Compaq launches Mighty Morphin' Armada notebooks

By Richard Morochove

First published June 20, 1996

Some 400 years ago the Spanish Armada sank, but Compaq Computer expects clear sailing ahead for its Armada notebook computers, launched earlier this week at New York's PC Expo computer show.

Highlighting the new line are five models in the Armada 4100 series, the morphing notebooks. The 4100 is three notebooks in one: standard, slimline and multimedia. You can easily add, swap or remove components, flexibly redesigning the notebook to meet your needs.

Compaq Armada 4100
Compaq Armada 4100 - multimedia mode

I've never seen a notebook that can be changed so radically. Tkis is just one of several innovations in the Armada line that should help Compaq gain market share against its stiffest competitors in notebooks: Toshiba and IBM.

The standard Armada 4100 is a sleek black notebook just under 1.5 inches thick, 11.6 inches wide and 10.3 inches deep. The only thing that sinks in this Armada is the keyboard. As you close the notebook's lid, the keycaps drop a few millimetres into the base. This allows the screen to fit flush in the lid and makes the notebook a little thinner, although not quite as slim as IBM's 1.2 inch ThinkPad 560.

There's no cooling fan in the Armada 4100 notebooks. The magnesium chassis distributes the heat throughout the case. There's even a special liquid cooling system for biggest hot spot, the Pentium processor. What looks like decorative ribbing on the case is really a radiator for the processor coolant. No, you don't need to drain it once a year.

One of the biggest contributors to heat in a notebook is the battery, particularly the high-capacity lithium-ion type used in the 4100. Apple Computer's sorry experience last year with flaming PowerBooks was attributed to these batteries. Compaq put the battery in the carrying handle, so it cools outside the computer.

The handle doubles as port protector and triples as a stand that tilts the keyboard to a comfortable 10 degree typing angle. Who knows, it may even do quadruple duty as a wintertime hand warmer!

If you want an even smaller, lighter notebook, you can morph to slimline mode. Remove the handle and swap the floppy disk drive for a lithium-ion dual bay battery (list price $319). This cuts the weight of the notebook by one pound to 5 lb. and trims 1.5 inches from its depth.

To morph to multimedia mode, you set the notebook atop the Mobile CD Expansion Unit (list price $667). This adds a quad-speed CD, MIDI/game port, enhanced one-watt stereo speakers and room for yet another dual bay battery. In multimedia mode the notebook weighs in at 8 lbs. (including handle) and is 2.3 inches thick.

The multimedia mode lets you use up to three batteries. Each battery lasts from 2.5 to 3.5 hours, so your multimedia Armada can last up to 10 hours before requiring a re-charge, enough for even the toughest Power Ranger assignment.

For the first time, Compaq has provided a trackpad pointing device that lets you use your finger to move the cursor along the screen. If you prefer, you can slide out the trackpad and replace it with an optional optical trackball (list price $63). Compaq says the optical trackball uses lasers to track the movement of tiny dots on the ball, so it's unaffected by dust and grime that cause skipping and sticking in mechanical trackballs.

Other interesting features of the Armada 4100 series include four user-programmable function keys. You can use one to automatically start your word processor, another to start your spreadsheet, or emulate the special Windows keys used on Microsoft's keyboard.

Preloaded software includes MS Windows 95, Netscape Navigator, Laplink and a couple of games.

The Armada 4100 family will be available mid-July at suggested list prices from $4,000 to $7,467. A typical model, the Armada 4120 (list price $6,333), includes a 120 Mhz. Pentium, 16 Mb. of RAM, 810 Mb. hard drive and an 11.8 inch active matrix display.

If that's a little too much for your budget, take a look at Compaq's Armada 1100 models. They replace Compaq's economy-priced Contura line, which is now discontinued. They range in list price from $3,333 to $3,867 and are available now. The 1100 models include a 100 Mhz. Pentium processor, but don't offer the morphing and multimedia capabilities of the 4100 series.

Compaq also released three new models in its high-end LTE 5000 notebook family, although the LTEs will be folded into the Armada line in the future to give all Compaq notebooks a common brand. The new top-of-the-line LTE 5380 (list price $10,667) includes a 133 Mhz. Pentium, a 12.1 inch active matrix display, 2.16 gigabyte hard drive and 16 megabytes of RAM. CW