Micro Express JFL9290 all-purpose laptop

Did you catch that blur? That’s the Micro Express JFL9290 speeding by. Like most Micro Express notebooks we’ve seen, it wouldn’t win many beauty pageants. No prizes for its user manual, audio quality, or lame shortcut buttons either. But this Windows Vista Business laptop burned through our WorldBench 6 performance tests like a bat out of hell. In fact, it’s one of the fastest laptops we’ve tested to date.

The JFL9290 is all about searing performance. Equipped with a 3.06-GHz Core 2 Extreme X9100 CPU and 3GB of RAM, this US$1999 laptop sprinted through WorldBench 6, earning a score of 115. The JFL9290 is no slouch in 3D games, either: With its dedicated 256MB nVidia GeForce 9600M GT graphics card, it produced well over 160 frames per second in Far Cry with antialiasing turned off. The laptop comes standard with a 7200-mAh battery, which lasted a fairly impressive 3 hours, 44 minutes in our tests.

I was glad to see good craftsmanship on both the user-accessible memory slots and the hard drive. Getting in requires removing just a few screws from the bottom panels. Otherwise the JFL9290 has the same sort of competent, yet not particularly flattering, case we saw for the Micro Express JFL 9226.

At 6.5 pounds (excluding the power adapter), the JFL9290 ranks as a middleweight all-purpose laptop. Its 1280-by-800-pixel, 15.4-inch screen is readable and reasonably bright.

Typing is easy, but the mouse buttons are stubby; they seem to have been made shorter to make room for the extrawide fingerprint reader placed between them. The laptop heaps on other features, too, including a fairly generous 200GB hard drive, a Webcam, and ExpressCard/54 and SD Card slots. Microphone and headphone ports are conveniently located on the front. If only Micro Express had thrown in a FireWire port to sweeten the deal.

I have a few other quibbles with the design. Aside from the switch that allows peripherals to charge over USB while the laptop is turned off, the JFL9290’s specialty buttons are pretty useless. The WOW Audio button, for instance, supposedly tweaks the sound settings for different effects, but in reality it offers only incremental changes that are barely discernible. Don’t bother. The laptop’s speakers, located under a long panel above the keyboard, could be better too. They produce almost zero bass tones, and the treble distorts so much at high volume that the laptop almost buzzes. The sound is pretty decent for casual listening as long as you keep volume at a low to medium setting. The WOW Video adjustments fare a little better (as they did on the JFL9226), but they hardly rate “wow” status.

The horrific manual made us say “wow” for an entirely different reason. The JFL9290’s PDF guide, provided both on the hard drive and on disc, is so poorly translated that it’s nonsensical in places, never mind novice-friendly. For example, it can tell you all about the laptop’s side-mounted on/off Wi-Fi/Bluetooth switch, aka “The Wireless Switch Suppliers B2B online marketplace.”

Sure, other laptops are more slickly packaged, but few rate as fast as the Micro Express JFL9290. As a super-swift portable, it delivers. As a frill-loaded ubermachine? Not so much.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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