by Alexander Britvin
04/21/2006 | 10:36 AM
This year has already brought us a lot of exciting hi-tech things, not the least interesting of which is the new mobile computing platform from Intel, previously known under the codename of Napa. Following the established tradition, the platform includes three components: central processor, chipset, and Wi-Fi adapter.
The most thrilling thing about the new platform is that it incorporates the world’s first dual-core mobile processor on the Yonah core, which is manufactured on 65nm tech process and contains 151.6 million transistors. So, the Pentium M brand is now being replaced with Intel Core Duo. The system bus frequency has increased by 133MHz over the Pentium M’s, to 667MHz. The processor still has 478 pins, but the sockets are made incompatible both electrically and mechanically so that you didn’t have a chance to burn your new Core Duo by trying to upgrade from your old Pentium M.
A shared L2 cache looks a very promising solution in the new processor. In desktop dual-core processors each core has a dedicated L2 cache and this raises the data coherency problem when both the cores are processing the same data. Desktop CPUs with a shared L2 cache are expected to arrive by the end of Q2, so this feature is currently available to notebook users only. The maximum frequency in the Core Duo series is 2.23GHz which is 0.03GHz lower than that in the Pentium M series, but models clocked at 2.33GHz and 2.5GHz are coming up soon. The bottom CPU frequency in the power-saving mode is 1GHz. Support for the third SSE set consisting of thirteen SIMD instructions has been added for more performance in games and multimedia applications.
The processor’s power-related characteristics have also been improved, and Intel’s engineers paid more attention to them than they had done when developing the Centrino-Sonoma platform. Besides the traditional Enhanced Intel SpeedStep technology which allows the software and the notebook’s BIOS to reduce the CPU clock rate at low loads, there is now Dynamic Power Coordination technology whose point is in adjusting the power consumption of each of the execution cores depending on the current CPU load. A situation is possible when one core is under full load while the other is in Deep Sleep, i.e. in a state of minimum consumption. The second core returns to work when needed. This feature is referred to as Dual-Core Performance on Demand. The processor’s cache memory occupies quite a lot of space in the die, so Intel has implemented Dynamic Cache Sizing technology which means that idle sections of the cache can be just powered off.
Intel Core Duo
Besides the dual-core models Intel is also offering a single-core version of the processor, called Core Solo, which features all the mentioned innovations, too. But today we are interested in dual-core processors as we’ve got two ASUS V6J (V6X00J) notebooks with such CPUs working at 1.66GHz and 1.83GHz. The processors are marked as T2300 and T2400. The letter T denotes an ordinary level of heat dissipation (for the Core Duo, it is 31 watts), the digit 2 means two execution cores, and the remaining three digits denote the processor’s relative performance in its class.
And now let’s see what the ASUS V6J (V6X00J) looks like and how it is configured. The two samples of the notebook are almost identical with very minor differences in appearance and configuration (they have different CPU and graphics core, to be exact). Our ASUS V6J (V6X00J) with a 1.66GHz CPU is an off-the-shelf sample and I’m going to describe its accessories in the appropriate part of the review. The notebook with a 1.83GHz CPU is an engineering sample we received for testing purposes. The performance of the two samples will be compared in the Tests section.
The box with the notebook is so large that one may get an impression as if it contains a 15” TV-set at the very least. It turned out that the manufacturer just additionally protected the notebook by putting a smaller, colorful box with the name of the series and a picture of the notebook into the larger box. A bag and a pouch for wearing the computer are packed in the larger box, too.
Out of the box came a portable computer that shatters all the established notions about ASUS notebooks. I mean that they are all alike to each other visually, but the ASUS V6J (V6X00J) is different in appearance from its predecessors as well as from models of other manufacturers, except for the color scheme (the aluminum-magnesium case is painted the dark silver color ASUS often uses in its notebooks). A silvery bands runs around the perimeter of the top and bottom halves of the computer and ends at the display hinges.
There’s a light silvery insert at the back part of the lid with the manufacturer’s name in the right corner and copies of system status indicators in the middle. The engineers didn’t put them on a notebook’s edge as usual and they are perfectly visible when the lid is down. This group includes the following indicators:
Not quite usual for ASUS, the display lacks a latch. The lid is pressed down tightly to the notebook’s bottom with spring-loaded locks, supposedly located in the screen hinges.
The same color scheme continues inside the notebook; even the touchpad is painted dark silver, except the touch-sensitive panel itself. There is a black bezel around the display with four pads at the top for a softer abutment and the name of the manufacturer in the middle. Under the display and between the two hinges, there is the notebook’s battery. Near it, a second group of indicators, a Power-On button and instant-launch keys are placed.
The design of the display hinges differs from what you may have seen in other notebooks from ASUS. The hinges go out of the lid rather than out of the notebook’s bottom. The consequence is that you cannot fully unfold the notebook, but you don’t actually need to do this often after all. The maximum angle of the lid is shown in the snapshot below.
The ASUS V6J (V6X00J) lacks Audio DJ buttons. This is probably the first large model from ASUS (i.e. with a diagonal of 15”) I’ve met that cannot play audio CDs without booting the OS. I guess ASUS has abandoned this feature due to the high popularity of music files in MP3 format which was not supported by Audio DJ.
The ASUS V6J (V6X00J) is equipped with a 15” display with a maximum resolution of 1400x1050 pixels and an aspect ratio of 4:3 (SXGA+). The viewing angles are subjectively wide enough for comfortable work. The model with a 1.66GHz processor comes with a glass matrix that makes you take care about external lighting unless you want to see your own face on the screen. The tech sample has an ordinary screen which is visually inferior to the off-the-shelf model in color saturation.
The manufacturer offers a 30-day LCD Zero Bright Dot warranty for the entire V6J series. So if you spot dead pixels in the matrix in the first 30 days after purchase, you can have it replaced in a service center free of charge.
The notebook offers 16 degrees of screen brightness, but the lowest setting is rather too dark for any work.
I measured the brightness and contrast of the screen using a Pantone ColorVision Spyder with OptiCAL version 3.7.8 software. I selected the highest brightness setting before this test, but the screen brightness was considerably lower when the notebooks worked on their batteries as they switched into power-saving mode. The contrast parameters of the off-the-shelf model proved to be rather poor, as opposed to the tech sample’s:
AC power source:
DC power source:
The touchpad looks exactly like in any other latest notebook model from ASUS. The touch-sensitive panel is dotted with light points; a special scrolling zone is on the right. There is no joystick for scrolling text. A special feature of this touchpad is the blue highlighting between its buttons that you can see when the notebook is turned on.
The center of the touchpad on our sample of the notebook was somewhat defective as you couldn’t select an object or do a double-click using this area. I hope this is only a problem of our particular sample and it also may have been due to errors in the driver (it was after installing the driver that I took notice of this).
Tiny dots cover the front part of the notebook’s bottom, flowing around the touchpad. They are used to camouflage two stereo speakers located at the left and right edges. A group of indicators is nestled in the front left corner – they are copies of the indicators that you can see on the lid plus one:
You can only see these indicators if you’re looking closely at them. Otherwise they are not visible, and this is a drawback of this notebook model.
The keyboards of the two samples of the notebook differ a little. The off-the-shelf sample has an 87-key keyboard, and the tech sample, an 86-key one. The 1.66GHz model has a classical L-shaped Enter button and a Slash key on the left while the other model has a smaller Enter with the Slash above it. The cursor-controlling keys are level with the keyboard’s baseline and there’s a 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 because Fn may be accidentally pressed instead of Ctrl. Numeric buttons and two special Windows keys are available: the Context Menu key is in the bottom row, one key over to the right of the spacebar; the Windows key is in the same row, but on the left. The functional keys are smaller; Home, PgUp, PgDn and End form a vertical column on the right. Pause, Print Screen, Insert and Delete are placed in the same line with the functional keys (press them in combination with Fn to access their additional functions).
ASUS V6X00J (1.66GHz)
ASUS V6X00J (1.83GHz)
As I mentioned above, there is a second group of system status indicators on the right, above the keyboard (a Power On button and a microphone port are located next to them). This group includes (from left to right):
In the same line, to the left of this group, there are a few instant-launch buttons:
I wouldn’t say the ASUS V6J (V6X00J) offers an abundance of ports and connectors, but it does offer everything you may need for everyday work. The following components are located along the left side of the computer (from left to right):
The following is located on the notebook’s right panel:
The USB and modem ports are placed rather too densely, so you may have troubles trying to use them all at the same time. An attached USB device may block the neighboring ports.
The battery is the only thing located at the ASUS V6J (V6X00J)’s back, right in between the screen hinges. It is the same thickness as the notebook’s bottom part and doesn’t spoil the overall sleek design of the computer.
The V6J series is equipped with a 5200mAh battery. There are two rubber feet on the battery that the notebook’s back rests upon.
I found the following at the computer’s bottom panel: CPU, memory, hard drive, miniPCI slot compartments, a battery module with two locks (manual and spring-loaded), a holder for your personal card, a Reset hole (the last measure to resort to when the Ctrl+Alt+Del shortcut doesn’t work), and stickers with the notebook model info and the OS serial number.
There are two slots in the memory compartment bay, one of which is occupied with a 512MB module in the off-the-shelf sample (there were two 1GB modules in the tech sample – I removed one before the tests for a fairer comparison). The second slot in the 1.66GHz ASUS V6J (V6X00J) is vacant and easily accessible, so you can upgrade the notebook’s memory subsystem (the maximum supported amount of system memory is 2048 megabytes).
The ASUS V6J (V6X00J) comes with a lot of accessories as is typical of ASUS products. Besides the computer itself, you receive a 5200mAh battery, AC/DC adapter, phone cable, Quick Installation Guide, 2-year product warranty, a list of authorized service centers around the world, user manual, 1-month LCD Zero Bright Dot warranty brochure, a small mouse from Logitech, a bag and a pouch to carry the portable computer, and a few discs:
Intel Core Duo
As mentioned at the beginning of the review, our samples of the ASUS V6J (V6X00J) feature dual-core Intel Core Duo processors with ratings of T2300 and T2400 and clock rates of 1.66GHz and 1.83GHz, respectively. These CPUs are based on the 65nm Yonah core with a shared 2MB L2 cache.
The tested notebooks both use the same new chipset from Intel, Calistoga 945PM. The 945 family chipsets support faster DDR2 SO-DIMMs and thus provide a higher memory bandwidth. The i945PM is equipped with a PCI Express X16 bus for connecting an external graphics card. The ICH7-M chip is used as the South Bridge and is linked to the North Bridge via a special-purpose Direct Media Interface. The South Bridge supports one Parallel ATA and two Serial ATA ports, eight USB 2.0 ports, and Intel High Definition Audio. It also offers six PCI Express x1 lanes for attaching peripheral devices. You can learn more about the platform at large from our Centrino Duo Mobile Platform review.
Our samples of ASUS V6J (V6X00J) are both equipped with a discrete Nvidia GeForce Go 7400 graphics card with support of TurboCache technology and with 128 megabytes of dedicated graphics memory. This GPU is manufactured on 0.09-micron tech process as opposed to the 0.11-micron GeForce GP 6200. The thinner tech process leads to lower power consumption, so the new graphics processor is meant specifically for thin, light and ultra-portable computers. ASUS only uses the new graphics card in the V6J series as yet. TurboCache allows the graphics processor to use a dynamically allotted section of the system memory in addition to the graphics card’s own for higher overall performance. The off-the-shelf sample can be given up to 256 megabytes of system RAM whereas the tech sample, up to 512 megabytes. The GeForce Go 7400 supports Nvidia’s PureVideo technology that provides high-quality HD video playback. PowerMizer 6.0 power management technology helps optimize the graphics card’s power consumption and reduce its heat dissipation. The tech specs of the graphics card are listed below, and you can also learn more about it at Nvidia’s website.
The notebooks use 2.5” HTS541080G9AT00 and HTS541010G9AT00 hard disk drives from Hitachi with a spindle rotation speed of 5400rpm and a storage capacity of 80GB and 100GB, respectively. Each of our ASUS V6J (V6X00J) is equipped with a Matshita UJ-832S DVD-burner.
The off-the-shelf sample is equipped with 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM, the tech sample with 667MHz DDR2. Both the memory slots are easily accessible. In the off-the-shelf notebook one slot is occupied with a 512MB module and the other is empty, so you can easily add in more memory up to the maximum supported amount of 2048MB.
The notebooks are both rather silent and cool at work. I measured the temperature of the hottest spots on the notebooks’ surfaces with an infrared thermometer after they 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:
ASUS V6X00J (1.66GHz CPU)
ASUS V6X00J (1.83GHz CPU)
There’s a very small difference between the two samples of the notebook, probably due to the difference in their CPU clock rates.
The next table summarizes the technical characteristics of the reviewed notebooks:
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 (from the included CD), and Windows Media Encoder 9.0 with Windows Media Player 9.0. By the way, we couldn’t use Windows XP SP1 because its power management system fails to work correctly with a dual-core processor.
The following settings were used in the tests:
Two power modes were used. First, we selected the Always On power mode for the 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:
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 DVD movie.
As usual, we will first run the synthetic benchmarks SiSoftware Sandra 2004 and PCMark 2004. The former benchmark measures the overall performance of the system as well as that of each of its subsystems, while PCMark 2004 measures the performance of the computer in office and multimedia applications and also produces performance scores for the main subsystems (CPU, memory, graphics, and disk subsystem).
I am very pleased with the results because Intel’s Core Duo processors prove to be much faster than the previous generation of single-core Pentium M (Dothan) and Turion 64 – you can refer to any of our earlier notebook reviews to see that. The tech sample enjoys a certain advantage due to its higher CPU, memory and graphics card speeds. The notebooks become about 40% slower and similar in performance when they switch to work on their batteries because their CPU frequencies are stepped down to 1GHz in this mode to save power.
The Business Winstone 2004 test runs scripts of the following real-life office applications, several scripts at a time: 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, Dreamweaver MX, and Director MX.
The results of these two tests are presented below:
It is the central processor that bears the biggest load in Winstone tests, so the tech sample is faster due to its higher CPU frequency and to having more and faster memory. The performance doesn’t drop down that lower as with the Pentium M (Dothan) in the power-saving mode because the bottom frequency for the Core Duo is 1GHz. The overall performance hasn’t improved much since the previous Centrino platform because these tests do not use multi-tasking and the second CPU core is idle.
Both the notebook samples are equipped with discrete graphics solutions, so we tested them only in 3DMark 2003 3.60.
3DMark uses a set of 3D scenes running on its own graphics engine to check every performance-related aspect of the graphics subsystem.
The 1.83GHz ASUS V6J (V6X00J) wins this test again due to the same reasons: it has a slightly higher CPU frequency and two times more of (faster) system RAM. The results are similar again when the notebooks work on their batteries.
Next, I tested the notebooks in Quake 3 , in two modes:
The tech sample is again a bit faster when attached to an AC power source. Working on the batteries, the notebooks deliver roughly the same performance.
The results of the notebooks in Unreal Tournament 2003 agree with the earlier tests. As you can see, the Nvidia GeForce GO 7400 graphics card is a rather high-performance solution, so the ASUS V6J (V6X00J) can also be viewed as a gaming computer.
The notebooks’ battery life was measured with Battery Eater Pro 2.60. The test was performed at the maximum screen brightness in the following modes:
The off-the-shelf sample of ASUS V6J (V6X00J) with a CPU frequency of 1.66GHz and less of system memory requires less power. The total time of autonomous work in the reader’s mode is over 3 hours for both the notebooks. This is quite a good result considering the rather powerful configurations of the tested computers.
The battery discharge graphs for different operational modes are presented below:
Main battery (1.66GHz):
Extended-life battery (1.83GHz):
I’d like to give you a brief description of the system recovery utility all notebooks from ASUS come with. You can use it from a special hidden partition on the hard drive by pressing F9 at system startup or from the included Recovery and Driver&Utility discs (to do that, you should press Esc at startup, select Boot from ATAPI CD-ROM Drive and then change the discs as requested). The system will offer four options to you:
A combination of restrained, stylish exterior design and wide functionality, the new notebook from ASUS in a light aluminum-magnesium case is a symbol of success and impeccable taste of its owner. The ASUS V6J (V6X00J) will do well as an accessory that shows everyone your achievements. With a lot of innovative design solutions and an up-to-date mobile configuration, this notebook is a lucky mix of good looks and solid internals.
Any apprehensions about the new Napa platform, especially about its poor battery life characteristics, have not been confirmed in practical tests. The new mobile platform with the new dual-core mobile processor isn’t any worse in terms of power consumption as the older platform with single-core Pentium M (Dothan).
The single thing that can prevent you from being interested in a notebook on the new processor is that a newer dual-core processor is coming this fall. It is codenamed Merom and will support the 64-bit EM64T extensions. This may be a very important feature considering the upcoming release of the new operating system from Microsoft, Windows Vista. So, the first dual-core mobile processor from Intel may become obsolete after only half a year of being around. But do you want to wait till the fall?