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Tom's Definitive 10.1" Netbook Buyer's Guide: Fall 2010

Test Setup

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 I have 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 have at an in-house-developed benchmark. This benchmark mimics what you should expect from everyday life. Right now, I have programmed the battery life metric 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 I 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 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 will naturally hog more system resources during the benchmark process, so we want to encourage manufacturers to cut down on this trend. I 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 8/30/2010
  • BIOS updates, current as of 8/30/2010
  • Master Audio Volume: 50%
  • System Drivers, current as of 8/30/2010
  • Graphic Drivers, current as of 8/30/2010
  • GMA 3150 - 8.14.10.2117AMD Mobility Radeon HD 4225 – Catalyst 10.8Broadcom Crystal HD (3.3.0: HP Mini 210, 3.1.9: Dell Mini 10 [1012] HD)

Some vendors tweak their Windows 7 battery settings a bit in order to maximize battery life and 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 hardwired 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 be testing 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 about ~100 nits brightness, which is usually the 50% brightness level for the majority of systems.

  • frederico
    Very indepth excellent review. Pleasantly surprised. A lot of people out there have little clue of netbooks or even their uses. I got a little samsung last year and now I use it more than my main PC, obviously not for gaming, but watching webcasts/films at night, listening to music, grabbing it while watching TV to check something on the web, etc, etc. Not to mention completely essential when travelling on train/bus/wherever - 6 hours batt life still holding up.

    Very handy little things - easy to become addicted to. Theres some new models coming out this month that can handle HD but still have great batt life, will be tempted to pick one up.


    Reply
  • ScoobyJooby-Jew
    I have used a Gateway netbook with vista and 2 gigs of ram. I loved it. The 2 gigs really helped smooth things out. And when I loaded the netbook distro of ubuntu, it was ridiculously awesome. It satisfied everything except gaming. Which is what I wanted it to do.
    Reply
  • DjEaZy
    ... AMD FTW!!!
    Reply
  • As far as I know the battery makes a difference between 1000P and 1001px.
    Reply
  • amk09
    I have been looking forward to an article like this!!!!!

    Great job TH ily ;)
    Reply
  • Luscious
    That's the best performance rundown I've seen to date on the Broadcom Crystal HD - nice to get critical, hands-on info without the marketing BS. That said, AMD's Nile platform is seriously spanking Intel.

    I recently tested the HP Pavilion dm1z with the dual-core K625. Only slightly heavier/bigger than the 10" HP 210 Mini, but far superior when it comes to performance:

    http://lgponthemove.blogspot.com/2010/09/first-impressions-hp-dm1z-notebook.html
    Reply
  • lashabane
    Huh, never knew that a full propane tank weighs ~38 lbs.

    *Ninja edit*

    Super good roundup/review. I'm in the market for a netbook this season and this review helped a lot.
    Reply
  • braneman
    I actually found that on my last netbook (toshiba satalite, amd based) with a ram upgrade the only game it couldn't play passably on lowest settings(resolution included) was red faction guerrilla, even then it was graphical errors, you could even bring Crysis up to MEDIUM on some settings. meh now I got an m11x, it's very nice.
    Reply
  • KingArcher
    OMG this review is like drugs for the technically inclined.
    Good....no, Excellent job Andrew Ku. Amazing stuff. Really learned something new.
    I look forward to reading more reviews from you. :bounce:

    P.S. Editors, give this man a raise ;)
    Reply
  • super_tycoon
    If you're doing a 12 inch in the near future, I hope you include the Asus 1215n. I've had mine for three weeks and it's brilliant. ION2 and Optimus are easily worth whatever I paid for them. Playing any HD youtube video yields unicorns and butterflies while my friend's gateway (the one reviewed here) only gets the look of disapproval.

    My concern is that drivers for ION2 are a bit -fast- slow and loose now, the stock asus drivers were crap, the Nvidia update at launch was crap, but about two weeks ago there was a major update that requires manual installation. It gets roughly double, yes double, the fps of the old pos. Now I didn't write the thing, but it felt like it addressed the PCI-Ex1 link narrowness. (After all, what else could it be? It's just a 210m at it's core, but whatever's drawn on the Nvidia gpu also has to go back down the PCI-E link to be written to the Intel gpu vram (Optimus))

    Anyhow, forget the broadcom thing, my friend (a different one, I promise they're real and actually have these things!) has the dell and it's pretty bad. Even I couldn't get that stupid thing to work reliably except for WMP. At least he got his with his new xps 16.

    TL;DR I've actually used the gateway and dell netbooks reviewed here and they're both crappy. The gateway gets good battery life though and feels nicer. I love the asus 1215n with it's ION2 gpu and Optimus, and you should too.
    Reply