Asus U1F: Ultra Compact High-End Notebook

The U1 series is interesting for a number of non-standard solutions utilized in it. Particularly, the use of new materials (such as magnesium-aluminum alloy, robust carbon fiber, polished stainless steel), LED-based backlighting of the display, longer battery life, etc. Today we are going to take a real close look at this solution in our review!

by Alexander Britvin
11/01/2007 | 05:11 PM

The modern lifestyle is an active lifestyle. You have to move around to stay in touch. You don’t need extra weight on you or bulging pockets as this is not what is called mobility. To be modern, you need brain power to set and achieve your goals and you need to look elegant and stylish. An obligatory attribute of a modern businessman is a portable computer that should be different from an ordinary laptop. Such a notebook must not only be a work tool of low weight and small size, but also part of its owner’s style. So, besides broad functionality, it must have a remarkable and stern exterior design.

 

If there is demand, there must be supply as well. One vision of a modern hyper-mobile business notebook is offered by ASUS in its U1F model. The U1 series is interesting for its using a number of non-standard solutions. Particularly, the magnesium-aluminum alloy of the lid is covered with black piano lacquer on the outside. If you keep the lid clean, you’ll be able to use it as a mirror. The notebook’s body is made from robust carbon fiber that keeps the expensive innards as safe as possible. The moldings around the display and the bottom of the case, and the touchpad bezel are made from polished stainless steel. The keyboard is surrounded with black leather like on the ASUS S6F. The display uses LED-based backlighting instead of traditional fluorescent lamps. As a result, the lid is only 5mm thick, the battery life has got longer, and the brightness and saturation of the image have improved even visually. The notebook comes with an Intel Core Duo Ultra Low Voltage processor with a typical heat dissipation of 9W that features all the technologies you expect to find in the Core series.

In this review we’ll have a closer look at this prestige notebook. We’ll check out its accessories, its exterior and interior, and then will test it in accordance with our traditional methodology. The ASUS U1F is opposed on the market by Sony’s TX series notebooks (see our article called SONY VAIO VGN-TX1XRP Review: New Look of the Popular Laptop Family) that are similar to it in many respects, but it would be incorrect to compare them in performance tests because Sony’s products are based on single-core processors. The dual-core TZ series has not yet been tested in our labs. That’s why the U1F will pass our tests all alone, without any opponents.

Package and Accessories

The U1F resembles the ASUS S6F with its packaging (see our article called ASUS S6F Notebook: Miniature Fellow in Leather Outfit). Inside a cardboard wrapper there is a black box with the word ASUS in the center of its top.

This packaging calls for a step by step approach. First you unfold the lid and see the notebook itself clad in a black fabric pouch with a metallic logo of the manufacturer in the bottom right corner. This pouch lacks any handle or strap and is not meant for long walks around the city, but it protects the lacquered surface against scratches well enough. Below the pouch there lies an external optical drive.

After that you can see two folds that conceal the rest of the accessories: two batteries (a 6-cell 4800mAh and a 3-cell 2400mAh one), a power adapter with LED indicator, a modem cable (RJ-45), documentation (“Quick Installation Guide”, 2-year warranty certificate, a list of authorized service centers worldwide, user manual, etc), a black Bluetooth mouse in a fabric pouch with an ASUS logo and two AA batteries from Fujitsu, a sample of leather, two napkins for cleaning the LCD panel and the notebook’s surfaces, and a set of discs that includes:

The mouse is colored to match the notebook itself. 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.

Besides all that, the box contains an external black DVD-burner LG GSA-T10N with a USB and power cable.

There is an activity indicator, eject button and emergency eject hole on the optical drive’s face panel. The LG GSA-T10N features the following speed characteristics:

Writing:

Reading :

Exterior Design and Ergonomics

The U1F is one of the first notebooks from ASUS that lack the characteristic traits of ASUS products. Covered with piano lacquer, the notebook’s lid is beveled at the front which smoothes the overall appearance somewhat. The steel moldings encircling the notebook’s body get thicker on the sides towards the back of the case, making the notebook’s front look smaller visually.

A manufacturer logo is set in the middle of the lid.

On the left of the front panel there is a built-in 4-in-1 card-reader that supports Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, MultiMediaCard, and Secure Digital formats.

To the right of the card-reader’s slot, under a tiny grid, there is the single speaker the notebook is equipped with. It is enough for giving sound to office applications, but you may want to use headphones for watching movies. The sound volume is controlled by pressing Fn together with F10, F11 and F12, which is indicated on the screen in the following manner:

There is no display lock as is typical of small notebooks. When closed, the lid is held down with special mechanisms in the display hinges that go out of the screen bezel. The display hinge is designed like a cylinder with a chrome core that remains visible even when the lid is closed. This fastening mechanism allows unfolding the notebook by an angle much narrower than 180 degrees.

With all the splendor on the outside, ASUS’ designers have done a good job on the notebook’s interior as well. Similar to the S6 series, genuine leather covers the free area on the notebook’s body, the black keyboard and touchpad matching it harmoniously. The area above the keyboard, including the hinge part, is black and glossy. This is all very beautiful, but the cleaning napkin included into the kit will have to be used quite frequently. Every touch of the lacquered surface is going to be immediately visible as a fingerprint. Dust speckles will be visible just as well.

Rubber pads are placed along the screen bezel for a softer contact between the notebook’s bottom and the lid. A 0.3-megapixel web-camera with activity indicator is integrated into the top of the bezel. The camera’s angle of view is regulated only by adjusting the tilt of the display.

The ASUS U1F is equipped with a widescreen 11.1” LCD matrix that has a native resolution of 1366x768 pixels. The viewing angles seem large subjectively. The “glassy” display coating makes the image more saturated and sharp, but also shows flares and reflections of well-lit objects behind your back.

This glassy display is manufactured using a special polymer coating (ASUS Color Shine technology) that is meant to improve image quality and color saturation.

Besides it, there are two more technologies, ASUS Crystal Shine and ASUS Splendid Video Enhancement.

Crystal Shine technology is claimed to provide a higher brightness of the screen so that the notebook could produce a sharp picture with vivid colors even under bright ambient lighting, which makes it suitable for watching movies and playing games.

The notebook also features ASUS Splendid Video Enhancement technology. It allows adjusting the onscreen image by means of preset modes.

These modes are selectable with the Fn+C combination; the current mode can be see in the onscreen menu.

The U1F offers 16 grades of screen brightness, but it is virtually impossible to see anything in the screen at the lowest grades as the image gets too dark.

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 were enabled in the DC mode, reducing the brightness of the screen.

AC power source:

DC power source:

The ASUS U1F is equipped with an 82-key black keyboard. Some of the keys are reduced in size due to the small form-factor of the notebook. The Arrow keys are not separate from the keyboard’s mainland and are on the same level with its baseline, so there’s a higher risk of your pressing them accidentally. The Fn button is located in the bottom left corner, which should 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 to the left of the spacebar. The functional keys are smaller than others. Home, Page Up, Page Down and End are combined with the Arrow keys and are accessible via Fn. Pause, Print Screen, Insert and Delete 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).

There is an integrated monophonic microphone near the right hinge of the display.

In the middle of the cylindrical hinge there is a large group of indicators (these are not visible when the lid is closed). It includes (from left to right):

A Num Lock indicator is missing.

This block of indicators has buttons on both sides. On the right is a button to turn the notebook on. On the left is 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.

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 follows the overall style of this notebook. The touch-sensitive panel is surrounded with a polished metallic frame together with the buttons that act as the mouse’s left and right ones. There is no dedicated scrolling zone or additional scrolling joystick here. In between the touchpad buttons there is a fingerprint scanner that works together with the Trusted Platform Module.

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 the following components (from left to right):

The notebook’s right panel offers the following:

The WLAN On/Off slider is duplicated with the Fn+F2 key combination.

There are a battery module and a Kensington security slot at the notebook’s back.

The ASUS U1F comes with two batteries, 2400mAh (3-cell) and 4800mAh (6-cell). You can also buy an optional 9-cell 7800mAh battery for this notebook.

The 3-cell battery fits perfectly within the notebook’s dimensions. The 6-cell one sticks out noticeably.

The manual and spring-loaded locks are located on the battery’s body:

On the bottom panel you can find memory, HDD and WLAN compartments, a battery module, an emergency shutdown/reset hole, and stickers with model information and OS serial number.

Easy to see, the notebook doesn’t have a docking station connector, which indicates its purely mobile positioning.

The memory compartment accommodates a single slot occupied with a 512MB module. Another 512MB module is soldered to the mainboard. The notebook supports a maximum of 1536MB of memory.

Configuration

The ASUS U1F is based on an Intel Core 2 Duo U2400 processor (Ultra Low Voltage) with a clock rate of 1.06GHz (65nm Yonah core with 2 megabytes of shared L2 cache). Notwithstanding its low power consumption the Core 2 Duo U2400 is a full-featured representative of the dual-core series without any compromises. It differs from ordinary Yonah-core CPUs in three points only, namely bus frequency (533MHz), typical heat dissipation, and price.


Cache memory

Besides Enhanced Intel SpeedStep technology that allows the software and BIOS to control the CPU frequency multiplier (to reduce it under low load), 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.


Two power modes

This implementation 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. 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.

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. It supports Pixel Shader 2.0 on the GPU and Vertex Shader 3.0 and T&L on the CPU. GMA 950 is fully DirectX 9 compliant, though. The detailed specification of GMA 950 can be found at the manufacturer’s website .

The notebook comes with a Toshiba MK8009GAH hard disk drive (1.8” form-factor, 4200rpm spindle rotation speed, 80GB capacity, ATA-6 interface).

The ASUS U1F is equipped with DDR2-677 SDRAM, the fastest memory type available for the Napa platform. The single accessible slot is occupied by a 512MB module. Another such module is soldered to the mainboard, so the memory works in dual-channel mode by default. The notebook supports a maximum of 1536MB of system RAM.


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 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:

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 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.

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 low CPU clock rate leads to low results. In the battery mode the CPU frequency is reduced to 0.8GHz which is accompanied with a proportional reduction of performance. The memory, graphics and disk subsystems show appropriate performance for the components installed in the U1F.

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 the CPU frequency, so the low results of the notebook are not a surprise. 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 Core Duo U2400 cannot deliver high performance in it. The numbers are lower in the battery mode 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.

The results are normal for the employed CPU when the notebook is connected to the mains. Its good performance in the battery mode is largely due to the 2MB L2 cache. For comparison, Intel’s Pentium Dual-Core processors perform worse in this test in the battery mode.

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 U1F delivers performance proportional to its CPU frequency.

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 U1F shows good communication capabilities in this test.

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 Intel Core Duo U2400 shows its rather low performance again. 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 U1F is equipped with Intel GMA 950, an integrated graphics solution, and we tested it 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.

Integrated graphics solutions usually don’t usually offer high performance, and the ASUS U1F is not an exception. To prove the point, here are the results of a few gaming tests.

We tested the notebook 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.

So, the U1F is not a gaming notebook. With all the external splendor, its graphics capacity isn’t strong. The manufacturer designed the U1F for work rather than for play as it is a business notebook.

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:

Well, the 6-cell battery confirms the mobile positioning of the U1F despite spoiling its appearance somewhat: the notebook lasted as long as 3.5 hours in the Reader’s mode. You can imagine how long the battery life is going to be with the max-capacity 9-cell battery!

Here are battery discharge diagrams for the different test modes:

3-cell battery

6-cell battery

Conclusion

From one model to another ASUS is coming up with optimal portable computers targeted at specific applications and offering features that are needed just for that specific purpose. The ASUS U1F is a combination of technology and style. Its 1kg weight won’t be a burden on a long trip while its design is going to indicate a good taste and a high status of its owner. The U1F feels quite at ease away from a wall socket. Its battery life is no worse than that of larger and heavier models. The only thing you should remember is that you have to clean this notebook often unless you want to get the reputation of an untidy person.

Highs:

Lows: