Next-generation Centrino laptops have begun to arrive in earnest, but so far they haven't all lived up to expectations. Most offer excellent performance and connectivity when compared to previous Centrino models, but many use old case designs and look rather plain.
The M555N-E, on the other hand, impresses straight out of the box thanks to its striking silver finish, so does it emerge as the perfect combination of style and substance? It's available direct from AJP from their Web site for £880.
The M555N-E is designed to be highly portable. At 2.5kg, it's 500g too heavy to be considered an ultra-portable, but it's fairly compact at just 333mm wide and 276mm deep. It's also a very good looking device. Silver laptops are increasingly commonplace, but the M555N-E stands out thanks to the incorporation of glossy aluminium highlights around the mouse touchpad, shortcut keys, power button, and in the AJP logo on the lid.
The screen is locked in place when not in use and can be released by pressing a single button at the front. There's an attractive pressed aluminium panel just below the display, and the black screen bezel and matching keyboard provide good contrast to what would otherwise have been an overwhelming sea of silver. We were slightly disappointed by the build quality of the keyboard, though. Its top section wasn't securely fastened to the chassis, but AJP reassures us this won't be the case on final retail models.
The M555N-E has a good number of input/output ports. On the right there's a single USB port next to a modem socket and headphone and mic connections. On the left you'll find two further USB ports, a PC Card port, a four-pin FireWire port, and a 3-in-1 memory card reader that supports MMC, Secure Digital and Sony Memory stick formats. There are also line-in and SPDIF ports for connecting a set of surround-sound speakers, or recording audio from an external source.
While this is a good collection of input/output connectors, we'd prefer if ports of a similar type were grouped on the same side of the laptop. Connecting a set of surround-sound speakers leads to a mish-mash of cables. The same applies to connecting modem and LAN cables, whose respective ports are also on opposite sides.
We also found the positioning of the M555N-E's speakers somewhat strange. Both its stereo speakers are at the bottom of the chassis, and although they don't quite touch whichever surface the laptop is resting on, their position isn't very conducive to clear audio.
The M555N-E uses the latest iteration of Intel's Centrino technology, also known as Napa. Unlike original Centrino laptops, this third-generation model uses the updated Intel 945 Express chipset, which provides a host of features. These include support for high-definition Dolby audio, dual-channel memory, dual-core processors and the latest PCI Express X16 graphics cards.
The top-of-the-range M555N-E uses an Intel Core Duo T2400 processor clocked at 1.83GHz -- the same as that used in the slower of the two Apple MacBook Pro options, a laptop that'll set you back . The M555N-E also uses 1GB of fast DDR2 RAM running at 533MHz, but less demanding users may prefer to buy the cheaper M555N-H, which has 512MB. Neither version uses a discrete PCI Express X16 graphics card so you'll have to put up with the basic Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 as supplied by the chipset.