- Review Price: £1056.00
Laptops are constantly coming down in price, but the Systemax TourBook 5112 is something out of the ordinary. It is one of the first truly affordable Intel Centrino based notebooks and there are no corners cut. £1,056.33 will buy you one of the best all-round notebooks I have seen to date. It might seem a bit overzealous for me to start a review like this, but let me break down the specifications and you’ll see why I’m so keen.
The TourBook 5112 is fitted with a 1.6GHz Pentium M processor, 512MB of PC2100 DDR SDRAM and a 60GB hard drive. Usually, laptops at the lower end of the price bracket come with two 256MB memory modules, but Systemax has gone for a single 512MB module which leaves a spare slot for future upgrades. Part of the Centrino badge is of course integrated Intel 802.11b wireless networking, but Systemax has gone one step further with the TourBook 5112 and has also included support for 802.11g. 802.11g is part of Intel’s updated Centrino standard, whereas before the use of a non-Intel 802.11g card meant the loss of Centrino branding.
The 15in display might not be the most impressive laptop screen, with many of the latest top spec machines coming with widescreen displays. However, it is capable of delivering a resolution of 1,400 x 1,050 which has become the accepted standard on modern laptops. The image quality is good and there’s no problem using the Systemax for extended periods, in fact it’s perfectly acceptable as your sole computer. The display is powered by an ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 with 64MB of graphics memory. Even though there are faster alternatives available now, this is still one of the best mobile graphics chipsets out there. The only downside would be that you have to lower the resolution to be able to play modern games, which is not ideal on a TFT display as the picture gets a little blurry. This however, is a problem that plagues every notebook with a high resolution screen, and is an acceptable trade-off for the majority of users.
For those all important backups Systemax has also included a Ricoh DVD writer capable of writing DVD+R at four-speed and DVD+RW at 2.4-speed. It can also write CD-R discs at 16-speed and CD-RW media at eight-speed. This might not sound impressive compared to modern desktop DVD writers, but it’s still a competitive offering on the laptop market. The drive is front mounted, which can make it a bit awkward to get to if you’re using the laptop on your lap, but it can make things more convenient when working at a desk – swings and roundabouts really.
On the left hand side is a combined SD/MMC/Memory Stick slot as well as a single Type II PC Card slot. Bucking the current trend you’ll also find an IrDA window here for infrared data transmission. This does somewhat make up for the lack of Bluetooth, but then again, you can’t expect all the bells and whistles at this price point. At the very rear of the left hand side is the volume control.
Around the back are the power connector, D-SUB and S-Video out, a parallel port, three USB 2.0 connectors and a single four-pin FireWire connector. There are also ports for the 56k V.90 modem and the integrated 10/100Mbit Ethernet adapter. You’ll also find the audio in and out here, with the audio out doubling as an optical S/PDIF output.
The TourBook 5112 can play audio CDs while the laptop is switched off. This is done with the help of a small LCD display just above the keyboard. There is a stop/eject button as well as play/pause and two dedicated buttons for forward and reverse. To play a CD you press the small power button which activates the CD playback function, then pop a CD in and press play. This could have been a handy feature if the buttons where easier to access but, to be honest, the speakers aren’t really up to listening to music anyway. Although if you have a set of headphones handy you can while away some time listening to music without running the battery down too much.
There is another set of buttons on the left hand side that can be programmed for use with applications of your choice. The top button is for enabling/disabling the wireless antenna so you can work while onboard an aeroplane. The second button is pre-programmed for Outlook Express and the third one for Internet Explorer, while the remaining two are left available.
The keyboard is, to me, one of the most important parts of a laptop and the TourBook 5112 features an excellent layout with all the keys where you would expect to find them. However, the keyboard does rattle a little in use. That said, the travel and break are impressive and a good rate of speed can be built up when typing. The touchpad does the job, despite its slightly unusual shape. There is also a four-way pad which allows you to scroll through documents in every direction.
One feature which really impressed me is Systemax’s new system recovery tool. Rather than having to boot from a floppy or a CD to restore your PC, all you have to do is press the F4 key during boot, which launches the cME console. From here you can restore the TourBook 5112 to its original state with a few mouse clicks – definitely one of the easiest and best solutions I have come across. This will however overwrite any data on the hard drive, so it is still important to keep a backup of your files elsewhere.
But the real icing on the cake is the astonishing battery life that the TourBook 5112 manages. In MobileMark 2002 it lasted for four hours and 57 minutes, which is amazing from a laptop this cheap. This means that you can actually work away from a power socket for a good part of the day, making this a truly mobile as well as fully featured offering.
Systemax includes a copy of Ability Office 2003, which is good enough for everyday use. Obviously this isn’t Microsoft Office, but then a full version of MS Office would set you back almost half the cost of this notebook. The price also includes free next day delivery and a two year return to base warranty, so there aren’t any hidden costs to surprise you when ordering.
The TourBook 5112 also impressed in terms of general benchmarks. Performance was not far behind more powerful notebooks in the 3D tests, while the Sytemax also produced some very respectable numbers in SYSmark 2004. Overall performance is first rate and the wealth of features and the excellent price wins the TourBook 5112 our Editors Choice award.
The Systemax TourBook 5112 is a superb low-cost Centrino laptop with a great set of features to boot. You might not be getting something with a Sony or IBM badge on the lid, but you are getting a lot of notebook for your money.
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