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PC Pro (December '02)

At last, a power notebook that’s small and light enough to be carried. Despite its size, the Xeno-m delivers plenty of power and reasonable battery life, although you have to pay extra for a floppy drive and a parallel port.

Despite Intel’s attempts to make mobile processors less hungry and fiercely hot, there’s still some way to go. Many powerful notebooks based on the fastest Pentium 4-M CPUs still tend to run hot and suck batteries dry at a disappointing rate, so I was curious to see how the Rock Xeno-m measured up under scrutiny. According to Rock, this is the slimmest portable available using the 2.2GHz Pentium 4-M. This is fighting talk, since many Pentium 4 notebooks suffer from obesity.

By contrast, the Xeno-m weighs just 2.8kg, fits into a modest enough 305 x 270mm (W x D) footprint, and measures only 31mm thick with the lid shut. If the design is good enough to allow for efficient, unobtrusive cooling, and the batteries hold out, the Xeno-m could be just what the travelling power user is looking for.

The first thing to look at closely is build quality. The chassis was reasonably sound, although not quite up to the hardback solidity of the very best portables. The screen lid stood up to moderate pressure well and is certainly enough to protect the screen adequately.

The screen itself is also of good quality and combines a bright, vibrant image with a reasonably wide viewing angle. The 14.1in diagonal is a necessary consequence of the Zeno-m’s modest footprint, but it works well with the panel’s native 1,024 x 768 resolution, and the display is consistently readable.

When I first heard about the Xeno-m, I wondered if anything had gone by the board to keep the size and weight down. The answer was yes, and the unlucky component was, as is often the case, the floppy drive. Rock has taken to the increasingly common tactic of offering external USB floppy drive as an extra, for which it charges £49, rather than as part of the package.

Another disappearance came to light when I tallied the ports. Things started off well with a generous allocation of three USB ports and even a PS/2 connector, so you can easily add a new mouse and keyboard if you’re buying the Xeno-m as a main system.

You also get a VGA output for an external monitor, high-speed connectivity for DV camcorders via a FireWire port, and an S-Video output. You don’t get a parallel or a serial port, so you’ll be obliged to buy an optional port replicator for an extra £69 if you want them.

The review machine also came with a mini-PCI 802.11b Wireless LAN card under a panel base, but this turned out to be an option that, again, would add £69 to the price. So the basic £1,499 goes up to £1,686 if you want a floppy drive, a full set of ports and wireless functionality.

I don’t want to sound too critical though, because the Xeno-m has plenty to offer in other departments. The basic specification is properly elevated to match the top-end processor and includes 512MB of PC2100 DDR SDRAM and 40GB UltraATA/100 Hitachi hard disk, which spins at 5,400pm rather than the slower, notebook-standard 4,200pm.

The icing on the cake is a DVD/CD-RW combo drive offering a 24x CD-ROM and everything else at 8x, which sits in a multipurpose bay. CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives, or a second battery pack. However, the single battery should be enough. Despite the high-velocity processor, the Xeno is capable of running on battery power for 102 minutes in intensive use, and up to 166 minutes under lighter use. And, although the base heats up, it doesn’t turn into a hotplate. I expected cooling fan noise to be an issue too, but it was actually quite subdued.

I was less impressed with the choice of graphics chipset, though, which turned out to be integral to the SiS650 chipset and borrows memory from the main system. Admittedly, with 512MB on offer, the 32MB allocated to graphics won’t be noticed, but this is clearly an area where the designers have saved money. It’s hard not to feel that a dedicated graphics chip would have better served a machine like this.

Predictably enough, the shared-memory SiS graphics were the weak spot as far as performance was concerned, but while the 0.98 2D graphics benchmark is lower than the other results it’s still above average for a notebook. You won’t really notice any other problems unless you want to run 3D games. In business applications, the Xeno is a fast and capable machine, especially for a slimline notebook, and its overall score of 1.06 backs this up.

Rock introduced a three-year, collect-and-return warranty earlier this year, so the Xeno-m comes with worthwhile peace of mind. Even with the options included, the price still remains acceptable, and with truly portable performance notebooks so scarce the Xeno-m is ideal for the travelling power user.

MODEL Rock Xeno-m
PRO'S .......
CON'S .......
PROCESSOR Intel Pentium 4 2.2Ghz
OTHER Internal 56k modem
OTHER Internal 10/100mbps LAN
OTHER Firewire
WARRANTY 3 Year Collect and Return
PRICE £1499. (Ex. VAT)

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All Xeno reviews

Xeno-m - Computer Shopper (August '03)
Xeno-SP - PC Plus Magazine (July '03)
Xeno-m - Computer Shopper (July '03)
Xeno-m - Computer Shopper (June '03)
Xeno-m - Computer Shopper (April '03)
Xeno-m - PC Home Magazine (April '03)
Xeno-m - PC Plus Magazine (April '03)
Xeno-m - Computer Shopper (March '03)
Xeno-m - What Laptop Magazine (March '03)
Xeno-m - PCW Magazine (March '03)
Xeno-m - PC Pro Magazine (March '03)
Xeno-m - Computer Buyer Magazine (February '03)
Xeno-m - What Laptop (February '03)
Xeno-m - TES (January 03)
Xeno-m - PC Plus Magazine (January 03)
Xeno-m - PC Pro Magazine (December '02)
Xeno-m - What Laptop (November '02)
Xeno - PC Advisor (June '02)

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