From the December 1999 issue of Startups

Notebook computers are expensive, heavy, underpowered bricks with hard-to-see screens and keyboards the size of mole-rats. You wouldn't trade your desktop in for a laptop for anything, would you? What if we threw in a large, bright screen? No? How about a huge hard drive? Not yet? Lots of RAM and a full-sized keyboard? Maybe? You drive a hard bargain. All right, we'll toss in a fast processor and affordability, too. Heck, yeah? Good answer.

Desktop replacement notebooks are the subject of this month's opus. Not just supplemental computers that you dust off when you go on a business trip, but real, honest-to-goodness, move-over-minitower replacement machines. To qualify, a laptop has to have enough oomph in processor speed, RAM, hard-drive space and screen quality to deserve being your one-and-only. We won't be dawdling too much around the bargain basement. It's OK, though: You won't have to drop $1,500 on a desktop system--plus some of these laptops can be had for less than $2,000. And in laptop land, the monitor is always included.

Things to look for when you're ready to kiss your beige beauty goodbye: at least 64MB RAM, a 4GB hard drive and a 300 MHz or faster processor. All the laptops we looked at come with a 56 Kbps modem (with the exception of the Micro Express NP8450), two PCMCIA ports and a bright, active-matrix screen for easy viewing.

Gateway Solo 915OSE

Manufacturer: Gateway

Model: Solo 9150se

Street price: $2,499

Phone: (800) 846-4208

Web site: http://www.gateway.com

A speedy Intel Pentium II 333 MHz processor runs the included Windows 98 on 64MB RAM and a 6.4GB hard drive. If you require lots of memory, the Solo 9150se is expandable to 384MB RAM. A full-sized keyboard and a 15.1-inch active-matrix display make the computing experience more enjoyable. A DVD drive allows you to watch Tron as often as you want. The 56 Kbps modem is integrated into this laptop, and Microsoft Works Suite 99 comes along for the ride. A deluxe carrying case is part of the bargain--not to mention a one-year parts-and-labor warranty.

IBM Thinkpad 570

Manufacturer: IBM

Model: Thinkpad 570

Street price: $2,650

Phone: (800) 426-7255

Web site: http://www.ibm.com

OK, you'll probably need a loan from Mom or a lease for this one, but you wouldn't need to upgrade any time soon. A full-sized keyboard, 64MB RAM, a 56 Kbps modem and a 12.1-inch active-matrix display are included. This puppy is powered by a 300 MHz Pentium II processor. The unique feature of this laptop is the $119 UltraBase with a removable CD-ROM drive. The Thinkpad 570 pops easily out of the UltraBase for use as a lightweight road companion at only 3.9 pounds with an average 3.5 hours of battery time.

Micro Express NP8450

Manufacturer: Micro Express

Model: NP8450

Street price: $1,899

Phone: (800) 989-9900

Web site: http://www.microexpress.net

Built around the value-line AMD K6-III 450 MHz processor, the NP8450 sports a 13.3-inch active-matrix screen to keep your viewing bright from any angle. With 64MB RAM and a 6GB hard drive, it's easy to tame the pre-installed Windows 98. A touchpad takes care of mouse controls, and a built-in microphone and a carrying case come standard. Lithium-ion batteries combine with the NP8450's power-saving software to offer long battery life. It's not a Pentium III, but the price point on the AMD processor is hard to beat.

Dell Inspiron 7000

Manufacturer: Dell

Model: Inspiron 7000

Street price: $1,999

Phone: (800) 915-3355

Web site: http://www.dell.com

Dell's notebooks are all custom-configurable online, so we're looking at the C366LT recommended system configuration. The processor is a respectable 366 MHz Intel Celeron. The display is a honking 15-inch (yes, real monitor size) of active-matrix glory. That's a lot of screen for a laptop. Filling this notebook out are 32MB RAM, a 4.8GB hard drive and a 24X CD-ROM drive. Windows 98 with Microsoft Works Suite 99 comes installed. A setup video helps get you started, and a three-year limited warranty applies.

Apple Powerbook G3

Manufacturer: Apple

Model: PowerBook G3

Street price: $2,499

Phone: (800) 795-1000

Web site: http://www.apple.com

This one's for you, Mac lovers. The PowerBook G3 comes in several configurations, so we're running down the specs on the base model. A Pentium-whupping 333 MHz G3 processor is this laptop's centerpiece. Icing includes 64MB RAM, a 4GB hard drive, a 56 Kbps modem and a 14.1-inch active-matrix screen. Built-in 10/100BASE-T Ethernet handles networking. A 24X CD-ROM drive is hot-swappable with an optional DVD drive. The lithium-ion battery provides up to five hours of run time when you're far from an outlet. At 5.9 pounds, it won't weigh too heavily on your shoulders.

Compaq Prosignia 165

Manufacturer: Compaq

Model: Prosignia 165

Street price: $2,199

Phone: (800) 888-9909

Web site: http://www.compaq.com

The Compaq Web site allows you to configure a laptop to whatever specs your heart desires. We looked at the basic Prosignia 165 configuration with 64MB RAM, a 4GB hard drive, a 24X CD-ROM and an integrated 56 Kbps modem. Windows 98, Microsoft Office Small Business Edition and Norton AntiVirus all come preloaded. The processor is a peppy 333 MHz Pentium II, and you can see it all on the 14.1-inch active-matrix display. You might be able to catch a glimpse of one of these creatures at your local Radio Shack.