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Quick Look At Asus' CULV Notebooks: The "Premium Netbooks"

Test Setup

We'll get around to writing a whitepaper once we finish up coding our mobile benchmark application.

There is a long back-story to the battery life benchmark used in this review. Chris and I have decided to save that long explanation for another time. What you should know is that it is similar to BAPCo’s MobileMark, but it differs in a few ways. Like MobileMark, it is a workload-based benchmark, running processes through several programs. However, this is a benchmark that we've coded from scratch, so that is where the similarity ends.

We want to stress real-world usage, which is perhaps one of the biggest reasons we decided to tackle an in-house benchmark. This metric mimics what you should expect from everyday usage. Right now, we've programmed the battery life test to simulate a user typing at ~45 WPM and reading at ~200 WPM. So, this is a “Real Life Use” benchmark, hence the name--RLUMark (at least until we think of a better name).

Since we are testing netbooks, there is no need to include content creation programs like those from the Adobe CS5 suite. This limits benchmarking to the General Use Battery Workload.

This workload consists of the following programs

  • IE8
  • Excel 2010
  • Word 2010
  • Outlook 2010
  • WMP12

We will try and keep the benchmark as up-to-date as possible. Right now, everything has been updated to 8/28/2010.

In addition, we are always going to benchmark systems as they ship, including their default battery profiles. There is no clean wipe of the OS here. In real life, when you buy a notebook, system vendors rarely include a blank copy of Windows 7. Some of the included software is useless, such as trial software, but others programs are important for functionality, for example, ThinkVantage’s Power Manager.

Beyond turning down all of the “special offers” when starting the system for the first time and installing Office 2010 Professional Plus, we do not disable or uninstall any software. Bloatware naturally hogs more system resources during the benchmark process, so we want to encourage manufacturers to cut down on the inclusion of worthless software. We want to make a point that the time it takes to complete a benchmark workload is unaffected by included software.

Test Conditions for All Systems:

  • Windows 7, all patches updated to 10/30/2010
  • BIOS updates, current as of 10/30/2010
  • Master Audio Volume: 50%
  • System Drivers, current as of 10/30/2010
  • Graphic Drivers, current as of 10/30/2010
  • GMA 3150 - 8.14.10.2230AMD Mobility Radeon HD 4225 – Catalyst 10.11Nvidia Ion 2 - 206.99GMA 4500MHD - 8.15.10.2226

Some vendors tweak their Windows 7 battery settings a bit in order to maximize longevity. There isn’t anything wrong with this. Every company has a different battery strategy that it believes is the best for its system. For example, some notebooks are hard-wired to force hibernation at 5%. Other systems will let you go all the way to 0% and just die, no matter what you set in the battery profile. We are going to test at default shipping settings under the “Balanced” battery profile.

Some manufacturers have a different name for this profile, but this will always be the “Recommended” Windows 7 profile. To simulate the same visual experience, we only “untweak” the display settings to retail Window 7 settings. In addition, all displays have been set to ~100 nits brightness, which is usually the 50% brightness level for most systems.

Other Benchmarks and Settings
Applications
WinRAR 3.93Version 3.93 (32-bit), Benchmark: THG-Workload (334 MB)
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
PCMark VantageVersion: 1.00, System, Memories, TV and Movies, and Productivity benchmarks, Windows Media Player 10.00.00.3646
Games
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm 4.0.3Low and Fair Quality Setting, V-sync off, 1366x768 and 1280x720, two-minute sequence, Fraps
Civilization 5Modified Default Settings, vsync off, one-minute zoom and pan sequence, Steam Version, Fraps
Call of Duty: Black OpsModified Default Setting, vsync off, No AA, No AF, Texture Quality: Normal, Trilinear, two-minute game play sequence, Steam Version, Fraps
  • one-shot
    Why get this outdated tech when more powerful Sandy Bridge based laptops are already out and more with even better battery life are on the horizon within the next few months. Here is a link from Anandtech that shows a i7 2820QM 4Core/8Thread CPU getting almost 7 hours of battery life (416 minutes) surfing the web with heavy flash.

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4084/intels-sandy-bridge-upheaval-in-the-mobile-landscape/9

    These CULV were great a year ago, but not anymore. This is old tech and purchasing any of these is a poor use of your money if battery life and performance are what you are after. If you want shorter battery life and weaker performance, then by all means this is for you. Sigh...
    Reply
  • acku
    We will have our Sandy Bridge mobile up story up shortly, but that is a i7-2820M. It is meant for DTRs. CULVs are a different beast. Brazos is more applicable comparison if you read our conclusion.

    And "heavy flash" is somewhat of a misnomer. Its still single-threaded. It doesn't matter what video you happen to be playing. And if you read our Flash article then you know H.264 Flash video has very little overhead on current GPUs (including Sandy Bridge), because they all use hardware decoders. This is going to naturally translate into more battery life. This doesn't just go for Intel. It goes for Ion2, Nile, etc...

    Andrew
    TomsHardware.com
    Reply
  • runswindows95
    That RLU benchmark is a really useful benchmark! I for one would buy a netbook or any system just to do word processing, the internet, and mp3's all day. You should also include it when comparing lower-end desktops as well because not everyone buys a computer to run high-end graphics all day. It really made me look at these netbooks better, and I can make a better decision based off that one benchmark alone.
    Reply
  • acku
    9508126 said:
    That RLU benchmark is a really useful benchmark! I for one would buy a netbook or any system just to do word processing, the internet, and mp3's all day. You should also include it when comparing lower-end desktops as well because not everyone buys a computer to run high-end graphics all day. It really made me look at these netbooks better, and I can make a better decision based off that one benchmark alone.

    Honestly, that is probably the first compliment we have received on it. But I'm glad to hear you like it. Feel free to drop suggestions for improving it or possible permanent names.

    I'm glad at least my many hours of programming weren't useless. But we plan to use it in our (many) upcoming mobile system reviews as well.
    Reply
  • How did you guys update the Ion2 drivers on the 1215n?
    Reply
  • acku
    Uninstall everything, then install Intel driver first, then install Nvidia driver.
    Reply
  • braneman
    I think the appeal of these netbooks is more if you have to carry them around with you, also they are 500$ cheaper, smaller, and probably several pounds lighter than a sandy bridge notebook, trust me if you have to carry it around with books you will notice the difference between this and a 15-17 inch laptop.
    Reply
  • super_tycoon
    inaphasiaHow did you guys update the Ion2 drivers on the 1215n?you should try using nvidia's drivers from their website, for a long time I couldn't get any installer to work and had to resort to windows update (I reinstalled windows to x64 ultimate). However, I tried again with the 266.35 installer and that worked perfectly, even with the gpu 'off'.

    I just want to add that if you're going to rip open your 1215n, swap the wifi card. I replaced the stock bs with an intel 6200 (the 1215n only has one antenna, so overkill, yes) and it's amazing. A situation where a cheap abs case is actually beneficial.

    I also don't recommend upgrading the hdd to an ssd. They're expensive, and the platform in general, whether it was ram or cpu, held me back further than I would have expected. The only real advantage is power savings. In the end I put the ssd back in my desktop to live it's horrible life as my swap drive.
    Reply
  • frederico
    one-shotWhy get this outdated tech when more powerful Sandy Bridge based laptops are already out and more with even better battery life are on the horizon within the next few months. Here is a link from Anandtech that shows a i7 2820QM 4Core/8Thread CPU getting almost 7 hours of battery life (416 minutes) surfing the web with heavy flash. http://www.anandtech.com/show/4084 andscape/9These CULV were great a year ago, but not anymore. This is old tech and purchasing any of these is a poor use of your money if battery life and performance are what you are after. If you want shorter battery life and weaker performance, then by all means this is for you. Sigh...
    Great review, very pleased with it.

    To address the above, all is very well and easy when you don't have to take weight and portability into account.

    I own a half dozen laptops and several PCs, I am a pretty hardcore gamer, but the one that gets the most use is the little portable netbook. Its 'evolved' all by itself into the most useful piece of tech I have. Can travel with it, watch tv and order stuff online, even sit out in the sun and watch a movie.. so many uses..

    Yet, so many limitations, this is where something like the 1215n comes in..

    Perfect screen size - really, 11.6 or 12.1 is absolutely spot on, as 10 is too small and anything else takes away from the portability

    Just enough processing power - its not a desktop machine, but not a titsy little single core atom either, it can run whatever you want, not at lightspeed, but thats not want we need, just decent speed.

    HD, HD, HD - It can play movies, flash, etc that other little netbooks can't, I am not a videophile, but I cannot stand stuttering, try a .mkv on the old atom 270 - just doesn't work

    ION - I won't game on the netbook, but the nerd inside me likes the fact that it can handle them, even recent titles, quite admirably.

    Battery - this is key in the balance, its gotta be close to 6 hours, which really is the magic number, I know this will get 5 and a bit, so its not bad.

    Price - hits the magic 500 dollar/euro mark

    Those are called "criteria" - your ultraportable has to have a good combination of all of the above. A quadcore can have all the battery it wants, but if it don't fit the above then it isn't really fit the category, or the price.. or the weight.. or the portability.. etc etc

    Reply
  • grooveboss
    I am going to be simple here. Netbooks running linux are great to check email and browse in bed when using a good trackball, also for video conferencing and Google voice calls and maybe some flash gaming or retro gaming. For Typing you really want an accessory keyboard, but it does not need a stance to hold its screen up when using it for word processing and the netbook can be easily hooked up to an external monitor. In my opinion since you are saving the money in the core of the system itself might as well spend the extra cash of a usual budget for buying a computer on more practical peripherals to increase productivity and still have an ultra portable machine. I think that covers for netbooks from me.In conclusion they are slow but in the future hardware will be smaller and ultra portable machines are going to be awesome.
    Reply