The sleek silver UltraLite comes with two external drives which connect
via a pair of USB ports, one on either side of the machine. Since carrying around
an AC-adapter and power cable can one of the most annoying aspects of a notebook you
might think that an external floppy and CDROM would be last
This couldn't be further from the truth of course. Almost every
subnotebook on the market is a one-spindle machine. The 'spindle' in this case
refers to a drives motor, and in the case of a one spindle machine, the hard
drive specifically. Standard notebooks are usually classed as three-spindle
machines for their hard drive, floppy and CDROM.
With the NEC UltraLite both external drives are
included with the notebook, and are not pieces of kit you
have to buy in addition to the computer. This a giant step forward and it would be good
to see companies like Sony follow suite with their VAIO subnotebooks. In any case, love
them or hate them, external drives go hand in hand with ultra-portable notebooks. The
only exception that we know of is Fujitsu's Biblo Loox, which comes with
a built-in DVD drive.
For someone used to carrying around 7lbs of notebook every day,
it's comforting to know that if I don't need the CDROM or floppy I can just leave
them at the office. The drive units are quite small and while the floppy unit is
simply a laptop drive adapted for external use by USB cable, the 24X CDROM is custom
built and almost as much of an attraction as the notebook
Sadly the drive is not DVD compatible, but it does have some redeeming
features of its own. The unit is very light weight and just about the size of CD
jewel case. The top flips open and CD's are inserted on the spindle as you
would any other portable CDROM.
The entire unit is powered by the USB cable which clips out from the back
of the drive when not in use. Like a traditional CDROM in a desktop computer this unit
comes with play/pause and stop buttons, a volume wheel and a jack for a pair of
headphones. The top of the unit is silver and looks metal, but is glass-fiber
reinforced plastic. The base of the unit is metal. A small drive activity LED on
the front of the unit lets you know what is happening inside, in addition to a
small tinted viewing slit on the top.
Had NEC gone one step further and thrown
a rechargeable battery pack into the fold, or a place to drop in some AAA's to make
this portable CDROM into an on-the-fly portable CD player I'm sure I would be dolling out
an editors choice award for the drive alone.
While in operation there are some noisy motor noises from the laser mechanism, but for the most part, the drive is
near silent and will work in a horizontal or vertical orientation.