by Alexander Britvin
07/11/2006 | 10:32 AM
There are things that endure and are better left unchanged whatever current fashion dictates because they are just good as they already are. These words can be said about the A6 series of portable computers manufactured by ASUS.
The classic and restrained exterior of this series has remained mostly intact whereas its hardware stuffing has been changing dramatically. The A6 series has tried on almost all the processors meant for use in notebooks. About a year ago we tested the ASUS A6Q00K model that was based on the then-new Turion 64 processor from AMD, the first processor from this company that was developed specifically for mobile computers. A6 series notebooks with Intel’s Pentium M and Celeron M inside are still selling, too. So it might have been expected that ASUS wouldn’t wait for long to update its popular and rather affordable series after the early 2006 release of the Napa platform. Several models on the new dual- and single-core processors from Intel – Core Duo and Core Solo, respectively – were soon available in shops.
But while the dual-core Napa is pressing upon and ousting older single-core solutions, the new Intel Core Solo has remained in the shadow. We want now to fill the informational vacuum by testing a portable computer from the A6 series that is based on the Core Duo’s single-core brother. Its model name is ASUS A6Q00Jc011.
When the multithreaded environment oriented series of CPUs was introduced to the public, the 1.66GHz Core Solo, the only single-core Yonah-based processor then announced, was regarded as nothing more but an analog of the Celeron M. In other words, as a cheap or value product with a number of innovations associated with the Napa platform missing.
However, the Intel Core Solo turned to be a full-fledged 65nm processor that supports all the technologies implemented in the whole new CPU series that can be applied to a single core, namely: the time-tested power-saving technology Enhanced Intel SpeedStep that allows reducing the CPU clock rate under low loads; the new technology Dynamic Cache Sizing which turns off idle sections of the cache memory; the so-called Intel Digital Media Burst (this means that besides the SSE and SSE2 instruction sets, the Core Solo supports SSE3 whose 13 new instructions are widely used in multimedia applications and in modern 3D games). This CPU is supplied along with Intel’s Calistoga 945GM/PM chipsets and Intel’s WLAN adapters PRO/Wireless 3945BG or 3945ABG. The single-core platform is codenamed Napa, and notebooks based on it carry the traditional “Intel Centrino” logo or the “Intel Core Solo inside” sticker.
The Intel Core Solo is meant for users who didn’t need to run multithreaded applications but want to have a high-performance processor with support for the most advanced mobile technologies of today. The single-core processor is unlikely to become more popular than the Core Duo because the lack of the dual-core capabilities is not fully compensated by the 15% difference in price and the slightly lower power consumption (the latter parameter is only different when the Core Duo uses both its cores simultaneously; otherwise its power consumption is roughly on the same level). So, it seems the Core Solo is going to be demanded mostly in cheapest notebooks where the manufacturer tries to save just on everything.
First I’ll give you a brief overview of the exterior design of the ASUS A6Q00Jc011 (for note: the letter “Q” denotes the type of the matrix; the letter “J” means the Napa platform; the letter “c” is indicative of an Nvidia graphics adapter). Then I will compare its performance with that of the ASUS V6X00J we’ve recently tested in our labs (for details see our article called ASUS V6J Notebook on Intel Dual-Core Processor) – it has a 1.66GHz processor and an Intel Calistoga 945PM chipset, too, and a lot of other similarities in configuration. The main difference between these two notebooks is the number of CPU cores. The ASUS V6X00J has an Intel Core Duo inside.
The box with the notebook looks just the opposite of its price. It lacks any decorations or gaudy colors, bearing only the name of the product series and the black ASUS logo at the top of each side. You will find this box in a bigger, plain-looking package along with a bag to carry the notebook around.
Traditionally for ASUS, the A6Q00Jc011 notebook comes with a lot of accessories. Besides the notebook proper, the box contains a 4800mAh battery, power adapter, phone cable, TV cable, documentation, a wired USB mouse with the ASUS logo in the middle, a bag to carry the notebook in, and a set of discs:
The notebook looks an exact copy of the ASUS A6Q00K model except for the color scheme. The color of the case is somewhat darker now, and some connectors have been replaced with newer ones. So, we’ve got a dark-silver case with a black band on the lid near the hinges (by the way, the screen bezel and the area between the screen and the keyboard is painted black, too). The appearance of the notebook is overall classic and reserved; the angles are slightly rounded as is characteristic of products from this manufacturer; the notebook’s top half is shorter than the bottom one. There is a light-silver insert on the notebook’s bottom half on which Audio DJ buttons and system indicators are placed. They remain visible irrespective of the position of the notebook’s lid.
The Audio DJ feature allows playing music from discs without booting the OS up. It is controlled with these buttons:
There is an indicator between the Turn-On and Previous Track buttons that shows the status of the Audio DJ feature.
The system indicators next to the Audio DJ buttons include (from left to right):
There are two latches on the right and left of the front edge of the lid. They hold the lid firmly in place, but it’s not easy to open the notebook up (at least you can’t do that with one hand as you can with single-latch notebooks).
I opened the lid up to find that the same color scheme continues inside. The hinges protrude from the bottom of the case, allowing to unfold the notebook by 180 degrees, and are painted black. The area between them and the keyboard is black, too, and it’s here that the instant-launch keys and a second group of system indicators are located.
Right above the display there is an oval window with an integrated microphone and an (optional) 1.3-megapixel web-camera. The camera is missing in our sample of the notebook.
The instant-launch buttons above the keyboard (the button you turn the notebook on with is on the right of them) include the following:
Right below the instant-launch buttons there is a second group of system indicators:
Like the rest of the A6 series, the ASUS A6Q00Jc011 is equipped with a 15.4” matrix with a maximum resolution of 1280x800 and an aspect ratio of 16:10 (WXGA). The vertical and horizontal viewing angles are not very wide, but will do for normal work. The glassy coating of the display helps make the image more saturated, but also reflects any object that stands in front of the notebook. So you have to take care about proper lighting before you sit down with this notebook to work.
The matrix is manufactured with ASUS’ Color Shine technology. ASUS claims this technology of making “glassy” LCD displays improves image quality and color saturation, thus resulting in a lively and colorful image.
The A6Q00Jc011 offers 16 grades of brightness but you can’t use the computer at the lowest brightness setting because it’s virtually impossible to discern anything in the screen then.
I measured the brightness and contrast of the notebook’s display using a Pantone ColorVision Spyder with OptiCAL version 3.7.8 software. I selected the highest brightness setting before this test, but it was considerably reduced when the notebook switched to its battery, automatically enabling power-saving mode. The brightness parameter is good, but the contrast ratio is low irrespective of the power source:
AC power source:
DC power source:
Like other notebooks in this series, the ASUS A6Q00Jc011 has a wide touchpad surrounded with a silvery bezel. The two buttons below work as the mouse’s left and right buttons. The black touch-sensitive area with a scrolling zone on the right is big enough for you to cross the entire width of the screen without taking your finger off it. There is no scrolling joystick here.
The ASUS A6Q00Jc011 has an 89-key black keyboard. The Enter button is shaped classically like the letter L. The movement keys are below the keyboard’s baseline, so there’s a smaller risk of your pressing them accidentally. The left Fn button is located in the bottom left corner, not quite conveniently for people who are used to shortcuts like Ctrl+C or Ctrl+V (Fn may be unintentionally pressed instead of Ctrl). The right Fn is placed above the Right Arrow button. Numeric buttons and three special Windows keys are available: the Context Menu key is located above the Left Arrow button; the two Windows key are in the bottom row on both sides of the spacebar. The functional keys are smaller than others; Home, PgUp, PgDn and End make up a vertical column on the right. Pause, Print Screen, Insert and Delete are placed in the same line with the functional keys (press them in combination with Fn to access their additional functions).
The only thing you will find on the left side of the ASUS A6Q00Jc011 is an optical drive with an activity indicator, disc eject button, and an emergency eject hole.
The notebook’s right panel offers the following (from left to right):
And these are the components located on the ASUS A6Q00Jc011’s back panel:
The USB ports are placed rather too densely, which may raise some difficulties. They should have spread them to the other panels, too.
The A6 series differs from other ASUS notebooks in having the battery at the front, under your hands. The battery has a capacity of 4800mAh.
On the notebook’s bottom panel there are: CPU, memory, hard drive and miniPCI compartments, a battery module with two locks (manual and spring-loaded), a holder for your personal card, an emergency shutdown button and a reset hole (in case the Ctrl+Alt+Del combination doesn’t work), stickers with information about the model and the OS serial number, and two stereo speakers.
There are two slots in the memory compartment one of which is occupied with a 512MB module. The second slot is free and is easily accessible, so you can enlarge the amount of memory up to the supported maximum of 2048MB.
As I wrote at the beginning of the review, the ASUS A6Q00Jc011 features the new single-core processor from Intel called Core Solo with a rating of T1300 and a clock rate of 1.66GHz. This CPU is based on the 65nm Yonah core and has 2MB of cache memory. Besides Intel’s traditional Enhanced Intel SpeedStep technology that gives the notebook’s software and BIOS control over the CPU frequency multiplier (to reduce it under low loads), this CPU supports the Dynamic Cache Sizing feature (i.e. turns off unused cache segments to reduce power consumption). The Core Solo also supports the most recently added SSE3 instruction set. More information about the processor and the technologies it supports can be found at the manufacturer’s website.
The Napa platform also incorporates an Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG adapter and an Intel Calistoga 945PM chipset. This chipset supports DDR2 SO-DIMMs, thus offering more memory bandwidth at lower power consumption, and a PCI Express x16 interface for an external graphics card. The ICH7-M chip is used as the chipset’s South Bridge and is connected to the North Bridge via a special-purpose Direct Media Interface. The South Bridge supports one Parallel ATA port, two Serial ATA ports, eight USB 2.0 ports and Intel High Definition Audio. It also offers six PCI Express x1 lanes to connect external devices.
The ASUS A6Q00Jc011 employs a discrete graphics processor Nvidia GeForce Go 7300 with TurboCache technology and 128MB of dedicated graphics memory. This graphics core is manufactured on 0.09-micron tech process and consumes less power as the result – the developer optimized it for thin, light and ultra-portable solutions. TurboCache technology enables the graphics processor to use the dedicated graphics memory along with a dynamically allotted portion of system RAM for higher overall performance. The GeForce Go 7300 can be given up to 256MB of system RAM if the total amount of system memory is below 1GB and up to 512MB if there are more than 1GB of system memory installed. This graphics processor also features Nvidia’s PureVideo technology that provides high-quality HD video playback and the power management technology PowerMizer 6.0. For more information about this GPU and the technologies it supports visit the Nvidia website.
The following table compares the GeForce Go 7300 graphics core with the GeForce Go 7400 – these are the graphics processors in the notebooks to be compared in our today’s tests.
The ASUS A6Q00Jc011 employs a Matshita UJ-841S DVD-burner and a 2.5” hard disk drive Fujitsu MHV2060AT PL with a spindle rotation speed of 4200rpm and a storage capacity of 60GB.
The notebook uses 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM. The memory slots are both easily accessible, one is already occupied with a 512MB module and the other is empty. So, you can add more memory to this notebook, up to the maximum supported amount of 2048MB.
I measured the temperature of the hottest spots on the notebook’s surfaces with an infrared thermometer after it had worked for half an hour in the Classic test mode of Battery Eater Pro 2.60 (the ambient temperature remained constant at 23°C during this test) and got the following numbers:
The table below lists the technical specs of the ASUS A6Q00Jc011 and compares them with those of the ASUS V6X00J011:
The notebook’s hard drive was formatted in NTFS before the tests. Then I installed Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2 with DirectX 9.0c, system drivers (from the included disc), and Windows Media Encoder 9.0 with Windows Media Player 9.0.
The following settings were used for the tests:
Two power modes were used. First, I selected the Always On power mode for the maximum performance and the shortest battery life. Then I switched to the Max Battery mode for the maximum battery run-down time.
There are three test modes in Battery Eater:
I used the first two modes as they are in Battery Eater, but in the Idle mode (when the test utility doesn’t put any load of its own on the notebook) I played a DVD movie.
As usual, I will first run synthetic benchmarks.
SiSoftware Sandra 2004 measures the overall performance of the system as well as that of each of its subsystems, while PCMark 2004 benchmarks the computer performance in office and multimedia applications and also produces performance scores for the main subsystems (CPU, memory, graphical, and disk subsystem).
The CPU tests from SiSoftware Sandra 2005 show an almost twofold advantage of the dual-core processor over the Intel Core Solo. There is also a considerable difference between the notebooks in the graphics tests: the ASUS A6Q00Jc011 has a weaker graphics core than the ASUS V6X00J011 (GeForce Go 7300 against GeForce Go 7400). The worse results of the reviewed notebook in the disk subsystem tests are due to its having a HDD with a lower spindle rotation speed. The results of the CPU tests drop nearly by two times when the notebooks work on their batteries because they both reduce their CPU frequency to 1GHz to save power.
The Business Winstone 2004 test runs scripts of the following real-life office applications, several scripts at a time to simulate multi-tasking: Internet Explorer, Outlook, Word, Excel, Access, Project, PowerPoint, FrontPage, WinZip, and Norton AntiVirus Professional Edition.
The Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 test determines the performance of a computer in the following multimedia applications: Windows Media Encoder, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premiere, NewTek LightWave 3D, Steinberg WaveLab, Micromedia Dreamweaver MX, and Micromedia Director MX.
The latest program versions were used, adapted specifically for dual-core processors. The results are presented in the following table and diagrams:
It is the CPU that largely determines the outcome of the Winstone tests, but multithreading is not used. That’s why the notebooks have similar results (the more complex Core Duo processor is even a little slower in this test). When the notebooks work on their batteries, their results are lower proportionally to the CPU frequency drop.
Next I tested the notebooks’ discrete graphics cores in 3DMark 2003 3.60.
3DMark uses a set of 3D scenes rendered by its own graphics engine to check the capabilities of a computer’s graphics subsystem.
The results are indicative of how weak the Nvidia GeForce Go 7300 is in comparison with the 7400 GPU. These graphics processors do not slow down as much as ATI’s when the notebooks work on their batteries, which allows using them on the run without losing much in the graphics performance.
Next, I tested the notebooks in two modes in Quake 3:
Strangely enough, it is the ASUS A6Q00Jc011 that wins this test in the low resolution, but everything is normal as soon as you enable higher, real-life resolutions. The speeds go down when the notebooks work on their batteries, but remain within acceptable limits anyway.
The last graphics benchmark agrees with the earlier results. The Nvidia GeForce Go 7400 looks preferable to the Nvidia GeForce 7300.
The notebook’s battery life was measured with Battery Eater Pro 2.60. The test was performed at the maximum screen brightness in the following modes:
The ASUS A6Q00Jc011 consumes less power than the ASUS V6X00J011 and can last longer on its battery as a result. One hour of autonomous work in the Reader’s mode is quite a lot, considering the rather advanced configuration of the notebook.
Here are the battery discharge diagrams for the different operation modes:
The Intel Core Solo has made a successful debut in our tests. If you don’t run multi-threaded applications, a portable computer with this last-generation single-core processor from Intel may suit you fine. The lack of dual-core capabilities is compensated by the lower price and the lower power consumption of the single-core CPU. It is also a rather big step forward over the Intel Pentium M series in terms of performance as well as battery life.
The ASUS A6Q00Jc011 notebook leaves a nice impression, having quite appealing price/quality and price/capabilities ratios. It can last longer on its battery and offers more performance than notebooks based on the older mobile platform, and thus has a chance to be as successful on the market as it has been in our tests.