by Alexander Britvin
11/10/2008 | 04:48 PM
Extraordinary, exclusive and unique products are most likely to catch a buyer’s eyes, and there are indeed quite a lot of such products in every computer shop, but few people do buy them. Notebooks are not an exception. Gaudy and advanced luxurious models are attractive but their high price won’t pay off if you need but a simple computer for work.
If you use your notebook to run a few office applications, to surf the Web and watch movies, there is no need to spend extra money for redundant hardware power, functionality and exterior gloss. You can just limit your choice to so-called SOHO notebooks. One product from this inexpensive segment, the X80L model from ASUS, is going to be discussed in this review. The X80L is actually quite cheap even as SOHO notebooks go, and we are going to see if its functionality lacks anything important.
The exterior design of the X80L resembles the A8 series. They are similar in component layout, the shape of the case and the positioning of buttons and connectors, but the X80L uses cheaper materials.
The X80L employs the cheapest of Intel’s mobile CPUs based on the Merom core, the 2.0GHz Celeron M. It also has two 1GB memory modules. That’s quite a lot for this class but optimal for Windows Vista. Besides a Wi-Fi adapter which is available even in entry-level solutions, the X80L also features a Bluetooth module.
But the most unusual thing about the X80L is that it lacks a preinstalled OS. It only comes with FreeDOS. This may be okay for you if you are going to install some version of Linux or, for example, Windows XP rather than Windows Vista (the X80L03 version of the notebook comes with Vista Home Basic but costs considerably more).
So, we are going to look at this notebook and test it in a few applications to see if it can be of any use for an undemanding buyer.
The design of the product box matches the notebook’s pricing. The name of the manufacturer is printed on the wide blue band that encircles the cardboard box. The caption: “The Quest for Ultimate Balance” is not exactly true. “The notebook for Minimum Money” would be more correct.
Besides the notebook, the box contains a 6-cell 4800mAh battery, power adapter from Delta Electronics, modem cable (RJ-11), TV cable, documentation, cable strap, and a set of discs:
The discs are marked as belonging to the A8 series. As we noted above, the X80L features the same exterior design.
The notebook comes without a preinstalled OS, but the software bundle includes a few applications. ASUS offers a 1-month trial version of Norton Internet Security.
Like for a few other models, ASUS also provides a Skype telephony program called ASUS Power for Phone.
The Multiframe tool helps position application windows on the screen (or on two displays if an external monitor or projector is connected to the notebook). As opposed to Windows’ tools, Multiframe can neatly place multiple windows by separating the screen into zones. It also makes it easier to work with an external monitor/projector.
Finally, the Wireless Console tool provides a set of icons for enabling and disabling the notebook’s wireless interfaces.
The X80L is in many respects a clone of the A8 series. It differs from that popular series with the jet black coloring of the case and the rough texture of the plastic of the lid and below the keyboard. A restrained color scheme is quite a good thing for a notebook, but the meshed texture is just a good dust collector. A smooth surface, like in the A8 series, would be more practical.
Being an entry-level solution, the X80L does not have any special design features. It lacks any pomp, so to say.
The lid lock is a black button. You press on it and then lift the lid up with the other hand. The screen hinges are stiff, preventing the notebook from unfolding spontaneously when the button is pressed accidentally.
The two hinges protrude out of the notebook’s body, allowing to unfold it by over 180 degrees.
Status indicators are placed on the left of the notebook’s front panel and are visible irrespective of the position of the lid (from right to left):
The labels of the indicators are pressed out in the plastic of the top panel, so the purpose of each is clear even when the lid is closed. The only problem with the black icons is that they are barely legible on the rough surface of the case.
To the right and below the indicators there is one of the notebook’s stereo speakers. The other is placed symmetrically on the right of the front panel. The speakers are thus very close to the user. You can control the sound volume by pressing Fn together with F10, F11 and F12.
The notebook’s interior features the same jet-black color scheme. There are rubber pads on the screen bezel for softer contact with the notebook’s body when closed. The oval in the top of the bezel is meant for an optional 0.35-megapixel web-camera with turning capability.
The X80L is equipped with a widescreen 14.1-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. LCD matrix has a glossy coating that increases contrast and saturation but also acts as a mirror, reflecting every bright object behind your back. ASUS calls this coating Color Shine technology.
The notebook also features 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 X80L 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 87-key black keyboard. The buttons are stiff and do not rattle. 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 bottom left corner is occupied by the Fn button rather than by Control, which may be inconvenient for people who are used to shortcuts like Ctrl+C or Ctrl+V. The functional keys are somewhat 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.
The surface above the keyboard has a different texture. It is grooved rather than meshed. A chrome Power button is located below the right hinge and highlighted with a green LED. You can also find more system indicators and instant-launch buttons here. The indicators include (from left to right):
The instant-launch buttons include:
The hole of the monophonic microphone is to the left of the keyboard, like in the A8 series models. This position is good as it is close to the user and you can’t cover the microphone with your hand accidentally.
The X80L has a black touchpad with a dedicated vertical scrolling zone on the right. Horizontal scrolling is also supported, but not marked with paint. The sensitive panel is not ideally smooth. It is crossed with uneven grooves, making your finger move horizontally. As a result, the touchpad is rather unhandy, but a mouse is not included with the X80L, as opposed to most other notebooks from ASUS. The touchpad buttons are stiff and have a distinct click. There is no scrolling joystick or fingerprint scanner.
To avoid touching the touchpad while using an external mouse, you can block it by pressing Fn+F9.
The notebook’s left panel contains the following components (from left to right):
The notebook’s right panel carries two USB ports only.
The battery is located at the notebook’s bottom, so there are quite a lot of connectors at the back panel (from left to right):
The X80L comes with a 6-cell 4800mAh battery rated for a voltage of 11.1V. Thus, its capacity is 53Wh.
On the bottom panel there are covers of the HDD, memory and CPU compartments, a battery module, and stickers with model information.
The memory compartment contains two slots both of which are occupied by 1024MB modules. This is in fact the maximum amount of memory the notebook supports.
The ASUS X80L is based on an Intel Celeron M 550 processor with a clock rate of 2.0GHz (65nm Merom core with 1MB L2 cache, a TDP of 27W). The FSB frequency is 533MHz. This is the simplest single-core processor from Intel.
Intel Celeron M 550: cache-memory
The Intel Celeron M processor is a greatly cut-down version of the Core 2 micro-architecture that provides an optimal balance between performance, power consumption 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 higher supports the 64-bit extensions to the x84 architecture called Intel EM64T.
Intel Celeron M 550: frequency
Although the Celeron M is known to be based on the Merom core, the latest version of CPU-Z reported a Conroe core, which was wrong.
The notebook features the Intel Crestline GL960. Unlike the Crestline GM965, this chipset does not allow to connect a discrete graphics core. GL960-based notebooks can only use the integrated GMA X3100.
GMA X3100 is the first graphics core from Intel to support shaders on the GPU. As a result, the new integrated chipset features improved performance and compatibility with 3D applications, particularly with Windows Vista’s Aero interface. The X3100 can also support DirectX 10. The new core is clocked at a frequency of 500MHz and incorporates 8 unified shader processors for 3D rendering as well as for video playback acceleration. Thanks to them, the X3100 provides hardware acceleration and post-processing for video content in MPEG-2 and WMV9 formats (Intel Clear Video technology). The core doesn’t support the new compression standards H.264 and VC-1 (Blu-ray and HD-DVD), though. Besides higher performance, the new graphics core has acquired more advanced power-saving features, mostly meant to reduce the consumption of the LCD panel which is the main power consumer in a notebook together with the CPU. The X3100 supports Display Power Saving Technology 3.0 that is automatically adjusts the brightness and contrast of the screen to reduce power consumption yet keep the image quality high. The Display Refresh Rate Switching technology can be used to reduce the refresh rate of the screen when the notebook works on its battery (this provokes no flicker on LCD displays).
The FSB frequency is 533MHz while the maximum amount of system memory is 2 gigabytes. The Crestline GL960 doesn’t offer the option of remote administration (ATM), but that’s not important for ordinary users.
The chipset’s South bridge is an ICH8-M chip that features the integrated audio core Intel High Definition Audio.
The notebook is equipped with an Atheros AR5007EG adapter that supports 802.11b/g. If the combination of Intel Pentium Dual-Core with Crestline GM965 and Intel’s wireless adapter could be called Santa Rosa Light, this combination (Celeron M, Crestline GL960 and Atheros AR5007EH) is something like Ultra Light.
The X80L is also equipped with a WD1200BEVS-22UST0 hard disk drive (2.5-inch form-factor, 5400rpm spindle rotation speed, 120GB capacity, SATA interface) and a TSST TS-L632HDVD-burner with the following speed formula:
The X80L comes with two 1GB modules of DDR2-533 SDRAM. The memory subsystem works in dual-channel mode as reported by CPU-Z. You cannot increase the amount of system memory as it is already at the maximum.
Dual-channel memory mode
The following table lists the specifications of the X80L.
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:
We also measured the notebook’s temperature after it had run 3DMark 2006 1.1.0. This test was performed twice: with the notebook standing on the smooth surface of a desk and on the soft fabric of a sofa.
PCMark benchmarks computer’s performance in office and office-related applications. 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. The Vantage version focuses on typical work scenarios rather than on computer components as in the earlier versions.
The overall result and the results of the individual scenarios are not high because the Celeron M is a single-core CPU. The CPU doesn’t have any power-saving technologies, but Windows Vista can enable software throttling, and the notebook’s performance is reduced twofold in the battery mode. As opposed to Core 2 Duo processor, this has little effect on power consumption, though. PCMark Vantage can’t reveal the gaming capabilities of the notebook fully, yet it is already clear that the X80L is not meant for playing games.
The new version of SYSMark 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. The benchmark issues a few ratings that are indicative of the system performance under different loads.
The E-Learning test emulates the creation of an educational website with diverse media content. This script makes use of the following applications: Adobe Illustrator CS2, Adobe Photoshop CS2, Macromedia Flash 8 and Microsoft PowerPoint 2003. The Video Creation scenario is about creating video clips using special effects. The clips are combined out of several sources, including static images. The result is prepared in two formats: HD and for online viewing. The following software is utilized here: Adobe After Effects 7, Adobe Illustrator CS2, Adobe Photoshop CS2, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9, and Sony Vegas 7. The next test, Productivity, emulates typical office activities such as sending e-mail, processing data, managing a project, working with documents. Applications employed: Microsoft Excel 2003, Microsoft Outlook 2003, Microsoft PowerPoint 2003, Microsoft Word 2003, Microsoft Project 2003, and WinZip 10.0. And finally, the 3D script from SYSMark 2007 is about creating an architectural presentation including a photorealistic image of the building and a clip with a flyby of it. Two applications are used: AutoDesk 3ds Max 8 and SketchUp 5.
Despite the rather high clock rate of the Celeron M, 2.0GHz, SYSMark 2007 doesn’t run fast on the single-core processor. On the other hand, the X80L has enough resources for running office applications and for Web surfing.
3DMark uses its own rendering engine to create a set of 3D scenes that load the graphics subsystem in various ways.
The X80L is surely not a gaming notebook. The notebook is twice slower when working on its battery.
The real games agree with the synthetic benchmark. The X80L cannot be used to play modern 3D 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.
The Celeron M doesn’t have power-saving technologies, and this has a negative effect on the notebook’s battery life. It can last 2 hours with something under low load. You can only watch a short movie on the X80L in autonomous mode. So, this notebook should not be carried far away from the wall socket.
And finally we measured the temperature of the notebook’s surface after it had run 3DMark 2006 for half an hour. The ambient temperature was 23°C. The CPU temperature was reported by CPUID Hardware Monitor.
Thanks to the proper position of the vent holes (in the center of the bottom panel) the CPU is no hotter than 61°C. The temperature of the notebook didn’t change when we carried it over from a desk to a sofa. So, you can place you X80L on any surface without fearing overheat. The high temperature of the vent hole is indicative of the good design of the cooling system.
The X80L can’t be called a perfect notebook just because it has too many bottlenecks. However, its drawbacks can be put up with because of its low price. Compared with other products in its class, the X80L has such advantages as a Bluetooth module, 2 gigabytes of system memory by default, and a good selection of interfaces.
We guess the X80L will find its buyer. It will make a reliable and inexpensive helper for office workers and students who want a simple computer for running office applications, surfing the Web and watching movies. The notebook is also quite light, so you can carry the X80L with you easily.