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Sharp Actius UM30W

Sharp's Actius line of ultra-light and ultra-slim notebook computers have been strong sellers for several years now. They are both incredibly attractive and amazingly light and thin. The latest in the Actius ultra-slim line, the UM Series, represents the next evolutionary step in the lineup.

The Actius, has always been a sleek 3 lb. notebook that's incredibly slim (about the size and thickness of a magazine) encased in a magnesium-aluminum alloy case with an attractive and modern silver finish. Since Sharp has been in the quality LCD screen business for years, you can count on the UM to have a crisp and bright 1024 x 768 display. Rather than make fundamental changes to an already attractive and popular product, Sharp focuses on increasing processor speeds, hard drive and RAM size, and adding new ports such as IE1394 (FireWire).

We reviewed the UM30W, which is near the top of the line of Actius UM models. Models range from the entry-level UM10 (PIII 600 MHz, 20 gig) to the new UM32W which has a 1 GHz Mobile PIII processor and a 40 gig drive. The UM30W and UM32W come with an external USB 6x CDROM drive. If you buy a UM10 or UM20, you'll need your own external CD or DVD drive.

Sharp UM30W

Sharp Actius UM30W with included external CDROM drive

Sharp UM30W side view

You can see how slim the Sharp Actius UM series is! This is the right side and there are two USB ports, modem and Ethernet (behind a rubber door) and audio in and out ports as well as a heat vent (center).







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Ultra-light subnotebooks are not speed demons compared to their full-sized notebook brethren. High speed, state of the art processors don't jibe well with "miniaturization" because of heat dissapation issues. The cost of high-end processors is also a concern, since you're already paying extra for that small size. That said, the Intel Mobile Pentium III processor with SpeedStep running at 866 MHz is plenty fast for even demanding applications. The unit comes with 256 megs of RAM and a roomy 40 gig hard drive. Windows XP Pro is demanding on hardware, but even so, we found all OS operations smooth. MS Office 2000 ran well, as did Macromedia Dreamweaver MX, and Photoshop 7 which I used for web graphics production rather than more challenging print image production work. While our unit suffered no slow-downs, I would suggest upgrading the unit to its maximum 512 megs if you want maximum performance. The hard drive is quiet and the fan rarely goes on under medium-duty use.

Screen, Sound and Battery Life

Since Sharp makes excellent quality monitor and notebook LCDs, and the Actius is no exception. The screen is very sharp, bright and color-saturated. I found it a pleasure to work with the unit for periods of several hours, and I am VERY picky about displays! The display runs at XGA (1024 x 768) resolution with millions of colors. It can also drive an external display via the included VGA adapter. I would suggest placing a cloth between the screen and keyboard/trackpad when the unit is closed, because, like many ultra-thin notebooks, the tolerance (space between the top and bottom of the clamshell) is very tight, and you may notice marks on the screen from the keys and trackpad surround. These marks can be cleaned, but it's easier to use a protective cloth!

Stereo sound out via the headphone/speaker jack is very good. The built-in speakers are not very loud, probably because the speaker opening is on the bottom of the unit.

Battery life with the standard battery is about 2.5 hours with WiFi turned on. That's just what Sharp claims, and is average for a notebook of this size.

Ports, WiFi and Expandability

The UM series comes with a generous helping of ports. I'm thrilled to see an included Firewire (IE1394) port for connections to high speed external hard drives, CD burners and digital camcorders. The port is the standard small 4 pin non-powered found on most notebooks (only the Apple PowerBook and Dell notebooks come to mind when I try to think of notebooks that come with the larger 6 pin powered Firewire port). The UM also has 2 USB v.1.1 ports, a high density connector port that connects to the included parallel/VGA adapter (which allows you to connect to a monitor or parallel printer), modem and Ethernet 10/100 RJ45 jack. The UM30W and UM32W have integrated WiFi (802.11b) that does everything a WiFi PC card does: encryption (64 and 128 bit), ad hoc and infrastructure mode and etc.. The range is very good, giving us about 65 feet with an Apple Airport base station (not the highest powered of base stations). The UM also has both a PCMCIA slot and a CF type II slot, the latter being handy if your digital camera or PDA uses CF cards since you can copy files and images between them and your notebook without an adapter.


The UM30W is one of my favorite ultra-slim subnotebooks. It is simply beautiful to behold, shockingly light and slim, yet it doesn't skimp on screen and keyboard size. Its speed is competitive with other subnotebooks, the screen is excellent, and built-in WiFi and Firewire add the finishing touches to a very compelling package. I found little to dislike-- my only complaints are the Synaptics touch pad is too sensitive and I had to fiddle with the settings to get a manageable cursor, and I wish the notebook could be expanded to 1gig of RAM rather than just 512 megs (a 1gig SODIMM might work, but Sharp states the max is 512 megs).

Suggested Retail:
UM30W: $1,999
UM20: (Pentium III 750 MHz, 20 gig, no CDROM drive): $1,599
UM10M (Pentium III 600 MHz, no CDROM drive): $1,099



Size: 11.3" x 9.13" x 0.77" H, weights 3.07 pounds. Magnesium + aluminum alloy case.

Display: 12.1" XGA TFT LCD display (1024 x 768). Video controller integrated in 830MG chipset (Intel 82830GM graphics controller). Can drive an external monitor. Max video RAM is 48 megs (shared with system memory, not dedicated video memory).

Sound: Avance AC97 compatible, 16 bit sampling and playback.

Processor: 866 MHz Intel® Mobile Pentium® III, 512K secondary cache

Standard RAM: 256 megs, expandable to 512 MB

Drives: 40 GB hard drive. External USB 6x speed CDROM drive included.

Ports: 1 PCMCIA slot (supports type I & II as well as CardBus), 1 CF type II, 1 FireWire (IE1394) 4 pin non-powered, 2 USB, RJ45 Ethernet, VGA, parallel, audio in and out

Modem: Integrated 56K modem (Lucent soft modem)

Ethernet: Integrated Intel 10/100 baseT, built-in WiFi (802.11b) wireless.

Battery: Lithium Ion

Software: Windows 2000 Professional


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