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Leading Technology 9800NB

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Review by David English

The steady stream of new 386SX notebooks is starting to look like the circus act where one clown after another spills out of a car. After a while, you lose count and they all begin to look alike.

To grab our attention these days, savvy notebook manufacturers have to offer one or more unique features or a substantially lower price. While the 9800NB has a few interesting features, its primary claim to fame is cost. Leading Technology computers are sold at highly competitive prices in many of the mass-market discount chains. But even if the price is right, should you buy it?

First, let's look at what's good about this machine. It runs at 20 MHz (many 386SX notebooks still run at 16 MHz), takes as much as 8MB of RAM (more than most), uses the Cirrus Logic VGA controller (still the best one for converting color to 32 shades of gray), gets a healthy 2-2 1/2 hours on a battery charge with the built-in power-saving features, weighs only 6.6 pounds, includes an easy-to-use DOS shell, and can plug into an optional expansion chassis.

With these features, the 9800NB stands out from the crowd. In addition, if you care about looks, it has a stylish, almost machine-like appearance that's quite attractive.

Other features work well but are alightly flawed. The keyboard has a nice springy feel, although I didn't care for the reverse L placement of the arrow keys (other notebook computers use the more intuitive upside-down T shape.) And while the 40MB Seagate hard drive is reasonably fast, I couldn't get it to work with Stacker 1.1.

What doesn't work at all? Only one thing, although it could be a major problem for many notebook users. Because there's no provision for an internal modem and the 9800NB has only one serial port, you can't use a mouse and a modem at the same time. That means you can't use Windows communications programs unless you use them with keyboard commands (good luck!).

On the other hand, if you don't think you'll be using your notebook to go online or you're happy with your current text-based communications program, this shouldn't be a problem. To sum up, if you can find the 9800NB for a great price, this could be the notebook for you.

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