Asus F5R Notebook: Competition within the Same Company

Today we are going to review another great office solution from Asus. At first glance it is very similar to the X51R we reviewed earlier. The two models seem to differ on the outside only. So is it a new model or a slightly redesigned old one? Read our review to answer this question.

by Alexander Britvin
02/01/2008 | 03:08 PM

A well-known way to attract more customers to the same product is to release it in several versions or flavors or something. Even books may come out with two or three variants of the cover. Someone may like one particular version more than the other or people may get attracted to a differently looking product in the shop window. So there is a chance that more customers will get interested in the product.

 

This approach is quite widespread among PC hardware manufacturers who often introduce devices with similar specs but different exterior designs. This hasn’t been a common practice among notebooks makers, however, because the internal configuration can be varied widely enough, avoiding the need to extend the model range by means of the exterior alone.

Yet the notebook we are going to review today, the ASUS F5R, is very similar to the X51R we reviewed earlier in its specs. The two models seem to differ on the outside only: one is slimmer, the other is sleeker. The shades of gray in the coloring of the case differ, too. So is it a new model or a slightly redesigned old one? We’ll try to find it out.

The exterior design of the notebook draws upon the F3 series. Like the Asus X51R model, the F5R may come with Intel’s Celeron M (Merom core), Pentium Dual-Core and Core Duo (Yonah core) processors. The single-core Celeron isn’t far inferior to these dual-core CPUs except in multi-threaded applications which are not usually run on inexpensive notebooks. And the notebook’s ATI Radeon Xpress 1100 chipset with an integrated graphics core looks mature in comparison with the older Radeon Xpress 200M. All of this indicates that the ASUS F5R is meant for serious office work – and it’s also clear that it offers but limited gaming options. You’ll see how the notebook performs in comparison with its close relation and competitor ASUS X51R in the appropriate section of the review. Right now we’ll describe the notebook and its accessories for you.

Package and Accessories

The box looks modest as you could expect from an inexpensive product. It shows the name of the product series and the manufacturer’s logo.

The ASUS Green label on the side of the internal box means that the notebook complies with the RoHS directive, being manufactured without such hazardous substances as lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium or polybrominated flame retardants.

The accessories are scanty. There is no bag or other items you usually find included with ASUS notebooks. Besides the notebook proper we found the following in the box: a 6-cell 4400mAh battery, a power adapter with a LED indicator and a cord, a modem cable (RJ-11), a cable brace, documentation (Quick Installation Guide, 2-year warranty, a list of authorized service centers worldwide, a user manual, etc), three stickers for the touchpad to use it as a calculator (they don’t worsen its sensitivity, by the way), and a set of discs that included:

 

As opposed to the ASUS X51R, the F5R comes with a preinstalled Windows Vista that contributes to its price. Well, people who buy an X51R can hardly be satisfied with its FreeDOS and are sure to install a more modern OS.

Design and Ergonomics

The plastic case of the notebook is designed smooth and elegant according to the latest trends. The notebook looks lighter visually than it really is.

The manufacturer’s logo is stamped in the middle of the lid.

There is an integrated 1.3-megapixel web-camera at the top of the lid. Painted a light-silver color, it can be turned counterclockwise for an angle of 180 degrees. It can also be shifted upward for an angle of 30 degrees at the back or front, so the full rotation angle is 240 degrees. The turnable block has a tiny activity indicator and rubber rims at the sides for softer contact. The hole of the integrated microphone is positioned to the left of the webcam.

The display lock is designed like a button that you can find right under the webcam. The display hinges are also very stiff, preventing the notebook from opening even if the button is pressed accidentally.

The labels and LEDs of status indicators are placed below the webcam on the notebook’s body and remain visible only when the lid is opened. If the lid is closed, there are duplicates of the indicators on the front panel covered with a narrow plastic piece. This allows you to see what’s going on with the notebook irrespective of the position of its lid. This group of indicators includes (from left to right):

The configuration of our sample of the ASUS F5R lacks WLAN and Bluetooth modules and the appropriate indicators never shine. Those wireless adapters can be installed optionally.

At the left of the front panel there is a card-reader’s slot. It supports the following memory card formats: Secure Digital, MultiMediaCard, xD-Picture Card, Memory Stick, and Memory Stick Pro.

There are three display hinges here, the middle one painted the same black color as the screen bezel and the rear edge of the lid. The other two are painted the color of the case. The hinges stick out of the base allowing to unfold the notebook by almost 180 degrees.

The interior color scheme looks somewhat livelier than that of the X51R. The notebook’s body, keyboard and screen bezel are all black. There are rubber pads around the bezel for softer contact between the lid and the notebook’s body.

The ASUS X51R 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 look wide enough visually.

The display has a glassy coating because the matrix is manufactured using ASUS’ Color Shine technology. ASUS claims that the use of this special polymer coating ensures high image quality and color saturation, resulting in a vivid and colorful image.

Besides that, the notebook features ASUS Splendid Video Enhancement, which helps quickly adjust the image using preset modes.

The modes are selected by pressing Fn + C. The current mode is indicated in the onscreen menu.

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. The brightness setting is adjusted by pressing Fn + F5 and F6.

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, even visually, when the notebook switched to its battery, automatically enabling power-saving technologies. The contrast ratio remained at the same level, though.

AC power source:

DC power source:

Like the X51R, the F5R is equipped with an 88-key black keyboard. The buttons move softly and do not rattle. 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 quite convenient for people who are used to shortcuts like Ctrl+C or Ctrl+V. Numeric buttons and three Windows keys are available: the Context Menu key is placed to the left of the spacebar; the two Windows Logo keys are placed to both sides of the spacebar. The functional keys are smaller than others. Home, Page Up, Page Down 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.

On the left above the keyboard there is a thin row of other system indicators together with instant-launch buttons and a Power key (from left to right):

Power4 Gear+ utility offers several power modes that vary in such parameters as CPU frequency, screen brightness, Windows’ power management scheme, etc. Five Power4 Gear+ modes are available when the notebook is connected to the wall socket and seven when it works on its battery.

The touchpad is designed in ASUS’ traditional style. The black touch-sensitive panel with a scrolling zone on the right is sunken below the notebook’s surface so that your finger wouldn’t go astray. The touchpad is very responsive. It’s got a silvery bezel and two buttons without a separating line. There is no scrolling joystick here.

The touchpad can be blocked to avoid touching it accidentally while you are typing text, but the functionality of the appropriate button doesn’t end at that.

Besides turning the touchpad on and off, you can use it as a simple calculator. You put the included sticker with digits and math1ematical signs on it and these improvised keys begin to work together with Windows’s Calculator. The touchpad’s sensitivity doesn’t worsen from that.

Now let’s see what interfaces the notebook offers. Its left panel provides the following (from left to right):

The notebook’s right panel has an optical drive with an activity indicator, eject button and emergency ejection hole.

The rear panel offers the following (from left to right):

The following can be found on the notebook’s bottom: covers of CPU, memory, HDD and WLAN compartments (the latter is empty in our sample of the notebook), a battery module with one spring-loaded lock, an emergency shutdown/reset hole, a holder for your visiting card, and stickers with the model specs and the OS serial number.

 

Most of the vent holes in the bottom panel are placed on the left and are going to be blocked if you put the notebook down on your laps. The hot air is exhausted at the rear, however, and the notebook is unlikely to overheat.

The rectangular 6-cell battery of the F5R has a capacity of 4400mAh. It is located right under your right wrist, preventing this part of the case from getting hot.

The HDD compartment cover is fastened with two screws and squeezes the HDD between two rails, fixing it firmly in place.

The memory compartment contains two slots one of which is occupied by a 512MB module. The maximum memory amount supported by the notebook is 2048 megabytes.

Now the only thing left to note is the stereo speakers. These are placed on the beveled front panel and are thus close to the user, but face downwards. The volume level is controlled by pressing Fn together with F10, F11 and F12, which is indicated on the screen like that:

Configuration

The ASUS F5R is equipped with an Intel Celeron M 520 processor (1.60GHz clock rate, 1024KB L2 cache, 533MHz FSB). This is a single-core CPU based on the 0.65nm Merom core. It has a typical heat dissipation of 27W.

The Intel Celeron M processor is a greatly cut-down version of the Core 2 Duo that provides an optimal balance between performance and price. The purpose of such a CPU is in using a high-performance core in inexpensive notebooks. The Celeron M lacks all the power-saving technologies of the Merom series, but unlike its predecessors on the Yonah core the CPU with a rating of 520 (and with a rating of 530 – among those present on the Intel website) supports the 64-bit extensions to the x84 architecture called Intel EM64T.

The F5R is based on the ATI Mobility Radeon Xpress 1100 chipset which doesn’t differ greatly from its predecessor Mobility Radeon Xpress 200. The RS480M North Bridge and the SB400 South Bridge of the older chipset are replaced with RS485M and SB460 chips, respectively, in the newer one. The transition to a thinner tech process helped reduce the power consumption, according to ATI. The North Bridge features an integrated graphics core equivalent to the ATI Radeon X300 working at a frequency of 300MHz (the Mobility Radeon Xpress 1150 has a graphics core frequency of 400MHz, which is the difference between the two chipsets). The graphics core can be allotted up to 256MB of system memory for its purposes by means of HyperMemory technology. It features ATI’s exclusive power-saving technologies, although we couldn’t see them in action. The Mobility Radeon Xpress 1100 supports Intel’s CPUs and a bus frequency of 1000MHz. The South Bridge is compatible with the SB600 as a kind of a reserve for the future. It offers the same functionality as the Xpress 200: one PCI Express x16 slot, four PCI Express x1 slots, 8 USB 2.0 ports, 4 Serial ATA ports with support for RAID 0 and 1, and two ATA/133 channels.

The notebook comes with a Hitachi HTS541680J9SA00 hard disk drive (2.5” form-factor, 5400rpm spindle rotation speed, 80GB capacity, SATA interface) and a TSST TS-L632D DVD-burner with the following speed formula:

Writing:

Reading:

The ASUS F5R works with DDR2-667 SDRAM. One of the notebook’s two memory slots is occupied by a 512MB module. The other slot is free, so the memory subsystem works in single-channel mode by default. The maximum supported amount of system memory is 2048MHz, so you can easily upgrade this notebook.

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 ASUS X51R:

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 (downloaded from the manufacturer’s website), 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.

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, Quake 4, Unreal Tournament 2003)
  2. Battery life tests (Battery Eater Pro 2.60)

There are three test modes in Battery Eater:

We 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) we played a DVD movie.

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.

The notebooks’ identical Celeron M processors deliver the same performance. The performance is not any lower in the battery mode because these CPUs lack Intel’s power-saving technologies. The tests of the memory, graphics and disk subsystem produce identical results because the notebooks have identical components.

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:

The Winstone tests are CPU-dependent and the notebooks’ results are proportional to the capacity of their CPUs. Like in the previous test, they deliver the same performance irrespective of the power source.

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.

It’s like in the previous benchmarks: the results are similar as the notebooks have identical CPUs. The CPUs lacking power-saving technologies, the performance is no lower in the battery mode.

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 ASUS F5R is slightly slower than its opponent due to minor differences in their drivers, etc.

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.

The identical CPUs deliver identical performance again.

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.

This test shows that the ASUS F5R has worse communicational capabilities than the ASUS X51R.

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.

The results are similar again. Surprisingly enough, the notebooks are even somewhat faster in the battery mode.

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 final benchmark from the SYSmark 2004 SE series has nothing new to tell us.

Next we’ll test the notebooks in all versions of 3DMark from 2001SE Pro to 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 notebooks each being equipped with an integrated graphics core ATI Mobility Radeon Xpress 1100, the results are very similar. These notebooks are obviously not meant for running serious 3D games.

There were two test modes in Quake 3:

And in one mode in Quake 4:

There was no standard demo record in Quake 4, so we had to create it ourselves and we use it in every review of mobile PCs on our site so that different devices could be compared under identical conditions.

So the ASUS F5R can only be used to play rather old 3D games.

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:

Surprisingly, the ASUS F5R proves to be more voracious in comparison with its opponent due to the lack of power-saving technologies. Less than 1.5 hours under load is a very short time. You can note, however, that the DVD-burner of the F5R consumes less power than the combo-drive installed in the X51R.

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

Conclusion

ASUS’ designers and engineers have introduced yet another interesting product. The F5R features a good chassis that could accommodate a more serious configuration, but it looks good even with a Celeron M and an integrated graphics core. This notebook is meant for office applications as is emphasized by the possibility of using its touchpad as a calculator.

Highs:

Lows: