Colour Notebook: Sharp PC-6881

by Alan Zisman (c) 1993. First published in Our Computer Player, July 16, 1993

Computer provided by Minitronics
tel (604) 278-0783

list price: $3650

Last winter, I reviewed the Jetbook portable, a 386-33DX grey-scale VGA
computer from Pacific Rolyal Enterprises.

I thought it was good value at $2500 or so... but thought that some
potential buyers might want to wait a while, for colour and PCMCIA

Well, it's been a while, though not as long as I would have thought. All
the things on my wish list a mere six months or so ago are here, in the
Sharp PC-6881.

This Japanese made notebook weighs in under 6 pounds (2.7 kg for the
metric minded), and its slim design fits into a briefcase with lots of room to spare.
The best news is a crisp, active matrix colour display.

The first generation colour notebooks were so-called passive matrix;
they displayed colour all right, but the colour was washed out for
anyone who'd spent too much time staring at a standard VGA cathode ray
tube (CRT... those TV picture-tube-like monitors that most of us have on
our desktops). Active matrix displays were horribly expensive, and
prone to dead spots.

Active matrix displays are much more common, now, though still at a
price, both in dollars (the Sharp, listing at $3650, is about a thousand
dollars more expensive than the monochrome Jetbook I reviewed last
winter), and in battery life. This notebook only runs about an hour and
a half on a charge... not enough to let you use it for a full coast to
coast air flight. And that's with built-in power management that shuts
the screen down if you walk away from it.

And when the battery runs low, a light starts flashing, and the speaker
starts beeping. You get about two minutes warning, and then you're shut
down. Take that warning seriously and save your work!

An AC-adapter is included (and should be used whenever practical!) And
an extra battery can be hooked onto the back, though that involves a
penalty of added size and weight, and a cost of about $200.

The display on the Sharp is very attractive... far easier to work
with then most of the monochrome displays found on portable computers.
It supports 256 colours in some VGA modes, though it seems to only
support 16 colours running at 640x480 pixels, like when running Windows.

Still, those 16 colours are 14 more than in monochrome, and they are
clear and rich. And the active matrix display reponds quickly... no more
search for the mouse cursor, which is easily lost on some other screens.
And when you get it to your office, you can plug in your big monitor.


There's a built in trackball, this time, with the ball on the upper
right-hand corner of the keyboard, while two large buttons are located
on the upper left-hand corner. This makes mousing around a two-handed
operation, but it's actually easier to use than some of the mini-
trackballs designed for one-handed use. And it means you can avoid those
awkward clip-on trackballs designed for portables, but always
threatening to break off.

There's a PCMCIA-2 slot. This may not mean much to you now, but this is
the new standard for add-ons to portable computers... Over the next
while, now that the standard is in place (and in more and more
machines), we'll be seeing it as a way to add modems, memory, SCSI
support, even hard-drives... sort of like the classic AT-bus for the
mini-computer set.

The 79-key keyboard has a reasonable feel. It wouldn't be my first
choice for typing the Great Canadian Novel, but it's certainly usable.
It includes 12 dedicated function keys, and a usable inverted-T set of
arrow keys, doubling as PgUp, PgDn, Home, and End with the touch of an
FN key. All the keys seem to be where my fingers expected to find them.

Some portables have opted to save wait by getting rid of the floppy disk
drive, or even the hard drive; this model keeps both... a 1.44 floppy
drive, and an 80 mb, 16.5 ms (fast) hard drive are standard.

A handy pop-out panel on the bottom makes it easy for the user to add
memory and a numeric co-processor. Unfortunately (though pretty standard
for notebooks), you can't use standard SIMM chips, but will have to get
chips from your dealer. There are also the standard I/O ports... one
each of parallel and serial, along with room for one expansion card, and
an optional numeric keypad.


Sure, there's a catch.

The CPU is an Intel 386SL... a low power version of the 386SX. It runs
at 25 mhz. Reasonably fast, but no speed demon. Sharp doesn't currently
supply any 486 notebook models in Canada.

As well, the PC-6881 comes standard with 2 megs RAM. It'll run Windows,
but most of the applications that I like to run really need more RAM
than that. Another 2 meg can be added directly to the unit, but after
that, memory must be added via the PCMCIA slot... and that means that
you can't use that slot for your modem or network card, or anything

Sharp has another model available, the PC-6891, with a 120 mb hard
drive, and 4 meg RAM standard, which might be a better choice for
Windows users. It lists for $3995.

Despite that, if you've put off buying a notebook computer after looking
at a dim monochrome screen in a dealer's showroom, take a look at this
one. Here's a portable computer that's small and light enough to carry
anywhere, with a colour screen that's (nearly) as good as the monitor on
your desktop machine.


This technology stuff is happening too fast, even for a monthly
publication like this one! Just as I finished reviewing Sharp's 386
colour notebook, I got a brief peek at the next generation... active
matrix colour, and 486-DX2-66 power... as powerful as you'll find on
anyone's desktop (at least until the Pentium is REALLY available).

This isn't a review... I didn't really get a chance to spend any time
with these models. It's just a little tease for those of us who fantasize the latest technology.

How about an 8 lb notebook with a 486DX2-66 chip, 4 meg of RAM standard,
upgradable to 16, a 210 mb hard drive, upgradable to 520 mb (half a gigabyte!)

Hour and a half to two hours on a charge... built in trackball.

The Eurocomm 3500 has all these... but no PCMCIA slots. List price?

Even newer, the Eurocomm 6500 has two PCMCIA slots, will hold up to 20 megs, and a sleeker design, making it
a pound lighter. Too new in Canada to have a price set yet.

For more information, contact IMPAQ TECHNOLOGY 5986 E.BOULEVARD 1-800-663-9272 OR2611800

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan