ASUS X51R Notebook Review: Excellent Budget Solution

Why will you spend lots of money for a notebook if all you need is office applications and Web-surfing, for example? An ideal solution in that case would be a notebook that provides just enough performance for office applications and comes at a low price. The ASUS X51R, which we are going to discuss today, is an example of such a product

by Alexander Britvin
11/11/2007 | 09:17 AM

When we buy something we always want to get as much as we can for our money. We want to have maximum performance, beautiful design, reliability, etc. It’s like we hope to find a product that would last to the end of our days and would then be handed over to our children. But there’s nothing permanent in this world, especially in the world of high technologies, so it pays to define the spectrum of goals you are going to solve with the product right now, not in the future. Why will you spend lots of money for a notebook if all you need is office applications and Web-surfing, for example? An ideal solution in that case would be a notebook that provides just enough performance for office applications and comes at a low price. The ASUS X51R, which has come to replace the A9 series, is an example of such a product.

 

This is a very inexpensive notebook, yet the price doesn’t mean it should be lacking something in its appearance or performance. Its plastic case looks very modern, and its configuration is impressive as well. The Merom core, even though in the Celeron M version, is reassuring by itself. The other versions of the X51R employ Intel’s Pentium Dual-Core and Core Duo processors based on the Yonah core, but our configuration is the cheapest available. It isn’t far inferior to the dual-core versions thanks to its high-performance core as well as to the fact that you don’t really need a dual-core processor for typical office applications. The notebook is based on the ATI Radeon Xpress 1100 chipset with an integrated graphics core. The rest of the configuration is discussed in the appropriate section of the review, yet it’s already clear than the ASUS X51R is something more than just an electronic typewriter.

We will examine the notebook following our traditional procedure and test it in comparison with the ASUS A6Rp, another low-end notebook with a same-frequency Intel Pentium Dual-Core processor.

Package and Accessories

The packaging of the X51R lacks any luster, which is quite normal for the product it contains. The names of the manufacturer and series are printed on the box. The slogan “Portability with Superb Performance” looks like an exaggeration to us. The X51R may be portable, but its performance can hardly be superb.

The ASUS Green label on the side of the box means that the notebook complies with the RoHS directive, being manufactured without such hazardous substances as lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium or polybrominated flame retardants.

The accessories are just as modest as the packaging. Besides the notebook we found the following in there: a 6-cell 4400mAh battery, a power adapter with a LED indicator and a cord, a modem cable (RJ-11), a cable brace, documentation (Quick Installation Guide, 2-year warranty, a list of authorized service centers worldwide, a user manual, etc), and a set of discs that included:

 

As you can note, there are no system recovery discs here. The X51R lacks a preinstalled OS save for FreeDOS, so there is nothing to recover. A CD with drivers for 32-bit Windows Vista is included with the notebook, though. Software for other OSes can be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website. It’s bad there is no bag in the box as you’ll have to buy one sooner or later to protect the notebook’s case from scratches and damage.

Design and Ergonomics

You can easily guess the manufacturer at a first glance at the X51R as shows unmistakable traits of an ASUS product. The lid is beveled along the perimeter to make the notebook slimmer visually. The weight and size indeed surpass your expectations: 2.8 kilos and 365x264x36 millimeters. These are quite standard parameters of a 15.4” notebook. There is a thin silver line at the top of the notebook’s body, but the bottom is all black.

The gray logo of the manufacturer is placed in the middle of the lid. It doesn’t look durable. We guess it is likely to wear off soon.

The display lock is placed at the front of the lid. It is designed like a slider. To the left of it there is an IrDA port.

Below the lock you can see system indicators that are visible even when the lid is closed (from left to right):

The battery indicator doesn’t stand out visually among others, being green like the rest of the indicators. The Wireless indicator is useless in our notebook as it doesn’t have WLAN or Bluetooth interfaces.

Painted a charcoal color, the display hinge is raised above the notebook’s bottom. It consists of three elements like in the A6 series. This mechanism allows unfolding the X51R by an angle of nearly 180 degrees.

The external color scheme is continued inside. There are rubber pads on the screen bezel for a softer contact with the notebook’s body. The latter is all gray except for the touchpad and keyboard.

The ASUS X51R is equipped with a widescreen 15.4” LCD matrix that has a maximum resolution of 1280x800 pixels and an aspect ratio of 16:10 (WXGA). The viewing angles look wide enough visually. The display has a glassy coating because the matrix is manufactured using ASUS’ Color Shine technology. ASUS claims that the use of this special polymer coating ensures high image quality and color saturation, resulting in a vivid and colorful image.

Besides that, the notebook features ASUS Splendid Video Enhancement, which helps quickly adjust the image using preset modes.

The modes are selected by pressing Fn + C. The current mode is indicated in the onscreen menu.

The notebook’s display offers 16 grades of brightness, but you can’t use the computer at the lowest grades because it’s hardly possible to discern anything in the screen then. The brightness setting is adjusted by pressing Fn + F5 and F6.

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 lowered when the notebook switched to its battery, automatically enabling power-saving technologies. The max brightness isn’t high – it should be enough for working under normal ambient lighting. The contrast ratio is rather low, too.

AC power source:

DC power source:

The X51R is equipped with an 88-key black keyboard. The buttons move softly and do not rattle. The Enter button is shaped classically like the letter L. The movement keys are shifted below the keyboard’s baseline, so there’s a smaller risk of your pressing them accidentally. The left Fn button is located in the bottom left corner, which is not quite convenient for people who are used to shortcuts like Ctrl+C or Ctrl+V. Numeric buttons and three Windows keys are available: the Context Menu key is placed to the left of the spacebar; the two Windows Logo keys are placed to both sides 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.

Centered above the keyboard is a mixed block with two instant-access keys, a few indicators, and an On/Off button (highlighted in green at work):

Power4 Gear+ utility 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 Wireless switch does nothing on the tested notebook since the latter lacks any wireless interfaces.

The touchpad is sunken a little below the notebook’s surface. The touch-sensitive panel is even lower, so there’s no chance your finger will ever get astray. The touchpad is wide enough for comfortable work and has a dedicated scrolling zone on the right. A joystick for scrolling text is missing. Well, however handy this touchpad may be, you’ll probably want to buy a mouse, which still remains the best pointing device available.

The option of disabling the touchpad is not available on this notebook.

The notebook’s left panel has an optical drive with an activity indicator, eject button and emergency ejection hole. The button is large and easy to find by touch.

The following components can be found on the notebook’s right panel (from left to right):

The notebook’s rear panel has most of its connectors (from left to right):

The following can be found on the notebook’s bottom: covers of CPU, memory, HDD and WLAN compartments (the latter is empty in our sample of the notebook), a battery module, an emergency shutdown/reset hole, and stickers with the model specs and the OS serial number.

 

Vent holes are placed closer to the center on the notebook’s bottom. This is a proper solution as the notebook is less likely to overheat if you place it on your laps.

The X51R has a 6-cell rectangular battery with a capacity of 4400mAh. The battery is located under the user’s right wrist, so this part of the case will always stay cool. The battery is fixed in its bay with two plastic juts that go out of the case.

The memory compartment contains two slots one of which is occupied by a 512MB module. The maximum memory amount supported by the notebook is 2048 megabytes.

Now the only thing left to note is the stereo speakers. These are placed on the beveled front panel. They are thus close to the user, but face downwards. The volume level is controlled by pressing Fn together with F10, F11 and F12, which is indicated on the screen like that:

Configuration

The ASUS X51R is equipped with an Intel Celeron M 520 processor (1.60GHz clock rate, 1024KB L2 cache, 533MHz FSB). This is a single-core CPU based on the 0.65nm Merom core. It has a typical heat dissipation of 27W.

The Intel Celeron M processor is a greatly cut-down version of the Core 2 Duo that provides an optimal balance between performance and price. The purpose of such a CPU is in using a high-performance core in inexpensive notebooks. The Celeron M lacks all the power-saving technologies of the Merom series, but unlike its predecessors on the Yonah core the CPU with a rating of 520 (and with a rating of 530 – among those present on the Intel website) supports the 64-bit extensions to the x84 architecture called Intel EM64T.

The latest version of CPU-Z couldn’t identify the CPU as a Celeron M and marked it as Core 2 Duo. This must be because the 520 model is one of the first Celeron M processors based on the Merom core.

The X51R is based on the ATI Mobility Radeon Xpress 1100 chipset which doesn’t differ greatly from its predecessor Mobility Radeon Xpress 200. The RS480M North Bridge and the SB400 South Bridge of the older chipset are replaced with RS485M and SB460 chips, respectively, in the newer one. The transition to a thinner tech process helped reduce the power consumption, according to ATI. The North Bridge features an integrated graphics core equivalent to the ATI Radeon X300 working at a frequency of 300MHz (the Mobility Radeon Xpress 1150 has a graphics core frequency of 400MHz, which is the difference between the two chipsets). The graphics core can be allotted up to 256MB of system memory for its purposes by means of HyperMemory technology. It features ATI’s exclusive power-saving technologies, although we couldn’t see them in action. The Mobility Radeon Xpress 1100 supports Intel’s CPUs and a bus frequency of 1000MHz. The South Bridge is compatible with the SB600 as a kind of a reserve for the future. It offers the same functionality as the Xpress 200: one PCI Express x16 slot, four PCI Express x1 slots, 8 USB 2.0 ports, 4 Serial ATA ports with support for RAID 0 and 1, and two ATA/133 channels.

The notebook comes with a Hitachi HTS541680J9SA00 hard disk drive (2.5” form-factor, 5400rpm spindle rotation speed, 80GB capacity, SATA interface) and an ASUS SCB-2424A DVD-burner with the following speed formula:

Writing:

Reading:

The ASUS X51R works with DDR2-667 SDRAM. One of the notebook’s two memory slots is occupied by a 512MB module. The other slot is free, so the memory subsystem works in single-channel mode by default. The maximum supported amount of system memory is 2048MHz, so you can easily upgrade this notebook.

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 in comparison with its opponent ASUS A6Rp:

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 (from the manufacturer’s website), 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 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, 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.

Easy to see, the Merom core performs faster even in its cut-down version. The Celeron M lacking any power-saving technologies, the results are the same irrespective of the power source. The X51R is noticeably faster than the A6Rp in the performance of the memory, graphics and disk subsystems. This is because the X51R has a higher graphics memory frequency and a higher spindle rotation speed of the HDD.

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 are not optimized for multi-threaded environments and value only the sheer frequency of the CPU, so it is no wonder that the modern single-core Merom is somewhat faster than the older dual-core Yonah. Again, the performance of the X51R is not affected by the power mode since the Celeron M lacks any of Intel’s power-saving technologies.

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.

The Intel Celeron M 520 finds it difficult to compete with the Intel Pentium Dual-Core T2060. On the other hand, the Celeron is faster than the dual-core Pentium in the battery mode as it doesn’t use any power-saving measures. Well, it’s clear that the higher performance of the Celeron M is achieved by spending more power.

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.

Backed up by a stronger system configuration, the Merom is about as fast as the ASUS A6Rp in the 2D Creation test.

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 Celeron M520 loses its ground in this test even if it is compared with the cheapest dual-core CPU based on an older core.

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 X51R seems to have the same communicational capabilities as its opponent and the differences between the two CPUs do not count here.

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 Merom shows itself a good CPU for office applications, being just a little slower than the Pentium Dual-Core T2060.

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 X51R is even ahead of the dual-core notebook in the final test from SYSmark 2004 SE, showing a more advanced architecture coupled with an improved overall configuration. Like in the previous applications, its results do not depend on the power source whether it is the battery or the power mains.

ASUS X51R has an integrated graphics core, so we tested the notebooks 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.

The X51R’s integrated graphics core doesn’t boast high performance. To verify this result we tested the ATI Radeon Xpress 1100 in a few real games.

There were two test 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 mobile PCs on our site so that different devices can be compared under identical conditions.

The graphics performance of the tested notebook is similar to that of notebooks with Intel’s GMA 950 core. It is not high enough for playing modern games. The X51R is obviously not for gamers, but for office workers.

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:

The ASUS X51R isn’t a very mobile notebook. You won’t even be able to watch every movie to the end on it. On the other hand, this notebook’s battery is something more than just an UPS. The X51R does provide a normal battery life, even though it is smaller than you get with most other notebooks.

Here are the battery discharge diagrams for the different operation modes.

Conclusion

ASUS was successful in creating a rather fast notebook for reasonable money. The integrated graphics core cannot match the performance of discreet graphics adapters, so the gaming audience cannot find anything interesting here, but in the other parameters the notebook looks quite appealing. It is going to suit perfectly for students who need acceptable performance in office applications at a low price. In fact, all the drawbacks of this product are compensated by its low price. ASUS’ engineers endowed the X51R with everything necessary, leaving out secondary details that can be added by the user himself if necessary. From the ergonomics aspect the notebook is quite competitive to many mainstream models even without any additions.

Highs:

Lows: