By George Maestri
Laptops are great for many applications, and you can use them on airplanes or almost anywhere. Their mobility has tradeoffs, however. For power conservation purposes, laptops usually have CPUs and graphics a generation or two behind that of the fastest workstations. And, to make a laptop compact enough to carry, the screen has to be much smaller than a typical workstation's.
Yet there are lots of people on the move who need a computer more powerful than a laptop. Architects and engineers might need a CAD workstation at a building site, for example. Video editors sometimes have to work in strange locations, and visual effects artists could be asked to do test composites at a remote set. These people need lots of horsepower and high quality graphics in a computer with a screen that's big enough to display the graphics.
MaxVision's MaxPac 6000, which was created to address these sorts of needs, is different from most computers I've seen. It's a high-quality workstation with a fast CPU and graphics card and a 17-inch LCD tucked inside what looks like a fat aluminum briefcase. At just over 20 pounds, the MaxPac is considerably heftier than a laptop, and it plugs into an electrical outlet rather than running on batteries. But it can be carried, unlike stationary workstations of similar horsepower.
|The 20-pound MaxPac 6000, with its briefcase-style housing, brings to mind the "transportable" computers of an earlier era. |
The machine comes in a number of flavors. The review unit ran Windows 2000 and had a 1.4ghz Athlon processor along with 512mb of DDR RAM, a 40gb hard drive, CD-ROM and LS120 superdrive floppy, and an Elsa Synergy III video card. Max Vision also offers configurations with Intel Pentium 4 processors as well as single- and dual-processor Pentium III machines. A number of other video cards, disks, and memory options are also available.
Setting up the machine is easy. You attach the power cord, then plug in the mouse and keyboard. A flip of the power switch and you're off and running. The LCD screen is of excellent quality and displays 1280 by 1024 in true color. The machine also has an external monitor port if you want to use a projector or second CRT with it.
Cleverly stowed inside the top lid are the keyboard and mouse, hidden under a fiberboard panel that you remove by bending the panel into an arch and pulling it out. This panel fit a bit too snugly for my taste. I worried I might snap it in half while bending it. I'm not sure if that would have really happened, but a hinge for this panel would have been more comforting.
Once up and running, the machine performed flawlessly. I tested the MaxPac with a number of applications, including Adobe's Premiere and After Effects, and Discreet's 3ds max. All these worked with no problems. I also ran a stream of un compressed video off the hard drive with no apparent glitches.
Access to the inside of the machine is easy: Four screws hold on the back. Removing these reveal a ruggedly built unit, with shock mounts for the motherboard and components. The Epox-manufactured motherboard has the standard serial, parallel, joystick, and USB connectors, as well as built in audio.
As expected, space is limited inside the MaxPac. There are no extra drive bays, and the machine offers only three expansion slots-two PCI and one AGP. Filling the AGP slot is the video card. One PCI slot contains a Netgear ethernet card, leaving a single free PCI slot, with enough clearance for a 9-inch card. Other versions of the MaxPac have ethernet built onto the motherboard, freeing up the second PCI slot for further expansion.
Athlon processors are known to generate a lot of heat, so the CPU has a massive heatsink and two small fans to vent the system. These fans are noisier than average, and the fact that the entire machine sits right behind the display doesn't help, either. You can't tuck the CPU under your desk to reduce the noise, as you could with a normal desktop.
Audio performance was average at best. The machine's built-in speaker is small and situated behind the LCD screen, which attenuates the high frequencies. This combined with the fan noise made it hard to hear sound clearly. For serious audio work, you'll probably want headphones or external speakers.
Overall, I liked this machine. It's as fast and powerful as any workstation on the market, and portable to boot. The 17-inch LCD is equivalent to a 19-inch CRT, which is big enough to do some serious graphics work. The MaxPac is not for everyone, but it definitely addresses a specific niche in the market. Power users "on the go," will find that the MaxPac fills that niche quite nicely.
George Maestri is a writer and animator living in Los Angeles.
Price as reviewed: $6950