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Today we will talk about notebooks based on CPUs from AMD. Mobile processors from this company are not very expensive and also feature the energy-saving PowerNow! technology, which allows designing laptops offering very attractive price-to-performance ratio and boasting very long-lasting batteries.

At the same time, notebooks based on mobile Athlon XP processors used to have certain pretty serious drawbacks. It was mostly caused by the lack of up-to-date and high-performing chipsets for AMD CPUs. It seems absurd now, but until March 2002 there were no mobile DDR chipsets for Athlon/Duron CPU families at all, although this memory type was already an industry standard. The first chipset to break this sad tendency was RADEON IGP 320M from ATI. It was soon followed by VIA KN266. However, the first of them is still more popular now and you can come across ATI RADEON IGP 320M in mass notebooks more often. Compaq was one of the first companies to use RADEON IGP 320M. You can see different processors from the mobile Athlon XP family in Compaq Presario 900 notebooks, but they all have the same chipset: RADEON IGP 320M.

Before discussing the Compaq Presario 900, let's talk about the capabilities of the RADEON IGP 320M chipset. It's a rare guest in today's desktop as well as mobile systems.

As we see, RADEON IGP 320M is based on traditional architecture. Its North Bridge has a 64bit memory controller supporting one 64bit DDR SDRAM channel. The supported memory types are PC2100 DDR SDRAM and PC1600 DDR SDRAM. RADEON IGP 320M supports CPUs with 200MHz or 266MHz system bus. The North Bridge also includes a RADEON VE graphics core, which we are going to talk about a little later.

The South Bridge connects to the North Bridge via an ordinary 33MHz 32bit PCI bus. South Bridge may be manufactured by ATI itself (in this case it is IXP 200 or IXP 250 chip) or by third parties. Thus, the Compaq Presario 900 series uses ALI M1535+ chips. This chip features AC-Link Host controller, hardware modem solution, ACPI support, "green function" support, 6 USB ports, dual-channel ATA/UDMA-100 IDE, and controllers for SMBus, PS/2 Keyboard/Mouse and Super I/O (floppy disk controller, 2 serial ports/1 parallel port).

These are also the main components of our Compaq Presario 900. Let's now take a closer look at this notebook from the end-user's point of view.

Closer Look

The design of this model sticks to the company's traditions: the silver color of the upper cover contrasts with the black plastic of the side surfaces. The edges of the sensor panel and the additional scroll button are rounded up. The display latch is also of an original construction.

This notebook has an integrated FDD and a CD-ROM drive, which has become a pretty rare thing for Value products of the kind.

The front panel carries two loudspeakers with the cover latch in between them and two status indicators on the sides (the active mode indicator is on the left, the battery charge indicator - on the right).

The left side of Presario 900 has (from left to right) a Kensington lock socket, cooling system grid, one slot for PCMCIA CardBus Type II devices, and a floppy disk drive.

The audio ports (microphone input and headphones output) are placed on the back panel of the notebook as well as the power supply unit connector. The plastic cover also hides the following: two USB ports, a ventilation opening, a composite video out, an output port for the external display, a PS/2 port to connect an external mouse or keyboard, a parallel port, cooling system grid, RJ-45 LAN and RJ-11 modem ports.

The right side of the notebook carries a rechargeable battery, a CDRW-DVD drive and a four-pin IEEE-1394 connector. The front panel of the drive has a built-in infrared port window.

So, this notebook has a full range of various connectors for peripherals except the serial ports. However, the location of these ports leaves much to be desired. The USB ports are situated at the back of the device and are also hidden by a not very convenient plastic cover. So, you need to involve both hands and prove very adroit if you want to plug the cable into the connector successfully. Besides, the integrated infrared port in the CD-ROM drive can cause some problems when both devices are used simultaneously.

The cooling system of Presario 900 is well-designed and protects it against overheating quite well: the ventilation openings are placed on top, at the bottom, on the left side and at the case rare panel.

The user will have no problems upgrading RAM or replacing the HDD as they can be accessed easily. The miniPCI slot is also accessible, but it comes already occupied by the modem. Actually, considering the availability of the modem, LAN and WLAN controllers in the notebook, we can hardly think of a useful device to install into the miniPCI slot.

The antenna of the wireless LAN controller is built into the upper cover of the notebook.

The keyboard is made of black plastic. It's typical of notebooks from this series. The cursor keys are moved a little forward, while additional navigational keys (Home, End, PgUp, PgDn) are grouped, too, and placed according to their functions. In our opinion, the Insert key isn't in its right place. It's located next to the Space bar and can be accidentally pressed, which will switch between the Insert/Replace modes.

You can only control the CD-ROM drive with the functional keys when the notebook is turned on. So, it would be impossible to listen to audio CDs without powering the system up.

Above the keyboard, there are functional keys, including the power key and volume control keys as well as the following indicators: AC supply, NumLock and CapsLock modes and HDD access.

The rounded touch pad is circled with a silvery rim. Besides the two standard keys, it also features a scroll key. This pointing device design is also traditional for the entire Presario series.

The loudspeaker system of the notebook is manufactured by JBL. The JBL Pro speakers built into the front panel provide the best sound quality we have ever heard by entry-level and mainstream notebooks. There is only one thing to be mentioned: unfortunately, the volume control increment is too small, so you have to press and hold for a while the appropriate functional key before the sound is perceptibly louder or softer. The notebook has no integrated microphone.

Configuration

ChipsetATI IGP 320M
BIOS/Version Phoenix, version 4.0 Release 6.0
Processor
Cache
AMD Mobile Athlon XP 1700+ (1.467GHz)
256KB
Bus frequency133MHz
RAM size256MB DDR SDRAM
Memory frequency266MHz
Max. memory size1GB
Number of memory slots/Free slots2/1
Display
Resolution
Colors
15.1" TFT
1600x1200
32bit
Graphics systemATI Mobility U1
Graphics memory16MB-64MB (is dynamically taken from RAM)
Hard disk drive30GB, IBM IC25N030ATCS04-0, ATA-5, UDMA-100
Spindle rotation speed
Cache
4200rpm
2MB
3.5" floppy drive1.44MB
CD-ROM drive8x/8x/24x/8x CDRW-DVD, Teac DW-28E
Sound subsystemALI M5451 AC'97
SpeakersStereo, JBL Pro
Infrared portIrDA 1.1 FIR/SIR
PCMCIA controllerTexas Instruments PCI-1410 CardBus
PCMCIA slots1xPCMCIA 2.1 type II
MiniPCI slots/Free slots1/0
ModemConexant HSFi V.92
Network cardRealtek RTL8139 PCI Fast Ethernet
USB controllerALI, USB 1.1
IEEE-1394 controllerTexas Instruments
Interfaces: LPT/COM/USB/IEEE1394/IrDA 1/0/2/1/1
Communications:
Modem/LAN/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth
1/1/1/0
Audio ports: In/Out/Mic/SP-DIF 0/1/1/0
Power supply unitAC: 100-240V, 1.6A, 50-60Hz; DC: 18.5V, 3.5A
Battery14.8V, 4.0AHr
Dimensions (L x W x H)325 x 269 x 38.1 mm
Weight3.0kg

Overall System Performance

AMD Athlon XP processors feature AMD PowerNow! technology. It changes the CPU frequency depending on the current workload when the notebook is powered by the rechargeable battery. That is why we show two values for some tests. They stand for the result with the power-saving technology turned off (the first value) and on (the second value given in brackets). We should note that the power-saving technology support is implemented here via the operation system.

Benchmark and settingsPerformance
BAPCo/MadOnion MobileMark 2002Compaq Presario 900
   Productivity workload - Performance rating80 (55)
   Productivity workload - Average response time (sec)2.45 (3.55)
   Productivity workload - Battery life rating (min)162 (207)
   Reader workload - Battery life rating (min)(226)
ZD Business Winstone2002 1.0.229.2 (29.1)
ZD Content Creation Winstone2002 1.020.4 (19.7)
BAPCo/MadOnion PCMark 2002 Pro
   CPU score4162 (1634)
   Memory score2262 (1578)
   HDD score371 (300)
ZD Winbench 99 2.0
   Business Disk WinMark2970 (2970)
   High-End Disk WinMark8340 (8070)
   Business Graphics WinMark193 (193)
   High-End Graphics WinMark1120 (1120)
MadOnion 3DMark 2000
(1024x768, 16bit color, 16bit Texture Format, 16bit Z-buffer depth,
Double Frame Buffer, Hardware T&L
2559
MadOnion 3DMark 2001 SE
(1024x768, 16bit color, 16bit Texture Format, 16bit Z-buffer depth,
Double Frame Buffer, D3D Software T&L
1822
   Battery life, min72

The notebook showed good performance in tests that emulate work in office applications (MobileMark 2002) with discrete CPU workload (the running application is periodically stopped for a while). The big gap between the results with and without power-saving means the CPU frequency is greatly reduced during the pauses in applications' work. The difference in battery life spans suggests the same thing.

As for the tests that run their applications without any pauses (Winstone 2001, Content Creation Winstone 2002, Winbench 99), there is no perceptible difference in notebook performance with power-saving technology turned on or off. It means that the CPU works at its maximum clock-rate (under constant workload).

The results in PC Mark 2002 Pro show how much the enabled power-saving mode affects the notebook performance.

Graphics Subsystem Performance

The graphics subsystem of the Compaq Presario 900 is less efficient as that used in the notebooks we have reviewed earlier (see our article called Compaq Presario 2810T vs. Toshiba Satellite 1900-703: ATI against NVIDIA on Mobile Arena). It uses integrated graphics, while Compaq Presario 2810T features a MOBILITY RADEON 9000 add-on graphics card.

The graphics core we have in the IGP 320M is an adapted version of the RADEON VE chip. You may get the impression that the IGP 320M, as well as the RADEON VE, seems too out-dated now and is no match for current graphics cards. It may be true, but only if we talk about desktop gaming systems. The mobile world has its own priorities. Of course, the performance of the graphics subsystem is important, but the focus here is made on the other parameters: power consumption, functionality, user-friendliness, dimensions, etc. So, the graphics core integrated into the IGP 320M may still prove very efficient.

The integrated graphics core of the IGP320M doesn't have dedicated graphics memory and uses some part of the system RAM for its needs. This helps to reduce the cost of the system as well as its dimensions. The graphics subsystem occupies no place at all in the Presario 900: the core is integrated into the chipset and the graphics memory is a part of the system RAM.

However, integrated graphics has its disadvantages, too.

Firstly, the system RAM loses a certain part of its resourse. It's not crucial, though, as the memory amount necessary for the graphics core is not static but varies depending on its needs.

Secondly, the weak point of the integrated graphics is its performance. The graphics core adds workload onto the memory bus, which is also loaded by the CPU. So, we have the CPU and the graphics core sharing the bus bandwidth. And for example, it's only 2.1GB/sec in case of 266MHz DDR SDRAM. It's too little compared to local graphics memory bandwidth in modern graphics cards. For instance, the memory bandwidth in ATI RADEON 8500 is 8.8GB/sec.

So, let's compare the specs of the graphics core from the IGM 320M chipset with its desktop ancestor - RADEON VE. We also included into the table the RADEON 9000 MOBILITY. It's a modern mobile graphics solution based on the RADEON 8500 architecture, which is not integrated into the system chipset but is a stand alone chip. For your reference: RADEON 8500 is two generations younger than RADEON 256.

NotebookCompaq
Presario 900
-Compaq Presario
2810T
Graphics coreATI MOBILITY U1
(IGP 320M)
ATI RADEON VEATI MOBILITY RADEON 9000
Graphics memory16MB-64MB (dynamically taken from RAM)
32bit DDR SDRAM
32MB
64bit DDR SDRAM
32MB unified buffer,
128bit DDR SDRAM
Chip/memory clock frequencies160MHz/133MHz (266MHz DDR)150MHz/183MHz (366MHz DDR)220MHz/220MHz (440MHz DDR)
Peak memory bus bandwidth2.1GB/sec2.9GB/sec6.7GB/sec
Pixel pipelines114
Texturing units per pipeline331
Max. fillrate, Mpixels/sec1601501064
Max. fillrate with multitexturing, Mtexels/sec4804501064
Max. number of textures laid per pass with multitexturing336
Texture filteringbi-linear
tri-linear
anisotropic (up to 16x)
bi-linear
tri-linear
anisotropic (up to 16x)
bi-linear
tri-linear
anisotropic (up to 16x)
Hardware T&L unitNoneNoneYes
DirectX8 pixel shadersnonoyes, version 1.4 (DirectX 8.1)
DirectX8 vertex shadersnonoyes, version 1.1 (DirectX 8.1)
Full-scene anti-aliasingyes, 2x..4x supersamplingyes, 2x..4x supersamplingyes, 2x..6x supersampling
Video and DVD playbackColor spaces conversion, motion compensation, DVD-iDCT hardware decompression.Color spaces conversion, motion compensation, DVD-iDCT hardware decompression.FULLSTREAM technology: eliminates the artifacts of block video compression.
VIDEOSHADER: involves pixel shader units to process the video images, performs color spaces conversion, motion compensation, DVD-iDCT hardware decompression.
Dual-monitor configurationsYes (any combinations of its own display, CRT, TV)YesYes (any combinations of its own display, CRT, TV)
TV-OutYes, S-Video, NTSC/PAL, max. resolution up to 1024x768YesYes, S-Video, NTSC/PAL, max. resolution up to 1024x768
Power saving technologiesYes, PowerPlay technology: Disables the clock signal for the uninvolved blocks of the graphics core, monitors the power supply type and battery status, managers the working frequency flexibly in real time adjusting it according to the applications needs. Yes, PowerMizer technology: Disables the clock signal for the uninvolved blocks of the graphics core, monitors the power supply type and battery status, managers the working frequency flexibly in real time adjusting it according to the applications needs.

Judging by the specs, the IGP 320M graphics core offers the full set of capabilities required for a mobile graphics chip. Although it's not a record-breaking solution as far as 3D performance is concerned, the system with the IGP 320M will allow playing simple 3D games. Some 3D applications, which don't demand high graphics chip performance, will also feel at ease running on the IGP 320M.

Benchmark and settingsPerformance
Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo
Color: 32bit; Texture Detail: Normal;
World Detail: High; Character Detail: Normal;
Physics Detail: High; All Options: ON;
Decay Stay: High
Compaq
Presario 900
Compaq
Presario 2810T
Toshiba
Satellite 1900-703
Flyby:
    800x600, fps23.978.7176.76
    1024x768, fps15.8952.1751.12
    1280x1024, fps-34.2232.66
BotMatch:
    800x600, fps13.2637.8540.27
    1024x768, fps9.4933.9032.91
    1280x1024, fps-25.2920.25

Unreal Tournament 2003 is far from being a "simple 3D game". This 3D shooter is quite hard for the graphics card and is supposed to run acceptably only on most up-to-date solutions.

The IGP 320M has only one pixel pipeline working at an average frequency. It doesn't have T&L unit and vertex shaders support. So, its low results are quite natural.

Benchmark and settingsPerformance
Serious Sam SE, The Grand Cathedral
Quality; 1024x768; Color: 32bit;
Texture Size: Tiny; Texture Quality: 32bit;
Effect Quality: 32bit; Textures: Detail;
Shadowmap: Large; Lens: Std;
Nosound
Compaq
Presario 900
Compaq
Presario 2810T
Toshiba
Satellite 1900-703
    Originally recorded, fps15.751.233.2
    Without excessive peaks, fps15.951.633.6
    High peak, fps30.4115.751.8
    Low peak, fps10.633.024.4
    High sustained, fps24.382.544.2
    Low sustained, fps12.038.626.3

Serious Sam: The Second Encounter is one more rather new game that demands a lot from the graphics subsystem. The Compaq Presario 900 with its IGP 320M graphics core shows low results here, too.

Benchmark and settingsPerformance
Quake3, DM6
1280x1024; Color: 32bit; Lightmap;
Geometric Detail: High; Texture Detail: Max;
Texture Quality: 32bit; Texture Filter: Trilinear
Compaq
Presario 900
Compaq
Presario 2810T
Toshiba
Satellite 1900-703
    Frames126012601260
    Time, sec25.713.114.5
    Result, fps23.996.586.8

Quake3 Arena proves once again that the Compaq Presario 900 is not a gaming machine.

Conclusion

The graphics core integrated into the IGP 320M chipset was developed from the ATI RADEON VE graphics chip. This solution was originally intended for "office" use, so the IGP 320M is also an "office" rather than "gaming" chipset.

To sum it all up, we have every reason to state that Compaq Presario 900 notebook equipped with an AMD Mobile Athlon XP 1700+, 256MB DDR SDRAM, a CDRW-DVD drive, a high-capacity HDD and rich set of communication options is a perfect solution for a mobile office and will cope successfully with everyday routine. Even though you will not be able to play 3D games with comfort, I don't think it's a big drawback for a solution like Compaq Presario 900, don't you agree? :)

 
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