by Alexander Britvin
07/03/2007 | 10:36 AM
Being targeted at a narrow user audience, the category of Tablet PCs is not yet very popular among the multitude of portable computer varieties. You may want to buy such a tablet if you are not satisfied with the functionality of the standard notebook and need a means to input text by writing it, not only by typing it on the keyboard. The handwriting input is supported by means of a stylus and an appropriate screen.
All major notebook makers are offering models that can be transformed into a tablet but ASUS hadn’t explored this market niche until Computex 2006. The company had taken a time-out to give its engineers and designers enough time to learn from the competitors’ mistakes and develop a business user oriented product that would incorporate ASUS’ vast notebook-making experience.
The R1F model has an optimal size of the screen, 13.3 inches, fitting right between sub-notebooks and desknotes and blending mobility with ergonomics in a most appropriate way. Besides what every regular notebook can do, the R1F can turn its “head” around clockwise by 180 degrees and transform into a tablet PC with handwriting input and stylus-based navigation.
This transformer notebook also features a modular design and allows hot-swapping the optical drive for an additional battery, a hard disk drive, or a plug if you just want to reduce the computer’s weight.
We will first describe the notebook’s interior and exterior and then will test it in our traditional set of benchmarks. The ASUS R1F will be opposed by the Acer TravelMate 6463WLMi that has an identical CPU and a weak, even though discrete, graphics core (for details see our article called Acer TravelMate 6463WLMi Notebook: Performance and Security).
ASUS’ traditional packaging style is maintained here. The large external cardboard box contains a bag to carry the notebook around and a smaller black box with the notebook and accessories.
The bag fabric resembles the fabric of the pouch included with the ASUS S6F and the leather pieces in the corners add it more style (for details on the S6F model read our review called ASUS S6F Notebook: Miniature Fellow in Leather Outfit). The black box with the notebook has an original design: its right glossy fold holds the other fold underneath by means of a magnet. The manufacturer’s logo is present on the bag as well as on the box.
Opening both folds of the black box we found the R1F in a pouch like the one supplied with the ASUS S6F, but the transformer’s has a leather piece with pressed-out ASUS insignia and two magnet locks. The pouch doesn’t have any handle or straps, as opposed to the bag, but it provides protection against scratches, etc.
Besides the notebook and the means of carrying it, we found the following in the box: a 5200mAh battery, a power adapter with a LED indicator, a modem cable (RJ-11), documentation (“Quick Installation Guide”, warranty certificate, a list of authorized service centers worldwide, user manual), a Bluetooth mouse with ASUS logo and two AA batteries from Fujitsu, a TV cable, an ASUS cable brace, a stylus with spare plastic tips, a modular tray to replace the DVD drive with, a napkin to clean the LCD panel, and a set of discs that includes:
This set of accessories is rich, but an additional battery would come in handy considering the modular notebook design. The tip of the stylus is used for writing and for navigating files and folders. Its other end serves as an eraser. There is also a button on the stylus case you can “click” with. The matrix reacts to the stylus only. You cannot use your fingers instead and an accidental touch of the screen won’t move the pointer away.
The mouse is manufactured by Logitech and equipped with a Bluetooth interface. It is powered by standard AA batteries included into the box. To change the batteries, you should pull the top panel back, away from the buttons. So, the ASUS R1F offers as many as three pointing devices: a mouse, a touchpad, and a stylus.
Turn On/Off and Reset buttons can be found on the mouse’s bottom.
The characteristic traits of ASUS notebooks can be spotted in the front view of this device. The gray plastic case grows thicker towards the display hinge. The angles are all smoothed out. A silvery band goes around the notebook, creating an impression of visual lightness.
A metallized logo of the manufacturer is set in the middle of the lid.
The display lock is double-sided and is opened by means of a push button.
The lock looks aesthetical and it has to be double-sided due to the necessity to fix the lid when the notebook is closed (with the matrix down) as well as in the tablet mode (with the matrix up). The display hinge is stiff, so the notebook is unlikely to unfold on your pressing the push button accidentally. The lid wobbles just a little bit, but this is a common problem of all tablet PCs we’ve ever dealt with.
The rear part of the lid, closer to the hinge, is painted a darker shade of gray. There is an external group of indicators there (from right to left):
What makes this notebook special is the way its display is fastened to its body. There is one hinge designed as a turnable block with two degrees of freedom.
The block can be turned around clockwise by an angle of 180 degrees. The display is not fixed in the limiting positions, which is somewhat inconvenient when you are using your R1F as an ordinary notebook, for example. The hinge does not protrude much at the rear, thus not spoiling the overall appearance of the notebook.
The notebook can be unfolded by an exact 180 degrees.
The external color scheme is continued inside. Everything, including the touchpad, is painted gray. There are rubber pads on the screen bezel for softer contact between the display and the body in the notebook mode. Two more pads are placed on both sides of the keyboard – these perform the softening function in the tablet mode.
This seems to be the most functional of screen bezels we’ve ever seen. There is a port of the integrated monophonic microphone in its top right corner:
The bottom of the bezel is wider and contains a decorative strip with five indicators, which are visible in both notebook and tablet modes:
Opposite these indicators there are three tablet-mode-oriented buttons (Control+Alt+Del, Esc, and Rotation that rotates the onscreen image clockwise), a HOLD slider (to block the mentioned three buttons), and a fingerprint scanner supporting an optional TPM module. The buttons are available in the notebook mode as well.
The ASUS R1F is equipped with a 13.3” LCD matrix that has a native resolution of 1280x800 pixels and an aspect ratio of 16:10 (WXGA). The display has a glare-free matte coating. The notebook being designed in Tablet PC form-factor, which implies the use of a stylus on the screen, the matrix surface has a special protective layer.
The notebook also features ASUS Splendid Video Enhancement technology. It allows adjusting the onscreen image by means of preset modes (selectable with the Fn+C combination; the current mode can be seen in the onscreen menu (OSD)).
The R1F offers 16 grades of screen brightness, but it is virtually impossible to see anything in the screen at the lowest grades.
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.
ASUS’ power-saving technologies did not reduce brightness in the battery mode, probably due to the new Windows Vista OS. The contrast ratio is lower in the battery mode, though.
AC power source:
DC power source:
The ASUS R1F is equipped with an 87-key black keyboard. Some of the keys are reduced in size due to the small form-factor of the notebook, making it less convenient to use them. The Enter button is shaped classically like the letter L. 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 Fn button is located in the bottom left corner, which may prove inconvenient for people who are used to Control-involving shortcuts. Numeric buttons and two Windows keys are available: the Context Menu key is placed over one key to the right of the spacebar; the Windows Logo key is over two keys to the left of the spacebar. The functional keys are smaller than others. Home, PgUp, PgDn and End make up a column above the Arrow Right button. Print Scrn, Pause, Insert and Del end the row of functional keys. The letters are painted white, the functional keys are painted blue (you should press them in combination with Fn to access their additional functions).
The rest of system indicators are placed above the keyboard on the right together with a WLAN On/Off slider and a button to launch ASUS’ exclusive Power4 Gear+ utility. The latter offers several power modes that vary in such parameters as CPU frequency, screen brightness, Windows power management scheme, etc. Three Power4 Gear+ modes are available when the notebook is connected to the wall socket and seven when it works on its battery.
A change of the position of the WLAN slider is indicated on the screen in the following manner:
The second group of indicators includes:
Stereo speakers are built into the left and right corners of the notebook above the keyboard. They are blocked by the display in the tablet mode.
The volume level is adjusted by pressing Fn together with F10, F11 and F12, which is indicated on the screen as follows:
The touchpad matches the size of the notebook. It merges into its surroundings with its color and texture and is visually outlined with small grooves around the touch-sensitive panel and the two buttons that replace the ordinary mouse’s left and right buttons. The touchpad lacks a dedicated scrolling zone or a scrolling joystick.
If you are using an external mouse and want to avoid the touchpad reacting to an accidental touch, you may want to block the latter by pressing Fn+F9.
The notebook’s left panel carries a minimum of components (from left to right):
The Power button has been moved from under the display to the left panel in order to be available in the tablet mode. The button is designed like a slider, highlighted with a blue LED when the notebook is turned on.
The notebook’s right panel offers a slot-loaded optical drive with eject button and a card-reader.
The 4-in-1 card-reader supports Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, MultiMedia Card and Secure Digital formats.
The rear panel of the ASUS R1F is generously equipped with the following connectors:
The rectangular battery has a capacity of 5200mAh. It is located under your right hand and you won’t feel any warmth there at work.
On the bottom panel you can find a cover of the joint memory and CPU compartment, a battery module with spring-loaded lock, an emergency shutdown hole, a lock of the modular block, and stickers with model information and OS serial number.
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.
The ASUS R1F is based on a dual-core Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 processor with a clock rate of 1.66GHz (65nm Merom core with 2 megabytes of shared L2 cache).
The Core 2 Duo 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. The speed of processing SSE and floating-point instructions has been increased, too.
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 Intel Core 2 Duo in Notebooks: Centrino Duo Platform Refreshed.
This implementation of the refresh version of the Napa platform also incorporates an Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG adapter and an Intel Calistoga 945GM chipset. The 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. 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 for external devices. For more information about the platform, visit the manufacturer’s website.
The i945GM chipset incorporates Intel’s Graphics Media Accelerator 950. As opposed to GMA 900, this integrated graphics core supports higher core frequencies (up to 400MHz) and a larger amount of dynamically allotted memory (up to 224MB). GMA 950 has four pixel pipelines and can map four textures per clock cycle. Like GMA 900, it supports DirectX 9 and Pixel Shader 2.0 on the GPU and Vertex Shader 3.0 and T&L on the CPU. GMA 950 is a fully DirectX 9-compliant, though. The detailed specification of the GMA 950 can be found at the manufacturer’s website.
The notebook comes with a Fujitsu MHV2120BH PL hard disk drive (2.5” form-factor, 5400rpm spindle rotation speed, 120GB capacity, Serial ATA interface) and a slot-loaded Matsushita UJ-85JS DVD-burner with the following speed formula:
The ASUS R1F is equipped with DDR2-677 SDRAM, the fastest memory type available today. Each slot in the memory compartment is occupied by a 512MB module. The notebook supports a maximum of 2048MB of system RAM, so you’ve got an upgrade opportunity here. The memory works in dual-channel mode:
You can see an ASUS Green label here meaning that the notebook is RoHS directive compliant, i.e. it is manufactured without lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium and polybrominated flame retardants.
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:
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 because the included disc contained drivers for Windows Vista), 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.
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.
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.
Being equipped with identical Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 CPUs, the notebooks have identical results in the CPU tests. The numbers are twice lower in the battery mode because the CPU clock rate is reduced to save power.
The tablet PC’s memory subsystem is better in the tests as its capacity is twice larger than in the opponent notebook and it works in dual-channel mode and at the highest possible frequency. The integrated graphics core is a little slower than the weak discrete one when the notebooks are powered from the mains, but enjoys an advantage in the battery mode. The disk subsystems deliver similar, and rather high, performance.
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:
These tests depend on CPU performance as well as on the amount and frequency of system memory. That’s why the ASUS F1R is in the lead. The numbers are lower in the battery mode due 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.
This test depends largely on CPU performance and the identical CPUs installed in the two notebooks ensure similar results. The numbers are lower in the battery proportionally 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.
GMA 950 performs better in the 2D test than the discrete Mobility Radeon X1300 with 128 megabytes of dedicated graphics memory. The integrated core is allotted more memory, however, which also works at a higher frequency. The results are lower in the battery mode as the CPU frequency is reduced.
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 ASUS F1R delivers higher performance in office applications than its opponent.
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 ASUS R1F shows better communication capabilities than the Acer TravelMate 6463WLMi. This subtest is not as CPU-dependent as the others and the numbers aren’t much lower in the battery mode.
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 similar hardware configurations deliver similar performance. The results are lower in the battery mode in proportion to the CPU frequency drop.
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 with those of the previous scripts.
The ASUS R1F is equipped with Intel GMA 950, an integrated graphics solution, and 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 discrete graphics solution from ATI installed in the Acer TravelMate 6463WLMi is ahead only when the notebooks are powered from the mains. The integrated core is better when powered by the battery.
Next, we tested the notebooks in two 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 by ourselves and we use it in every review of notebooks on our site so that different notebooks could be compared under identical conditions.
When powered from the mains, the ASUS notebook is a little slower than its opponent, but the two are equals when powered by the batteries.
The final test summarizes the gaming capabilities of the ASUS R1F: the first Tablet PC from ASUS is intended for office applications rather than for playing 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:
Almost three hours in the Reader’s mode is quite a long time considering the notebook’s functionality and modular design that allows to increase its battery life even more.
Here are the battery discharge diagrams for the different operation modes.
If you have been waiting for ASUS to release a tablet notebook, you should be quite satisfied now. The R1F is an excellent mix of optimal weight/size parameters and superb ergonomics. This transformer supports both keyboard- and stylus-based data input and features an advanced hardware configuration as well as a long battery life (which can be increased further thanks to the modular design).
The first Tablet PC with the ASUS brand is targeted at active, hard-working people whose activities are not limited to the office. Tablet PCs is exactly the class of notebooks that can offer such users a maximum of functionality.
The only downside of this machine is its low gaming performance, but true businessmen have more serious games to play.