectively
turning it into a desktop unit, with real monitor, keyboard, and
Even without that, it includes ports for external VGA monitor and
(though the keyboards need to have the small PS2 sized plugs) so that
can use it on your desktop.
This unit features a 64 grey-scale VGA screens, which
is far superior
to the screens of many other products on the market. It includes
and contrast switches, and can be viewed clearly in a wide range of
I do have a gripe about these 64 colour or grey-scale
VGA screens that
seem standard or portables. This is not aimed at the JETBook, but at
all the grey-scale portables. Where're the video drivers? They all
of 64 colours, but show me an application that can actually support 64
colours. 16 colours as standard VGA, sure. But does anything actually
use of the 64 colour capablity?
Windows is difficult to use with just a keyboard. The
review model JETBook
that I had, however, was installed with a built in track-ball, a $110
This consisted on a marble-sized ball, with two buttons, positioned
the keyboard, just below the screen. This option (pioneered on Apple's
PowerBooks), certainly makes Windows much easier to use.
One of the inevitable losses by shrinking computer
size is a full-scale
keyboard. These two models try to get around that by having a large
of multiple function keys. Both include the inverted-T arrow keys or
numeric keypads found on full-sized enhanced keyboards, keys often
on portable keyboards. As well, there is an FN key... holding this down
lets you use some of the letter keys in their alternative roles.
The JETBook's manual was quite detailed, especially in
regards to the
CMOS setup. That computer's AMI bios includes some nice features, such
as the ability to low-level format, change the interleave, or scan the
hard drive for bad sectors. Unfortunately, unlike software such as
which performs the same functions, it will destroy your data at the
time. All this, including the dangers, is spelled out in the
There is a problem that seems built into the whole
idea of portable
computing... by shrinking the size of everything, you end up with
expansion capabilities, which means higher prices. $210 for a fax/modem
with the same capabilities that you can get for under $100 for a
$240 to upgrade from the 80 mb hard drive to a 120 mb model. $430 to
the JETBook from 4 megs to 8 megs RAM. (And here I have to woder why--
surely a portable motherboard could be designed to take standard SIMM
Currently, this unit doesn't offer a PCMIA port, either built-in or as
an option. This is an up and coming standard that will permit add-ons
memory, modems, software, almost anything, it seems, to be added to
by sliding a credit-card sized card into the port.
Many stores are advertising 'name brand' models from
AST, Zenith, even
Compaq and IBM, in the same price range. As the big companies cut
to boost their sales, there's a lot of pressure on the lesser-known
Should you buy a clone? Most of the name brand models that I've seen
comparable prices have been older models, 386SX-20s, with 60 meg (or
hard drives, or 2 meg of memory, or both. No way to add the real
of a built-in trackball. Upgrading their memory and drives to the level
of the JETBook will push their prices way up, while still saddling the
user with a slower processor. Pacific Royal's portable provides more
for less than the well-known brand names. If you need a notebook-sized
computer right now, you wouldn't go wrong buying this product.
Review of JETBOOK 386DX-33
from: Pacific Royal Ent. Ltd.
383-13988 Cambie Road