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The Compaq Armada V300 (V300 herein) is one of the cheaper models in the Compaq range, and I wouldn't be surprised if they'd discontinued it now. I bought my model as factory refurbished stock a couple of months ago and in my brief experience of it, it has been very good indeed. When I describe it as a cheap model, I don't really mean 'cheap', I mean 'budget'. There is no such thing as a cheap laptop computer because for the price of a 2 year old one you could pick up a desktop PC with twice the power. The V300 however is a fairly economic buy; my one cost me just £375 with a PCMCIA network card thrown in for free. 375 quid could buy you a fairly nippy desktop PC, so I'm sure you'll be interested in knowing the specification of this laptop. The main factor that determines the speed of a PC in everyday use is the processor. The V300 comes with an Intel Celeron 466Mhz CPU which whilst not top of the range offers a good compromise between price, battery life and performance. The main weakness in the specification of the V300 is the somewhat measly 32Mb RAM which is only just enough to scrape by with. Admittedly I have never thought that the system is slow, but another 32Mb RAM would speed it up no end. Another annoying factor is the display. Laptops have traditionally had weak displays and this model is no exception. It has a 13.1" HPA screen, which is a fair size although it's not a TFT. This results in a lot of 'pixel bleeding' because the pixels cannot change state quickly enough. The visible effect of this is that moving images pick up major motion blur and you also lose track of the mouse cursor occasionally. For a computer of this price though, I can't complain too much. The 4.3Gb hard drive is spacious and quick whilst the CD-ROM drive and floppy drive are both built in, so you don't have to carry any annoying external gubbins around with you. There are two PCMCIA sockets fo
r adding things such as network cards and there is a built in 56K Modem. It's a nice feature to have because it means that you don't have to pay any extra money just to buy the equipment to go on the Internet. There is also a decent sound chip and an excellent microphone built into the casing so this computer would be ideal for voice recognition. On the back of the casing there is a single USB port, 9 pin serial port, VGA out socket, docking station connector, parallel port and a PS/2 port for an external mouse. This provides good connectivity options and it also means that if you have a spare monitor lying around at home or work you can connect it up so that you don't have to stare at the small laptop screen all day long. On the remaining sides of the case there are the PCMCIA sockets, volume controls, modem cable socket, TV out (composite), external microphone and headphone sockets and also an Infra red transmitter/receiver. The IR unit is a pain to set up but once up and running it means that if you have a printer with an IR doofy you can just point your laptop at it and print to it without needing any cables. It is worth noting that you can only do this if you are within approximately 1 metre of the printer and also if there are any other IR devices nearby you can't do it. It's still a useful and impressive feature, even if it's only there to impress your friends. Build quality of the machine is fairly good although some of the plastic does feel a bit flimsy. The casing around the screen in particular is a bit weak and any pressure applied to it makes the screen get corrupted temporarily in small areas. From a styling point of view, it's a very nice machine. It's fairly slim and light without being tacky and it's got a rather elegant and simplistic design. Compared to my mother's laptop, it looks like the proverbial sex on a stick. Often with cheap notebooks, corners are cut. Seemingly with this
model though there aren't many shortcuts taken. The keyboard for instance is excellent and after a couple of minutes of practice is ideal for touch typing. On my model some of the keys don't do what they should, but my laptop has a European keyboard layout. I don't know if this is the same for all models, but it's hardly noticeably in general use. The pointing device on this machine is a very sensitve touch pad which has good feel and is easy to control. The sensitivity can be adjusted so that you don't accidentally brush your arms against it when typing and it makes an ideal mouse replacement. One thing that I liked about the software that drives it is that you can set 'hot spots' on certain areas so that if you tap the top left of the pad, the active window become maximised, tap the bottom left and it becomes minimised. This is totally configurable by the user and is a nice thing to have and saves valuable effort. Once turned on, the laptop is very nearly totally silent in operation. Sometimes a fan turns itself on and off in order to dissipate excess heat but generally it runs remarkably quietly. In general use the machine is very quick and when using programs such as MS Word, it's not noticeably slower than my desktop PC which has more than twice the specifications. It has an ATI graphics chip which whilst not brilliant, is quick enough to play some games on. The only problem is that the display isn't really good enough for games, but if you connect an external monitor it is fine. The speaker quality is a little tinny but this can only be expected when they are so small. As with a lot of Compaq machines there is some interesting software installed. Most of the stuff on the V300 is designed for network administrators so that they can check if the laptop has been fiddled with or if the specification has been changed. There is also some good and detailed diagnostic software installed so if anything does go wro
ng you can pinpoint the problem quite easily. In general Window's use the only problem is that it's easy to lose track of the mouse pointer for a few seconds due to the sloppy screen but it's easy enough to find it after a few seconds. This is only a minor annoyance and is not the end of the world because you can setup mouse trails so that you won't lose track of it. The system comes with a 'master disk' which allows you to setup the machine as it was when it left the factory. The downside of this is that you lose any customisations to software that you may have made and you have to back up all of your documents on a floppy disk. As you may be able to tell, I really like this laptop because it is very dependable. I am yet to have it crash in Windows (2 months and no crash! Surely a record!) and the only software problem that I've noticed is that it sometimes doesn't shutdown properly. A flick of the on/off swith sorts this out though. Battery life on the V300 is decent and 2 hours of typing is achievable. When the machine goes into hibernation (very low power mode) it can stay on for over 36 hours which is pretty remarkable. Please note that when it's in hibernation you can't actually do anything with the PC until you bring it out of hibernation by pressing the on/off switch. The battery recharges itself fairly quickly and the charger doubles as an AC adaptor and is fairly small and discrete. Overall, I like this laptop because it is so simple compared to its competitors. Nothing ever goes wrong with it, the battery life is good, the styling is nice and elegant and it's got a fair turn of speed. The only design point that annoys me is that it's very difficult to upgrade the RAM because the SODIMM slots are well hidden inside the casing. This is unforgivable because RAM is the first thing that many users would want to upgrade. In general though, this is a thoroughly enjoyable and reliable laptop.