by Alexander Britvin
03/06/2007 | 12:16 PM
Market competition has always been understood as the struggle between different companies for the warmest place under the sun. But sometimes we can see paradoxical situations when there is competition within one and the same manufacturer who turns out very similar products. The manufacturer has its reasons, though. Similar products are meant to cover the entire range of capabilities demanded by potential customers so that none of the latter could escape. This can be illustrated by the marketing policy of the PC hardware giant ASUS. Its new W7 notebook series complements the older W6 series, thus making your choice easier (or harder?) by offering more shopping options.
The two series don’t differ much. Both are equipped with a 13.3” display and have similar size/weight parameters. The difference is that the W7 series is designed in a more restrained and respectable fashion. It is based on the more advanced Refresh version of the Napa platform reinforced with a discrete graphics core. And it comes with a Web camera. Thus, this is a somewhat more appealing option than the W6 series.
There is one hitch, though. Such an advanced configuration is going to swallow the battery’s charge in a moment. So, notwithstanding the undeniable portability of the ASUS W7J, it is going to be a problem to make it work for a long time away from the electric mains.
We’ll check this all out in the Tests section of the review, though. Right now let’s take the notebook out of its box and examine it carefully. We’ll take an ASUS Lamborghini VX1 as an opponent to the tested computer. They have similar configurations, but are based on the old and new versions of the Napa platform and have 2GHz CPUs on the Yonah and Merom cores, respectively. Thus, we’ll be able to see the difference between Intel’s new and old mobile processors.
One can get a d?j? vu feeling from looking at this box. It bears a strong resemblance to packages of the W5 and W6 series. On the front side of the box there are four rectangles of different shades of blue on a white background. The series name is printed on the top left rectangle with a rounded corner. The manufacturer name is printed in a top corner of each side of the box. This big box contains a bag and a pouch to carry the notebook about and a smaller box with the notebook and small accessories. Thus, the notebook is securely protected against any damage during transportation.
ASUS has never been a miser than it comes to putting extra stuff into the box. The ASUS W7J notebook carries that tradition on. Besides the notebook proper, the box contains a 4800mAh battery, a power adapter with LED indicator, a modem cable, a TV cable, a Quick Start Guide, a 2-year warranty for the notebook, a list of service centers worldwide, a user manual, a small Bluetooth mouse from Logitech with an ASUS logo and an installation guide, a bag and a pouch to carry the notebook around, a napkin to clean the notebook’s display, two Fujitsu batteries for the mouse, and a set of discs that includes:
The Bluetooth-interfaced rodent, manufactured by Logitech, is quite rightly included with the notebook as there is no better pointing device yet than the ordinary mouse. It is powered by standard AA batteries (and you will find a couple of them in the box). To replace them, you should pull at the mouse’s cover away from the buttons. If the batteries are depleted, you can switch to the touchpad, the traditional mouse replacement on every notebook.
If you turn the mouse over on its back, you will see two buttons: Turn On/Off and Reset.
The choice of a professional. That’s a phrase from the advertising materials and it is hard to describe the appearance of this model in a more laconic yet comprehensive way. The notebook has a black body with a double silvery edging along the perimeter and with rounded-off angles that make it seem even lighter than it is.
A chromium-plated manufacturer logo is placed in the center of the lid.
There are two indicators at the back of the lid:
In the front part of the lid there is a silvery piece where the display lock is usually located. It protrudes from the notebook’s smooth contour.
The nature of this thing becomes immediately clear as soon as you lift the lid up (which is held down by means of spring-loaded locks in the display hinges). A 1.3-megapixel web-camera is installed here for making photographs and taking part in video conferences.
The color scheme of the notebook’s interior matches its outside. It is designed in a sober and restrained way, too. The few tiny elements painted silver are just lost in the overall mass of black. Rubber pads are scattered on the screen bezel for softer contact between the lid and the notebook’s body. There is a small ASUS logo in the left top corner of the bezel.
Under the screen, and between the screen hinges, there are two stereo speakers directed straight at the user.
The sound volume can be adjusted by pressing Fn in combination with F10, F11 and F12. You can also use a special wheel on the notebook’s right panel for that purpose. This is indicated on the screen in the following manner:
The display is fastened in the same way as in the W5 and W6 series. The hinges stick out from the notebook’s body and allow to unfold the notebook by a full 180 degrees as in the photograph below:
The ASUS W7J is equipped with a widescreen 13.3” LCD matrix that has a maximum resolution of 1280x800 pixels and an aspect ratio of 16:10 (WXGA). The viewing angles are wide enough both vertically and horizontally as you might expect from an expensive notebook. The display has a glassy coating which makes the image more saturated, but also reflects any well-lit object or light source behind your back just like a mirror.
The matrix is manufactured using ASUS’ Color Shine technology. According to ASUS, this technology of making “glassy” LCD displays with a special polymer coating provides an exceptional image quality and color saturation, thus resulting in a rich and vibrant picture.
The W7J also features ASUS’ Crystal Shine and Splendid Video Enhancement technologies.
Crystal Shine provides a sharp and clear image with lively and vivid colors, making the display suitable for watching movies and playing games.
ASUS Splendid Video Enhancement adjusts the onscreen image by switching between preset modes (this technology is enabled with the Fn+C key combination).
The notebook’s display offers 16 grades of brightness, just like almost any other notebook from ASUS, but you can’t use the computer at the lowest brightness settings because it’s virtually impossible to discern anything in the screen then.
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, but it was considerably reduced when the notebook switched to its battery, automatically enabling power-saving technologies. The brightness values are quite high, but the contrast ratio is low:
AC power source:
DC power source:
This notebook is equipped with an 87-key black keyboard. 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 next to Control, which is convenient for people who are used to shortcuts like Ctrl+C or Ctrl+V. 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 over two keys on the left of the spacebar. The functional keys are smaller than others. Home, PgUp, PgDn and End make up a vertical 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.
The notebook’s touchpad merges with its surroundings. The touch-sensitive panel is sunken a little below the notebook’s surface. It is accompanied with two buttons that serve instead of the mouse’s ones and are highlighted in blue. There is no dedicated scrolling zone or scrolling joystick, but you can browse pages using the right part of the sensitive panel.
To block the touchpad, press Fn together with F9. This will be indicated by the icon shown in the next picture and the blue highlighting between the buttons will go out. You may want to block the touchpad to avoid pressing it accidentally when you’re using an external mouse or typing in text.
On a slanted edge to the left of the touchpad there is a large group of system status indicators highlighted in blue (except for the battery charge indicator which is orange). This group includes (from left to right):
There are no Num Lock and Scroll Lock indicators on this notebook, so you can only find out the status of these features by trying.
Under the right display hinge there is the Power button highlighted with a bright blue LED.
Under the left hinge, just like on W5 and W6 series notebooks, there is a WLAN slider 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 (but the user manual claims there are five AC modes available).
In the right front corner of the notebook’s body there is a rather sensitive microphone. It is thus very close to the user, but cannot be obstructed with the user’s hand at work.
The notebook’s left panel offers the following:
Here’s what you’ll find on the right panel:
The following can be found on the notebook’s rear:
The ASUS W7J comes with a 4800mAh battery. As opposed to W5 and W6 series notebooks, the battery is not the same height as the notebook’s body and does not serve as a support for the notebook’s rear part.
On the notebook’s bottom panel there are CPU, memory and HDD compartments, a battery module with two locks, a reset button (in case the Ctrl+Alt+Del key combination doesn’t work), and stickers with product information and the OS serial number.
The memory compartment accommodates one slot occupied with a 512MB module. The second module is presumably located on the mainboard and cannot be replaced. Considering that the maximum amount of memory supported by the notebook is 1536MB, your upgrade opportunities are limited to replacing the accessible 512MB module with a 1GB one.
The W7J notebook features the new Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 processor with a clock rate of 2.00GHz. This CPU is based on the 65nm Merom core and has 4 megabytes of shared L2 cache memory.
The Core 2 Duo supports Intel’s 64-bit extensions to the x86 architecture and also features Intel Wide Dynamic Execution technology which means the CPU core now incorporates more decoders and execution units. The speed of processing SSE and floating-point instructions has been increased, too.
Besides Intel’s Enhanced SpeedStep technology that allows the notebook’s software and BIOS to control the CPU frequency multiplier (and to reduce it under low loads), this CPU supports Dynamic Power Coordination (power consumption of the cores can be separately 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 Centrino Duo Mobile Platform Review.
This implementation of the refresh version of the Napa platform also incorporates an Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG adapter and an Intel Calistoga 945PM 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. 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. For more information about the platform, visit the manufacturer’s website.
The notebook is equipped with a discrete graphics core Nvidia GeForce Go 7400 that has 128MB of dedicated graphics memory and supports TurboCache technology. This 0.09-micron chip features low power consumption and is intended specifically for light and ultra-portable computers. TurboCache technology allows the GPU to use some portion of system memory in addition to the dedicated memory to ensure higher performance in 3D applications. The notebook comes with 1GB of system RAM and the GeForce Go 7400 can be allotted up to 512 megabytes of it.
The GeForce Go 7400 also features PureVideo technology for high-quality HD video playback and PowerMizer 6.0 technology for optimal power management. The Nvidia GeForce Go 7400 specifications are listed in the following table. You can also learn more about it at the developer’s website.
The notebook comes with a Fujitsu MHV2120BH PL hard disk drive (2.5” form-factor, 5400rpm spindle rotation speed, 120GB capacity) and a TSST TS-L632D DVD-drive with the following speed formula:
The ASUS W7J is equipped with DDR2-533 SDRAM, not the fastest variety available today. One slot is easily accessible and you can replace the default module with a 1GB one to reach the maximum amount of system memory the notebook can support. The memory modules work in dual-channel mode as is shown in the next screenshot:
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 22°C during this test) and got the following numbers:
To keep the temperature of the small body of the ASUS W7J at an acceptable level the engineers had to deploy a powerful active cooling system which is rather noisy when its fans begin to work.
The next table lists the technical specs of the tested notebook in comparison with its opponent ASUS Lamborghini VX1:
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 disc), 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 and SYSMark 2004 SE.
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 longest battery run-down time.
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.
As usual, we will first run 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.
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 all-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…)/the number of results.
SiSoftware Sandra measures overall performance of the system as well as that of each of its subsystems, while 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).
It is the first time we have two dual-core mobile processors from different generations (on the Merom and Yonah cores) but with the same default clock rate of 2.0GHz. So, we can see the difference between them in pure CPU tests. The Intel Core 2 Duo installed in the ASUS W7J is obviously superior to the Yonah-core CPU installed in the ASUS Lamborghini VX1. The former CPU performs faster even when the notebooks both lower their CPU clock rates to 1GHz in the battery-saving mode. This is the consequence of improvements implemented in the updated micro-architecture of the Merom core.
In the multimedia subtests of the SiSoftware Sandra suite the Intel Core 2 Duo is far better than the Core Duo due to its 128-bit SSE execution units. The rest of the results are predictable: the memory subsystem of the Lamborghini VX1 is preferable due to its higher frequency and larger amount. The hard drives yield similar performance, and the graphics subsystem of the ASUS W7J is just a little slower than the Nvidia GeForce Go 7400VX due to the minor difference in the GPU frequencies.
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:
It’s no secret that PC Magazine ’s benchmarks put most of their load on the CPU. As a result, the Intel Core 2 Duo wins this test for the ASUS W7J. Neither the larger amount of system memory clocked at the highest possible frequency nor the better graphics card can help the ASUS Lamborghini VX1 in this competition. The notebooks’ results decrease according to the CPU frequency drop in the battery mode. So, the faster execution of SSE instructions and the two times larger L2 cache of Intel’s new mobile CPU are factors that are very hard to beat.
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 puts an emphasis on CPU performance and it’s natural that the ASUS W7J has an advantage here. When the notebooks switch to their batteries, their performance is lowered by half in accordance with the CPU frequency drop that occurs in the power-saving mode.
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.
Each of the three applications utilized here is optimized for multi-core processors. We see the new architecture being just a little better than the older one.
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.
This test is CPU-dependent, too. The notebook with an Intel Core 2 Duo looks preferable.
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.
It is overall system performance that’s important here, not just the speed of the CPU. The ASUS Lamborghini VX1 proves it has a mightier configuration overall.
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.
We’ve got a CPU-dependent test again and the Merom wins it quite expectably. When the notebooks switch to their batteries, they suffer a performance hit proportional 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.
Operations performed in this script seem to suit the new micro-architecture ideally. Just take a look at the diagram.
The tested notebooks are both equipped with the discrete graphics core Nvidia GeForce Go 7400, but with different core clock rates, so we tested them in three versions of 3DMark: 3DMark 2003 3.6.0, 3DMark 2005 1.2.0 and 3DMark 2006 1.0.2.
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.
3DMark uses a set of 3D scenes rendered by its own graphics engine to load the graphics subsystem in various ways.
Quite expectably, it is the graphics core that works at a higher frequency and can be allotted more of faster system memory that is ahead in the graphics tests and the Merom can’t do anything about that. On the other hand, 3DMark’s CPU tests prove that the Intel Core 2 Duo is the faster of the two CPUs. The parameters of the graphics subsystems were set up for maximum performance for this test. That’s why their speeds don’t go down much in the battery mode.
Next, we tested the notebooks 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 will use it in every following review of notebooks on our site so that different notebooks could be compared under identical conditions.
The Nvidia GeForce Go 7400 VX is better at high resolutions in Quake 3 . But Quake 3 being a CPU-dependent game, the ASUS W7J is preferable at low resolutions due to its faster CPU. Quake 4 is not tied to CPU performance and runs faster on the notebook that has a higher graphics core frequency and a larger amount of fast system memory.
The final graphics subsystem benchmark doesn’t reveal a definite winner. The resolutions are not very high, so this test is rather about overall system performance. We can summarize the graphics tests like this: notwithstanding its very small size, the ASUS W7J is quite capable of running most of today’s 3D games at an acceptable speed.
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:
It’s just as we forecast in the Introduction. The ASUS W7J is not a long-liver away from the wall outlet because its miniature case conceals an advanced and power-hungry configuration typical rather of full-size notebooks. The average time of autonomous operation is two hours, which is short, especially considering the product class the notebook belongs to.
Here are the battery discharge diagrams for the different operation modes.
There is in fact nothing to find fault with in this notebook except its short battery life. But this drawback is well made up for by the huge performance of the new W7 series machine. While a W6 series notebook could be regarded as a visiting card of the person who had it in his hands, the ASUS W7J is exactly what the manufacturer calls it, “the choice of a professional”. The W7J notebook is not satisfied with the role of an electronic helper that is following its owner everywhere. It wants to be more. It is going to make a full-featured mobile workstation, a powerful tool to help your business activities. And it’s stylish-looking, too, so that you had something to impress your business partners with!