* Prices may differ from that shown
In the past, I've not been a big fan of notebook computers, I don't like the cost premium over desktops and the (relative) lack of upgrade path. However, I recently needed to buy one because working patterns and space constraints meant a desktop wasn't practical. There is a huge and bewildering array of notebook computers available and it is difficult to know where to begin looking for one. My advice is to start by working out exactly what you intend to use it for, and devise a suitable specification. Then, trawl through the adverts (and DooYoo of course!) looking for machines that meet your specification at a reasonable price. This is how I arrived at the Rock. I decided that the machine I wanted wasn't to be a desktop replacement, but more a desktop extension. So, it didn't really need a fast processor, although I intended to run Windows 2000 so lots of memory would be an advantage. The thing that most narrowed down my search was that I wanted at least a 14.1 inch TFT screen because I'd be doing database work that needed lots of screen real-estate. This resulted in rejecting many machines because most budget machines seem to have 13 inch screens. Looking through the adverts revealed that Rock and Dell had suitable machines, but the Rock was cheaper for a similar specification. All that introduction was a roundabout way of saying that the best notebook for you depends on your application and requirements, so although the Sigma is right for me, it might not be for you. Once I'd decided that the Rock was the machine of choice, I went to their website to buy one. Their website is a bit garish, uses lots of Flash, and it grows your browser window to fullscreen (which I hate) but once you've got over the initial in your face blue-and-yellow colour scheme and animated text it's easy enough to navigate your way around. While on their website I noticed a good machine in their Web Specials sect ion and decided to go for that. After placing my order, though, I was emailed to say that it was no longer available and offered a range of alternatives, one of which was a better spec for the same price. However, the special offer machine stayed on the site for a couple of weeks. After you have chosen your model, you get the usual drop-down lists of specifications and I selected the standard Sigma with 733MHz Celeron, the only upgrade was to Windows 2000 instead of 98. Once you are happy with your machine you progress to the payment area. The press advert states that they offer a 0% finance plan, but there is no option to select this on the website; you must enter a credit card number. Once your order is completed you are sent a confirmation email confirming the specification (as a MS Word attachement, which is bad - not everyone can read them and often site administrators block them because of virus risk). As I said, the machine I chose was a 733MHz celeron with 128MB ram, 10GB disk and 24x CDROM. All Sigma machines come with a FDD, 14.1" TFT screen, modem, 10Mbit LAN and Lithium Ion battery as standard. Like most budget notebooks, the Sigma is not the speediest beast about. I've not benchmarked it, but in use it "feels" similar to my PII-400 desktop, which I suppose isn't bad for a low-end machine. The screen is bright and clear, in fact to me it seems a little too bright and there isn't much adjustment range on the brightness control. When viewing images that look fine on the desktop monitor, they look a little washed out and I need to use Paint Shop Pro to adjust the brightness and contrast. The LAN is an extremely useful addition to any laptop. It comes installed and ready, you just need a cable to connect it to your hub and it'll get an IP address from DHCP. I don't have a DHCP server, so I manually gave it an IP address and connected it with a crossover cable to my desktop. I was up and r eady in minutes - so much better than the PCMCIA network cards or horrid LapLink cables of old. Other peripheral options built in are the usual parallel, P/S2, IrDA and type II PCMCIA ports, plus 2 USB ports, FireWire, and an S-Video TV out socket. The modem and LAN share the same connector, so they can't both be used together although this should rarely be a problem. The build quality is reasonable for a budget machine. The trackpad mouse is nice and sensitive and works well, but the keyboard is a little flimsy and bends noticably as you're typing. The standard carrying case is fine for everyday use, although a range of more rugged and stylish cases are available as options. Battery life isn't a big issue for me since I'll rarely use the machine away from mains power, but it coped well with around 6 hours moderate use. There's a little battery applet that provides an estimate of battery life, and spare batteries are available as an optional extra. In summary, the Rock Sigma is a well though out budget machine at a reasonable price.