by Alexander Britvin
12/07/2006 | 09:24 PM
Modern fashion is changeable as weather in spring, but there are fundamentals – accessories and materials – that never fall out of its scope. Whatever environmentalists and wildlife protectionists may say, articles of clothing made from natural materials are always fashionable, even though changing a little in design or coloring over time.
Leather, like wine, is only getting more expensive and better with years if cared about properly. Worn-out spots only add more charm to things made of it. A car whose interior is finished off with expensive woods and leather speaks without words about the status of its owner – it is not to be driven by a man in a ragged T-shirt! Maintaining one’s image is a hard and never-ending process, and every thing about you must contribute to it.
Why all this talk about leather you may be wondering? Well, there have been precedents in the world of mobile devices like cell phones dressed in leather, but there have been no notebooks that would have even a patch of it on board. And now ASUS’ designers have changed this situation by releasing the S6F model.
Yes, this is the missing accessory of a successful person that ensures an instant and unmistakable recognition of its owner’s status! The rest is in the owner’s hands as is the notebook itself. Measuring less than an A4-sized paper sheet at 271x192x37mm, the ASUS S6F is a representative of the sub-notebook class. Its weight with a 3-cell battery is a mere 1.37kg. Quite impressive size/weight parameters, I should say.
Yet another exciting thing about the ASUS S6F is its configuration. It may seem there’s nothing to surprise us with, nothing the potential customer hasn’t yet seen. As you know, sub-notebooks based on the Sonoma platform used to incorporate Low Voltage and Ultra Low Voltage Pentium M processors, but now the Pentium M series is steadily becoming a thing of the past. The year of 2006 has been the year of the Napa platform that includes the dual-core processor Intel Core Duo (to be exact, a small market segment is also occupied by the single-core Intel Core Solo which is considered part of the Napa platform, too). The ASUS S6F follows the good old tradition, being based on a Low Voltage processor from Intel, but it is dual-core now! Low Voltage processors (with the letter L in the model name) boast much lower power consumption in comparison with their T-indexed counterparts. The typical heat dissipation of the L series is 15W as opposed to the T series’ 31W, and the rest of their parameters are identical (except that the Low Voltage series processors cost somewhat more).
You can find some discrepancies in Intel’s CPU nomenclature. The ASUS S6F that I am going to test today is based on an Intel Core Duo L2300 1.50GHz whereas the T2300 model has a default clock rate of 1.66GHz. This is the single difference between the designations of processors on the Yonah core.
Now, I will tell you about the ASUS S6F in a more methodical way. It might be correct to compare this notebook with its closest market rivals, like the Sony VAIO VGN-TX1XRP, but the latter is based on the Sonoma platform and would be handicapped in performance tests. That’s why I took an ASUS W6F as an opponent to the S6F. The W6F is equipped with an Intel Core Duo T2300 processor which has a slightly higher clock rate (we just hadn’t yet tested similar notebooks with a CPU clock rate of 1.50GHz).
The packaging of the ASUS S6F should tickle one’s aesthetic feeling. It follows ASUS’ traditional “box in a box in a box” principle, but the boxes are designed very cutely here.
Opening the cover of the external box, you find an original pouch to carry the notebook in. The pouch doesn’t have a shoulder belt – the manufacturer implies that this notebook is not to be carried long in the hands. From the car to the office at longest. :)
Beneath the pouch and behind two “doors” you will find the sub-notebook with all of its accessories. These are an additional 3-cell 2600mAh battery and a basic 6-cell 5200mAh battery, a power adapter with indicator, a modem cable, a TV cable (this is a rather useless accessory as the ASUS S6F lacks an S-Video port), documentation (Quick Installation Guide, 2-year warranty, a list of authorized service centers around the world, and a user manual), a corded USB mouse with a leather top to match the notebook’s style and an ASUS logo in the middle, and a set of CDs that includes:
So, I took the S6F out the box and into my hands. Its lid is covered with hand-embossed leather which means that there are no identical samples of the notebook. Each sample is unique. The only not-leather detail here is the metal insert with the ASUS brand.
The leather, metal and the dual-core heart under the hood indicate the masculine character of this machine. However, ASUS doesn’t promote it as a man’s accessory only and offers several color schemes that would suit a businesswoman as well. Besides brown, the lid may be dark-gray, pink or white.
The notebook’s lid doesn’t have a lock, but the hinges hold it down quite strongly. Applying some effort, you can lift the lid up to see some more leather. The keyboard is painted silvery, resembling the Sony VAIO VGN-TX1XRP. The touchpad adds a bit of silver, too. Your hands are going to lie on a material that is more pleasant to touch than the traditional plastic or a magnesium alloy. The screen bezel is painted silvery, too. There are rubber pads on its top for softer contact between the lid and the notebook’s body. Below the screen there is a band of stainless steel that hides two symmetrically placed speakers that produce a characteristic sub-notebook’s squeaking sound. A final touch to this picture is a manufacturer’s logo centered below the display.
There is another chrome-plated label above the movement keys, the same as on the lid but with the series name.
The display is fastened to the notebook’s body in a way that is similar to the Sony VAIO VGN-TX1XRP. The rear part of the notebook rises up a little and is shaped cylindrically. The screen hinges proper are rounded off, too, and fit perfectly into this cylinder. The notebook unfolds at an angle of considerably less than 180 degrees. It’s not quite good as some users like to have their notebooks fully unfolded.
The names of the manufacturer and product series are engraved on the ends of the cylindrical hinge.
The ASUS S6F is equipped with an 11.1” matrix with a maximum resolution of 1366x768 pixels and an aspect ratio of 16:9 (WXGA). This makes the screen wider and more functional in comparison with the traditional 16:10 aspect ratio. The vertical and horizontal viewing angles are quite wide for normal work. The glassy coating of the display helps make the image colors more saturated, but also reflects any well-lit object or light source behind your back. So you have to take care about proper lighting before you sit down with this notebook to work.
The matrix is manufactured with ASUS’ Color Shine technology. ASUS claims this technology of making “glassy” LCD displays with a special polymer coating improves image quality and color saturation, thus resulting in a vivid and colorful image.
The S6F also features ASUS’ Crystal Shine and Splendid Video Enhancement technologies. The former helps the display yield a sharp image with bright and lively colors that suits perfectly for watching movies and playing games.
The Splendid Video Enhancement allows adjusting the onscreen image by using preset modes (you control them with the Fn+C key combination).
The S6F offers 16 grades of brightness but you can’t use the computer at the lowest brightness settings because it’s virtually impossible to discern anything in the screen then.
I measured the brightness and contrast of the notebook’s display using a Pantone ColorVision Spyder with OptiCAL version 3.7.8 software. I selected the highest brightness setting before this test, but it was considerably reduced when the notebook switched to its battery, automatically enabling power-saving mode. Note that the contrast ratio is very high irrespective of the power source:
AC power source:
DC power source:
They put a block of status indicators in between the screen hinges. They shine from blue and orange to a light violet. This group includes (from left to right):
As is often the case with small-diagonal ASUS notebooks, Num Lock and Scroll Lock indicators are missing. It is rather hard to see the status indicators if the lid is closed.
Symmetrically to the status indicators, but near the left hinge, there is a button to launch ASUS’ exclusive Power4 Gear+ utility which 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 notebook can be miniaturized infinitely and power consumption of its components can be reduced further, but the size of the keyboard is still an important ergonomic factor that is hard to improve in a sub-notebook. The ASUS S6F is not an exception despite its display aspect ratio of 16:9. This notebook is equipped with an 83-key keyboard that fully occupies the entire width of the case. The Enter button is shaped 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, not quite conveniently for people who are used to shortcuts like Ctrl+C or Ctrl+V (Fn may be unintentionally pressed instead of Ctrl). 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 on the left of the spacebar. The functional keys are smaller than others and are combined with Home, PgUp, PgDn and End. Pause, Print Screen, Insert and Delete are placed in the same line with the functional keys (you should press them in combination with Fn to access their additional functions). The keyboard is convenient as concerns the movement and response of its keys, but you have to get used to the reduced size of the keys.
The touchpad is framed into a silvery bezel that separates it from the leather surroundings. The sensitive field lacks a scrolling zone, which is normal for a sub-notebook. There seem to be only one button under the touchpad, but there are actually two of them there. They just don’t have a separating line. The buttons perform the functions of the mouse’s ones. There is no scrolling joystick here.
The touchpad can be blocked by pressing Fn+F9. The screen shows the following icon then:
The notebook’s left panel seems to contain only the following (from left to right):
But the magnetically held panel that blends into the case with its color conceals a few more ports and connectors:
The notebook’s right panel offers you these items (from left to right):
And here’s what you can find at the notebook’s back:
As I wrote above, you get two batteries (a 3-cell 2600mAh and a 6-cell 5200mAh one) with the notebook and it’s not quite clear which should be considered the default one. When you install the 6-cell battery, the notebook begins to resemble the Sony VAIO VGN-TX1XRP with its battery protruding beyond the dimensions of the case. The three cells fit perfectly into their place and do not stick out.
Another peculiarity of S6 series batteries, which reminds me Sony’s VAIO VGN-SZ1HRP/B and VAIO VGN-SZ1XRP/C, is that the spring-loaded and manual locks are placed on the battery rather than on the notebook’s case.
On the notebook’s bottom panel there are: a battery module, a memory compartment, a reset hole (in case the Ctrl+Alt+Del key combination doesn’t work), and stickers with information about the model and the OS serial number. The rest of the notebook’s innards are securely covered with a single panel.
The memory compartment accommodates one slot occupied with a 512MB module. You can replace it with a 1GB one, but you won’t have dual-channel memory access then. The second slot is located on the mainboard; a 512MB module is fixed in it.
The Napa platform is not anything new already. A number of Napa-based notebooks have come through our test labs since the platform’s announcement at the beginning of this year. However, we haven’t yet tested Intel Core Duo processors of the Low Voltage variety as yet. The ASUS S6F is based on such a CPU with a rating of L2300 and a clock rate of 1.5GHz (the default frequency was reduced in order to achieve low power consumption). The CPU is based on the 65nm Yonah core with a shared 2MB L2 cache.
Besides Intel’s traditional Enhanced SpeedStep technology that gives the notebook’s software and BIOS 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 enter Deep Sleep mode with the lowest power consumption possible) and Dynamic Cache Sizing (unused cache segments can be turned off to reduce power consumption). For more information refer to our Centrino Duo Mobile Platform Review.
The Napa platform also incorporates an Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG adapter and an Intel Calistoga 945GM chipset. This 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 and is 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 to connect external devices.
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, but limited to 128MB in the S6F). 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. A detailed specification of the i945GM can be found at the manufacturer’s website .
The ASUS S6F comes with a Seagate Momentus ST9100824A hard disk drive (2.5” form-factor, 5400rpm, 100GB) and a Matsushita UJ-832S DVD-drive with the following speed formula:
The notebook is equipped with two 512MB modules of DDR2-533 SDRAM which work in dual-channel mode. One module is installed on the mainboard and cannot be removed; the other is accessible to the user. You can replace the latter with a 1GB one to have the maximum amount of system memory supported by this notebook.
I 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 temperature is rather high. I also measured it to be 46°C at the exhaust hole on the notebook’s left side while the touchpad’s temperature was 34°C. These are not critical numbers, yet there’s nothing good about them, either. The small dimensions of the S6F made it hard for the engineers to develop an efficient cooling system even for a Low Voltage processor. But you can use it as a heating pad in winter. J
The table below lists the specification of the S6F in comparison with that of the ASUS W6F:
The notebook’s hard drive was formatted in NTFS before the tests. Then I 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.
The following settings were used for the tests:
Two power modes were used. First, I selected the Always On power mode for the maximum performance and the shortest battery life. Then I switched to the Max Battery mode for the maximum battery run-down time.
There are three test modes in Battery Eater:
I 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) I played a movie from a CD-R disc. The notebook’s optical drive refused to read DVDs – I hope it is a defect of our particular sample of the notebook, so I don’t count this in among its drawbacks.
As usual, I will first run synthetic benchmarks.
SiSoftware Sandra 2004 measures the overall performance of the system as well as that of each of its subsystems, while PCMark 2004 benchmarks the computer performance in office and multimedia applications and also produces performance scores for the main subsystems (CPU, memory, graphical, and disk subsystem).
The numbers reported by the CPU test are proportional to the CPU frequencies of the two notebooks. When the notebooks switch to their batteries and begin to work in power-saving mode, their CPU frequency is reduced to 1GHz and they get nearly identical CPU scores in the test. The ASUS S6F wins the disk and memory subsystem tests due to its faster hard disk drive and larger amount of system memory working in dual-channel mode. The same factors contribute to its winning PCMark 2004’s graphics subsystem test.
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 determines the 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 results of these tests:
Notwithstanding its weaker CPU, the ASUS S6F delivers higher performance in every test from PC Magazine thanks to its faster disk subsystem and larger amount of system memory. When working on the batteries, the notebooks’ performance declines proportionally to the CPU frequency drop.
The notebooks are each equipped with Intel’s Graphics Media Accelerator 950, so I benchmarked them in 3DMark 2001 SE Pro as well as in 3DMark 2003 3.60.
3DMark uses a set of 3D scenes rendered by its own graphics engine to check the capabilities of a computer’s graphics subsystem.
3DMark agrees with the previous tests that the ASUS S6F has higher overall performance despite its weaker CPU. It enjoys a considerable advantage over its opponent here.
Next, I tested the notebooks in two modes in Quake 3 :
This test doesn’t tell us anything new except that the ASUS W6F manages to win in the low-resolution mode when powered from the electric mains.
The last graphics test agrees with the previous ones, preferring higher overall performance to a faster CPU. So, the ASUS S6F is not a full-featured gaming station and is not positioned as such on the market, yet it is quite possible to run some 3D games on it from time to time.
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:
A long applause is deserved here! The ASUS S6F beats every opponent with its 6-cell battery and stops very short of the promised five hours of autonomous operation in the Reader’s mode. That’s a fine result that confirms the correctness of the notebook’s positioning as of a businessman’s reliable traveling companion. And this is not the limit says the manufacturer! If you purchase an optional 9-cell battery, the notebook will last as long as three more hours on it, although its exterior design and weight characteristics will suffer somewhat.
Here are the battery discharge diagrams for the different operation modes.
The ASUS S6F represents a rarely seen combination of an exclusive exterior with a cutting-edge stuffing. Besides attracting curious glances, the leather surface of this notebook helps avoid scratches and cracks that might appear on a plastic surface. The advanced configuration makes the ASUS S6F as suitable for serious work as any other notebook while the full set of wireless interfaces helps you be in touch and connected wherever you go.
Who is the potential user of this machine? I would picture it as a mature and confident businessman who can appreciate a combination of style, functionality and high performance. A person who values his time and is ready to pay extra for the right to possess a truly exclusive piece of hardware.