Dual-Core Budget Platform: Asus A6Rp Notebook Review

As you’ve had an opportunity to see from our previous articles, the balance of pros and cons of the A6 series remains almost the same irrespective of the exact configuration. Carrying on the tradition of the series, the ASUS A6Rp brings to you perfectly balanced price/quality and price/performance proportions. Read more in our new article.

by Alexander Britvin
06/07/2007 | 09:44 AM

There are rich people and there are not very rich people, but whatever category you belong to, you are likely to agree on one point – everyone wants to buy as much as he can for as little money as possible regardless of the fact that free cheese can only be found in the mousetrap. It is for such people who are afraid of overpaying or who just can’t afford anything else but need something real bad that the low-end product category was invented.

 

What is a low-end notebook, anyway? A few years ago it was nothing but a typewriter you could carry about with you from time to time. Such notebooks have acquired faster CPUs, larger hard disks, and a lot of wireless interfaces eventually, yet there has never been an entry-level notebook solution with two CPU cores.

Finally, in response to notebook manufacturers Intel has cut down its top-end model to create a new CPU segment between the entry-level Celeron and the better-level Core 2 Duo.

The new CPU is called Intel Pentium Dual-Core. It has nothing to do with the Pentium M or Celeron, being closer to the Core Duo. It is based on the 65nm Yonah core with a shared 1MB L2 cache, which is half the minimum amount of cache memory in the full-featured Yonah and Merom processors. The bus frequency is reduced to 533MHz, which brings the new CPU closer to the Dothan-core Pentium M. The bottom CPU frequency, enabled in power-saving mode, is 800MHz. The Yonah’s power-saving technologies are all available, too: Enhanced SpeedStep technology that gives the notebook’s software and BIOS the control over the CPU frequency multiplier (to reduce it under low loads), Dynamic Power Coordination (power consumption of the execution cores can be independently adjusted depending on the current load; one core may even slip into Deep Sleep mode with the lowest power consumption possible) and Dynamic Cache Sizing (unused segments of the CPU cache can be turned off to save power). The CPU supports Streaming SIMD Extensions 3 and the XD bit feature (hardware protection from CPU stack overflow). The virtualization technology is disabled. The typical heat dissipation of Pentium Dual-Core CPUs is 31W, like that of the regular Yonah. The new CPU is much cheaper, though. The marking of T2060 stands for the following: the letter denotes the typical heat dissipation of the CPU, 2 is the number of execution cores, and the remaining digits denote the frequency and special characteristics of the CPU as described above.

In this review we’ll check out how the Intel Pentium Dual-Core performs on the chassis of ASUS’ good old A6 series, in the ASUS A6Rp model. The “Rp” notebooks used to come with Intel’s entry-level Celeron M or Core Solo, but now this segment is occupied by products with Pentium Core-Dual CPUs. The ASUS A6Rp will be opposed by the Acer TravelMate 6463WLMi that has an Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 (1.66GHz frequency and 2MB L2 cache) and a rather weak graphics core which, however, is one generation more advanced than the integrated graphics core of the ATI Radeon Xpress 200M chipset (for details on the Acer notebook see our article called Acer TravelMate 6463WLMi Notebook: Performance and Security).

Package and Accessories

This is an ordinary cardboard box the manufacturer’s name and the name of the product series are printed on. It just protects the notebook against any possible damage during transportation.

Unusually for ASUS, the accessories are rather scanty, without a bag or a mouse or anything. Besides the notebook proper, the box contains a 4400mAh battery (with two feet), a power adapter with a LED indicator, a modem cable (RJ-11), a TV cable (but the A6Rp lacks an S-Video port, so you’ve got nowhere to plug this cable into), documentation (Quick Installation Guide, 2-year warranty, list of authorized service centers worldwide, user manual, and Express Windows Vista Upgrade Program Guide), an ASUS cable brace, and a set of discs that includes:

 

Exterior Design and Ergonomics

We have described the exterior of the A6 series in our earlier reviews (ASUS A6Jc Notebook: New Reincarnation of the Popular Family), so let’s just check out how ASUS made the A6Rp cheaper apart from the configuration and accessories.

The notebook’s got a classic dark-silver plastic case with an ASUS logo in the near right corner of the lid. The rear part is painted black like the notebook’s body. There are two lid locks you have to fumble with, but you can be sure the notebook won’t open up accidentally.

The display is fastened to the body by means of three hinges that stick out from the case and allow unfolding the notebook by a full 180 degrees and even more.

Inside, there is a black top and a silvery bottom:

There are rubber pads around the screen bezel for a softer contact with the notebook’s body. Centered below the screen is an ASUS logo. Above the screen there is an oval window of an optional 0.35-megapixel web-camera (missing in our sample) together with a built-in microphone.

The ASUS A6Rp is equipped with a widescreen 15.4” LCD matrix that has a maximum resolution of 1280x800 pixels and an aspect ratio of 16:10 (WXGA). The viewing angles are acceptable for work both vertically and horizontally. The display has a glassy coating because the matrix is manufactured using ASUS’ Color Shine technology. ASUS claims that the use of a special polymer coating ensures high image quality and color saturation, resulting in a vivid and colorful image.

The notebook’s display offers 16 grades of brightness, but you can’t use the computer at the lowest grades because it’s hardly possible to discern anything in the screen then.

We measured the brightness and contrast of the notebook’s display using a Pantone ColorVision Spyder with OptiCAL version 3.7.8 software. We selected the highest brightness setting before this test, but it was considerably lowered when the notebook switched to its battery, automatically enabling power-saving technologies. The contrast ratio is rather low because the level of black is too high on “glassy” matrixes, reducing the resulting ratio of white to black. We selected the lowest level of black of all our measurements.

AC power source:

DC power source:

A notable difference from traditional A6 series models, the ASUS A6Rp lacks the Audio DJ feature. There are only system indicators left on the slanted front edge of the notebook’s body. These are visible irrespective of the position of the lid and include (from left to right):

The second group of status indicators is located on the right above the keyboard together with instant-launch buttons and a Power button:

The notebook offers the following instant-launch buttons:

Three Power4 Gear+ modes are available when the notebook is connected to the wall socket and seven when it works on its battery.

 

The A6Rp is equipped with an 89-key black keyboard. The Enter button is shaped classically like the letter L. The movement keys are shifted 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, which is not convenient for people who are used to shortcuts like Ctrl+C or Ctrl+V. The other Fn is placed above the Arrow Right key. Numeric buttons and three Windows keys are available: the Context Menu key is placed above the Arrow Left key; the Windows Logo keys are placed over one key on both sides of the spacebar. The functional keys are smaller than others. Home, PgUp, PgDn and End make up a column on the right. Pause, Print Screen, Insert and Delete are placed in the same row with the functional keys (you should press them in combination with Fn to access their additional functions). The letters are painted white and the functional keys are painted blue.

The touchpad has not changed since earlier A6 series models. It has a large black sensitive panel and a dedicated scrolling zone on the right. It is surrounded by a silvery frame that transitions into two buttons serving instead of the mouse’s buttons. There is no additional joystick for scrolling text.

The left side of the notebook is occupied by an optical drive with an activity indicator, eject button and emergency ejection hole.

The right panel is much more populated (from left to right):

The headphones socket is not combined with a digital S/PDIF output and the TV output (S-Video) is missing.

The following can be found on the notebook’s rear panel:

The USB 2.0 ports are still too densely placed like in the rest of the A6 series, which makes it inconvenient to use all of them at the same time (for details on the A6 series see our article called ASUS A6Jc Notebook: New Reincarnation of the Popular Family).

The elongated 4400mAh battery is hidden in the bottom near the user, so the area under your hands won’t get hot at work.

The following is located on the notebook’s bottom: covers of memory, WLAN module, HDD and CPU compartments, a battery module with two locks, an emergency shutdown or reset hole, a holder for your personal card, two stereo speakers, and stickers with the model info and the OS serial number.

 

You control the sound volume using the Fn key together with F10, F11 and F12. This is indicated on the screen as follows:

There are two slots in the memory compartment, one of which is occupied by a 512MB module. The other is free, giving you an upgrade opportunity.

Configuration

Being an extremely cheap notebook, the ASUS A6Rp is not based on the Napa platform, of course. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the heart of this notebook is a Pentium Dual-Core T2060 processor with a clock rate of 1.60GHz (65nm Yonah core with 1 megabyte of shared L2 cache).

The CPU supports all the power-saving technologies implemented in the Yonah core: Enhanced Intel SpeedStep, Dynamic Power Coordination, and Dynamic Cache Resizing. It also supports SSE3 and the XD bit (hardware protection against CPU stack overflow). The not-very-demanded virtualization technology is the only feature that is disabled in the new Pentium.

 

The ASUS A6Rp features a rather bizarre tandem: an Intel CPU coupled with an AMD chipset. The Radeon Xpress 200M chipset features an integrated graphics core that can be allotted up to 128 megabytes of system memory for graphics applications by means of HyperMemory technology. The rest of the chipset’s characteristics are as follows: RX480 North Bridge, SB400 South Bridge, 800/1000MHz HyperTransport, one PCI Express x16 bus, four PCI Express x1 buses, support for up to seven PCI devices, eight USB 2.0 ports, four Serial ATA ports (1.5Gbps, with RAID 0 and 1 functionality), and High Definition Audio.

The notebook comes with a Hitachi HTS541616J9SA00 hard disk drive (2.5” form-factor, 5400rpm spindle rotation speed, 80GB capacity, UltraATA interface) and a Matshita UJ-850S DVD-burner with the following speed formula:

Writing:

Reading:

The ASUS A6Rp is equipped with DDR2-533 SDRAM. One slot in the memory compartment is occupied by a 512MB module and the other is empty. The notebook supports a maximum of 2048MB of system RAM, so you’ve got an upgrade opportunity here. The memory works in single-channel mode, of course:

We 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 next table lists the technical specs of the tested notebook in comparison with its opponent Acer TravelMate 6463WLMi:

Test Methods

The notebook’s hard drive was formatted in NTFS before the tests. Then we 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. We also installed Windows Media Player 10.0 for such tests as PCMark 2005 and SYSMark 2004 SE.

The following settings were used for the tests:

There were two exceptions: we returned to the Windows XP desktop theme for PCMark 2005 since the program required that. And for SYSMark 2004 SE to work normally, we had to roll each parameter back to its default (as they are set right after you install Windows).

Two power modes were used. First, we selected the Always On power mode for maximum performance and the shortest battery life. Then we switched to the Max Battery mode for the maximum battery run-down time.

Our tests:

  1. Performance benchmarks: synthetic (SiSoftware Sandra 2005, SiSoftware Sandra 2007, PCMark 2004 1.3.0, PCMark 2005 1.2.0), office and multimedia (SYSMark 2004 SE, Business Winstone 2004, Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004), and games (3DMark 2001SE Pro, 3DMark 2003 3.6.0, 3DMark 2005 1.2.0, 3DMark 2006 1.1.0, Quake 3, Unreal Tournament 2003)
  2. Battery life tests (Battery Eater Pro 2.60)

There are three test modes in Battery Eater:

Quake 4 refused to run on this notebook at the default settings and the employed drivers, so there’ll be no results for it.

Performance

As usual, we will first run our synthetic benchmarks.

The SiSoftware 2007 suite features an updated enhanced-functionality interface, runs on three platforms (Win32 x86, Win64 x64, WinCE ARM), contains 13 tests and 34 informational modules, and supports a large range of devices thanks to the developer’s collaboration with Intel, AMD, ATI, SiS and VIA. The program is supported in six languages and has a free Lite version for personal and educational purposes. SiSoftware Sandra measures the overall performance of the system as well as that of each of its subsystems.

PCMark benchmarks the computer performance in office and office-related applications and also produces performance scores for the main subsystems (CPU, memory, graphical, and disk subsystem). PCMark 2005 carries on the tradition of complex benchmarks of the series and uses fragments of real-life applications as tests. This makes it somewhat more relevant for end-users as opposed to fully synthetic benchmarks. After running a series of 11 tests on the different components of the system, the program calculates an overall performance score in units called PCMarks. PCMark 2005 can check a computer out at processing HD video and encoding audio, and offers enhanced tests of the CPU and hard disk under multi-threaded load. The overall score is calculated by the formula: PCMark Score = 87 x (the geometric mean of the basic tests), where the geometric mean is calculated as (Result 1 x Result 2 x…) divided by the number of results.

Comparing the Intel Pentium Dual-Core T2060 with Intel’s Core Duo and Core 2 Duo or with AMD’s Turion 64 X2 with similar clock rates, we can see that it is expectably slower than the full-featured Core Duo which has a larger cache and a higher bus frequency. The new Pentium is almost as fast as the Turion 64 X2, though. In the battery mode the frequency of the Pentium Dual-Core T2060 is reduced from its default 1.6GHz to 0.8GHz, which is reflected in the notebook’s test results. The results of the memory and disk tests are normal.

The graphics core integrated into the Radeon Xpress 200M chipset performs quite well against Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 and does not suffer a big performance hit when the notebook switches to its battery as ATI’s discrete mobile solutions do.

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 evaluates 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 following table and diagrams show the outcome of these tests:

It’s no secret that PC Magazine’s benchmarks put most of their load on the CPU and the ASUS A6Rp is considerably slower than the Acer TravelMate 6463WLMi that features a Merom-core processor. The difference wouldn’t be so big against an ordinary Yonah. The notebooks’ results are lower in the battery mode in proportion to the CPU frequency reduction.

SYSMark 2004 SE is intended to reveal a system’s performance under different types of load. It simulates a user who is solving practical tasks in a few popular applications. Multi-threading is taken into account. The benchmark issues a few ratings that are indicative of the system performance under different loads. SYSMark 2004 SE is mainly positioned as a tool for testing desktop systems and includes applications that are not often run on mobile computers. That’s why the results for each test load are shown separately:

The 3D Creation script simulates a user who is rendering an image into a BMP-file in 3ds max 5.1 and is also working on web-pages in Dreamweaver MX. After these operations are done, a 3D animation is created in a vector graphics format.

The system has to crunch through heavy computing tasks in this benchmark and the Pentium Dual-Core shows its weakness against the Core 2 Duo. The results are lower in the battery mode due to the CPU frequency reduction.

The 2D Creation script simulates a user creating a video out of a few RAW-format fragments and audio tracks in Premier 6.5. Waiting for the operation to complete, the user is also modifying an image in Photoshop 7.01 and then saves it to the hard disk. When the video clip is ready, the user edits it and adds special effects in After Effects 5.5.

The results are similar to the previous script. The ASUS A6Rp is slower due to its cut-down CPU and a weaker graphics subsystem. There is a difference in the CPU clock rates, too. It is 0.06GHz when the notebooks are powered from the mains and 0.2GHz in the battery mode.

The next test simulates the work routines of a professional web-master. The user unzips the content of a website while using Flash MX to open an exported 3D vector graphics clip. Then the user modifies it by including more pictures and optimizes it for faster animation. The resulting clip with special effects is compressed with Windows Media Encoder 9 to be broadcast via the Internet. Next, the website is compiled in Dreamweaver MX while the system is being scanned for viruses with VirusScan 7.0 in the background.

No comments necessary – it’s like in the previous two scripts.

The next script simulates an ordinary user who’s receiving a letter with a .zip attachment in Outlook 2002. While the received files are being scanned for viruses with VirusScan 7.0, the user looks through his e-mail, enters some comments into the Outlook calendar, and then opens a corporate website and some documents with Internet Explorer 6.0.

The overall configurations of the two notebooks are roughly similar, except for the CPUs, and they have close results in this script.

In the Document Creation script the user is editing text in Word 2002 and is also using Dragon NaturallySpeaking to convert an audio file into a text document. This text document is then converted into PDF format with Acrobat 5.0.5. And finally, the document is employed in a PowerPoint 2002 presentation.

This script is CPU-dependent and the ASUS A6Rp is slow, again.

The final script from SYSMark 2004 SE includes the following: the user opens a database in Access 2002 and creates a few queries. Documents are archived with WinZip 8.1. The results of the queries are exported into Excel 2002 and are used to construct a diagram.

The results of the final SYSMark 2004 SE script agree well with those of the previous scripts.

Since ASUS A6Rp is based on the integrated Radeon Xpress 200M chipset, we tested the notebooks in all versions of 3DMark: 3DMark 2001SE Pro, 3DMark 2003 3.6.0, 3DMark 2005 1.2.0 and 3DMark 2006 1.1.0.

3DMark uses its own rendering engine to create a set of 3D scenes that load the graphics subsystem in various ways. Compared with the previous version, 3DMark 2005 uses Shader Model 2.0x/3.0 instead of Shader Model 1.x, provides full compatibility with Shader Model 2.0, includes more complex tests (over a million polygons per each frame), and employs normal maps. 3DMark 2006 brings support for HDR, Uniform Shadow Maps, and multi-core CPUs. It is overall oriented at Shader Model 3.0, but two out of its four graphics tests work within the Shader Model 2.0 framework.

 

The integrated graphics core of the Radeon Xpress 200M chipset is preferable to GMA 950 but cannot stand a comparison with even the weakest discrete graphics core from the ATI Mobility Radeon 1000 series. It is good that the power-saving options are not set up too aggressively and the notebook doesn’t suffer a big performance hit on switching to its battery. The Radeon Xpress 200M graphics core cannot pass tests that require support for Shader Model 3.0 due to its limited capabilities, but the ASUS A6Rp does much better in the Batch Size Tests than notebooks with GMA 950.

Next, we tested the notebooks in two modes in Quake 3:

The two final graphical tests are quite definite that this notebook is not for playing games. The integrated graphics core is roughly equal to GMA950 which means that heavy 3D games are going to look like a slideshow on it.

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 A6Rp can be praised here. It can last almost 3 hours on its battery, which is a good result compared with other notebooks.

Here are the battery discharge diagrams for the different operation modes.

Conclusion

As you’ve had an opportunity to see, the balance of pros and cons of the A6 series remains almost the same irrespective of the exact configuration. Carrying on the tradition of the series, the ASUS A6Rp brings to you perfectly balanced price/quality and price/performance proportions. A6 series notebooks still remain truthful workhorses that are going to work off every cent of your investment into them even in this low-end implementation.

As for the debut of the Intel Pentium Dual-Core T2060 processor, it has been a success. This is a perfect CPU for people who don’t need indecently high CPU performance, but just want to run multiple applications simultaneously, something that single-core CPUs are slow at.

The Intel Pentium Dual-Core T2060 will soon get an elder brother T2080 that will have a clock rate of 1.73GHz. After that, we’ll be looking forward to the release of an entry-level 64-bit CPU.

Highs:

Lows: