AMD vs. Intel: 10 notebooks tested

We put two of the toughest chip makers up against each other to see which has the biggest heart for notebooks.



We put two of the toughest chip makers up against each other to see which has the biggest heart for notebooks.


Contents
Introduction
Acer TravelMate 4150LMi
Asus A6000
Asus W5000A
Dell Latitude D610
HP NC8230
LG LW60 Express
MSI Megabook S260
MSI Megabook S270
Samsung M40 plus
Toshiba Tecra M3
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

For this series of tests we wanted to pit the fastest mobile Intel offering against the fastest mobile AMD offering. We asked the vendors to supply the following: One notebook PC equipped with an AMD processor (we suggested either a Mobile Athlon 64 or Turion 64) and/or one notebook PC equipped with an Intel Pentium M processor (we suggested Pentium M 533Mhz FSB and 2MB of L2 cache). The notebook must also be configured with 512MB SDRAM. We actually received products with three distinct chipsets:

Intel Chipsets
There are three main Intel chipsets that are components of its Centrino technology, the 915PM, 915GM, and 915GMS. The 915GM and the 915GMS both have integrated graphics processors which also share system memory, the 915PM has a third-party graphics accelerator. The integrated graphics processor has a hardware Pixel Shader but emulates the Vertex Shader in the notebook's CPU.

The 915GM and 915GMS are generally targeted at slim, lightweight, power-frugal laptops. They run 400MHz front side bus (FSB), whereas the 915PM runs a 533MHz FSB. All three Intel chipsets support DDR2 memory, which gives both a performance and power saving advantage over DDR memory, and 915PM and 915GM also support dual channel.

ATI Chipset
One notebook, the MSI MEGABOOK S270, came equipped with an AMD Sempron Mobile 3000+ and featured the ATI Radeon Xpress 200M chipset -- ATI's mobile chipset for AMD notebooks.

The Xpress 200M includes an integrated graphics processor, a derivative of ATI's Radeon X300 technology, which can use both local and shared-system memory to help keep costs and power usage down while still returning good performance. The ATI solution offers full DirectX 9 support with both Pixel Shader v2.0 and Vertex Shader v2.0 in hardware. The chipset supports both DDR and GDDR memory types and AMD's HyperTransport interface speeds of 800MHz and 1GHz.

SiS Chipset
The second of the AMD-based notebooks, the Asus A6000, came equipped with a Turion ML-40 and featured a mobile derivative of the SIS 755FX called the M760GX.

The chipset supports DDR memory and has a HyperTransport compliant bus driver technology to support AMD mobile Athlon 64 processors with up to 1600MT/s data rates. The integrated Mirage 2 graphics engine has a 256-bit 3D pipeline but its Pixel Shader is only compliant to Direct3D 8.1. The A6000 did include a third-party graphics solution in the form of an nVidia GeForce Go 6200.

Power Saving
Power saving features on both Intel and AMD chips may appear similar but differ in the degrees to which they have been implemented. The Intel Pentium M chips support six distinct speed and voltage combinations, using its enhanced SpeedStep technology.

The AMD Turion chips use the similar stepping of processor speed and voltages, but this is carried out in finer 100MHz increments/decrements; this should allow more flexibility to balance load and power consumption demands for the AMD processor.

Thermal Issues
We decided to measure the temperature of the hot spots under the base of the notebook, and also the temperature of the air issuing from the fan/heat-exchanger. We were surprised at how hot some of the notebooks became on a hard surface like a laminex bench top. The highest temperature measured was 45.6°C -- not far from scolding hot.

Intel vs AMD
To be blunt, sourcing high-performance AMD-based notebooks for this test was less difficult than extracting teeth from a fully grown chicken -- but only just. After much chasing, only two vendors submitted an AMD-powered product -- MSI and Asus. Interestingly, both vendors had their Intel-powered notebooks at the Lab with no chasing needed.

We should point out that the rarity of AMD product is not the fault of AMD, rather vendors, in Australia at least, do not seem to stock adequate quantities of high-performance AMD-equipped notebooks. Acer, for example, has a humdinger of a notebook the Acer Ferrari 3400 that is equipped with a mobile Athlon 64 but the company was unable to ship a single unit to the lab during the entire month of May.


Contents
Introduction
Acer TravelMate 4150LMi
Asus A6000
Asus W5000A
Dell Latitude D610
HP NC8230
LG LW60 Express
MSI Megabook S260
MSI Megabook S270
Samsung M40 plus
Toshiba Tecra M3
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Acer TravelMate 4151LMi
CPU -- Intel

The Acer sports a conservative and clean design. It has a standard 4:3 aspect ratio 15in display which results in a more traditional notebook footprint than the widescreen units, although at 2.86kg the Acer is just as heavy as larger units. The notebook chassis is robust and stiffer than some widescreen notebooks, and the display surround is also quite strong -- it takes quite an impact to unsettle the display.

The display's native resolution is just 1024 x 768, so given its size the screen fonts are quite large and easy to read. Graphics oomph is provided by Intel's 915GM chipset, which sadly in 3D terms does not cut the mustard when compared to the ATI and Gforce implementations in some other notebooks. 3D performance was quite low, almost half the average, but is buoyed up by the more exuberant graphics processors.

The keyboard is not the smallest you will find but it is not far from it. The alphanumeric keys and the space bar are certainly adequate in size but cursor keys, and in particular the top row of function keys, are quite small. Acer has also imparted a slight curve into the keyboard. There is a neat row of user-definable keys above the keyboard -- assigning the keys to your own functions is simple using Acer's eManager.

WLAN support includes 802.11B and G, the LAN support excludes gigabit and the fastest speed support is 100Mb. A neat feature is the ability to enable and disable Bluetooth and the WLAN using two backlit buttons at the front of the palm rest.

The Acer goes one better than most notebooks with four USB2 ports (rather than three), there is also a Firewire port, and for the digital camera user a 6-in-1 card reader that can cope with most card types including Memory Stick, SD, and xD. The Acer also has a Dual layer DVD +/- and CD-RW combo.

Audio quality is very good with a strong volume level from the pair of front-mounted speakers but not as good as the HP or Samsung which had richer bass quality.

Acer supplied a typical (for this review) memory configuration of 512MB DDR2 that can be expanded to 2GB, presumably by tossing away the 512MB module supplied in one of the two slots and fitting a pair of 1GB modules.

The Acer and the Megabook s260, had the lowest-clocked CPUs at 1.6GHz, and we found the Acer's "raw" CPU scores were the lowest of all the Intel-based notebooks tested. Raw hard drive performance was also low but the Acer still managed average scores in content creation applications tests and above-average performance in business application benchmarks. Acer's battery life claim of five hours was conservative as we got an impressive five hours and 51 minutes -- over an hour longer than its nearest competitor.

Temperatures generated by the Acer were higher than average with an "exhaust" temperature of 36°C and a heat spot under the base of the notebook that hit 38.5°C.

Product Acer TravelMate 4150
Price AU$2299
Vendor Acer
Phone 1300 566 367
Web www.acer.com.au
 
Interoperability
½
An average array of connectivity features.
Futureproofing
½
Quite good performance and exceptional battery life but the display is nothing special in this lineup.
ROI
Inexpensive and very good value for money.
Service
1-year pickup + return service plus 1-year international travellers warranty.
Rating
Acer TravelMate 4150LMi


Contents
Introduction
Acer TravelMate 4150LMi
Asus A6000
Asus W5000A
Dell Latitude D610
HP NC8230
LG LW60 Express
MSI Megabook S260
MSI Megabook S270
Samsung M40 plus
Toshiba Tecra M3
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Asus A6000
CPU -- AMD Turion 64

The A6000 is a goliath in comparison to the diminutive Asus W5000, carrying an extra kilogram of weight at 2.85kg. Many of the styling cues are carried over from the W5000, but some features are unique to both.

The A6000 has a 15.4in widescreen display that is stiffer than the W5000, taking quite a jolt before the image is unsettled. Opening the display is a two-handed affair with a lock on both sides of the display.

With a native resolution of 1280 x 800, the A6000 should be easy on the eyes after prolonged use. It has a glossy finish to the display resulting in a gorgeous crisp image but causes problems with reflections and fingerprints.

Graphics grunt was supplied by an nVidia GeForce Go 6200 processor with an impressive 256MB of memory.

Previously, the 6200 didn't perform well against several of the ATI-based notebooks in the older 3Dmark2001 test, however, in the new 3Dmark2005 the 6100 was the fastest.

Asus has fitted a slightly larger keyboard than the W5000 -- the alpha keys are no larger but many of the other keys such as Enter, Shift, Backspace and Tab are a more usable size. There was one annoying problem with the keyboard that should be easy for Asus to sort out and that is the keyboard legend for two of the keys is actually incorrect. Specifically, the shift legends on the [2] and the ["] keys, but the keyboard is electronically mapped correctly.

The touchpad features the same snazzy brushed aluminium buttons but this time the pad is wider and has a vertical scroll function on the far right side. The speakers are located under the front corners of the notebook and the audio is satisfying loud, but not as good as the HP or Samsung.

The LAN is only 10/100Mb, the WLAN on the other hand is 802.11g. The memory card slot caters for the same cards as the W5000 with SD, MMC and Memory Stick covered. There are four USB2 ports, the standard microphone and headphone audio out, and a SPDIF output for connecting to a surround-sound amplifier.

At the top of the bezel there is a voice recorder microphone and a small fixed camera, although our unit was not provided with drivers for the camera. The CD/DVD writer can be directly controlled for playback from a small control panel on the front of the notebook -- this means it can still be accessed when the display is closed.

It was equipped with a generous 1GB of DDR1 memory in the form of two 512MB modules, and can be upgraded to 2GB.

The A6000 was the only notebook we tested that featured the new AMD Turion 64 mobile processor. The Turion was clocked at a high 2.2GHz, making it the fastest clocked CPU of the group. Performance in both the Business application and Content Creation application benchmarks was significantly higher than the other notebooks, admittedly this was with 1GB of memory, but then again the Dell was also configured with 1GB of memory and it was soundly outperformed by the Asus.

In the "raw" CPU performance tests the Asus was again considerably faster than the Intel-based units were. Battery life was not as high as we had hoped at three hours and 14 minutes. The Asus ran quite hot, but with such a high clocked CPU you would probably expect it to.

Product Asus A6000
Price TBA
Vendor Asus
Phone 1300 ASUS88
Web www.asus.com.au
 
Interoperability
Four USB2 ports and good support of memory cards.
Futureproofing
½
Blistering performance, large widescreen display, good audio, low-res integrated camera but below average battery life.
ROI
N/A
Service
½
2-year limited global hardware warranty. 1-year battery pack warranty.
Rating N/A
Asus A6000


Contents
Introduction
Acer TravelMate 4150LMi
Asus A6000
Asus W5000A
Dell Latitude D610
HP NC8230
LG LW60 Express
MSI Megabook S260
MSI Megabook S270
Samsung M40 plus
Toshiba Tecra M3
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Asus W5000A
CPU -- Intel

The Asus W5000A was the smallest and lightest of the notebooks tested at a mere 1.85kg. And it's not like Asus has cut any corners or dropped any features to reduce the size and weight, the charcoal grey notebook is quite robust. We are only left wanting additional stiffening in the case lid as it is too easy to flex the display, and the slightest bump at the rear will unsettle the image.

Unusually, there is no lock for the display instead it is held shut by hinge resistance. The 12.1in widescreen display sports 1280 x 800 native resolution, which is quite high given its small size. The image is bright and sharp but those with less than perfect eyesight may find it a bit of a strain after prolonged use. The display surface has a glossy finish but the image quality and apparent clarity is improved over those with the matt finish.

A surprise addition is the small 1.3 megapixel camera and microphone embedded in the top of the display bezel -- perfectly located for video conferencing duties. The camera can rotate 180 degrees and there is a snapshot button located on the right bezel along with a zoom control and a microphone disable button.

If you need to add an external monitor, the integrated Intel graphics processor is capable of driving the external display to 1920 x 1080, perfect for HD TV. The W5000A was one of the fastest of the Intel graphics configured notebooks in the 3D tests but it was still a long way behind the third-party graphics solutions.

The keyboard fits snugly in the small case and its usability is just as good as many of the larger notebooks we tested with quite large keys and good travel and feedback. And in a criticism that can be levelled at many notebooks, the keys on the keyboard could have better colour differentiation.

The small, attractive touchpad provides adequate feedback but lacks the bells and whistles of some of the other units that include additional scrolling functionality.

The speakers are mounted at the base of the display bezel, a location not noted for it's audio prowess, and unfortunately the low, squeaky sound proves no exception. However, the unit does have a SPDIF output for surround sound when connected to a surround-sound amplifier and speaker set.

Bluetooth is an option and the WLAN includes 802.11b/g, while LAN connectivity tops out at 100Mb. Connectivity is good with three USB2 ports, Firewire, and a slot for SD, MMC, and Memory Stick Pro memory cards. The single PC card slot actually has a hinged dust cover rather than the cheaper, easy-to-lose, slide-in plastic ones, and we understand the W5000A also includes a wireless radio frequency mouse receiver.

Our unit had a DVD ROM CD-RW combo drive but no burner. The 512MB of DDR2 memory of which half is mounted on the motherboard and the other 256MB in the single upgrade slot. A further upgrade, after removing the 256MB module, only extends to 768MB which is well short of the other products in this review.

With a 1.86GHz processor the W5000A performed well in the raw CPU benchmarks but performance in business applications was below average. In contrast the Content Creation application performance was surprisingly good, placing the notebook third overall.

The Asus has a similar battery capacity to the Dell Latitude, with the vendor claiming three hours of usable battery life but we were only able to extract two hours and 26 minutes -- this is in stark contrast to the four hours and 34 minutes we got out of the Dell.

The Asus was one of the coolest running notebooks with a exhaust fan temperature of just 24.5°C and a peak spot temperature under the base of just 31.5°C.

Product Asus W5000A
Price AU$3299
Vendor Asus
Phone 1300 ASUS88
Web www.asus.com.au
 
Interoperability
A good array of conectivuty and also includes Bluetooth.
Futureproofing
Poor audio quality, good performance, display is nice but detail too fine and could result in eye strain, good heat dissipation and best camera implementation.
ROI
Average value.
Service
2-year limited global hardware warranty.
Rating
½
Asus W5000A


Contents
Introduction
Acer TravelMate 4150LMi
Asus A6000
Asus W5000A
Dell Latitude D610
HP NC8230
LG LW60 Express
MSI Megabook S260
MSI Megabook S270
Samsung M40 plus
Toshiba Tecra M3
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Dell Latitude D610
CPU -- Intel

For its size and features the Dell is surprisingly heavy at 2.42kg. The notebook is quite robust although moderate impacts on the back of the display tend to unsettle the image. With a standard aspect ratio and 1024 x 768 resolution resulting in large but blocky screen fonts, this 14in display is not a standout in this crowd. Graphics power is derived from the integrated Intel chipset and proves more than acceptable for most business applications, however it is certainly eclipsed by the third-party graphics solutions sported by many of the other notebooks in this review.

The Dell's keys are surprisingly large, in particular the often-used keys like Enter, Shift, Backspace and Tab, for example, are as large or even larger than most desktop keyboards. The travel and feedback is good and while the keys are not colour differentiated some of the bright blue legends do stand out. The Dell has both a track point and a touch pad -- both are pretty standard fare with just two buttons each and no dedicated scroll areas.

The volume level from the two speakers under the palm rest is very loud, however the audio is tinny and can be irritating at high-volume levels.

WLAN and LAN connectivity is broad with 802.11a/b/g and gigabit Ethernet and while four USB2 ports are generous, the lack of a Firewire port may be a problem for those that have external storage or video camera applications that require this port. Other omissions include memory card slots although with the single PC Card slot you could of course purchase an adaptor.

The Dell was the only notebook to include a smartcard reader and associated OtaniumSuite management software. It also was equipped with the fastest Intel mobile processor available and sports 1GB of DDR2, with a possible upgrade to 2GB -- an impressive configuration, with impressive performance figures to boot. This machine scored the highest in the Content Creation test than any of the Intel-based notebooks, only the Asus equipped with an AMD Turion managed to best the Dell in this test. Business application performance was also very good with a fourth place overall.

Dell claims a four-hour battery life, which may sound ambitious but we managed to draw the battery pack to four hours, 34 minutes.

Heat generation for this processor was slightly above average with a spot peak temperature of 37°C and a milder 29°C issuing from the heat exchanger vent.

Product Dell Latitude D610
Price AU$2816
Vendor Dell
Phone 1800 812 393
Web www.dell.com.au
 
Interoperability
Very good connectivity with 2 PC Card slots, 4 USB2, Gigabit LAN and A/B/G WLAN.
Futureproofing
Very good performance, average audio, relatively low-res display.
ROI
Below average price but features are also below average.
Service
½
3-year limited warranty plus 3-year next business day on-site parts replacement and 3-year on-site labour service.
Rating
½
Dell Latitude D610


Contents
Introduction
Acer TravelMate 4150LMi
Asus A6000
Asus W5000A
Dell Latitude D610
HP NC8230
LG LW60 Express
MSI Megabook S260
MSI Megabook S270
Samsung M40 plus
Toshiba Tecra M3
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

HP NC8230
CPU -- Intel

The HP is one of the biggest notebook submitted, with a display big enough to satisfy most desktop users. At 2.84kg the charcoal grey HP is no lightweight, but given the features set this is in line with comparable notebooks.

It sports a solid Magnesium alloy case, but in spite of the stiff, flex-resistant display, it only takes a mild tap on the back to unsettle the image, but it would take rather excessive force before any damage would result.

The 15in widescreen display features backlighting and a native resolution of 1280 x 800 resulting in Windows text that is large and readable. However, the non-glare, non-reflective finish does introduce some "speckle" that can render the white on light blue text a little harder to read, which is in contrast to the highly-reflective displays of the LG for example.

Driving the display is an ATI Mobility Radeon X600 processor that undeniably has plenty of grunt, the HP had the highest score in 3Dmark 2001 and the third highest score in 3Dmark 2005 -- just pipped by the LG for second place.

The NC8230 is not quite as wide as the Samsung so we cannot criticise the lack of numeric keypad as there is simply not enough space. Instead HP located the speakers on either side of the keyboard. The speakers performed well, with surprisingly loud and rich audio quality -- arguably only eclipsed by the Samsung.

The keyboard is rather standard fare for a notebook with a row of special function keys along the very top including quick launch buttons, WLAN enable/disable and volume control. The HP features both a three-button trackpoint and a three-button touch pad. The third button in both cases activates horizontal and vertical scrolling via the pad or pointer, and the pad also has a vertical scroll area on the far right side.

The WLAN covers b, g, and a and while the LAN was inexplicably not working on our unit it apparently is a gigabit adaptor.

The HP has three USB2 ports and a Firewire port, we were surprised that the notebook also had a DB9 serial connector which is a rare breed nowadays but very useful when consoling into routers and the like.

The notebook only caters for SD memory sticks but to be fair, it is the most popular and widely prevalent form of memory for cameras and MP3 players. However, where many of the other vendors provided DVD burners the HP only has a DVD ROM CD-R/RW combo.

The HP's single memory expansion slot was unoccupied so the 512MB of DDR2 resides on the motherboard. It can be expanded to a maximum of 2GB.

At 1.73GHz, the CPU is clocked slightly below some of the other Intel-based units tested however it performed well in our tests. Unfortunately we were unable to run our business application benchmark on the HP -- we had a slight software problem that we were unable to resolve in time -- however the Content Creation application benchmarks were slightly below average.

The battery benchmark is based on the same test scripts as the business application benchmark and as a consequence we were unable to run our battery life tests however HP claim the 14.4V 4.8Ah battery is good for four hours and we can see no reason why the HP could not achieve this when compared it to similarly featured notebooks.

In winter the HP would keep your lap cosy and warm; its peak temperature of 38.9°C was the third highest measured.

Product HP Compaq nc8230
Price AU$3795
Vendor HP
Phone 13 12 34
Web www.hp.com.au
 
Interoperability
Very good connectivity with Gigabit LAN, A/B/G WLAN and optional Bluetooth.
Futureproofing
Very good performance and audio, large hi-res display, sadly unable to run business app benchmark or score would be higher.
ROI
Good range of features and performance with an above average price.
Service
½
3-year limited on-site warranty.
Rating
½
HP NC8230


Contents
Introduction
Acer TravelMate 4150LMi
Asus A6000
Asus W5000A
Dell Latitude D610
HP NC8230
LG LW60 Express
MSI Megabook S260
MSI Megabook S270
Samsung M40 plus
Toshiba Tecra M3
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

LG LW60 Express
CPU -- Intel

With a similar-sized footprint to the HP, the LG is actually a more svelte-looking notebook with smooth lines and silver colour scheme; but we do feel the silver finish will mark far more easily than the HP's charcoal grey.

The case is robust and stiff and even though the display is flexy it takes a good deal of force on the back of the display to unsettle the image. LG managed to cram quite a lot of features into the LW60, some unique to LG, but this has resulted in extra mass. At 2.93kg only the Samsung was (slightly) heavier.

The 15.5in widescreen display is glorious, only overshadowed by the Samsung's 17in display. That said, in our opinion the 15.5in display is a far better trade off in terms of overall notebook size than the large Samsung.

With a resolution of 1280 x 800, the display is still large enough to deliver screen fonts that are sharp and easily readable. The glossy finish on the display results in the excellent colour and clarity, but similar to other glossy displays in this review, it also marks with fingerprints readily and is quite reflective. The display is powered by an ATI Mobility Radeon X600 with 64MB of dedicated memory which can drive external monitors up to 2048 x 1536 -- in our 3D performance testing it rated in the top two.

The LG is not as wide as the Samsung but to its credit a dedicated numeric keypad has been added onto the right side of the standard keyboard. We have to admit this alone would go a long way towards making this our favourite keyboard of the bunch but with keys that are large and well laid out, solidly supported and have very good travel and feedback -- this keyboard wins hands down. Our only improvement would be beter colour differentiation of the keys.

Of note are the "InstantON" buttons for DVD and music (CD) and the volume control buttons above the keyboard that will fire up DOS-based apps if the notebook is off rather than laboriously boot into Windows to play a DVD. Controlling the DVD and CD playback is via the keyboard -- there is a faint grey legend on the keys for transport and play control -- or via the nifty remote control unit that is just the right size to dock in the PC Card slot.

The wide touchpad has a vertical scroll area on the far right and to aid users there is a raised section in the pad.

Bluetooth is an optional extra and WLAN covers a, b, and g but the wired LAN is only 100Mb. The LG has four USB2 ports, Firewire, PC Card slot, PCI-Express slot and memory card slot that supports SD, MMC and Memory Stick.

The audio quality isn't quite as good as the Samsung or HP but is well above average and quite loud -- the output from the front-mounted speakers is not annoyingly tinny like many of the other products in this review. It is worth noting that the three audio sockets on the LG are user configurable so a socket can, for example, drive surround speakers, be the microphone input or the SPDIF input or output.

The maximum DDR2 that can be fitted to the LG is apparently 2GB and there is a single upgrade slot available -- the notebook shipped with 512MB and a 1.73GHz Intel processor. Raw benchmark performance results in Sandra Pro were typical of this class of CPU although the Memory Bandwidth scores were equal highest with the Toshiba. The LG was the fourth fastest in the Content Creation application test but was inexplicably just below average in the Business Application ones.

With a 11.1V 4.8Ah battery pack the capacity is a little lower than some of the other notebooks with 14.4V 4.8Ah battery packs and this is reflected in a slightly lower battery life in our tests. Even so, with a time of three hours and 52 minutes the LG still managed fifth place overall.

With peak spot temperature of 33.5°C and exhaust fan temperature of 29.7°C, the LG proved to have above average heat dissipation.

Product LG LW60 Express
Price AU$3299
Vendor LG
Phone 1800 725 375
Web www.lge.com
 
Interoperability
Very good connectivity with 4 USB2, Express card slot, no Gigabit LAN but A/B/G WLAN and optional Bluetooth.
Futureproofing
Good performance, large hi-res display, very good audio, large swag of multimedia features.
ROI
Moderately priced but feature packed.
Service
½
1 year.
Rating
½
LG LW60 Express


Contents
Introduction
Acer TravelMate 4150LMi
Asus A6000
Asus W5000A
Dell Latitude D610
HP NC8230
LG LW60 Express
MSI Megabook S260
MSI Megabook S270
Samsung M40 plus
Toshiba Tecra M3
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

MSI Megabook S260
CPU -- Intel

The S260 is the first of the MSI notebooks delivered to the lab. In terms of form factor, both MSI notebooks are similar to the Asus W5000 -- the S260 is arguably the best looking of the three with its pearl white finish. With the white colour scheme, including the keyboard, the MSI does look "Macish".

The S260 has quite a small foot print but is surprisingly heavy for it size, weighing in at just over 2.1kg.

In general, the unit is quite robust. While the display flexes too easily, we were surprised that it is reasonably well protected against impacts from the rear and it takes quite a thump to actually unsettle the display.

The display, like the Asus W5000, is gorgeous. It's a widescreen, 1280 x 800 pixel, with a glossy finish so the colours are outstanding, as are fingerprints and reflections of course. The screen fonts are sharp but because the display is only 12in along the diagonal they are also very small and for those with poor sight may be a bit of a chore to browse for extended periods.

It's interesting to note that while the display and chipset appear so similar when compared to the Asus W5000, the MSI does not have such a high external display resolution with 1600 x 1200, the maximum compared with the Asus's 1920 x 1080. Sadly the MSI appeared to be a little weak in the 3D tests when compared to the other vendors.

The keyboard fits snugly across the width of the notebook and its usability is just as good as many of the larger notebooks with quite large keys and good travel and feedback. The only colour differentiation is some of the special function legends and the numeric overlay. The Touch Pad is a vanilla unit in terms of functionality and is relatively large with two small buttons, which while they lack travel certainly have a positive and "clicky" feedback.

With speakers mounted at the base of the display bezel, much like the Asus W5000, you cannot really expect a Hi Fidelity audio experience. Unlike the Asus however the MSI has plenty of volume and is not quite as squeaky, although there is certainly not much of a mellow bottom end to speak of. With a compatible amp the MSI's SPDIF output can provide 5.1 surround sound.

Network connectivity is not as good as some of the other vendors -- wireless coverage includes 802.11b/g but not "a", and the wired LAN tops out at 100Mb. Otherwise, the connectivity is not bad with three USB2 ports, Firewire port, PC Card slot and a slot for SD, MMC and Memory Stick cards.

The S260 comes with a dual layer DVD burner -- just the thing for creating your own movie blockbusters. Along with the Acer, the MSI S260 had the lowest-clocked CPU at just 1.6GHz. In most of the raw performance tests, the MSI and Acer were neck to neck, as one would expect, except for the memory bandwidth tests where the Acer soundly outperformed the S260. This appears to be a telling factor in the Business application and Content Creation application testes where the S260 was again outclassed by the Acer.

The battery fitted to the S260 had twice the capacity of the one fitted to the S270, 4400mAh compared to 2200mAh, so it comes as no surprise that the S260 had a significantly longer battery life. At four hours and 37 minutes the S260 was only one minute behind the Samsung, which was in second place overall.

The S260 was efficient at dissipating heat with the exhaust from the heat exchanger peaking at just 27.5oC and the peak hot spot under the unit just 33°C.

Product MSI Megabook S260
Price AU$2499
Vendor MSI
Phone 02 9748 0070
Web www.msi.com.tw
 
Interoperability
½
Below average in this group.
Futureproofing
Good performance, display is nice but detail too fine and could result in eye strain, average audio, good heat dissipation.
ROI
½
Good performance, display is nice but detail too fine and could result in eye strain, average audio, good heat dissipation.
Service
½
2-years on-site pickup and return (Australia only) plus International. 1-year battery.
Rating
MSI Megabook S260


Contents
Introduction
Acer TravelMate 4150LMi
Asus A6000
Asus W5000A
Dell Latitude D610
HP NC8230
LG LW60 Express
MSI Megabook S260
MSI Megabook S270
Samsung M40 plus
Toshiba Tecra M3
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

MSI Megabook S270
CPU -- AMD Semperon

Other than minor cosmetic changes, one's black and the other is white for example, the S260 and S270 are externally identical. The display, speakers, sound chip, keyboard, ports and touchpad are all pretty much the same.

However, there are some fundamental differences between the two systems internally, although we should note that with the smaller capacity battery pack fitted the S270 weighs only 1.9kg compared to the S270 and its larger battery at 2.15kg.

The TFT display may be the same but it is driven, in the case of the S270, by an ATI Radeon Xpress 200M graphics processor with 64MB of shared system memory. We were surprised that the S270 did not outperform the S260 in all the 3D graphics benchmarks; only in 3Dmark2005 was the S270 slightly faster. One reason the S270 did not fare better is that it was only configured with 256MB of DDR compared to at least 512MB of memory in all the other systems under test.

The AMD notebooks arrived very late in the test cycle and there was not time to have the vendor fit additional memory, and this is not a user upgrade option. The maximum external resolution supported by the S270 is 2048 x 1536.

Network connectivity is slightly better than the S260 again with wireless coverage of 802.11b/g but not "a" and the wired LAN topping out at 100Mb but also with additional Bluetooth functionality. Because the S270 includes Bluetooth the fourth button above the keyboard behaves slightly differently and toggles the WLAN functions on and off with a small LED indicating the mode as follows: off -- all disabled, blue -- Bluetooth enabled, green -- WLAN enabled, blue/green WLAN and Bluetooth enabled.

The S260 was only configured with a DVD ROM CD-RW combo whereas the S270 had a dual layer DVD writer.

The only Semperon processor in the group was fitted to the S270 and was clocked at a respectable 1.79GHz. However performance was quite poor in all the tests that mattered; an extra 256MB of memory to bring the S270 in line with the other notebooks would probably go a long way to correct this performance deficiency.

We initially tested the battery life of the S270 "as is" but it soon became apparent that the larger battery on the S260 also had twice the capacity of the S270's. Our initial result for the S270 was pretty appalling -- one hour and 21 minutes -- but then the result was also flawed by incorrect power management settings. We ran the test a second time -- but this time to be fair with the S260's larger capacity battery -- and were still disappointed with the battery life at just two hours, 50 minutes.

Interestingly, the AMD CPU-based S270 ran hotter than the Intel-based S260 with peak spot temperatures of 34.4°C and 33°C respectively and exhaust fan temperatures of 33.9°C and 27.5°C respectively. While the S270 was hotter than the S260 we should note that the S270 ran considerably cooler than many of the Intel based notebook's, notably the hot running Toshiba.

Product MSI Megabook S270
Price AU$2499
Vendor MSI
Phone 02 9748 0070
Web www.msi.com.tw
 
Interoperability
½
Below average in this group.
Futureproofing
½
Poor performance, relatively poor battery life, display is nice but detail too fine and could results in eye strain, average audio.
ROI
Average features set at a below average price but performance was poor.
Service
½
2-years on-site pickup and return (Australia only) plus International. 1-year battery.
Rating
MSI Megabook S270


Contents
Introduction
Acer TravelMate 4150LMi
Asus A6000
Asus W5000A
Dell Latitude D610
HP NC8230
LG LW60 Express
MSI Megabook S260
MSI Megabook S270
Samsung M40 plus
Toshiba Tecra M3
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Samsung M40 plus
CPU -- Intel

If you are looking to ditch your desktop PC and, within reason, do not care how large the notebook is as long as it's a close substitute then perhaps the M40 plus is the way to go. This notebook is huge, I thought I had warped back in time to around 15 years ago when I first laid eyes on the unit. The M40 is 39.5cm wide and 28cm deep and inside the classy-looking silver case is technology that is 15 years ahead of the old and clunky monsters of yore.

Open the notebook and the reason for its girth is instantly apparent -- the Samsung has 17in widescreen display.

Surprisingly the notebook is not as heavy as might be expected tipping the scales at just on 3kg. The plastic case, with brushed aluminium accents, is quite robust and while there is some flex in the display, it is more sturdy than we expected.

The display, with an impressive resolutionof 1440 x 900, is driven by an ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics chip -- with display redraws and even 3D performance the M40 is certainly no slouch and was the fourth fastest overall in the 3D tests.

It's a pity though that with such an enormous amount of space at their disposal the engineers simply opted for a standard-sized notebook keyboard when they could have easily added a numeric keypad like the LG. If you're a fan of palm rests then the M40's will be right down your alley, the touch pad looks tiny even though it's a standard size and includes a windows vertical scroll function down the right hand side. Samsung has included a useful four-way button on the right side of the keyboard that can be programmed with some user shortcuts and is configured to launch Outlook, Explorer, Calculator as well as toggle the WLAN on and off.

The WLAN functionality is provided by a Mini-PCI card which includes 802.11B/G connectivity, it's a pity that the LAN connectivity does not include Gigabit but stops short at 100TX. There are three USB2 ports and a Firewire port, useful for video cameras and digital video camera memory is also catered for, but only if it's a camera that features Memory Stick.

The audio quality of the M40 is very good for a notebook -- the two speakers in the palm rest are surprisingly mellow and loud, only the HP was competitive to the M40 in this regard. The test unit was configured with 512MB of DDR but there is a spare socket for additional upgrades to a maximum of 2GB. The Intel CPU is clocked at 1.8GHz and in tandem with the ATI graphics provides snappy performance in all graphics intensive applications while typical business application performance is slightly below average for the group.

Samsung rate the battery life at four hours but we managed four hours, 38 minutes under moderate workloads; the average user should expect at least four hours from the M40.

One would imagine that with such a large notebook the engineers would have ample opportunity to dissipate heat and that was the case in our testing with the highest temperature recorded under the base of the unit a shade under 30°C; the lowest temperature of all the notebooks tested.

Product Samsung m40 plus
Price AU$3599
Vendor Samsung
Phone 02 9763 9700
Web www.samsung.com.au
 
Interoperability
Good connectivity and includes Bluetooth.
Futureproofing
&
Average performance, very good battery life, excellent audio and exellent 17in widescreen display, Very large footprint and not as portable as others.
ROI
Slightly above average price but a lot of notebook for the price, usability in cramped locations like an aircraft worry us.
Service
3-year on site.
Rating
½
Samsung M40 plus


Contents
Introduction
Acer TravelMate 4150LMi
Asus A6000
Asus W5000A
Dell Latitude D610
HP NC8230
LG LW60 Express
MSI Megabook S260
MSI Megabook S270
Samsung M40 plus
Toshiba Tecra M3
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Toshiba Tecra M3
CPU -- Intel

The Tecra is a little bland-looking when compared to many of the other notebooks tested with its "standard" footprint and champagne and charcoal colour scheme. The base of the notebook is very robust with little or no flex, but the display, on the other hand, flexes relatively easily and minor taps on the back of the display unsettle the image. At just over 2.2kg the Tecra is not a pain to lug around and is actually refreshingly light when compared to some of the large widescreen units.

The display at 14in is relatively small in this over-developed crowd and its native resolution of 1024 x 768 is nothing to get excited about other than to say that the large-screen fonts are easy to read even though they are a bit blocky. Maximum external resolution is a very impressive 2048 x 1536 thanks to the nVidia GeForce Go 6200 TE processor. The GeForce proved more adept in the 3D graphics tests than the integrated Intel processors of some of the other notebooks with the third-highest result in 3Dmark2001.

The keyboard layout is good and even the top row of function keys and cursor keys are quite large. Travel and feedback were also a little above average although colour differentiation was poor. Taking a bet both ways the Tecra has a track point and a touch pad but the track point buttons do not have the same degree of feedback as the touch pad, the latter also features convenient vertical and horizontal scroll areas. We did find at the default settings the Tecra's touch pad was not as responsive as many of the other notebooks.

With 802.11a/b/g WLAN and gigabit LAN the Tecra certainly has network connectivity well covered, there is even an WLAN enable/disable switch located at the front of the palm rest. There are also two USB2 ports, a Firewire port, SD memory card slot and both PC Card and PCI-Express slots.

The Tecra's speakers are located above the keyboard, there is a small rotary volume control at the front of the unit but even cranked up to full volume the audio is still not particularly loud but at least it is audible. The quality is quite good, not as tinny as some of the other units but neither is the sound as rich as the HP and Samsung for example.

The Tecra had 512MB of DDR2 memory and as there are no access panels under the base of the unit we must assume any memory upgrades, to a maximum of 2GB, must be located under the keyboard, not a user removable item. At 1.73GHz the CPU is almost clocked to Intel's current mobile limit and in most of the testing from raw CPU performance through to application benchmarks the Tecra performed admirably, it is worth noting that hard drive performance was one of the strongest amongst the group.

Toshiba rates the Tecra's battery life at 3.4 hours -- pretty close to the three hours, 46 minutes the Lab managed.

One area where the Tecra unfortunately excelled was producing heat. It had a peak spot temperature under the base of 45.6oC and even the air blowing out of the heat exchanger was a sultry 43oC.

Product Toshiba Tecra M3
Price AU$3080
Vendor Toshiba ISD
Phone 12 30 70
Web www.isd.toshiba.com.au
 
Interoperability
Very good connectivity with Gigabit LAN, A/B/G WLAN and optional Bluetooth.
Futureproofing
Good performance and battery life, passable audio but the display is nothing special in this lineup.
ROI
Good range of features at an average price.
Service
1-year international parts and labour Australia and New Zealand warranty includes complimentary pick-up and return service.
Rating
Toshiba Tecra M3

Specifications

Brand/model Acer TravelMate 4150 Asus W5000A Asus A6000 Dell Latitude D610 HP Compaq nc8230
Vendor Acer Asus Asus Dell HP
RRP AU$2299 AU$3299 TBA AU$2816 Up to AU$3795
System weight incl battery 2.84 kg 1.85 kg 2.85 kg 2.42 kg 2.63+ kg
Processor Intel Pentium
1.6 Ghz M
Intel Pentium
1.86 Ghz M
AMD Turion
64 Mobile
Technology
ML-40 2.2GHz
Intel Pentium
1.86Ghz M
Up to PM 770 (2.13GHz)
RAM installed/max 512/2048MB 512/768MB 1GB/2GB 1024/2048 MB 512 / 2048 MB
Hard drive capacity 60GB 60GB 60GB 40GB Up to 80GB
Display diagonal size 15 inches 12.1 inches 15.4 inches 14 inches 15.4 inches
Display aspect ratio Standard Widescreen Widescreen Standard Widescreen
Native resolution 1024x768 1024 x 768 1024 x 768 1024x768 1280 x 800
Graphics processor and memory Intel 915GM 3D AGP with Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900 Mobile Intel 915GM/GMS, 910 GML, 60MB SIS M760GX chipset with nVidia Go 6200 256MB Mobile Intel 915GM/GMS, 910 GML 122MB ATI Mobility Radeon X600 64MB
USB2 (number of ports) 4 3 4 4 3
Parallel (number of ports) 0 0 0 1 0
Serial (number of ports) 0 0 0 1 1
PS2 (number of ports) 0 0 0 0 0
VGA 1 1 1 1 1
TV out
(type of port
eg S-Video)
S-Video S-Video S-Video S-Video S-Video
Firewire (number of ports) 1 1 1   1
PCMCIA card slot 0 1 1 Type II 2 Type II 32-bit CardBus & 16-bit cards
Express card slot 0 0 0 0 0
SD/MMC/MS slot 6 in 1 card reader (SM/MS/MS-Pro/MMC/SD/XD-Picture Card) 1/1/1 SD/MMC/MS/MS PRO 0 1/0/0
Compact Flash slot 0 0 0 0 0
Smart Media slot 0 0 0 0 Smart Card
SPDIF 0 1 1 0 0
Docking port USB Port Replicator 0 0 1 1
Optical drive type Internal fixed DVD Dual (DVD+/-RW) Dual Layer DVD Rom Drive/CD-RW DVD Dual 8x 8X DVD+-/-RW rewritable DVD drive (8X-2X-8X DVD+/- RW/24X-16X-24X CD-RW) DVD+/-RW
Supplied OS Windows XP SP2 (Home) Windows XP SP1 (Pro) Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition Windows XP SP2 (Pro) Windows XP SP2 (Pro)
Battery type Lithium-ion (60Wh) Lithium-ion Lithium-ion Lithium-ion Lithium-ion
Battery life 5 hours 3 hours N/A 4 hours 4 hours
Battery rating 14.8 V 4300mAh 11.1V 4800mAh 14.8V 4800mAh 11.1V 4700mAh 14.4V 4800mAh
Integrated sound chip Realtek AC'97 Audio Realtek Realtek AC97 Audio SigmaTel C-Major Audio SoundMax Integrated Digital Audio
Audio ports (input, output, type) Mic, Headphone Mic, Headphone Headphone, Mic, audio-in Mic, Headphones
/speakers
Mic, Headphones/
line out
Integrated modem Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Integrated wired network (100M or 1000M) Yes 100M 100Mb 100Mb 1000Mb 1000M
Integrated wireless network
(A, B or G)
B, G B, G B, G A, B, G A, B, G
Integrated Bluetooth No Yes No Yes Optional


Brand/model LG LW60
Express
MSI Megabook S260 MSI Megabook S270 Samsung m40 plus Toshiba
Tecra M3
Vendor LG MSI MSI Samsung Toshiba ISD
RRP AU$3299 AU$2499 AU$2499 AU$3599 AU$3080
System weight incl. battery 2.925 kg 2.15 kg 1.9 kg 3.04 kg 2.27 kg
Processor Intel Pentium 1.73 Ghz M Intel Pentium 1.6 Ghz M SONOMA Mobile AMD Turion MT-30 Intel Pentium 745 1.8 Ghz M Intel Pentium M Processor 740 1.73AGHz, 533MHz FSB, 2MB L2 cache
RAM installed/max 512/512 512MB/2GB 512MB(Up to 2GB) 512/2GB 512/2GB
Hard drive capacity 60GB 60GB 60GB 80GB 60GB
Display diagonal size 15.5 inches 12.1 inches 12.1 inches 17 inches 14.1 inches
Display aspect ratio Widescreen Widescreen Widescreen Widescreen Standard
Native resolution 1280 x 800 1280 x 800 1280 x 800 1440 x 900 1024 x 768
Graphics processor and memory ATI Mobility Radeon x600 64MB Mobile Intel 915GM/GMS, 910 GML Ati RS480(integrated Graphics) 200M ATI Radeon 9600/9700 Mobility / 64 MB Nvidia GeForce Go 6200 TE 64MB
USB2 (number of ports) 4 3 3 3 2
Parallel (number of ports) 1 0 0 0 1
Serial (number of ports) 0 0 0 0 0
PS2 (number of ports) 0 0 0 0 0
VGA 1 1 1 1 1
TV out
(type of port
eg S-Video)
S-Video N/A N/A S-Video S-Video
Firewire (number of ports) 1 1 1 1 1
PCMCIA card slot Card Type II 1 1 1 1
Express card slot 1 0 0 0 1
SD/MMC/MS slot 4 in 1 (SD/MMC/MS/MS Pro) 3 in 1 card reader 1/1/1 3 in 1 card reader MMC/SD/MS Memory Stick 5 in 1 SD,SD-IO,MS,MS-Pro,MMC,XD PC
Compact Flash slot N/A 0 0 0 0
Smart Media slot N/A 0 0 0 0
SPDIF Line-in 0 0 1 0
Docking port NA 0 0 Optional external USB 1
Optical drive type DVD/DVD Combo/DVD Super-Multi(DVD-R/RW, +R/RW, RAM) DVD Dual RW DVD Dual RW DVD Super Multi DVD SuperMulti
Supplied OS Windows XP Pro (SP2) Windows XP Pro (SP2) Windows XP Pro (SP2) Windows XP Pro (SP2) Windows XP Pro (SP2)
Battery type Lithium-ion Lithium-ion Lithium-ion Lithium-ion Lithium-ion
Battery life 4.5 hours 3 hours 3.5 hours 4 hours 3.4 hours
Battery rating 11.1V 4800mAh 14.4V 4400mAh 14.4 V 2200mAh 11.1V 4800mAh 10.8V 4700mAh
Integrated sound chip CMI 9880L Realtek AC'97 2.2, SoundBlaster compatible AC'97 2.2, SoundBlaster compatible Crystal WDM Ac'97 SoundMax
Audio ports (input, output, type) Mic, Headphones, SPDIF (all can be reassigned) Mic, Headphones Microphone, headphones Mic, headphones Mic, Headphones
Integrated modem Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Integrated wired network (100M or 1000M) 100Mb 100Mb 100Mb 10/100 Ethernet UTP 1000M
Integrated wireless network
(A, B or G)
A, B, G B, G B, G B, G A, B, G
Integrated Bluetooth Optional No Yes Optional N/A



Contents
Introduction
Acer TravelMate 4150LMi
Asus A6000
Asus W5000A
Dell Latitude D610
HP NC8230
LG LW60 Express
MSI Megabook S260
MSI Megabook S270
Samsung M40 plus
Toshiba Tecra M3
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

How we tested

See graphs below for performance, benchmark and thermal results.















Performance scores


Business BatteryMark 2004 v1.0.0


Thermal testing


Thermal testing



Contents
Introduction
Acer TravelMate 4150LMi
Asus A6000
Asus W5000A
Dell Latitude D610
HP NC8230
LG LW60 Express
MSI Megabook S260
MSI Megabook S270
Samsung M40 plus
Toshiba Tecra M3
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

T&B Editor's choice
Editor's choice: LG LW60 Express

If you look at the selection of notebooks tested this month you can pretty much pick a winner in the three categories, of performance, price, and features.

If your mobile need is raw grunt then you just cannot go past the AMD Turion 64 equipped Asus A6000 -- in business and multimedia applications the A6000 was well ahead of the other notebooks and for gaming the Asus had the highest performance in DirectX9. Unfortunately Asus has not finalised pricing for the A6000 but we expect it to be quite competitive.

If you simply need a powerful notebook without too many bells and whistles, such as widescreen display, and more importantly you want to minimise the damage to your credit card then definitely look at the Acer TravelMate 4150 priced at just AU$2299. The Acer was surprisingly fast considering it's modestly clocked processor, in this crowd it is modest at least, and as an added bonus the Acer had the longest battery life of all the notebooks under test.

The overall winner, however, is the LG LW60 Express. The LG is feature rich, has a great widescreen display, was the only notebook to include a keyboard that has a full numeric keypad and at an RRP of AU$3299 is reasonably priced.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
Click here for subscription information.

Contents
Introduction
Acer TravelMate 4150LMi
Asus A6000
Asus W5000A
Dell Latitude D610
HP NC8230
LG LW60 Express
MSI Megabook S260
MSI Megabook S270
Samsung M40 plus
Toshiba Tecra M3
Specifications
How we tested
Editor's choice
About RMIT

About RMIT IT Test Labs

RMIT IT Test Labs
RMIT IT Test Labs is an independent testing institution based in Melbourne, Victoria, performing IT product testing for clients such as IBM, Coles-Myer, and a wide variety of government bodies. In the Labs' testing for T&B, they are in direct contact with the clients supplying products and the magazine is responsible for the full cost of the testing. The findings are the Labs' own -- only the specifications of the products to be tested are provided by the magazine. For more information on RMIT, please contact the Lab Manager, Steven Turvey.

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