Among the monthly influx of hardware and software to the PC World Test Centre were two brand new notebook PCs from two of the big name Asian manufacturers – ASUS and Gigabyte. The ASUS L5800C machine is a big brick of a thing packing some serious firepower under the lid while the Gigabyte G-Max NB-1401 notebook takes a more refined approach with some sleek lines and treading the Centrino path in terms of processing power.
ASUS has equipped the L5800C with an Intel Pentium 4 CPU running at 2.66GHz along with 512MB of DDR 266 SDRAM (up to a maximum installable limit of 1024MB in two slots). Plenty of peripherals make up the stellar specifications list, which includes a DVD-ROM/R/RW/CD-RW combo drive,
3.5-inch floppy drive, modem, Ethernet, SD-Card reader, PCMCIA slot (Type II and III), five USB 2.0 ports and a FireWire port. The 15-inch LCD monitor can handle resolutions up to 1400x1050 pixels at 32-bit colour depth and in our testing using this very setting we saw no detrimental effects from running at this high resolution – the display was bright and crisp at all times. This is a good thing because the ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 graphics card with 64MB of dedicated VRAM is more than capable of running 3D games – traditionally a poor area for notebooks – so it would be a shame not to use the display to its fullest extent.
Running the L5800C though our suite of benchmarks threw up some interesting results, especially when looked at in comparison with the Centrino-based Gigabyte offering. First, the MobileMark02 test gave us an above average rating of 109, a good mark in itself but not a patch on the 134 achieved by the Centrino machine running the same test. This may have something to do with the way the Centrino CPU handles the application-based test used by MobileMark02, making it more efficient than the standard Pentium 4 chip (running at some 1000MHz faster than the Centrino).
Of course, benchmark results have their purpose but in reality you won’t see much difference between the two systems in everyday use. That is until you try to play a 3D game on them. We fired up our copy of Unreal Tournament 2003 and ran the “flyby” and “bot match” benchmarks at the standard resolution of 1024x768. The ASUS machine turned in an effortless result of
67 frames per second in the flyby test and 45fps in the bot match test. These may not be up to the same lofty standards found in our Muscle Machines group test this month (see page54), but it still represents a level of playability that many desktop PCs would be envious of.The Gigabyte Centrino notebook is admittedly not designed for graphically intensive 3D games – its strengths lay elsewhere – but we decided to run the Unreal benchmark anyway in the interests of science. As we thought, it staggered, stumbled and fell flat on its face at the end of the test with a severe crash – but not before it showed us the results, an underwhelming 11fps in the flyby test and a meagre 4fps in the bot match. Still, it serves as a good demonstration of the relative differences between a desktop replacement notebook and the much lighter and more traveller friendly Centrino devices.
The G-Max notebook also had it over the ASUS in terms of battery life – most likely thanks to the entirely more battery friendly Intel Pentium-M CPU – scoring a most impressive 180 minutes in the productivity test in MobileMark02. This simulates heavy use by running a range of applications until the batteries are drained; the three hours turned in by the G-Max is a very good effort. Comparatively, the ASUS managed just 111 minutes in the same test; not a bad time but a fair way short of the Centrino notebook.
Feature-wise, the G-Max is similarly well equipped with a large 14.1-inch LCD screen, a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive, FireWire, modem, PCMCIA (Type II) slot, Ethernet and three USB 2.0 ports — and, of course, the 802.11b wireless networking capabilities provided by the Centrino chipset. Only 256MB of DDR SDRAM was installed in the unit we tested but this can be increased to a much more respectable 2048MB via the two slots. Weighing in at 2.1kg, measuring just 2.7cm thick and sporting a beautiful aluminium shell, this notebook is hard to find fault with