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Interactive Magazine (April '02)

A Rocking good deal!
If you’re looking for a laptop that will give you high power for a low price, have announced a new model with a special deal for teachers. Geoff Preston takes the lid off.

The main difficulty with running and maintaining a school ICT department is one of money – or, rather, the lack of it. Headteachers and ICT staff have an invidious choice to make: should one buy the latest specified equipment or buy older, less modern equipment so that one can have more of it? The problem could be debated for hours, although now there is no need to pose the question. One company,, has come up with a simple solution: supply equipment with the latest specifications but charge the same as older, lower-specified equipment. Simple isn’t it? I wonder why nobody though of it before. The Sigma Si is their latest laptop and is priced at £749.00 VAT to education only. Before reading any more of this article, put the magazine down and take yourself on a trip to PC World, Dixons or any of the other high street retailers and see what ’s on offer for that sort of money. Write down the specifications of what you consider the best three laptops in the High Street and then resume reading the article.

OK, for less than £900.00, what have you found? There ’s quite a bit of choice at that price and you probably will have seen a few models below £700.00 including VAT – but those are likely to be either obsolete, or ex-demo or ex-display models. For between £700.00 and £900.00 (including VAT) you will have seen some really good equipment from some well-known brands like Sony, Toshiba and Hewlett Packard. But you are unlikely to have seen anything with the specification of the Sigma Si.

Big screen
The most striking difference is the screen. Most laptops have a 12 ” TFT screen but the Sigma Si sports a 14.1 ” XGA TFT screen. That ’s actually larger than many desktop monitors, which have a significantly smaller viewable area than the actual quoted screen size. The larger size means you have just a little more space to position multiple windows, which is essential when working with more than one document. Alternatively, an A4 document in Word can be viewed at 175 while keeping the whole width of the page visible. At that scale, text as small as 4pt can be read easily. The downside of large screens is that, because they are almost the same size as the laptop computer, there is only a small frame around the screen. This doesn’t always provide enough support, allowing the screen to become twisted when the lid is closed. However, this is not the case with the Sigma Si, whose lid is very stable and can safely be closed by pressing down on one corner (although, that said, it ’s always safer to close the lid with care so as to avoid causing any twisting to the screen). In use, the screen is clear and bright.

The rest of the computer ’s specification is equally impressive. As regular readers will know, I ’m not wild about churning out lots of numbers, but if you are going to make a choice, then you need the facts. The Sigma ’s power comes from a 900MHz Intel Celeron processor, which is very fast. It is backed by 128Mb of RAM, upgradeable to 512Mb (the test machine was 256Mb). The 10 gigabyte hard drive is a Fujitsu model with SilentHHD and is remarkably quiet, giving off just a faint whirr rather like a fan. The basic model includes a 24-speed CD-ROM drive, but there are other options including DVD or CD-RW, or a combination DVD with CD-RW.

Most schools now have a network and, recognising this, Rock have included 10/100Mbps LAN connectivity as well as a 56k modem so you can connect into the network at school as well as surf the Internet via modem at home. These are both built into the hardware, leaving the single PCMCIA socket free for video cards and the like. The machine is also equipped with a full range of ports, including an infra-red eye which enables it to wirelessly communicate with a wide rage of accessories (including mobile phones, printers and other IrDA compliant products). There are the usual serial and parallel ports, a PS/2 connector enabling an external mouse and/or keyboard to be connected, and a video port to enable you to connect an external monitor. There are two USB ports and the latest Firewire port for high-speed data transfer. The built-in speakers and microphone, like all internal sound devices, are a little tinny, but sockets to connect external versions are provided on the edge of the computer, alongside the floppy disc drive. The battery is lithium-ion and can give about two hours of power.

What else do you get?
The package is completed with either MS Windows 98, XP Home, or ME with McAfee anti-virus pre-loaded (for a £50 surcharge you can have Sigma Si supplied with Windows 2000 or XP Professional). A power supply unit is also included, as is Rock ’s very own carry case – which once again is imitation PVC and not only looks cheap, but is cheap. Why do they persist in providing this tacky case with all their laptops? The only thing it has in its favour is that a would-be thief wouldn’t bother to steal it, as the assumption would be that such a cheap case couldn’t possibly contain anything worth stealing. However there is the option of a leather carry case for an extra £35. This has some useful features to aid organisational efficiency, including additional filing sections, outside zipper document compartments and an internal organiser for CDs and floppy discs. So what ’s the catch? An up-to-date computer for an obsolete price. One might be forgiven for thinking that the Sigma Si is going to match the carry case: made from the cheapest components possible and failing to live up to its promise beyond a few weeks. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Remove the badge and you wouldn’t know the difference between the Sigma Si and any other laptop costing double the price, or more. It looks and feels every bit as solid as any other quality laptop, and a great deal better than some of them. It ’s robust enough to take the inevitable knocks of school life and its performance is difficult to equal unless you look at models costing significantly more.

Geoff Preston was Head of Information Technology at Highgate Wood School in North London, and is now an ICT consultant and technical author, as well as Consultant Editor for InteracTive.

Contact details
1 Collins Road,
Heathcote Estate,
CV34 6TF.

Tel: 0870-444 0050
fax: 0870-444 0051
email: [email protected]

MODEL Rock Sigma Si
PRO'S .......
CON'S .......
VERDICT A Rocking Good Deal
PROCESSOR Intel Celeron 900MHz
RAM 128Mb
OTHER Internal 56k modem
OTHER Internal 10/100mbps LAN
WARRANTY 1 Year Collect and Return
PRICE £749. (Ex. VAT)

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All Sigma reviews

Sigma Di - Computer Shopper Magazine (July '03)
Sgma Di - What Laptop Magazine (February '03)
Sgma Di - PC Home Magazine (February '03)
Sigma SI - Interactive Magazine (April '02)
Sigma SI - .net Magazine(December '01)
Sigma SI - PC Utilities (December '01)
Sigma SI - Computer Active (October '01)
Sigma SI - PC Pro (September '01)
Sigma SI - PC Advisor (July '01)
Sigma SI - PC Basics (July '01)
Sigma SI - Computer Active (June '01)
Sigma SI - PC Home (June '01)
Sigma SI - What Laptop (June '01)
Sigma SI - PC Advisor (June '01)
Sigma - What PC? (April '01)

Return to reviews index >>