ASUS F9E Notebook Review

New ASUS F9E notebook features 12.1-inch screen and is very affordable in terms of pricing. But is a screen diagonal enough to place this solution a priori into a sub-notebook category? Let’s find out from our new review!

by Alexander Britvin
04/16/2008 | 09:21 AM

Reviewing Toshiba’s 2-kilogram Satellite U300-111, we wrote that it cost but little more than low-end models with 12.1-inch displays and had nearly the same weight and dimensions with a larger display. Now we can check this out in practice. ASUS’s F9E notebook is equipped with a 12.1-inch display and is positioned as an extremely mobile solution (the F9 series falls into the Superior Mobility section at the manufacturer’s website).

 

There is nothing exciting about the notebook’s specs. Its dimensions and weight are the same as those of 13.3-inch models. Moreover, it employs an entry-level version of the Core 2 Duo processor with a 667MHz FSB.

Package and Accessories

The inexpensive packaging indicates the product category this notebook belongs to. The sides of the unremarkable cardboard box show the name of the manufacturing company and the series name.

Besides the notebook, the box contains a 6-cell 4800mAh battery, power adapter with cable, modem cable (RJ-11), documentation (user manuals, warranty, marketing materials), wired USB mouse, napkin to clean the LCD panel, bag to carry the notebook in, cable brace, and a set of discs that includes:

 

 

Exterior Design and Ergonomics

The F9E is a typical ASUS notebook with a number of recognizable family traits. Its outline is rounded off yet remains rather angular overall. The edges are beveled but the notebook looks thick due to the small width of the case. The case is painted the color of wet asphalt.

A turnable 1.3-megapixel web-camera sticks out above the LCD panel. It has a glossy coating differing from the rest of the notebook in color. The camera can be turned counterclockwise by 180 degrees and upward by an angle of 30 degrees. There is a tiny activity indicator to the left of the camera’s eye. The rubber rings on the camera ensure softer contact with the notebook’s body. A microphone hole can be seen to the right of the web-camera block.

The manufacturer’s logo is placed on the notebook’s lid.

The notebook doesn’t have a display lock. The lid is held shut by the stiff hinges that stick out of the notebook’s body. You can unfold the notebook by somewhat less than 180 degrees.

The notebook’s interior is painted the same color as the exterior. There are metallized inserts of a different hue, though. There are rubber pads on the screen bezel for softer contact with the notebook’s body when closed. In the bottom part of the bezel there are stereo speakers oriented right at the user.

The ASUS F9E is equipped with a widescreen 12.1-inch LCD matrix that has an aspect ratio of 16:10 (WXGA). Its native resolution is 1280x800 pixels. The matrix’s viewing angles seem to be wide enough for a notebook’s display. The LCD matrix has a glossy coating that makes the image brighter and more saturated but also acts as a mirror, reflecting every bright object behind your back.

As you can see, the notebook has large dimensions due to the thick screen bezel. In fact, its case might have accommodated a larger display as the manufacturers of 13.3-inch models prove.

The F9E offers 16 grades of screen brightness but it is virtually impossible to see anything in the screen at the lowest grades: the image gets too dark. The brightness level is adjusted by pressing Fn together with 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. The power-saving technologies did not affect the notebook’s display when we switched to the battery.

AC power source:

DC power source:

The F9E is equipped with an 86-key black keyboard. Despite the small width of the notebook’s body, the developer squeezed a full set of buttons into it, even though some of the keys are smaller than usual. The buttons move softly and do not rattle. The movement keys are on the same level with the keyboard’s baseline, so there’s a higher risk of your pressing them accidentally. The bottom left corner is occupied by a Control, which is convenient for people who are used to shortcuts like Ctrl+C or Ctrl+V. Numeric buttons and two Windows keys are available: the Context Menu key is placed to the right of the spacebar; the Windows Logo key are placed to the left 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.

There is a metallic plate above the keyboard that carries an oval Power button and a small button that starts up the Power4 Gear+ eXtreme utility which offers several power modes that vary in such parameters as CPU frequency, screen brightness, Windows power management scheme, etc.

The notebook’s status indicators are placed on the notebook’s front panel together with a Wireless On/Off slider (from left to right):

The optional fingerprint scanner is placed far from the touchpad, contrary to the current design fashion. This device is missing in our configuration but the seat for the scanner can be easily seen below the right part of the keyboard. Here is a photo of the F9E equipped with a fingerprint scanner:

The touchpad is the same color and texture as the notebook’s surface. Highly responsive, it is stretched out below the spacebar. Its buttons are cut in the metallic frame around the touchpad. The buttons move softly and do not click loud. There is no scrolling zone or a dedicated scrolling joystick.

To avoid touching the touchpad while using an external mouse, you can block it by pressing Fn+F9.

The notebook’s left panel contains the following components (from left to right):

The notebook’s right panel carries the following:

The notebook’s back panel offers two USB 2.0 ports, a battery module, a power connector, and a Kensington security slot.

The USB ports at the back are placed very close to each other. You can hardly use both of them simultaneously.

The F9E comes with a 6-cell 4800mAh battery but you can also get a 3-cell or 9-cell battery with a capacity of 2400mAh and 7800mAh, respectively. The reduced-capacity battery will help you make the notebook lighter and smaller because the default 6-cell one sticks out of the notebook’s case.

The battery is fixed with two locks located on the battery itself.

 

As you can see, the 6-cell battery (and the 9-cell one, too) protrudes from the notebook’s case quite noticeably.

On the bottom panel there is a single cover of the combined memory, HDD and CPU compartment, a battery module, and stickers with model information and the OS serial number.

 

The memory compartment contains two slots one of which is occupied by a 1024MB module. The other slot is empty, so you can upgrade the memory subsystem to 2GB, which is the comfortable minimum for Windows Vista. By the way, the maximum memory amount supported by the notebook is 2048 megabytes.

The vent hole is partially blocked when you put the notebook down on your laps, but this can hardly lead to overheat because the notebook doesn’t have really hot components.

Configuration

 

The ASUS F9E is based on an Intel Core 2 Duo T5550 processor with a clock rate of 1.83GHz (65nm Merom core with 2 megabytes of shared L2 cache). The FSB frequency is 667MHz.


Intel Core 2 Duo T5550: cache memory

The Core 2 Duo T5550 supports Intel’s 64-bit extensions to the x86 architecture and also features Intel Wide Dynamic Execution technology which means more decoders and execution units in the CPU core and faster processing of SSE and floating-point instructions.

 
Intel Core 2 Duo T5550 in two test power modes

Besides Intel’s traditional Enhanced SpeedStep technology that gives the notebook’s software and BIOS the control over the CPU frequency multiplier (to reduce it under low loads), this CPU supports Dynamic Power Coordination (the power consumption of the 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). For more information about Intel’s Core 2 Duo processors refer to our article called Santa Rosa + Vista: Three Notebooks Reviewed or to the manufacturer’s website.

This implementation of the Santa Rosa platform also incorporates an Intel PRO/Wireless 4965AGN adapter and an Intel Crestline GM965 chipset. The 965 series chipsets support a FSB frequency of 800MHz. The GM965 offers a PCI Express x16 interface for an external graphics card and also features an integrated graphics core called Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100. Connected to the North Bridge via a special-purpose Direct Media Interface, the South Bridge (ICH8-M) supports three Serial ATA-300 ports, ten USB 2.0 ports and Intel High Definition Audio. It also offers six PCI Express x1 lanes to connect external devices. For more information about the platform, visit the manufacturer’s website.

GMA X3100 is the first graphics core from Intel to support shaders on the GPU. As a result, the new integrated chipset features improved performance and compatibility with 3D applications, particularly with Windows Vista’s Aero interface. The X3100 can also support DirectX 10. The new core is clocked at a frequency of 500MHz and incorporates 8 unified shader processors for 3D rendering as well as for video playback acceleration. Thanks to them, the X3100 provides hardware acceleration and post-processing for video content in MPEG-2 and WMV9 formats. The core doesn’t support the new compression standards H.264 and VC-1 (Blu-ray and HD-DVD), though. Besides higher performance, the new graphics core has acquired more advanced power-saving features, mostly meant to reduce the consumption of the LCD panel which is the main power consumer in a notebook together with the CPU. The X3100 supports Display Power Saving Technology 3.0 that is automatically adjusts the brightness and contrast of the screen to reduce power consumption yet keep the image quality high. The Display Refresh Rate Switching technology can be used to reduce the refresh rate of the screen when the notebook works on its battery.

The notebook comes with a Seagate Momentus ST9160821AS hard disk drive (2.5” form-factor, 5400rpm spindle rotation speed, 160GB capacity, SATA interface) and an LG GSA-T20N DVD-burner with the following speed formula:

Writing:

Reading:

The F9E works with DDR2-667 SDRAM, the fastest memory available on the Santa Rosa platform. One of the two accessible slots is occupied by a 1GB module. The other slot is empty. According to the notebook’s specs, you can double its memory amount.


Dual-channel memory mode

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 Battery Eater Pro 2.60 (the ambient temperature remained constant at 23°C during this test) and got the following numbers:

The following table lists the specifications of the F9E in comparison with its opponent Dell Vostro 1400.

Testing Methodology

The notebook’s hard disk was formatted in NTFS before the tests. Then we installed Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate x86 and drivers from the included disc.

The following settings were used for the tests:

Two power modes were used. First, we selected the High Performance power mode for maximum performance and the shortest battery life. Then we switched to the Power Saver mode for the maximum battery run-down time.

Our tests:

  1. Performance benchmarks: synthetic (SiSoftware Sandra 2007, PCMark 2004 1.3.0, PCMark 2005 1.2.0, PCMark Vantage, SYSMark 2007), real-life applications (DivX 6.7, iTunes 7.3, Photoshop CS2, Microsoft Excel 2007, WinRAR 3.7, Microsoft Movie Maker 6.0, CINEBENCH 10), and games (3DMark 2001SE Pro, 3DMark 2003 3.6.0, 3DMark 2005 1.3.0, 3DMark 2006 1.1.0, Half-Life 2, F.E.A.R., Quake 4)
  2. Battery life tests (MobileMark 2007)

There are three test modes in Mobile Mark 2007:

Performance

Synthetic Benchmarks

As usual, we will first run our synthetic benchmarks.

The SiSoftware 2007 suite features an updated enhanced-functionality interface, runs on three platforms (Windows x86, Windows x64, WinCE ARM), contains 13 tests and 34 informational modules, and supports a large range of hardware 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 use and educational purposes. SiSoftware Sandra measures the overall performance of the system as well as that of each of its subsystems.

PCMark benchmarks computer’s 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 multithreaded 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.

PCMark Vantage is the first synthetic benchmarking suite developed for Vista. It contains more tests than the previous versions of the benchmark.

Notwithstanding the difference in FSB frequency between the T5550 and T7100 processors, the notebooks deliver similar performance in the CPU tests. When powered by the batteries, the notebooks slow down because their CPU frequencies are cut down. The T5550 has a bottom CPU clock rate of 1GHz whereas the T7100, 0.8GHz. The notebooks have the same amount of system memory, but it works in dual-channel mode in the Vostro 1400. Oddly enough, the larger disk Momentus ST9160821AS is superior to the smaller disk from the same series. The graphics subsystems behave alike to the CPUs, which is normal.

The new version of SYSMark 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. The benchmark issues a few ratings that are indicative of the system performance under different loads. The results for each test load are shown separately:

This result might be predicted: the Dell Vostro is somewhat faster because it has a higher FSB frequency and dual-channel memory. The T5550 processor has a higher frequency in the battery mode: the ASUS notebook wins but its CPU consumes more power than the other notebook’s.

The E-Learning test emulates the creation of an educational website with diverse media content. This script makes use of the following applications: Adobe Illustrator CS2, Adobe Photoshop CS2, Macromedia Flash 8 and Microsoft PowerPoint 2003.

The results are due to the difference in FSB frequency and memory mode and to the lack of FSB Frequency Switching technology in the T5550 processor (this can be seen in the battery mode). The other tests will prove the same.

Of course, you can install a second memory stick into the F9E and enable dual-channel memory access for higher performance. The Dell Vostro 1400 has two 512MB memory modules, and you’ll have to replace both with 1GB modules if you want to have more system memory.

The next script is about creating video clips using special effects. The clips are combined out of several sources, including static images. The result is prepared in two formats: HD and for online viewing. The following software is utilized here: Adobe After Effects 7, Adobe Illustrator CS2, Adobe Photoshop CS2, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9, and Sony Vegas 7.

This test depends on CPU performance.

The Productivity test models typical office activities such as sending e-mail, processing data, managing a project, working with documents. Applications employed: Microsoft Excel 2003, Microsoft Outlook 2003, Microsoft PowerPoint 2003, Microsoft Word 2003, Microsoft Project 2003, and WinZip 10.0.

This test is sensitive to CPU performance as well as to disk performance. However, the notebooks have HDDs from the same series, so their results are explained by the differences between their CPUs.

The final script from SYSMark 2007 is about creating an architectural presentation including a photorealistic image of the building and a clip with a flyby of it. Two applications are used: AutoDesk 3ds Max 8 and SketchUp 5.

The notebooks have identical integrated graphics cores and perform in a similar manner. The difference in the battery mode is due to the difference in CPU frequencies, power-saving technologies and memory access modes.

Real Applications

Next we tested the notebooks in a few real-life applications.

The two Merom-core processors are equals at encoding video with the DivX 6.7 codec when powered by the mains. When the notebooks are working on their batteries, the CPU clock rates differ by 0.2GHz, which helps the F9E win the test.

Encoding mp3 files takes about the same time when the notebooks are powered by the mains. When we switch to the batteries, the T5550 processor is faster although less economical.

The Photoshop CS2 test (processing five 5-megapixel photos) agrees with the other tests concerning the relative performance of the two notebooks.

The F9E is faster in Microsoft Excel thanks to its higher CPU clock rate in the battery mode. Its Momentus ST9160821AS is also somewhat faster than the other notebook’s hard disk, contributing to the overall result.

Archiving a folder shows the same correlation between the notebooks’ performance.

In the next test a script is used that prepares a video clip for uploading to YouTube. The clip was made out of four video fragments captured from a digital camera. Oddly enough, the F9E behaves similarly to the Satellite U300-111, being faster when powered by the mains and slower in the battery mode. This doesn’t look like a measurement error.

The final rendering test depends on the notebooks’ CPU performance.

Graphics Benchmarks

Next we tested the notebooks in four 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.

3DMark proves it again that the integrated GMA X3100 core is a rather weak gaming solution especially when the notebook’s memory works in single-channel mode. When powered by the battery, the ASUS notebook is somewhat faster due to less aggressive power-saving technologies.

3D Games

Now let’s check out a few real games.

There is nothing to comment upon. The F9E is obviously not meant for playing 3D games. Its purpose is to run office applications.

Battery Life

Battery life is just as important a parameter of a notebook as its performance. The notebook’s battery life was measured with MobileMark 2007. We disabled standby and hibernate mode for the test.

The first scenario, Productivity, emulates the user’s working in typical office applications. The load is not constant as the user is frequently distracting from his work. The second scenario measures the notebook’s battery life when the user is reading text from the screen in Adobe Reader. The third scenario is about DVD playback in InterVideo WinDVD.

The larger-capacity battery of the Dell Vostro 1400 coupled with the advanced power-saving technologies make this notebook the winner of this test. The F9E is close to 3.5 hours of autonomous operation, which is good too. And if we compare the F9E with the Toshiba Satellite U300-111, which has a similar weight but a larger screen, the F9E is even better by 20-30 minutes.

Conclusion

The F9E is not a leader of its market sector, yet it is quite competitive among the alternatives. Unfortunately, the reduced size of the screen is not accompanied with reduced weight and dimensions. The F9E is comparable to the Toshiba Satellite U300-111 in these parameters although the latter has a 13.3-inch display. On the other hand, the F9E is somewhat cheaper.

What is good about the F9E, it offers a HDMI connector for modern TV-sets and monitors (via a HDMI-DVI adapter) and a full-featured keyboard (as opposed to the mentioned notebook from Toshiba which lacks the rightmost column of buttons).

Highs:

Lows: