Santa Rosa + Vista: Three Notebooks Reviewed

We will take three mobile computers – Asus A8Sc, Toshiba Satellite A100-906 and Lenovo Thinkpad T61 - and will investigate the features and performance of mobile Santa Rosa platform in Windows Vista operating system.

by Ilya Gavrichenkov
11/04/2007 | 04:18 PM

Intel Company continues to push its mobile Centrino platform into the market. This platform has been almost completely renewed over the past couple years – now it includes totally different processors and chipsets, not the ones it first came out with. Nevertheless, the name remains unchanged. They have recently added a “Duo” word to the Centrino name that stands for dual-core processors.

 

However, Centrino Duo platform has also changed dramatically since day one. In fact, Intel is currently offering the third generation of this platform already that is known under Santa Rosa codename. The previous platforms were called Napa and Napa Refresh and we have already discussed them in great detail on our site before.

 

Santa Rosa platform appeared in the market before summer set in. However, we haven’t yet performed any in-depth performance analysis of this platform as we intended to wait for the full set of tests for Windows Vista to become available. The leading hardware and notebook manufacturers are already able to provide stable driver versions for Windows Vista and the corresponding benchmarks are already available, too. That is why today we are going to take a real close look at Intel Centrino Duo platform. However, before we get directly to the benchmarking session it would be really interesting to discuss the distinguishing features of contemporary Centrino Duo platform and it differences from Napa Refresh.

First of all I would like to say that Intel’s mobile platform concept includes a chipset, a CPU and a wireless network adapter. These three components in the new platform are all new as well, so let’s take a closer look at each of them separately.

Santa Rose In-Depth

CPU

Intel suggests using dual-core processors on Core micro-architecture in contemporary notebooks. They are known under Merom codename however, their internal design is very similar to that of regular desktop Conroe CPUs. It seems quite logical if we recall that Core micro-architecture comes from the mobile Pentium M processor family. As a result, Intel engineers take advantage of the fact that by limiting the clock frequencies of Core 2 processors they can provide heat dissipation and power consumption acceptable for mobile platforms.

Note that Merom (mobile Core 2 Duo) have arrived into notebooks a while ago, even before Santa Rosa platform appeared. They became the basis for Centrino Duo when the previous generation Napa Refresh platform came out. Nevertheless, the new Core 2 Duo notebook processors are still different from their predecessors. However, the differences are purely cosmetic ones. Core 2 Duo of the Santa Rosa platform acquired 800MHz bus support, while the previous platform worked with 667MHz Quad Pumped Bus.

So, the bandwidth of the bus between the processor and the chipset increased to 6.4GB/s. of course, this is quite far from the potential of the 1600MHz bus that Intel intends to employ in server and high-performance workstation environment in the nearest future, but we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of this change. The processor bus bandwidth is currently falling far behind the memory bus bandwidth. Therefore, any increase in the FSB speed will improve the performance tremendously in those applications that are sensitive to the memory subsystem performance.

Besides the higher bus frequency, the new mobile platform acquired a slightly modified Socket P processor socket with 478 pins. As a result of this innovation contemporary notebooks should be compatible on the hardware level with the upcoming 45nm Penryn processors that are scheduled to start entering the mobile segment in early 2008.

Core 2 Duo with 800MHz system bus was not the only type of processors to appear in the mobile market. They also introduced Core 2 Extreme processors. Just like in the desktop segment these dual-core CPUs offer higher performance, which in this case results from higher clock speed. However, Intel has to sacrifice some of the heat dissipation to hit higher clock speeds: mobile Core 2 Extreme processors exceed the sacred 25W here.

The complete list of processor models for Centrino Duo (Santa Rosa) platform is given in the table below:

CPU

Clock frequency

Bus frequency

L2 cache

TDP

Core 2 Extreme X7900

2.8GHz

800MHz

4MB

44W

Core 2 Extreme X7800

2.6GHz

800MHz

4MB

44W

Core 2 Duo T7700

2.4GHz

800MHz

4MB

35W

Core 2 Duo T7500

2.2GHz

800MHz

4MB

35W

Core 2 Duo T7300

2.0GHz

800MHz

4MB

35W

Core 2 Duo T7100

1.8GHz

800MHz

2MB

35W

Core 2 Duo L7500

1.8GHz

800MHz

4MB

17W

Core 2 Duo L7300

1.6GHz

800MHz

4MB

17W

Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme processors intended for the refreshed Centrino Duo platform now boast one more interesting feature aimed at improving the system performance in single-threaded applications even more. This technology is called Intel Dynamic Acceleration.

This technology implies that under high workload the processor clock frequency increases only on one of the cores while the other one is idle (only one of the processor cores gets overclocked). To be more exact, during single-threaded applications processing the CPU frequency increases by 200MHz above the nominal value because the processor clock frequency multiplier automatically increases by 1. Since the workload is single-threaded the processor heat dissipation and power consumption are guaranteed not to exceed the acceptable limits.

By the way, Core 2 Duo with 800MHz bus also acquired some new power-saving technologies. CPUs learned to hibernate even deeper, a state called Enhanced Deeper Sleep. Moreover, they also allow to dynamically manage the FSB bus frequency that can be dropped down in low-activity modes. As a result, new faster processors are not any less economical than their predecessors and hence outperform them from the performance-per-watt prospective.

Chipset

Previous Centrino Duo platform modifications were based on the mobile Intel 945 core logic set. The current platform refresh inspired Intel to replace the chipset with a newer solution – the mobile Intel 965 (also known as Crestline). This chipset can be regarded as a mobile analogue of the desktop Intel 965 with limited functionality.

The differences between the mobile Intel 965 and the predecessor are not dramatic.  The North Bridge has acquired 800MHz bus support, while the rest is the same: it works with dual-channel DDR2-533/667 SDRAM and supports PCI Express bus that can also serve for external graphics cards.

By the way, Intel claims that the mobile Intel 965 will also be able to work with Penryn processors for notebooks, which means that the new chipset has hidden support for 1067MHz bus that is not publicly revealed until the time is right.

Some things have been improved in the South Bridge also. Notebooks using Santa Rosa platform will support three Serial ATA-300 ports and ten USB 2.0 ports in the chipset.

As always, when we get to talk about Centrino Duo, Intel offers two chipset options: discrete PM965 and integrated GM965. Although mobile platform users mostly prefer external graphics solution to Intel’s integrated graphics, Intel provided its GM965 with a new X3100 integrated graphics core with a number of significant improvements.

In fact, X3100 became the first Intel graphics core to feature hardware shaders. All previous cores had the CPU perform vertex operations for them. That is why the new mobile chipset with the integrated graphics core can boast better performance and compatibility with 3D applications, in particular with the Microsoft Windows Vista Aero-interface. Intel also promises that X3100 will be compatible with DirectX 10, and released a new special driver recently.

The new graphics core works at 500MHz frequency and features 8 unified pipelines that can participate in 3D scenes rendering as well as in video playback acceleration. That is why X3100 also boasts hardware acceleration with video post-processing in MPEG2 and WMV9 formats (Intel Clear Video technology). However, the core doesn’t yet support newer formats such as Blu-ray and HD-DVD. We will have to wait for the next mobile platform refresh, then hardware acceleration of these formats may become available.

The table below offers you a detailed side-by-side comparison of the new and previous generation Intel cores:

Graphics core

GMA 950

GMA X3100

Chipset family

945GM

GM965

Hardware T&L

None

Yes

Frequency

400 MHz

500 MHz

FPU precision

16 bit

16/32 bit

Vertex Shader Model

3.0 (software)

4.0 (hardware)

Pixel Shader model

2

4.0

Pipelines

4

8 (unified)

Peak memory bandwidth

10.6 GB/s

12.8 GB/s

Max. supported memory

224 MB

384 MB

OpenGL API support

1.4 + ARB extensions

1.5

DirectX API support

9.0c

10

Intel Clear Video technology

None

Yes

While the performance has more than doubled, the new graphics core can also boast more advanced power-saving functions. They are primarily intended to make LCD panels more economical, because they are the main power consumers in mobile computers alongside with the CPUs. Intel X3100 features Display Power Saving Technology 3.0 that reduces the screen backlighting dynamically depending on the brightness of the displayed image. Moreover, Display Refresh rate Switching handles refresh rate reduction when the system is powered by battery.

Wireless-N

As before, the updated Centrino Duo platform (Santa Rosa) also includes a wireless network adapter. It uses a new Intel 4964AGN controller (codenames Kedron) that supports the preliminary 802.11n specification. However, although Intel promoted very actively this particular component in all marketing materials, the actual state of things is much more complicated than that.

The main problem lies with the compatibility of devices designed according to the preliminary 802.11n spec. while the final version of this document hasn’t been approved yet, you may experience compatibility issues when working with wireless cards from different manufacturers. Therefore, instead of the “revolutionary” wireless Intel 4964AGN module, new notebooks based on Santa Rosa platform may come equipped with either a cut-down wireless controller modification – Intel 4964AG supporting only 802.11g protocol, or with the good old 3945ABG component with similar features that has already stood the test of time.

The so long-awaited final approval of the 802.11n standard that should finally get it out of the “temporary” state, is still pending, unfortunately. However, we cannot help mentioning the advantages it will deliver once accepted.

First of all, new wireless standard promised significant data transfer rate increase. Maximum theoretical bandwidth may reach 300Mbit/s, which is about 5 times faster than what 802.11g networks can deliver. Preliminary tests also show that the data transfer rate will increase dramatically: in some cases we can even claim that wireless network proves faster than wired Fast Ethernet.

Among other advantages of the 802.11n standard we should definitely mention wide operational range and the absence of “dead zones”. It is achieved thanks to standardization of the MIMO technology that is used by numerous equipment builders already. Moreover, the new standard offer improved security algorithms including WPA2 AES encoding.

Turbo Memory

The new generation of the mobile Centrino Duo platform acquired a few completely new features. one of them is the component called Turbo Memory (codenamed Robson). Its addition to the today’s mobile platform became one more Intel’s response to the launch of Windows Vista operating system (besides the improvement of the graphics core in order to speed up the Aero interface). Intel Turbo Memory is intended to speed up HDD operations thanks to an additional cache using regular NAND Flash memory.

In fact, Turbo Memory is none other but a controller connected to the PCI Express x1 bus that features 512MB or 1GB of Flash memory. However, the OS doesn’t see this controller as an additional hard drive. It is designed to work exclusively with ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive Technologies available in Vista. These technologies perform read and write caching of the most frequently requested files, which should theoretically speed up the disk subsystem performance during OS and applications loading and on exiting the Hybernate state thanks to short NAND Flash access time.

I have to say that ReadyBoost function may be available to Vista users even without the Intel Turbo Memory controller, it may be enabled with a regular USB-Flash drive. However, Intel’s technology boasts higher bus bandwidth between the Flash memory and the disk subsystem. Moreover, Turbo Memory modules are much more economical.

However, you shouldn’t think that ReadyBoost technology speeds up the system dramatically. For example, the tests performed in desktop systems revealed that it is really efficient only when there is very little RAM and slow hard disk drives installed. Neither of these is the case in contemporary notebooks. But Intel Turbo Memory still is very beneficial especially for mobile platforms. Its major advantage is not the increased performance, but extended battery life. Flash memory disk cache lets you use the HDD less frequently and hence the overall system power consumption lowers.

Centrino Pro

Together with the new Centrino Duo platform modification, Intel also introduced a new marketing term – Centrino Pro. It actually stands for the same Centrino Duo platform but with additional remote administration options implemented with Intel Active Management Technology 2.5 (iAMT). In other words, Centrino Pro platform is especially interesting primarily for large enterprises that value simple administration of the mobile computer infrastructure.

The features iAMT has to offer system administrators are pretty diverse. The tools provided by this technology allow detecting hardware and software problems, checking and configuring inventory as well as resolving security issues.

For iAMT to run properly on a mobile platform, you need a CPU that supports virtualization technology, a mobile chipset from 965 family with ICH8M South Bridge and Intel network controllers (wireless or wired). By the way, iAMT’s ability to work through both: wireless and wired network is, actually, one of its major distinguishing features.

What’s Next?

Although the mobile Santa Rosa platform is currently quite acute, its life cycle is going to be over soon. And the reason lies not even in the upcoming launch of the Penryn processor family manufactured with 45nm process. As I have already mentioned above, these CPUs will be quite compatible with the existing platform. Moreover, the first notebooks with these new mobile processors that are due in early 2008 will be based exactly on the described Centrino Duo platform.

However in Q2 2008 Santa Rosa will finally get out-of-date. This will be the time when a new platform, also known as Montevina, will come to replace Santa Rosa. The main advantage of this upcoming platform will be smaller size of all components that will open many doors to even more portable mobile systems than the ones we have today.

Among other advantages of the new platform I would like to point out new 1067MHz processor bus, more economical DDR3 SDRAM and a faster graphics core with 10 unified pipelines supporting Blu-ray and HD DVD formats. Montevina platform will also feature a new network component with the promising WiMAX technology support.

Testing Participants

In this part of our article we are going to introduce to you three mobile computers that participated in the practical performance tests of the new platform.

Asus A8Sc

Asus A8Sc notebook continues the tradition of a pretty successful A8 family including relatively small and light notebooks targeted for the business user. Asus A8Sc features 14-inch matrix, weight only 2.5kg and will undoubtedly be an attractive solution for frequent business travelers who care a lot about the size and weight of their electronic companion.

Asus A8Sc was one of the first mobile computers in the market based on the contemporary Santa Rosa platform: Core 2 Duo (Merom) processor on Core micro-architecture and Intel PM965 chipset. Therefore, Asus A8Sc is not just mobile, but also delivers pretty “desktop” performance that will suffice for almost any type of contemporary tasks a businessman can need to work with. I would like to stress that unlike a lot of notebooks of the same type, Asus A8Sc doesn’t use Intel graphics core, but features a discrete Nvidia GeForce 8400M G graphics card. However, since this graphics solution cannot boast superb 3D performance, you shouldn’t really use Asus A8Sc platform as a gaming machine. This computer serves totally different purpose.

The pricing of different Asus A8Sc modifications starts at $1200, which is not a lot for a solution on the latest mobile platform. However, although Asus did their best to please numerous customers by proving this product with multiple interfaces, a card reader and a web-cam, they still have tried to save on a few things. Unfortunately, Asus A8Sc doesn’t use Intel Turbo Memory modules.

The notebook is built in Asus’ standard case with typical rounded corners and silverfish finish of the top cover that is not very wear-resistant, as many users have complained. 14-inch monitor of Asus A8Sc supports pretty standard resolution of 1280x768 (Asus’ site promises notebook models with screens supporting 1440x900, but these modifications are hardly available anywhere). The matrix features popular glossy finish, which ensures very bright saturated colors, but flashes in light at the same time.

The eye of a simple web-cam with 0.35Mpixels resolution sits right above the monitor.

The notebook keyboard is of very high quality and features pretty traditional layout for desktop users. And as for the touchpad, it is not as impeccable, unfortunately. There is too much resistance from its smooth even surface when you move your finger around, especially if the finger is damp. Moreover, you need to really apply some significant effort to press the touchpad buttons all the way, which is a hard job to do especially if you need to do it often enough. Luckily, Asus A8Sc comes with a small wired mouse of very nice quality.

Above the main notebook keyboard there are a few buttons that activate wireless interfaces and enable different system work modes. The status LED indicators and Power On button are also there.

 

This notebook is equipped with a record-breaking number of different devices and connectors on its sides. Here you can find 5 USB ports, Gigabit Ethernet port, modem connector, IEEE1394 port, card-reader slot, an optical burner, audio jacks including analog In/Out and SPDIF, D-Sub and DVI monitor Outs and TV S-Video Out. Asus A8Sc designers didn’t forget about wireless interfaces, too. The notebook features and infra-red port, Bluetooth 2.0 and Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n. Moreover, there is even enough room for an external ExpressCard slot.

Notebook delivers pretty loud sound. The speakers are located on the front edge of the case and are aimed at the desk.

Asus A8Sc cooling system sucks air into several holes from beneath the notebook and ousts it through a slit on the right-hand side, which may be an inconvenience for those who prefer to use an external mouse.

Asus A8Sc model that we managed to get for our tests was equipped with a dual-core Core 2 Duo T7100 processor working at 1.8GHz frequency and featuring cut-down 2MB cache. However, it performed very well during our test session in all applications that didn’t require powerful 3D graphics.

Although Nvidia GeForce 8400M G graphics card belongs to the latest Nvidia graphics accelerator family and complies formally with DirectX 10 requirements, it could only display the Windows Vista Aero interface, because it only had 8 stream processors and 128Mb of memory. However, the video memory capacity may dynamically increase up to 384MB thanks to Turbo Cache technology, although it can hardly help the situation, which we have seen during our test session. But I have to admit that GeForce 8400M G has its advantages as well, which makes the use of this graphics solution absolutely justified in Asus A8Sc notebook. Unlike Intel graphics core, this GPU supports hardware H.264 decoding and allows watching HD movies without any problems.

Among the drawbacks of Asus A8Sc hardware configuration we should mention not only the absence of Intel Turbo Memory and weak 3D graphics. Another significant disadvantage is the use of 1GB DDR2 SDRAM working at 667MHz in single-channel mode. It is possible to enable dual-channel mode, but you will need to install an additional DDR2 SODIMM.

This mobile computer features a smaller battery than usual, with 50.6Wh capacity. As a result, it has not very long battery life. As our tests revealed, the notebook may not last even 2 hours on battery under some types of workload.

Toshiba Satellite A100-906

The mobile Toshiba Satellite A100-906 system is slightly different from Asus A8Sc by the intended applications field. Toshiba’s solution is built in 15-inch form-factor and hence cannot be regarded as a highly mobile solution. The weight of this notebook also confirms this statement: it weighs over 2.7kg.

The manufacturer defines their solution as a universal multimedia mobile platform that may compete even with a mainstream desktop from the performance prospective. However, the hardware platform used in Toshiba Satellite A100-906 has already become slightly obsolete, as it is Napa Refresh based on Intel 945PM chipset. Actually, this notebook uses Core 2 Duo processor on Core micro-architecture, which still keeps it among serious competitors to contemporary solutions. Another good reason for that is a pretty serious GeForce Go 7600 graphics card that delivers comfortable gaming performance not only in previous generation games but also in some contemporary shooters including S.T.A.L.K.E.R, for instance.

Even though Toshiba Satellite A100-906 has been shipping to the market for almost a year already, its powerful, although slightly outdated hardware configuration prevents its price from dropping down. That its why if you do not obsess about its specs, the Toshiba buddy can still be regarded as a worthy alternative to many today’s solutions on Santa Rosa platform.

Toshiba Satellite A100-906 is built in a standard not very flashy case, typical of the entire A100 series. The bottom of it is made of hard black plastic, the top part is of dark gray color. Unfortunately, the layer of plastic on the top lid is quite thin and bends easily. Moreover, the glossy finish wears out quickly enough. Luckily, this is not true for the internal surfaces of the system that are painted silverfish color: the plastic as well as the painted finish are of much better quality there.

 The matrix with 15.4-inch diagonal features the today’s most popular widescreen resolution of 1280x800. The screen is completed with glossy mirror-like finish.

Toshiba Satellite A100-906 borrowed the keyboard design from 14-inch models and it doesn’t eat up the entire available space. However, it is still very convenient to work with and is protected against moisture. The empty space to the left of the main keyboard hosts a few additional keys implementing multimedia functionality and a Power On button with a blue status LED. Other LEDs are located on the front edge of the notebook where you can see them with the lid closed. There is a standard touchpad and a biometric fingerprint sensor below the keyboard.

The notebook is equipped with a pretty decent set of connectors and interfaces. There are four USB 2.0 ports, a Fast Ethernet controller port, modem connector, IEEE1394 port, a card-reader, two analogue audio connectors, PCI Card and ExpressCard slots, S-Video Out and a D-Sub connector for the monitor. Unfortunately, there is no DVI port.

We should definitely pay attention to the built-in audio solution, because it uses Harman Kardon speakers located above the keyboard. Thanks to these speakers, Toshiba Satellite A100-906 notebook offers powerful, deep and clear sound quality. However, the sound implementation is, unfortunately, not impeccable. First, you cannot hear the sound if the notebook top panel is closed, and second, the pre-filtering algorithm in the sound tract cannot be disabled although it distorts even the signals sent to external audio devices. Moreover, for some reason there is no built-in mic on Toshiba Satellite A100-906 notebook.

The notebook’s cooling system is relatively quiet despite the pretty powerful components inside. You can hardly hear it when the system is on. The air is sucked in through the only grid at the bottom of Toshiba Satellite A100-906 and then ousted through the holes on the left-hand side of the system.

Toshiba Satellite A100-906 uses Core 2 Duo T5600 processor working at 1.83GHz and featuring 2MB L2 cache memory. In fact, it is analogous to Core 2 Duo T7100 but with lower bus frequency: 667MHz against 800MHz. Therefore, it yields just a little bit to Asus A8Sc notebook on a newer Santa Rosa in most applications.

The slowdown results from the slower memory subsystem that uses 1GB single-channel DDR2-533 SDRAM.

However, in 3D applications Toshiba Satellite A100-906 looks very convincing. The reason is the GeForce Go 7600 with 256MB of 350MHz memory. It works with 128bit bus and works at 450/700MHz (chip/memory). I would like to remind you that this graphics card is based on G73M chip with 8 pixel pipelines and 5 vertex shaders.

Toshiba Satellite A100-906 also features the whole bunch of wireless interfaces. It supports Bluetooth 2.0 as well as Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g.

The notebook battery is of standard 68.4Wh capacity (6 cells), which would be enough to power this system for about 2 hours.

Lenovo Thinkpad T61

The Lenovo notebook that takes part in our today’s test session belongs to a slightly different category than the previous two solutions. Nevertheless, we decided to include it in this article because it will help us demonstrate what Santa Rosa platform is really capable of when it is fully charged. In other words, Lenovo Thinkpad T61 is an expensive high-performance business notebook designed in 14-inch form-factor.

In fact, the size of Lenovo Thinkpad T61 is very similar to that of Asus A8Sc, however the exterior design of our hero wouldn’t let us compare them side by side with the Asus solution. Lenovo Thinkpad T61 is another example of classic looks developed by IBM many years ago. It is made of solid black plastic that is pleasantly velvety to the touch on the outside and grainy on the inside, with sharp edges and corners. In other words, a “black box”. However, Thinkpad brand fans hardly expect anything else.

However, you shouldn’t be misled by the classic looks of the Lenovo Thinkpad T61: it is stuffed with some very progressive components – Santa Rosa platform. Besides Core 2 Duo processor on Core micro-architecture supporting 800MHz bus, it also uses a discrete Intel PM965 chipset and external Nvidia Quadro NVS 140M graphics card optimized for 2D modes and boasting very low heat dissipation of only 10W.

Despite pretty typical configuration, Lenovo Thinkpad T61 costs a little more than the Asus A8Sc we have already talked about before, because the Lenovo notebook boasts a few additional advantages. Firstly, it is equipped with 1GB Intel Turbo Memory module that speeds up the boot time for the most frequently used applications. Secondly, the notebook is equipped with a biometric fingerprint sensor, a TPM module and supports Intel AMT remote management technology that defines it as a Centrino Pro solution. And thirdly, the case of this mobile computer doesn’t just look originally, it is also enhanced with a special Top Cover Roll Cage cell structure that protects its when dropped. By the way, the hard disk drive in Lenovo Thinkpad T61 is also set in a special anti-shock chassis with an overload sensor that parks the heads in case of emergency.

The screen of the Thinkpad T61 is also unusual. Despite its standard 14-inch size it supports better widescreen resolution than most of the competitors: 1440x900. Lenovo doesn’t use mirror matrix finish in their Thinkpad series, which prevents the screen from flashing in the sun or bright light. There is a spot above the screen for a web-cam, which was absent in our configuration. The status LEDs are right below the screen and they are of noble green color instead of traditional blue.

The keyboard of this solution can undoubtedly be regarded as one of the best in the industry. It is not only highly reliable and moisture protected, it features large convenient keys and ergonomic layout. Besides a standard set of keys, Lenovo Thinkpad T61 keyboard also has a few additional Back and Forward keys built into the pointer control set. There are 4 additional keys above the keyboard: three for sound volume control and one for launching brand name software suite.

Another traditional Thinkpad’s peculiarity is the availability of a trackpoint manipulator besides the traditional touchpad. Unfortunately, being so close to the touchpad, the trackpoint sets certain limitations. Namely, the touchpad work surface is too small, which you can really feel especially due to large screen resolution. However, the trackpoint featuring three keys (the middle one enabling scrolling) can make up for this drawback.

Unfortunately, Lenovo Thinkpad T61 cannot boast the same variety of ports and interfaces as many other notebooks of the same size and weight. Its sides only carry three USB ports, an IEEE1394 port, D-Sub out for external monitor, two analogue audio-jacks, Gigabit network port and modem connector. Moreover, there are external slots for PC Card and ExpressCard that may be replaced with a card-reader in some configurations. I have to admit that the few connectors are also not very conveniently located. USB ports are aimed vertically, while the headset and mic connectors are situated on the very front edge of the notebook.

As for wireless interfaces, Lenovo Thinkpad T61 supports Bluetooth 2.0 and features Intel 4964AGN adapter that enabled Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g.

The speakers of Lenovo Thinkpad T61 are on both sides of the keyboard. They are pretty loud, but the sound quality is average. We have long known about the drawbacks of solution like that: with the notebook top closed the sound becomes badly muffled.

However, the cooling system of this mobile computer is its indisputable advantage. They have designed a totally new cooling solution for Thinkpad T61 that includes new airflow system and a cooler with uniquely shaped fan blades. It runs absolutely noiselessly while cooling the notebook components efficiently and keeping the casing temperature pretty low. The air is taken in through numerous holes in the bottom of the notebook, and ousted through the left and rear sides of the case.

Thinkpad T61 we got our hands on was equipped with Core 2 Duo T7300 processor running at default 2.0GHz and featuring 4MB L2 cache.

The notebook also features 2GB of dual-channel DDR2-667 SDRAM that ensured high performance results in the majority of benchmarks.

Even in 3D tests Lenovo Thinkpad T61 looks very good as well, although Nvidia Quadro NVS 140M graphics card is positioned as a 2D solution in the first place. However, Quadro NVS 140M is based on the latest generation G86 DirectX 10 chip and features 16 stream processors, i.e. twice as many as GeForce 8400M G installed in Asus A8Sc.

The battery in this mobile system aroused pretty diverse feelings. The thing is that despite its relatively standard capacity of 67.6Wh (6 cells) it stands out dramatically at the back of the notebook. It not only looks awkward, but also increases the notebook size, which may cause some inconveniences. The alternative battery offered by the manufacturer that fits into the notebook dimensions consists of only 4 cells, which may be too little for a contemporary mobile solution. To be fair I have to say that Lenovo Thinkpad T61 is a highly economical system. Our tests showed that it can run on a 6-cell battery for up to 3 hours.

Testing Participants Specifications

In addition to the data in the table above, I would like to say that all tests performed within this test session were run in Microsoft Windows Vista operating system.

New Technologies in Real Life

In fact, the new mobile Santa Rosa platform compared with the previous Centrino Duo (Napa Refresh) version doesn’t look like a significant step forward. Especially, if we look at the notebooks that do not use integrated graphics but external graphics accelerators (like the models we picked). It is true, at first glance they only acquired increased CPU bus frequency and draft WiFi 802.11n support.

However, if we take a closer look at these solutions, we will see that Santa Rosa platform boasts a few other things that may boost its performance. They are a new Intel Turbo Memory component and Intel Dynamic Acceleration technology, which is none other but “legalized” overclocking tool. So, before we move on to complex testing of our participating platforms, let’s see what these new technologies have to offer in real applications.

Intel Turbo Memory

The technology looks pretty attractive and it is expected to increase the general performance and the battery life of the system thanks to HDD reads and writes caching. In other words, Turbo Memory becomes an alternative to Flash drives with ReadyBoost technology and hybrid hard drives with ReadyDrive support.

One of our test notebooks, Lenovo Thinkpad T61 was equipped with a 1GB Turbo Memory module, so we had a great opportunity to check out this technology in practical experiments.

Despite common sense, Turbo Memory module doesn’t show itself in the system as any type of storage device. That is why you can only use it as intended – namely as a disk cache. You will need to install a special driver built into Intel Matrix Storage Manager.

Turbo Memory control panel doesn’t offer too many settings options: it can only enable and disable corresponding devices.

We tested the performance of our test notebook with enabled and disabled ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive technologies in SYSMark 2007 test that emulates different real work scenarios.

 

Turbo Memory Off

Turbo Memory On

Overall

100

97

E-Learning

112

107

 Video Creation

80

78

Productivity

99

95

3D

113

111

Strange as it might seem, but the tests results showed the general system performance dropping because of the Intel Turbo Memory module. Although this result can be explained quite logically. NAND Flash memory used in Turbo Module does have low access time but features lower bandwidth than most contemporary hard drives. Especially, than the Hitachi Travelstar 7K100 with 7200rpm spindle rotation speed and 8MB buffer that is installed into our test notebook platform. That might actually be the reason why Intel Turbo Memory technology is not that efficient in real applications.

However, this module may still speed up the system in a few situations. Namely, it helps speed up the OS booting and applications loading and reduce the time the system needs to quit Hibernate state. The table below shows the time measurements we obtained for all these operations:

 

Turbo Memory Off

Turbo Memory On

Windows Vista booting

77 sec

73 sec

Quit Hybernate

23 sec

21 sec

Microsoft Office Word 2007 loading

13 sec

11 sec

Microsoft Office Excel 2007 loading

8 sec

6 sec

Adobe Photoshop CS2 loading

15 sec

13 sec

The improvement is not very dramatic, but it is noticeable. The results of these tests indicate that Turbo Module does have some positive effect on the system performance after all.

The battery life in case Turbo Module is involved also increases. The results obtained in MobileMark 2007 that measures the notebook battery life under various types of workload prove it clearly. The table below shows our results obtained in common applications, during DVD viewing and reading.

 

Turbo Memory Off

Turbo Memory On

Productivity Battery Life

176 min

176 min

DVD Battery Life

130 min

138 min

Reader Battery Life

185 min

197 min

Of course, Turbo Module again does have some positive effect. Although the improvement is not always noticeable, and unfortunately, is not very impressive. The maximum improvement we have detected equaled 12 minutes during text reading.

However, when we get the most complex scenario emulating the user’s work in various applications, there is no battery life improvement whatsoever: the Turbo Module technology appears absolutely useless in this case. This can be explained by the fact that the advantages of Turbo Module technology come from its ability to disable the system hard disk drive during long-term idling. That is why the advantages of the disk flash-cache only pay off only when the HDD is accessed rarely and irregularly.

By the way, Intel recommends reducing the HDD spindle halt time to the minimum possible value of 1 minute when testing its Turbo Module technology. We, however, performed the tests with default settings when the HDD shuts down after 5 minutes of idling.

So, it turns out that it is pretty hard to draw any definite conclusions about the efficiency of the Turbo Module technology for Centrino Duo platform. Although OS boot-up and applications loading do occur faster and the battery life does increase during certain types of work, the advantages are hardly dramatic. Especially, since the overall performance of the mobile system may reduce a little in this case. So, I would characterize this technology as pretty arguable at this time.

Intel Dynamic Acceleration

The idea behind Intel’s “legalized” dynamic overclocking tool is very simple. When one of the cores of a dual-core processor switches to power-saving C3-C6 state, the clock speed of the second core increases by 200MHz. At the same time, the processor power consumption and heat dissipation do not get beyond the set limitations, because one of the cores remains in idle mode. This technology is absolutely transparent, it works on the CPU and chipset levels and doesn’t require any additional drivers in the system.

It looks something like that:

When a single-threaded application loads fully one of the processor cores of the dual-core CPU, the processor clock frequency multiplier gets 1x higher than its nominal value.

It sounds very attractive. Looks like Intel has finally come up with a way of speeding up single-threaded applications processing on dual-core CPUs. But unfortunately, all these statements are missing one important point. For Intel Dynamic Acceleration to work effectively, the second core needs to be in Deep Sleep (C3) or even deeper mode. It means that the second core shouldn’t be running any background processes at this time. Unfortunately, practice shows that this is a very rare occasion, at least in Windows Vista. When one of the cores gets loaded with work, the OS transfers all background processes to the second core preventing it from going into Deep Sleep mode. For example, we had to manually transfer all processes to the same core in order to be able take the screenshot you have just seen above.

Therefore, you shouldn’t really hope for Intel Dynamic Acceleration technology to ensure a significant performance improvement during single-threaded applications processing.

Performance

So, three notebook computers are going to compete face-to-face in our today’s test session. Two of them, Asus A8Sc and Lenovo Thinkpad T61 are based on the new Santa Rosa platform and the Toshiba Satellite A100-906 on the older Napa Refresh platform will be opposing them. Note that Asus A8Sc and Toshiba Satellite A100-906 use processors with close clock speeds of about 1.8GHz, while Lenovo Thinkpad T61 is equipped with a 2GHz CPU.

Synthetic PCMark05 Benchmark

First of all we decided to compare the notebooks performance in a popular Futuremark PCMark05 benchmark. The good thing about this tests is that it provides not only the general performance score but also can report the performance for different subsystems. So, that is why we decided to use it to get first look at the performance of our testing participants.

General Performance

The new version of SYSmark testing suite, SYSmark2007, that measures the systems performance in real applications arrived right in time for our tests. As a result, we managed to check out the notebooks performance in real tasks.

You should pay special attention to the results of Asus A8Sc and Toshiba Satellite A100-906 on the diagram above. These mobile systems are based on different platforms, Santa Rosa and Napa Refresh, however, their processors work at almost the same clock frequency of 1.8GHz.

As we see from the obtained results, the new mobile platform allows building faster notebooks. There are a lot of factors contributing to it, and we have already pointed them out above. However, the advantage we observe here is hardly determinative. The performance difference between Asus A8Sc and Toshiba Satellite A100-906 doesn’t exceed 10%. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the detailed score charts.

This testing scenario creates a tutorial web-site with diverse media content. It involves the following applications: Adobe Illustrator CS2, Adobe Photoshop CS2, Macromedia Flash 8 and Microsoft PowerPoint 2003. In this case the performance difference between Santa Rosa and Napa Refresh is pretty negligible.

This test deals with creating videos using non-linear editing and special effects. The videos are put together from several sources, including static images. The final video is made in two formats: HD and for online internet viewing. In this case the following applications are involved: Adobe After Effects 7, Adobe Illustrator CS2, Adobe Photoshop CS2, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9 and Sony Vegas 7. And again Santa Rosa demonstrates a slight advantage. Only Lenovo Thinkpad T61 mobile computer performs impressively here, as it features a faster CPU and more system memory than its two rivals.

The next scenario emulates typical office work including e-mail, data processing, project management and document editing. These are the applications involved: Microsoft Excel 2003, Microsoft Outlook 2003, Microsoft PowerPoint 2003, Microsoft Word 2003, Microsoft Project 2003 and WinZip 10.0. Under this type of workload Asus A8Sc gets far ahead of Toshiba Satellite A100-906. It might be the higher processor bus frequency and memory subsystem frequency that affect the performance in this case.

The last test deals with creating an architectural presentation with a photorealistic image of the object and a fly-around video of the projected building. There are only two applications used: AutoDesk 3ds Max 8 and SketchUp 5. Of course, processor computational resources are being loaded the most in applications of this kind that is why the results of Santa Rosa and Napa Refresh platforms with processors working at almost the same frequencies are quite close.

Performance in Applications

Besides the tests estimating the integral system performance we have also carried out a few benchmarks measuring the notebooks performance in individual applications.

During video encoding with DivX 6.7 codec Santa Rosa platform appears only a little faster than Napa Refresh. The advantage only makes about 3% and is determined by higher bandwidth of the bus between the processor and the memory.

We observe almost the same situation during mp3 files encoding. Actually, processor clock frequency is very important for media content encoding tasks. You can clearly see it from the results of Lenovo Thinkpad T61 notebook that uses a 2GHz Core 2 Duo processor, while the other two notebooks have their CPUs running only at 1.8GHz or 1.83GHz.

Our Photoshop CS2 test script that processes five 5Mpixel pictures reveals minimal performance difference between Centrino Duo generations.

Faster memory subsystem helps the new Asus A8Sc notebook to outperform the older Toshiba Satellite A100-906 by only 2%.

During files archiving memory subsystem performance is of great important for higher results. Therefore, Santa Rosa is evidently ahead here. It is about 15% faster.

In this test we used a special script that prepared a video movie for posting on the popular YouTube web-site. For this movie we used four video fragments from a digital camera. A resource-hungry task like that also revealed advantages of the mobile Santa Rosa platform. Asus A8Sc outperformed its main competitor by 8%.

The final rendering tests demonstrated pretty expected results. Processor’s computational capacity is of primary importance here that is why the notebooks featuring Core 2 Duo processors with similar working frequencies showed almost identical results. And Lenovo Thinkpad T61, of course, proved faster than the others.

3D Performance

Although all notebooks participating in our today’s test session are equipped with discrete Nvidia graphics cards of different types, we decided to perform a few tests describing their speed in 3D applications. However, since these results will not have anything to do with the prospects of the new Santa Rosa platform, this section of our article is just a nice addition, which doesn’t have any effect on the final conclusions.

First of all, let’s check out the notebooks performance in 3DMark tests.

Although these results give us an excellent idea of how powerful the graphics subsystems of our testing participants are, we have also performed a few rounds of tests in real games.

Battery Life

Battery life is as important as performance for a mobile computer system. Therefore, we paid special attention to measuring this parameter under several typical types of workload. The tests were performed in MobileMark2007 testing suite. Note that all battery life tests were performed with maximum screen brightness and with StandBy and Hibernate modes disabled.

The first scenario that we involved for our battery life testing purposes emulated user’s common work in typical office applications.

The record here belongs to Lenovo Thinkpad T61. This mobile computer based on Santa Rosa platform managed to run on battery for almost 3 hours. Toshiba Satellite A100-906 on the old Napa Refresh platform with the battery of almost the same capacity lasted 37 minutes less. However, the new Centrino Duo owes this victory not only to enhanced power-saving technologies. Toshiba laptop is equipped with a less economical graphics card than Lenovo Thinkpad T61.

However, we shouldn’t underestimate the advantages of the new platform here. We could see how economical Santa Rosa actually was from the results shown by Asus A8Sc also. It features a battery with 25% smaller capacity, but runs on it for about the same time as Toshiba Satellite A100-906 – a little over 2 hours.

The second scenario used in our test session emulated the use of mobile computers for video playback. To be more exact, this test demonstrates how long the notebooks could run on battery during DVD movie playback with IntelVideo WinDVD player.

The overall picture remains the same. The best result belongs to Lenovo Thinkpad T61, as we could watch the DVD on it for 2 hours and 18 minutes. Asus A8Sc and Toshiba Satellite A100-906 also showed very similar results: a little over 2 hours.

The third experiment implied measuring the notebooks battery life during text reading. We used Adobe Acrobat Reader to display some text on the notebook screen.

This type of workload eats the lest power, so our testing participants demonstrated the maximum battery life. Lenovo Thinkpad T61 on Santa Rosa platform worked for 3 hours and 17 minutes. Asus A8Sc based on the same platform but featuring less capacious battery run for 2 hours and 18 minutes. The Toshiba Satellite A100-906 representing older Napa Refresh platform demonstrated average result of 2 hours and 32 minutes, thanks to the battery of the same capacity as the one of the leader.

Conclusion

No doubt, arrival of notebooks based on the new Centrino Duo platform version is a big event for the market. The mobile platform concept introduced by Intel in 2003 has already proven its efficiency. But the manufacturers need to continue moving forward to keep the users happy. By combining a few evolutionary improvements of the previous platform versions with a number of innovative technologies Intel managed to maintain steady interest to the brand on the one hand and to bring its consumer qualities on the new level on the other.

Today’s Santa Rosa platform allows building a wide range of various mobile computers including high-performance ones with the speed approaching that of pretty decent desktops. Especially, since the launch of mobile Core 2 Extreme processors means that gamers and enthusiasts will very soon be able to switch to mobile platforms, too.

The main advantage of Santa Rosa platform over its predecessors is the faster 800MHz processor bus. As a result the performance in applications working with memory a lot has increased dramatically. However, we shouldn’t also forget about some other innovations expanding the capabilities of mobile platforms. I am sure that many of you will be excited about the new graphics core and fast wireless 802.11n network support.

The new platform has not only contributed to the evolutionary performance growth of contemporary notebooks, but also increased their mobility even more. Thanks to new power-saving technologies introduced in the processor, chipset and graphics core, today’s notebooks can last longer on battery than their predecessors. The arguable Turbo Memory technology is also adding to the longer battery life.

Summing up everything we have just said, we can state that Santa Rosa platform accumulated a critical amount of evolutionary improvements so that the notebooks based on it have become worth our best recommendations. Although we shouldn’t forget that progress keeps going and in the beginning of next year Intel will refresh Santa Rosa by adding more economical and high-performance 45nm Penryn processors to it. And is another quarter we will also see the new Montevina platform in the flesh.