by Alexander Britvin
09/26/2008 | 01:53 PM
A compact notebook is traditionally associated with low performance and high mobility. It is a notebook for people who need a small and light computer and are ready to put up with its modest performance. But ASUS is always changing our notions of portable computing. This time around, the developer releases the U6Sg model to change the subnotebook genre. Despite its small dimensions and low weight, the new notebook is equipped with an advanced discrete graphics chip, fast processor and large hard disk. But how did this affect its mobility? You’ll find the answer in this review.
Having a grownup processor (Penryn-core Core 2 Duo) and a 9000 series graphics chip from Nvidia, the notebook makes a promise of high performance. Added to that are two 1-gigabyte memory sticks working in dual-channel mode and a rich selection of ports and connectors, including HDMI. Moreover, the U6Sg is the first model in the luxurious U series that comes with an integrated optical drive. The exterior design makes use of leather, lacquer and stainless steel. The display features LED-based backlight and a carbon-plastic lid that ensures additional protection.
That’s impressive, isn’t it? The specs are all right, but let’s check out if the notebook is free from drawbacks. We will test it in comparison with the ASUS M50Sv, a multimedia/gaming heavyweight. Can the U6Sg compete with such machines?
The blue-white color scheme of the U6Sg box copies the package design of the ASUS U3. Only premium-class notebooks developed by ASUS feature these colors. As the text on the box says, the notebook represents a Fusion of Luxury and Power.
Besides the notebook, the box contains a 3-cell 2400mAh battery and an additional 6-cell 4800mAh battery, power adapter from Delta Electronics, modem cable (RJ-11), documentation (user manuals, warranty, marketing materials), Bluetooth mouse from Logitech, napkin to clean the LCD panel, bag and pouch to carry the notebook in, cable strap, and a set of discs that includes:
The Bluetooth mouse is powered by two AA batteries included into the kit. To replace the batteries you must pull the cover of the battery compartment away from the buttons. You shouldn’t take the batteries out of the mouse when you don’t use the latter for long – there is a power switch on its bottom for that purpose.
The pouch is made from something resembling velvet. Its cap is held closed with two sewed-in magnets.
Besides the mentioned Ahead Nero, we found one more piece of commercial software in the bundle. It is CyberLink PowerDVD 7. The program is called ASUS DVD but you can easily identify it by the original interface.
Comparing the pictures of the U6Sg and the ASUS U1, the junior model of the series, you can easily see common family traits, but there are also a few differences. The U6Sg has a superb lacquer coating of the lid. There are numerous spangles under the glossy layer (the manufacturer calls this ASUS Shimmery Fiber), which resembles metallic paint from the car industry. These spangles shimmer under any, even soft, lighting, but get invisible from a distance. Although not as easily soiled as other glossy coatings, this one still requires regular care.
Another difference from the U1 is that the silvery moldings of the U6Sg are not all made from stainless steel. The molding around the lid is made from silver-painted plastic. There is a piece of leather material instead of plastic at the notebook’s front. It goes the front panel up to the keyboard. The color of the leather differs from other luxury notebooks developed by ASUS. It is dark brown here.
The notebook’s single speaker can be found in the right part of the front panel under a grid. You shouldn’t expect anything special from it.
The notebook doesn’t have a display lock as is typical for this form-factor. The lid is held shut by the stiff hinges that are fastened to the cylindrical part at the back of the notebook’s body. You can unfold the notebook by somewhat less than 180 degrees.
The interior design differs from the other U series models. As we said above, the base is trimmed with dark-brown leather. It is replaced with silvery plastic from the keyboard up. We saw a silvery keyboard on the ASUS U3, but the screen bezel is usually black.
A 1.3-megapixel web-camera with a silvery rim is integrated into the top of the screen bezel. You can only adjust its position by changing the tilt of the screen. There is a tiny activity indicator to the left of the camera’s eye.
The ASUS U6Sg is equipped with a widescreen 12.1-inch LCD matrix that has an aspect ratio of 16:10 (WXGA). Its native resolution is 1280x800 pixels. The matrix’s viewing angles seem to be wide enough for a notebook’s display. The LED-based backlight makes the image bright. The LCD matrix has a glossy coating that increases contrast and saturation but also acts as a mirror, reflecting every bright object behind your back.
The notebook features ASUS 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 the Fn+C shortcut.
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 U6Sg 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 an 86-key black keyboard. The buttons are stiff and do not rattle. The layout resembles the ASUS U3’s keyboard. The movement keys are fitted into the rest of the keyboard and are level with the keyboard’s baseline, which increases the chance of your pressing them accidentally. The movement keys can be used together with Fn to control your media player.
The bottom left corner is occupied by a Control, which is convenient for people who are used to shortcuts like Ctrl+C or Ctrl+V. Two Windows keys are available: the Context Menu key is placed to the right of the spacebar; the Windows Logo key are placed to the left of the spacebar. The functional keys are smaller than others. Home, Page Up, Page Down and End make up a column on the right. Pause, Print Screen, Insert and Delete are placed in the same row with the functional keys (you should press them in combination with Fn to access their additional functions). The letters are painted white and the functional keys are painted blue.
There are two instant-launch buttons on the left above the keyboard. One of them turns on the web-camera and the other launches the Power4Gear eXtreme program.
The Power button is placed on the right. To the left of this button there are five indicators and a hole of the integrated microphone. The indicators include:
The notebook doesn’t have a Num Lock indicator. The indicators are all white, except for the battery indicator which is orange. The lid makes them all invisible when closed.
The ASUS U6Sg has a black touchpad with a narrow metallic bezel. There is a fingerprint scanner between the touchpad’s buttons. It is sunken relative to the touchpad so that you didn’t touch it accidentally. The buttons are stiff and have a distinct click. The touchpad is highly sensitive.
To avoid touching the touchpad while using an external mouse, you can block it by pressing Fn+F9.
As opposed to many subnotebooks, the U6Sg has an optical drive and an abundance of interfaces. Its left panel contains the following components (from left to right):
The notebook’s right panel carries the following:
Most of the back panel is occupied by the battery. There are also the following components there:
Save for FireWire ports, the notebook offers every interface you may want.
The U6Sg is equipped with two batteries: a standard 3-cell battery (2400mAh) and an additional 6-cell battery (4800mAh). Both batteries work at a voltage of 11.1V, so their capacity is 27 and 53Wh, respectively. The default battery is rather just a lure for the customer because its capacity is too low. However, the declared weight of the notebook is measured for that battery.
The larger battery sticks out of the notebook’s case, spoiling its elegance and increasing the weight of the notebook from the declared 1.57 to over 1.7 kilos.
You can also purchase an optional 9-cell battery with a capacity of 7800mAh (87Wh) but the notebook will lose all its visual appeal then: this battery will protrude too far from the case. Every battery has two locks on its case.
On the bottom panel there is a single cover of the combined memory, HDD, GPU and CPU compartment, a battery module, a Shutdown/Reset button, and stickers with model information and the OS serial number.
An optional SIM card slot can be found under the battery. This card would allow you to connect to 3G cellular networks.
The memory compartment contains two slots both of which are occupied by 1024MB modules. The maximum memory amount supported by the notebook is 4096 megabytes, so you can upgrade the memory subsystem by installing 2GB sticks.
The notebook’s bottom has numerous holes for ventilation. Some of these holes are going to be blocked if you put the notebook down on your laps.
We put the notebook down on a piece of fabric, ran PCMark Vantage for half an hour and then measured the temperature of the notebook’s processor with CPUID Hardware Monitor. We got the following numbers:
The numbers are rather low. You can work with the notebook on your laps without fearing that it may overheat.
The ASUS U6Sg is based on an Intel Core 2 Duo T8300 processor with a clock rate of 2.4GHz (45nm Penryn core with 3 megabytes of shared L2 cache). The FSB frequency is 800MHz.
Intel Core 2 Duo T8300: cache memory
Besides Enhanced Intel 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), 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 PM965 chipset which offers a PCI Express x16 interface for an external graphics card. The South Bridge is the ICH8-M chip.
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 equipment such as Wi-Fi cards, access points, routers, etc. It provides a data-transfer rate up to 300Mbps.
The U6Sg comes with an entry-level discrete graphics core GeForce 9300M G.
This GPU is based on the G98 chip (although some programs report it to be a G86). The GeForce 9300M G is clocked at 400MHz and contains 16 streamed processors clocked at 800MHz. It is accompanied with 256 megabytes of dedicated GDDR2 memory clocked at 600MHz and accessed across a 64-bit bus. The GPU supports DirectX 10.0 Shader Model 4.0 and OpenGL 2.1 and also has a PCI Express 2.0 interface with support for PowerMizer technology.
Of course, this GPU is going to be slower than the GeForce 9500M GS as you will see shortly.
The U6Sg is also equipped with a Seagate Momentus ST9250827AS hard disk drive (2.5” form-factor, 5400rpm spindle rotation speed, 250GB capacity, SATA interface) and an LG GSA-U10N DVD-burner with the following speed formula:
The U6Sg supports DDR2-667 SDRAM, the fastest memory available on the Santa Rosa platform. The memory subsystem works in dual-channel mode as reported by CPU-Z. You can upgrade the amount of system memory to 4 gigabytes if necessary.
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 PCMark Vantage (the ambient temperature remained constant at 22°C during this test) and got the following numbers:
The following table lists the specifications of the U6Sg in comparison with its opponent ASUS M50Sv.
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.
There are three test modes in Mobile Mark 2007:
PCMark benchmarks computer’s performance in office and office-related applications and also produces performance scores for the main subsystems (CPU, memory, graphical, and disk subsystem). PCMark 2005 carries on the tradition of complex benchmarks of the series and uses fragments of real-life applications as tests. This makes it somewhat more relevant for end-users as opposed to fully synthetic benchmarks. After running a series of 11 tests on the different components of the system, the program calculates an overall performance score in units called PCMarks. PCMark 2005 can check a computer out at processing HD video and encoding audio, and offers enhanced tests of the CPU and hard disk under multithreaded load. The overall score is calculated by the formula: PCMark Score = 87 x (the geometric mean of the basic tests), where the geometric mean is calculated as (Result 1 x Result 2 x…) divided by the number of results.
It’s natural that the identical Core 2 Duo T8300 processors deliver identical and high performance. When powered by the batteries, the notebooks lower their CPU clock rates from 2.4GHz to 1.2GHz, which affects the results. The only test where the two notebooks are much different is Gaming but we’ll examine their gaming capabilities in more detail below.
3DMark uses its own rendering engine to create a set of 3D scenes that load the graphics subsystem in various ways.
The GeForce 9300M G proves to be only half as fast as the more advanced 9500M GS. Now let’s check out a few real games.
It’s the same in the synthetic benchmark. Alas, the GeForce 9300M G is capable of running old 3D games only. Quake 4 and Half-Life 2, rather old titles as they are, run too slow on it even. The M50Sv, with the GeForce 9500M GS chip, is twice as fast as the U6Sg in games.
Battery life is just as important a parameter of a notebook as its performance. The notebook’s battery life was measured with MobileMark 2007. We disabled standby and hibernate mode for the test.
The first scenario, Productivity, emulates the user’s working in typical office applications. The load is not constant as the user is frequently distracting from his work. The second scenario measures the notebook’s battery life when the user is reading text from the screen in Adobe Reader. The third scenario is about DVD playback in InterVideo WinDVD.
That’s where the trick with the compact battery shows up. The battery gets depleted in an hour, which is unsatisfactory. You can only use the 3-cell battery in your apartment to carry the notebook from one chair to another. The 6-cel battery improves the result twofold and more, yet the notebook doesn’t make it to 3 hours even with this large and heavy battery.
The U6Sg is not just yet another regular subnotebook. If not unique, this model is certainly distinguishable. It doesn’t suit well as a traveling companion due to the capacity of its battery. You have to install a 6- or 9-cell battery into it to achieve a satisfactory battery life, but such batteries make the notebook much heavier and larger. The U6Sg should be instead used as a relatively advanced home notebook that can be occasionally taken with you in a bag. When used at home, the notebook can be connected to a large monitor (thanks to the HDMI connector) so you could enjoy high performance and full comfort while working in office applications or watching movies.
The U6Sg is only inferior to heavy 2.8-kilo notebooks when it comes to running games. Although this subnotebook has a discrete graphics core, the GeForce 9300M G just cannot cope with heavy 3D games.