September 8, 2000

CyberStar LT98 laptop review

Author: JT Smith

By: Jeff Field
NewsForge Columnist

Last week, I reviewed a full-featured Linux laptop, the Quartz 795+. This week, I will again be reviewing a laptop, however, this time I will review a mini notebook, the Cyberstar LT98. Focusing on portability, the LT98 makes tradeoffs in performance for portability. Are these tradeoffs worth it?
The Laptop
Configuration Page
For expansion, this laptop has one serial port, one parallel port, one VGA-out, one IDE-out, one PS/2 and a phone connection for the (Linux incompatible) windmodem, as well as a PC Card (type 2) slot. Curious is the fact that is lacks USB, something that would greatly increase the expansion capability of this machine.

The LT98 uses a Cyrix MediaGXm CPU running at 266MHz. The MediaGXm is aimed at low-end machines and low power consumption machines. Unfortunately, there is a massive tradeoff in CPU power. Other machines support Mobile K6-2 and Pentium III CPUs while consuming similar power and outputting a little more heat.

More impressive are the storage capabilities of this laptop, sporting a 6.5 gigabyte Hitachi IDE hard drive and an external 24x Toshiba CD-ROM. 6.5 gigabytes is more than enough for a machine focused on being a notetaker or strictly on-the-road machine, the tasks this machine is best suited for.

Look and Feel
The keyboard on the LT98 is tiny and cramped, making it difficult to type on this machine with even average-sized fingers, and even more difficult for someone with larger fingers. Typing for long periods of time becomes uncomfortable. This is a definate downside to this laptop for anyone thinking of a serious use for it.

As for the screen, it is also uncomfortably tiny, making it difficult to read text at times. Again, you must sacrifice something for all this portability, and with this machine you will sacrifice comfort and readability, two of the most important things when evaluating laptops.

The best feature may be the Trackpoint, a little eraser-like stick in the keyboard used to replace the mouse. I like it much better than a touch pad, although this certainly doesn't affect my thoughts on the comfort or usability of this laptop.

As for the weight and dimensions, this laptop is small and portable. Weighing in at only 3.7 lbs. and only 1.4" thick, 7" deep and 10.9" wide, it is easy to fit in any sort of bag or briefcase. Again, the portability is nice, but doesn't make up for the lack of usability.

Like most machines (unfortunately), it comes with Windows 98 preinstalled. However, with little effort you can remove it in favor of Linux, which is of course what I did. Installation of Mandrake 7.1 was difficult at first because of a somewhat scratchy CD. Although other drives read the disc fine, the one on the LT98 seems overly sensitive to dust and scratches. A new Mandrake 7.1 install went without a hitch.

The Nickel Metal Hydride battery that came with the laptop lasted just under two hours (1 hour 57 minutes) with normal usage (booting, playing MP3s, running X, etc.) which is ok, but for something this small you would hope it would last longer. It did, however, come with a spare battery that you could swap out. For longer usage you'll need the AC adapter.

Storage and Expansion:
Hard Drive: 6.5 GB IDE
Floppy Drive: External disk drive
CD-ROM: External 24x Toshiba
Internal Fax/Modem: 56k V.90 Winmodem
PC Card: 1 Type II, card bus support
Audio: Built-in sound, speakers, microphone
Battery: 28.8w/6cells NI-MH battery pack
AC Adapter: 18w, AC 110-240V
Pointing Device: Trackpoint III
Power Management: APM 1.2
Warranty: One Year Depot, Optional 1 or 3 year MWS express warranty

Video & CPU:
LCD Screen: 8.0" CSTN VGA, 8.4" Active Matrix screen optional

Resolution: CSTN 640x480, external monitor up to 1024x768
CPU Type: Cyrix Gxm 266MHz
Memory sockets: 1 - 144 pin EDO DIMM
Memory Std/Max/Tested: 32MB/64MB/64MB
Video Controller: NeoMagic 2097 1.2MM + Gxi GX5520

Serial: 1 high speed 16550, 9-pin ports
Parallel: 1 ECP/EPP 25-pin port
Keyboard/Mouse: PS/2 port
VGA: 1 15 pin
RJ-11: 1 telephone jack
IRDA: 1 IR port
AC Power: 1 AC power port jack
IDE: 1 external IDE for floppy or CD-ROM

Height: 1.4" (3.52cm)
Width: 10.9" (27.7cm)
Depth: 7" (17.8cm)
Weight: 3.7lbs (1.65kg) with battery

The Tests
Mandrake 7.1 with ReiserFS was used in place of the default configuration. 64 Megs of RAM was present, this differs from the default configuration of 32 megs.

Kernel Compiles
To test the laptop, I ran a variety of CPU, I/O and memory-intensive benchmarks. The first benchmark is a set of timed Linux kernel compiles (a common action for many Linux users). To do the testing, I used a Mandrake 7.1 installation. I configured the kernel by typing "make config" and selecting the defaults (holding down enter works nicely). I typed "make clean; make dep; time make bzImage" in order to time the kernel compiles.

Kernel Compile Times (Minutes:Seconds)

Cyberstar LT98
2.2.16 2.4.0-test5
400MHz 21:43 31:43

Using HDParm measures the performance (cached and un-cached) of hard drives under Linux. This shows the performance of the hard drive in the LT98.

HDParm Results

Cyberstar LT98
Device Read Timings (-t) Cache Read Timings (-T)
266MHz 4.44MB/sec. 47.95MB/sec.

Benchmark Commentary
As you can see, the LT98 did not perform well in the kernel compile tests. This is mostly due to the Cyrix MediaGXm, which isn't a very powerful CPU. Since the CPU is aimed toward machines used for simple office tasks, anything that really pushes the CPU isn't going to perform well on this machine. The disk results are average, so disk access won't be as much of a bottleneck as the CPU in heavy tasks. But for word processing or things of that nature, this machine should perform ok.

A note: These results should be used in comparison with other similar products to see which is faster, and benchmarks should never be your final determining factor. I always consider stability and support before absolute performance -- if it doesn't work, what does it matter how fast it is? So please, take all benchmarks with a grain of salt.

About CyberStar
Cyberstar, founded in 1982, produces notebooks for sale through dealers. They have a lines of low end and high end laptops and subnotebooks.

While it accomplishes what it was meant for, to be a very portable machine, the lack of comfort really hurts my opinion of this laptop. Without a comfortable keyboard or a decent screen, it is a waste of money when for a few hundred dollars more you could get a laptop with a better CPU, larger keyboard, and a larger screen (such as the Quartz 795+ I reviewed last week). If you are looking for something between a PDA and a real laptop, and can deal with a cramped keyboard and tiny screen, then you still might consider this laptop. Otherwise I would stay away from it and put my money into something larger, more powerful and more comfortable

Price: $1,129 (as configured in this review)


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