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Introduction or a Few Words on Santa Rosa Refresh

Our latest notebook reviews have dealt with the fourth generation of the Centrino platform which is known under the codename of Santa Rosa. From the previous platform called Napa Refresh it had inherited the processor (with a different socket) and the overall Centrino concept (that the platform incorporates a mobile CPU, a chipset and a Wi-Fi adapter).

Even though there is no real market competition (AMD makes but feeble attempts to promote its mobile CPUs), Intel announced a new series of mobile processors at the beginning of this year. Based on the Penryn core, these CPUs added the Refresh suffix to the name of Santa Rosa.

Like their desktop counterparts, Penryn-core mobile processors are Intel’s first processors manufactured on 0.45nm tech process. The fundamental difference from the previous Core 2 Duo generation is the use of a metallic gate rather than a gate made from polycrystalline silicon. Coupled with a high-k dielectric (hafnium silicide), this helped increase the overall transistor density and reduce drain currents and power consumption.

Thanks to the new tech process Intel’s engineers increased the default clock rates for the entire CPU series while staying within the typical power dissipation of 35 watts. Or in other words, they lowered the power consumption of CPUs with the same clock rate. Now the clock rate starts from 2.1GHz in the junior model marked as Core 2 Duo T8100. Again, the introduction of the new 45nm tech process made it possible to pack more transistors into a single CPU die. The engineers caught at the opportunity and increased the size of the L2 cache. Older 65nm Merom-core processors have 2 or 4 megabytes of shared L2 cache, but 45nm Penryn-core processors come with 3 or 6 megabytes of L2 cache memory.

The FSB frequency will remain the same as long as the Penryn belongs to the Santa Rosa Refresh platform, namely 800MHz, but will be increased in the next incarnation of the Centrino 2 platform codenamed Montevina where the FSB frequency is expected to be as high as 1066MHz.

There are also less obvious improvements in the processor’s power-saving technologies and Intel Dynamic Acceleration (the point of this technology is in overclocking one of the processor’s cores when the other is idle).

Besides having more cache memory, the new CPU series have acquired a new feature called enhanced cache line split load. It is meant to accelerate the fetching of cache data that are located in different cache lines rather than in one line. In fact, this feature allows to fetch such data as fast as if the data were in the same cache line.

The entire Penryn series brings about a new set of SIMD instructions (SSE4), 47 in total. Although numerous, these instructions do not make up a connected set. Instead, SSE4 includes diverse additions to the existing SIMD instruction sets. Intel’s Advanced Digital Media Boost technology accelerates the processing of video, speech and images, photography transformation and encryption, and the execution of financial, engineering and scientific applications. Penryn processors’ support for Intel HD Boost and SSE4 ensures higher performance in multimedia applications.

Logically enough, the CPU series nomenclature has changed somewhat, too. The first numeral can be either 8 or 9 for 3MB and 6MB of L2 cache memory, respectively. The basic Penryn is the 2.1GHz T8100 model that begins the series. The X9000 model with a typical heat dissipation of 44W and a clock rate of 2.8GHz is the most advanced model in the new mobile series. Merom-core CPUs are far slower than that.

As you may have already guessed, we are talking about the Penryn core in this introduction because we have got a notebook with this processor. It is the M50Sv model from ASUS.

Besides the new CPU, the notebook features a lot of other innovations ASUS developers managed to squeeze into the 15-inch form-factor. By the way, the letter M in the notebook’s name stands for Multimedia. That’s why the notebook uses a discrete graphics core GeForce 9500M GS with 512 megabytes of dedicated graphics memory. It also comes with as much as 4 gigabytes of system memory which is the maximum the Santa Rosa Refresh platform supports. The notebook can automatically adjust the level of brightness of its LCD panel by means of a lighting sensor in order to reduce your eye strain at work. A full-size keyboard, unusual for a 15-inch notebook, is built into the case. The touchpad serves two purposes at once as a pointing device and as a control panel for multimedia applications. The notebook carries Altec Lansing speakers, a set of microphones, and a digital sound processor that ensures a crystal-sharp sound from those microphones.

The M50Sv comes with a generous selection of interfaces. Besides traditional ports, it features e-SATA for high-speed external drives and HDMI for viewing high-definition video on appropriate display devices. The notebook may optionally be equipped with a 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi adapter, a 1GB Intel Turbo Memory module, an optical DVD-drive with LightScribe technology (writing text or drawing pictures on the unused surface of a disc) or a Blu-ray or HD-DVD drive (the latter standard is now defunct, though). The notebook’s exterior design is called ASUS Infusion Technology which means a new coating material that is more resistant to the elements. Some configurations may even include a TV-tuner. As a result, we have a full-featured multimedia computer weighing a reasonable 2.8 kilos.

Besides checking out the exterior design and internal configuration of the ASUS M50Sv, we are going to benchmark it in comparison with ASUS’s G1S notebook, a model from the gaming series we have tested earlier. We will see the difference between Penryn and Merom-core processors as well as between GeForce 9500M GS and GeForce 8600M GT graphics cores.

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