by Alexander Britvin
06/19/2006 | 10:07 AM
Driven by the tough market competition, notebook manufacturers are looking harder into the existing niches to find some free space to wedge one more product into. As a result of such exploration, the class of slim & light portable computers has emerged among traditional mobile devices. They differ from sub-notebooks with their larger screen (a diagonal of over 10-12”) and a powerful enough hardware configuration. In comparison with large notebooks, they are lighter and smaller, but deliver almost the same performance, except that they usually have an integrated rather than discrete graphics core inside. A slim notebook makes a good companion on any trip, providing the opportunity of comfortable work without much eye strain or long file-load times.
A sample of a notebook from the Taiwanese brand ASUS with such characteristics came to our labs for tests. The ASUS W6F model is a dual-core reincarnation of the older ASUS W6A. The W6 series was initially positioned as mobile and high-performance, and the tuned-up new model is a worthy continuation of the line. The new mobile platform codenamed Napa brought about a considerable improvement in performance while keeping the mobility and battery life parameters on the same level. In its hardware configuration the ASUS W6F stands close to the ASUS V6J model we’ve recently tested on our site (for details see our article called ASUS V6J Notebook on Intel Dual-Core Processor) – I’ll take its results for the sake of comparison in the Performance section.
The only significant difference of the new model is that it uses Graphics Media Accelerator 950, a new integrated graphics core from Intel. Compared with the previous Accelerator (GMA 900 which is used widely as part of the Sonoma platform), GMA 950 supports higher memory and core frequencies. The new core also supports more memory, now up to 224MB, allocated dynamically by means of Dynamic Video Memory 3.0 technology. Everything else has remained the same. GMA 950 has 4 pixel pipelines and can map 4 textures per clock cycle. Like GMA 900, the new core supports Pixel Shader 2.0 whereas Vertex Shader 3.0 and T&L are executed on the CPU. GMA 950 (and GMA 900 too) are fully DirectX 9 compatible, though. More information about this graphics core can be found here.
And now let’s have a closer look at the ASUS W6F (W6K00F01 model).
After ASUS V6J, I was not surprised at the size of this notebook’s package. The huge box contains a smaller box (with the notebook, discs, documentation and accessories) and two bags (one for the notebooks and its accessories and a pouch that only the notebook, but nothing else, can be fitted into).
Traditionally for ASUS, the W6K00F01 notebook comes with a lot of accessories. Besides the notebook proper, the box contains a 4800mAh battery, power adapter, phone cable, TV cable, napkin to clean the display, documentation, a small Logitech mouse with Bluetooth interface and an ASUS logo in the middle, a bag and a pouch to carry the notebook, and a set of discs:
The mouse feeds upon standard AA batteries which you can easily access by shifting the cover away from the buttons.
Now let’s take a closer look at the notebook itself.
Here it is – an elegant notebook with a silvery aluminum-alloy lid with an ASUS logo in the middle. The rounded angles and the light edging along the front add visual lightness to the whole device.
The back of the lid between the hinges, and the hinges themselves, are emphasized with black color. This is where two copies of main system indicators are placed:
There is no lid latch here. You can place your finger on a small jut on the side to easily lift the lid up. The external color scheme is continued inside, but the touchpad doesn’t fit in too well with the chrome shine of its buttons. The screen bezel is black with the manufacturer’s name in the top left corner. The logotype is not on a sticker, like in some earlier models, but is part of the case, like in the ASUS W6K00A.
A little below the screen and between the two hinges, there are two stereo speakers directed straight at the user. The sound goes directly to you and the only problem is that the speakers are too weak by themselves. You may want to connect external speakers to get a real good sound, considering the notebook features Intel High Definition Audio.
The screen hinges are designed like in other ASUS notebooks and allow unfolding the notebook by a full 180 degrees:
Also like in the ASUS V6J, the black-colored battery is fitted exactly between and below the hinges. On the left of it, an oblong Power-On button with a blue LED is placed.
On the opposite side, below the left hinge, there is a WLAN On/Off switch and 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.
Like its predecessor, the ASUS W6F is equipped with a 13.3” matrix with a rather large native resolution of 1280x800 pixels (an aspect ratio of 16:10 or WXGA). The viewing angles are visually wide enough for comfortable work both vertically and horizontally. The display has a “glassy” matrix which is not very practical as you have to take care about the lighting at your work place if you don’t want to see a reflection of your own face in the screen. You also have to keep the matrix clean from dust and accidental fingerprints (the manufacturer enclosed a special napkin with the notebook for that purpose). The glassiness itself comes from the matrix’s featuring the following technologies: ASUS Crystal Shine provides high brightness, ASUS Color Shine is the technology of making “glassy” LCD matrixes that ensure high image quality and color saturation, and ASUS Splendid Video Enhancement allows adjusting display parameters for video applications (by using Fn+C buttons).
Like in other latest notebook models from ASUS, there are 16 screen brightness grades, the lowest grade being practically useless as you can’t discern much in the screen.
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 it was considerably reduced when the notebook switched to its battery, automatically enabling power-saving mode. The brightness parameter isn’t very good (yet I wouldn’t say I felt any lack of brightness in practice), while the contrast ratio is high with both power sources:
AC power source:
DC power source:
The ASUS W6F has an originally designed touchpad surrounded with a silvery chrome bezel. Its two buttons are made of the same material. The color of the touch-sensitive area matches the notebook’s color scheme, and it is all speckled with lighter dots. There is no scrolling zone and no scrolling joystick, but you can move along pages using the right margin of the sensitive area.
The touchpad’s buttons are highlighted with mild blue from within. You can turn off this LED, and the touchpad too, by pressing Fn+F9, for example if you’re using an ordinary mouse.
A high-sensitivity microphone is placed in the notebook’s bottom right corner. This is a proper position since you can’t cover it with your hand at work, while the microphone is as near to you as possible.
On the opposite side, there is a large group of status indicators, making the ASUS W6F look not unlike a kind of a sparkling Christmas tree. The indicators all shine with the trendy blue light, except for the battery indicator which is orange. So, this group includes (from left to right):
This model doesn’t have keyboard’s Caps Lock and Scroll Lock indicators – you have to find out by trying if the corresponding modes are enabled or not.
The ASUS W6F notebook has an 87-key black keyboard. The Enter button is shaped classically in the form of the letter L, the Backspace above it is very small. The movement keys are on the same level with the keyboard’s baseline, so 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 unintentionally pressed instead of Ctrl. Numeric buttons and two special Windows keys are available: the Context Menu key is in the bottom row on the right of the spacebar; the Windows key is in the same row, but on the left of the spacebar. The functional keys are smaller; Home, PgUp, PgDn and End make up 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).
The ASUS W6F offers quite a lot of ports and connectors. The only thing it lacks is an infrared module. I guess since this notebook is supposed to be a traveling companion, and just because the infrared interface is still used at times, it would be good to have it here.
The following components are placed on the notebook’s left panel (from left to right):
And here’s what the right panel offers:
The following can be found on the W6F’s back panel:
The notebook’s battery is the same thickness as the notebook’s body and is placed exactly in between the two screen hinges. Its capacity is 4800mAh and it has two rubber feet for the notebook to rest upon. The bulging battery makes the ASUS W6F look somewhat alike to the Sony VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S we tested earlier on our site (for details see our article called Small but Stylish: SONY VAIO VGN-T2XRP-S Notebook Review).
When you turn the notebook upside down, you’ll see separate compartments for the CPU, memory modules, hard drive, and miniPCI slot. There are also two battery locks here (manual and spring-loaded), a holder for your personal card, an emergency shutdown button and a Reset hole (if Ctrl+Alt+Del can’t help you). The stickers here tell you the model specs and the OS serial number.
There are two slots in the memory compartment, one of which is occupied with a 512MB module. The other slot is easily accessible, so you can add more memory up to the maximum supported amount of 1536MB.
The ASUS W6F employs a dual-core Intel Core Duo processor with T2300 rating and 1.66GHz clock rate. This Yonah-core CPU is manufactured on 65nm tech process and has 2 megabytes of shared L2 cache. Besides the well-known Enhanced Intel SpeedStep technology that allows reducing the clock rate under low loads, the CPU features Dynamic Power Coordination, enabling the cores to separately change their power consumption depending on current load. Dynamic Cache Sizing, another new technology supported by this CPU, disables unused cache segments when necessary. You can learn more about it in our Centrino Duo Mobile Platform Review or ASUS V6J Notebook on Intel Dual-Core Processor.
The Napa platform is made complete by the Intel Calistoga 945GM chipset. The new chipset supports faster DDR2 SDRAM to provide higher memory bandwidth. The i945GM differs from the i945PM in having an integrated graphics core Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950; the two chipsets are identical otherwise. You can peruse the specification of the Intel Calistoga 945GM on the manufacturer’s website.
The ASUS W6F uses a 2.5” Hitachi HTS421280H9AT00 hard drive with a spindle rotation speed of 4200rpm and a storage capacity of 80GB, and a DVD-burner Matshita UJ-832S.
The notebook supports 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM. Its two memory slots are easily accessible, one already occupied by a 512MB module. You can add more memory up to the maximum supported amount of 1536MB.
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 table below lists the technical specs of the ASUS W6F and compares them with those of the ASUS V6X00J011:
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 DVD movie.
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).
Quite expectably, the two notebooks have similar results in the CPU test – they just happen to have identical CPUs. The W6F is worse in the graphics and disk subsystem tests because it uses an integrated graphics core, even though of the latest generation, and its HDD speed is lower at 4200rpm. The notebooks’ results drop down by as much as 40% when they switch to their batteries because the CPU frequency is lowered to 1GHz to save power.
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 latest program versions were used, adapted specifically for dual-core processors. The results are presented in the following table and diagrams:
It is the CPU that largely determines the outcome of the Winstone tests, and the notebooks deliver similar results, having identical processors. The ASUS W6F is a little slower in the Business test, but turns in a higher score in the Multimedia Content Creation test. When the notebooks work on their batteries, their results are lower proportionally to the CPU frequency drop.
Next I tested the notebook’s Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 in 3DMark 2001SE Pro and 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.
The weak points of Intel’s integrated graphics become apparent here: the ASUS W6F has a four times lower 3DMark03 score! It looks preferable to notebooks with GMA 900 we’ve tested earlier, though, and the new core is indeed an improvement over the older version.
Next, I tested the notebooks in two modes in Quake 3 :
This test gives more proof that the integrated graphics is much weaker than the discrete graphics controller.
The last graphics benchmark confirms the orientation of the ASUS W6F at business applications. Graphics Media Accelerator 950 just can’t cope with modern 3D applications, giving you a slide-show of a game.
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:
Putting aside the 30 minutes difference in the Reader’s mode, the W6F and the V6X00J011 have similar battery run-down times. The optical drive of the tested notebook proved to have a healthy appetite in comparison with other components. Still, you get almost 3 hours of autonomous work under high load, which is a very impressive result for this not-so-very-weak hardware configuration.
Here are the battery discharge diagrams for the different operation modes:
Besides being an expert in his/her field, a modern businessman must establish personal style to make a positive impression on the colleagues. Combining the advantages of ultra-portable and full-size systems, the ASUS W6F (W6K00F01 model) suits the role of a business accessory perfectly. This well-balanced and elegant notebook delivers enough performance for a wide range of applications, except modern 3D games (but the W6 series is not supposed to be gaming machines, after all). Office applications run on it smoothly. The matrix features a multimedia aspect ratio and interesting technologies for image quality improvement, the rather big screen helps avoid eye strain. The notebook’s wireless interfaces allow doing without a heap of cables, which is very convenient on frequent and long voyages on which you are sure to appreciate the W6F as a helpful traveling companion.