"Multi Dual Engine": ASUS G70S Gaming Notebook Review

“Multi Dual Engine” slogan very nicely described the constructive peculiarities of the new ASUS gaming machine: two cores, two graphics cards, two hard drives, two 2GB memory modules, even two screens!

by Alexander Britvin
12/02/2008 | 05:35 PM

Gamers are the most demanding class of computer users. Not every PC can satisfy a hardcore gamer while notebooks were long considered by them as totally unsuitable for normal gaming. Yes, notebooks have lots of limitations due to the limited size of the case. It is just impossible to pack a top-performance configuration into such a small volume. However, notebook makers have been progressing in this field, too. About two years ago ASUS created two gaming notebooks G1 and G2 that were based on revised chassis from two other models. The G1 and G2 were not exactly perfect. They could only satisfy casual gamers because modern recourse-consuming 3D games didn’t run fast on them despite the use of the latest generation of mobile graphics cards available then.

 

This year the Taiwanese company tried to push the bar higher. At CES 2008 two new notebooks were introduced in the gaming series: a 15-inch G50 and a 17-inch G70. The G50 is simpler while the G70 represents the most interesting in the series – you will see what in this review.

The developer calls the notebook’s architecture Multi Dual Engine meaning that some of its hardware components come in twos.

We have all got used to dual-core processors in the last years but the parallel operation of two discrete graphics cores joined together by means of SLI technology is a rare thing for portable computers. The G70S also has two 320GB hard drives, two 2GB memory modules, two display backlight lamps and even two displays proper (a main display and a small auxiliary screen). According to the manufacturer, even the cooling system uses a dual design.

When turned on, the notebook looks not unlike a Christmas tree. It has a lot of highlighting LEDs shining and blinking as you have configured them or according to the operation of specific components, for example the speed of the fans or the CPU load.

Let’s now check out everything about the notebook more closely.

Package and Accessories

ASUS’s gaming series has always featured superb packaging, and the G70S is no exception. Its box is glossy and colorful, showing a picture of the shining notebook. Below the name of the series there is a slogan that reads: Double Barrelled Rig for Ultimate Gameplay. The series-specific logotype “Republic of Gamers” can be seen on the sides of the box.

Besides gaming, the G70S can do a lot of other things. Its box contains a remote control and an infrared receiver as well as an antenna for the integrated TV-tuner. We also found an 5200mAh 8-cell battery, a Delta Electronics power adapter, a modem cable (RJ-11), a TV cable, documentation, a wired mouse Razer Copperhead, a napkin to clean the LCD panel, an exclusive rucksack for carrying the notebook with you (the same as included with the G2), a cable strap, an AV/S-Video adapter, an adapter for coaxial cable, and a set of discs. The discs include:

 

  

 

The mouse is the most exciting accessory here. ASUS notebooks usually come with mouse devices from Logitech, but this one is the famous Razer Copperhead slightly updated to match the notebook’s style. Razer’s logo is replaced by the gaming series logo, and the name of ASUS is added below. The sides and the scrolling wheel are highlighted and the logo is blinking. The mouse features a stylish and ergonomic design of the case and offers seven programmable hyperresponse buttons. Its zero-acoustic ultra-slick Teflon feet ensure silent, soft and jerkless gliding on any surface.

 
Razer Copperhead gaming mouse

The mouse boasts a high resolution of 2000dpi and an impressive response time of 1 millisecond. Its scanning speed of 7000 times per second ensures highly sensitive response.

Software Bundle

Windows Vista Home is preinstalled on the notebook. Its Windows Media Center component is a shell for working with media files: viewing photos, watching movies, listening to music, controlling the radio and TV-tuner. The most interesting feature of Media Center is its support for the remote control included with the notebook.

Also installed on the notebook is the ASUS Instant Fun program that resembles Media Center but is inferior to the latter in functionality.

The screenshots below illustrate the quality of the notebook’s TV-tuner:

 

 

The ASUS LifeFrame program can be used together with the web-camera to conduct video conferences and capture videos.

This program offers a wide selection of special effects. For example, you can apply a bezel to the video from the camera in real-time mode.

If you’ve got an Internet connection, the Live Update utility will keep the preinstalled software up-to-date automatically.

The notebook comes with a 60-day trial version of the Microsoft Office suite. You’ll have to uninstall it or pay the money after the time is up.

We have often mentioned the Power4Gear eXtreme utility in our reviews of ASUS notebooks. This power management tool offers four modes for both types of power supply (mains and battery): High Performance, Entertainment, Quiet Office, and Battery Saving.

The level of gaming performance of the G70S is regulated with Direct Console 2.0.

This tool can also control the notebook’s highlighting. You can choose a specific mode of blinking or shining or even fine-tune each LED to shine just as you want it to.

The program can also assign functions to the hot buttons located to the left of the keyboard.

And finally, Direct Console 2.0 helps choose what the notebook’s small OLED screen will show. This function was blocked on our sample of the notebook, however, and the OLED screen reported the battery charge level by default.

And finally, the notebook’s preinstalled software includes Wireless Console that provides a set of icons you can click to turn the notebook’s wireless interfaces on and off.

Exterior Design and Ergonomics

The G70S has a distinguishable individuality. It does not resemble any other model from ASUS’s notebook family. It has a sleeker case than the G2. Even the highlights in the sides of the lid are rounded off. The highlighting LEDs are numerous but their color is not aggressive as in the G2. Instead, their light is mostly blue and cold. In the G70S, the logo on the lid, the holes of the front speakers and the vent hole of the cooling system are all highlighted.

The notebook’s front panel carries two pairs of system indicators and two highlighted speakers.

The brightness and color of the speakers’ highlighting depends on the sound volume by default.

The lid doesn’t obscure these indicators when closed. The indicators include (from left to right):

The lid lock is designed as a chrome press button. The screen hinges are stiff, allowing to fix the screen at any angle. The maximum angle is considerably less than 180 degrees.

The interior of the G70S lacks glossy surfaces. The zone beneath your wrists is made from rough patterned plastic. The keyboard is framed into an aluminum plate that extends down along the sides. There are a lot of rubber pads around the screen for softer contact with the notebook’s body when closed.

A 2-megapixel camera without turning capability is built into the top center of the screen bezel. You should aim it by tilting the notebook’s lid. The camera block is topped with glass. The small-mesh grid around the camera hides a mono microphone. The camera is highlighted with bight blue LEDs when active.

The G70S is equipped with a widescreen 17.1-inch LCD matrix that has an aspect ratio of 16:10 (WUXGA). Its native resolution is 1980x1200 pixels. The matrix’s viewing angles seem to be extremely wide for a notebook’s display. The two backlight lamps are supposed to ensure high brightness whereas the response time of the LCD matrix is specified to be 8 milliseconds. The matrix has a glossy coating that increases contrast and saturation but also acts as a mirror, reflecting every bright object behind your back. ASUS calls this coating Color Shine technology. So, you have to find a proper position and ambient lighting before you sit down to play with this notebook.

The notebook also features Splendid Video Enhancement technology (a number of factory-set image modes differing in color saturation and color temperature). You can choose a Splendid mode with an appropriate quick button or with the Fn+C shortcut.


Asus Splendid settings

Besides the factory-set modes (Normal, Gamma, Vivid, Theater and Soft), you can create your own one. Just choose the My Profile option and achieve the image you want using the available settings.

The G70S offers 16 grades of screen brightness but the screen is too dark at the lowest grades. The brightness level is adjusted by pressing Fn together with F5 and F6.

The notebook is equipped with a 99-key black keyboard. The buttons are soft and responsive and do not rattle. The movement keys are shifted below the keyboard’s baseline, which lowers the chance of your pressing them accidentally. The bottom left corner is occupied by a Ctrl button. This should be inconvenient for people who are used to shortcuts like Ctrl+C or Ctrl+V. The numpad is designed as a separate block adjacent to the right of the main keyboard. The functional keys are somewhat smaller than others. 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 are red arrows on the gaming buttons W, A, S and D as well as on the buttons 8, 4, 6 and 2 of the numpad.

Although it is good to have a dedicated numpad, there are some problems about it. This block is pressed tight to the main keyboard and has a nonstandard layout. The 0 button is half its normal size while the Dot button has moved up to the top – you are likely to press Enter instead of it until you get used to this layout. Moreover, the notebook’s Home, Page Up, Page Down and End button are combined with the numpad and you can’t use both these buttons and the numpad simultaneously.

To the right above the keyboard there more indicators, instant launch buttons, and a Power button. The instant-launch buttons are touch-sensitive. They are highlighted in bright blue when the notebook is turned on, getting even brighter when you press them. This block of indicators and buttons includes (from left to right):

The auxiliary OLED screen is placed to the left of the keyboard indicators.

As we noted above, the front pair of speakers is built into the notebook’s front panel. The second pair is located below the screen hinges and the keyboard like on many other notebooks. To the left of the keyboard there are five translucent instant-launch buttons and one four-position joystick with blue highlighting. You can program these buttons with the Direct Console tool.

The notebook’s touchpad has been borrowed from ASUS’s previous top-end models and updated to match the overall style. Its wide sensitive panel reacts eagerly to every touch of your finger. It is not sunken into the case at all. The bottom part of the touchpad bezel is divided into two buttons that are stiff and have a distinct click. A blue indicator is shining at the top of the bezel when the touchpad is active.

As opposed to the M50Sv, the G70S doesn’t have a permanent marking denoting the second duty of the touchpad.

But when you press the tiny Mode button in the touchpad’s top right, blue highlighting of the available virtual multimedia buttons appears. These buttons allow to perform such simple operations as stepping up/down the sound volume and screen brightness, starting or stopping playback. There are two user-defined buttons available, too. Alas, you can often press the Mode button accidentally while using the touchpad in the ordinary way. If you find this to be a problem, you may want to disable the touchpad’s multimedia function in the software.

Some connectors on the left panel are hidden by a magnetic cover.

The left panel carries the following (from left to right):

The notebook’s right panel offers an optical drive and a 26-pin ExpressCard 34/54 connector.

The back panel of the G70S carries the following:

The notebook is equipped with an 8-cell 5200mAh battery. The battery is rated for a voltage of 14.8V, which yields a capacity of 77Wh.

On the bottom panel there are covers of the HDD, memory and CPU compartments, a battery module with two locks, a shutdown/reset button, and a sticker with model information.

There are two slots in the memory compartment. Each slot is occupied by a 2048MB module. This is the maximum amount of memory the notebook supports.

Configuration

The G70S is based on an Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 processor with a clock rate of 2.5GHz (45nm Penryn core with 6 megabytes of shared L2 cache). The FSB frequency is 800MHz.


Intel Core 2 Duo T9300: cache-memory

Like the previous, Merom, core, the Core 2 Duo T9300 supports Intel’s 64-bit extensions of the x86 architecture (EM64T), so you can install a 64-bit OS on the notebook.

 
Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 in two power modes

Besides Enhanced Intel SpeedStep technology that can reduce the CPU multiplier under low loads), the Penryn core 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), FSB Frequency Switching (the FSB clock rate is automatically lowered at low loads), and Intel Dynamic Acceleration (this technology increases the frequency of the operating core in single-threaded environments; this is a kind of dynamic overclocking).

The notebook features the Intel Crestline GM965 chipset which offers a PCI Express x16 interface for an external graphics card. The South Bridge is the ICH8-M chip.


Intel Crestline PM965 chipset

The Santa Rosa Refresh platform is made complete by the Intel Pro/Wireless 4965AGN adapter that supports 802.11a/b/g as well as the newest 802.11n. The latter standard is yet under development but already supported by a number of devices such as Wi-Fi cards, access points, routers, etc. It provides a data-transfer rate up to 300Mbps.

The G70S comes with two GeForce 8700M GT graphics cards. This card is based on the 80nm G84 core clocked at 625MHz and has 512 megabytes of dedicated GDDR3 memory with a 128-bit interface. You can disable SLI mode and use one card only to save power – this can be done in Nvidia’s Control Panel (the notebook will require a reboot for the changes to come into effect).

The notebook is also equipped with two identical hard drives WDC WD3200BEVT (2.5-inch form-factor, 5400rpm spindle rotation speed, SATA interface, 320GB capacity). It also features a Matshita BD-CMB UJ-120 BD-drive that can read Blu-ray media, and read and burn CDs and DVDs.

The notebook supports DDR2-667 SDRAM, the fastest memory available on the Santa Rosa Refresh platform. The memory subsystem works in dual-channel mode as reported by CPU-Z. The G70S comes equipped with the maximum amount of memory it can support.


Dual-channel memory mode

The following table lists the detailed specifications of the G70S notebook.

Test Methods

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 (PCMark Vantage and SYSmark 2007) and games (3DMark 2006 1.1.0, 3DMark Vantage, Half Life 2, F.E.A.R., Quake4)
  2. Battery life tests (MobileMark 2007)

There are three test modes in Mobile Mark 2007:

We also measured the notebook’s temperature after it had run 3DMark 2006 1.1.0. This test was performed twice: with the notebook standing on the smooth surface of a desk and on the soft fabric of a sofa.

Performance

PCMark benchmarks computer’s performance in office and office-related applications. 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 Vantage version focuses on typical work scenarios rather than on computer components as in the earlier versions.

The Core 2 Duo T9300 processor based on the Penryn core is a top-end solution as it proves in the test. Despite the fact that PCMark Vantage can make use of SLI technology, there is no dramatic improvement in terms of gaming performance. When the notebook switches to its battery, its CPU clock rate is reduced to 1.2GHz to save power, which affects the test results. The FSB Frequency Switching technology doesn’t seem to affect the notebook’s performance, though.

The new version of SYSMark is intended to reveal a computer’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 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 Video Creation scenario 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. The next test, Productivity, emulates 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. And finally, the 3D 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.

3DMark uses its own rendering engine to create a set of 3D scenes that load the graphics subsystem in various ways.

New in our notebook tests, 3DMark Vantage features a new game engine with support for DirectX 10. This benchmarking suite offers four presets (Entry, Performance, High, Extreme) for testing different graphics cards. It supports Windows Vista only and includes four tests, two for the CPU and two for the graphics card. The graphics card tests show one open scene and one closed environment. The scenes of the CPU tests have a lot of moving objects (small planes flying along specific trajectories). Six more tests are designed to test specific parameters of the graphics subsystem.

Just as promised by ASUS, the G80S scores 8,000 points in 3DMark 2006 when you enable SLI technology. That’s the best result of all the notebooks we have tested in our labs. When SLI is disabled, the performance is twice lower. And when the notebook works on its battery, Nvidia’s PowerMizer technology cuts the results by half once again.

It is only in F.E.A.R. that SLI technology improves performance, even at the low resolution.

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 modes 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.

As you can see, there is no sense in turning SLI off for working in ordinary applications because the battery life doesn’t change much then. And the battery life itself is very short. The notebook can barely last 1 hour on its battery. On the other hand, you could hardly expect anything else from a gaming notebook with a large display. It should be rather viewed as a computer with an integrated UPS rather than a truly portable device.

And finally we measured the temperature of the notebook’s surfaces after it had run 3DMark 2006 for half an hour. The ambient temperature was 23°C. The CPU temperature was reported by CPUID Hardware Monitor.

The dual cooling system does its job well. The notebook’s temperature is quite normal. It is unlikely to overheat.

Conclusion

The G70S marks a new level of performance in ASUS’s gaming series of notebooks. The designer team has endowed this machine with a true gaming spirit. Its original highlighting is spectacular indeed. The G70S puts to shame every other notebook we have tested in our labs so far when it comes to sheer speed, too. No other notebook we’ve dealt with could deliver such a high performance in 3D games.

Highs:

Lows: