Notable Portables_Laptop Test

Published Date
01 - Oct - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Oct - 2006
Notable Portables_Laptop Test
The affordability of laptops today is clear from the number of notebooks used by students. And thanks to faster and less power-hungry processors, notebooks can well compete with desktops in terms of performance.

We felt the need for this shootout for the same simple reason-they're very affordable, and there are many of us in the market for laptops right now. We divided the notebooks into four categories, listed below.

All notebooks below Rs 50,000 were marked as entry-level. This category is the fastest moving in India. Students, especially those in B-schools, find notebooks very useful, and many colleges have made notebooks mandatory.

Mostly used by professionals and mid-level executives, this category comprises laptops that give you a lot of power, look sleek, and weigh less than 3 kg. With increasing power and decreasing weight, this category poses a serious challenge to low to mid-range desktops.

Targeted at the upwardly mobile, this category is characterised by a small form factor and very low weight. All notebooks with screen sizes smaller than 12.1 inches qualified in this category.

Comprising desktop replacements and multimedia performers, this category is the elite among notebooks. All the notebooks that have big screens, big performance and great multimedia features figured here.

Just your regular laptop
Here, we take a look at what's available in the sub-50,000 price band, which can also be used as PC replacements.

As expected, the category was choc-a-block with laptops from ACi, Zenith, Acer, Gigabyte, and Compaq. In all, 12 models made it to this category, offering affordable mobility.

Look And Feel
Laptops still exude a feeling of luxury, so look and feel matter. The Compaq V6102AU is undoubtedly the best-looking laptop of the bunch. Its black body with its lustrous finish is outstanding, and the design refreshingly new. Acer notebooks come second-best in terms of finish and build quality. The design is typical Acer-subtle silver-grey on the lid and matte black on the inside-nothing's wrong with this, but we'd appreciate a cosmetic makeover. None of the ACi models could match the Compaq or Acers. Gigabtye and Zenith seem to have a monolithic approach as far as designing laptops goes. The silver-black combination is just too drab and dated. Build quality, however, wasn't an issue here; they felt sturdy.

Cutting corners to lower prices is the most preferred way of going about releasing any entry-level product. With laptops, the keyboard, touchpad and hinges are where such compromises often happen. When buying a laptop, get a good feel of the keyboard and the touchpad-they speak volumes for the overall quality.

The Compaq Presario V6102AU again comes out tops on ergonomics-the keyboard offers good resistance and feel, and the touchpad is equally good. However, the buttons are a bit mushy. The Acer twins come close to perfection-the keyboards are really good, but the touchpads are a tad glossy. Strangely enough, the lower-specification TravelMate 2428 comes with a nice curved keyboard, while the higher-priced Aspire 5551 comes with a regular keyboard.

The Zenith, Gigabyte, and ACi laptops have fair ergonomics, but there's nothing special. The keyboard on the ACi Emerald C2 is a tad better than those on the rest, though.

Compaq Presario V6102AU: looks good and performs even better!

As one would expect, the models in this category are fitted with low-end processors such as the Celeron M, but the Pentium M, Core Duo, and AMD Turion are also found happily crunching numbers in these entry-level laptops. Both the Intel 915GM and 945GM were used extensively, while Compaq's stunning V6102AU was based on NVIDIA's GeForce 6150 platform, with Zenith's Executive model being based on VIA's P4M800 Pro.

The i915GM is slightly older than the i945GM, and that's evident from the memory scores. What's interesting is that the NVIDIA platform delivers performance equivalent to that of the Intel platform in most tests.

The Compaq V6102AU was the only laptop in the entry-level category to come with a full gigabyte of memory-which was, no doubt reflected in the scores. The Gigabyte W431UD, ACi Icon S, and ACi Ethos Duo sported 512 MB of memory, and the rest dragged along with a paltry 256 MB, and sharing it with the graphics controller to boot! We suggest you bump up the memory to at least 512 MB when using Windows XP.

Coming to storage, Compaq's V6102AU had a 100 GB hard drive crammed in, followed by ACi (80 GB). Gigabyte and Zenith gave out 40 and 60 GB drives respectively. On the storage front, the more the merrier, but you should choose according to your usage.

14-inch widescreens were the norm, except the Compaq V6102AU and Zenith Strategist, which provided 15.4-inch screens. If you want real estate, opt for the 15.4 inch widescreen models-the extra screen area helps when working with applications such as Excel and Photoshop.

Frills at best included memory card readers, Gigabit LAN on certain models such as the Zenith Strategist and the ACi Ethos Duo 1530, and switches for Wi-Fi. Compaq has included a little button on the top of the touchpad to deactivate-comes in real handy during lots of keyboard usage. Finally, the Zenith Strategist and Presario V6102AU were the only laptops in this category that allow watching movies without starting the OS.

With AMD's Turion at 1.6 GHz, 1 GB of memory and NVIDIA's 6150 chipset at its disposal, the Compaq V6102AU was undoubtedly the best performer. It scored equally well across the barrage of tests we threw at it. Whether it was pure processing power or a memory-intensive test, the Compaq was up there with the best Intel-based notebooks. However, it seems battery life isn't the platform's best strength-this was the only benchmark where Intel is way ahead of the AMD platform. The Compaq V6102AU also tends to get a little hotter than the rest of the laptops in the category; this might have something to do with the AMD platform.

The ACi Ethos Duo 1430 came in behind the Compaq V6102AU thanks to the Intel Core Duo processor, except for the battery test, where the Intel platform has a clear advantage over the Turion. ACi's Ethos 1530 was third, again thanks largely to the Intel Core Duo platform's power efficiency, which propels its performance score over the rest. Acer's Aspire 5551 came close to dislodging both the ACi laptops from the podium, had it come with at least 512 MB of memory. The Gigabyte laptops were based on the older Pentium M and Celeron M processors, and consequently, the scores were proportionally lower. However, we do expect them to introduce laptops with newer processors-for now, they are overshadowed by better products. The Zenith Strategist pulled a stunner by displaying some great battery life, but the performance in other tests was average at best.

Coming to battery life, the Compaq V6102AU posted the lowest-but two hours is not too shabby, considering the performance on offer. The Zenith Strategist was able to run our test for a full four hours, and with regular applications, it should go even further. Generally speaking, laptops based on the Pentium M and Core Duo processors were able to provide more battery life per charge.

Our Conclusion
There are many options to consider in the Entry-level category. First, if you are on an absolute shoestring budget, the cheapest you get is the ACi Emerald C2. From our past experience with ACi laptops, they weren't up to the mark-they generated too much heat. However, this time round, the Intel Centrino platform in the Emerald C2 is a tried-and-tested solution, and it's very hard to go wrong with it. Furthermore we didn't encounter any heating issues during the tests.

In the bracket nearing Rs 35,000, the Acer TravelMate 2428 is the best performer. There's nothing really wrong with the Gigabyte and Zenith laptops, but the Acer laptop's fit and finish, complemented by its superior performance, outclass Gigabyte and Zenith.

Jump onto the next bracket nearing the Rs 44,500 to 50,000 mark and we have  no doubt: it has to be the Compaq Presario V6102AU-believe us, its refreshing design is irresistible, and the superb performance just adds another feather to its cap. It's clearly above the competition, but do keep in mind its low battery life and slight heating issues. Our Silver award goes to the ACi Ethos Duo 1430, because of its overall performance and features.

ACI finally redeems itself with the Ethos Duo 1430

The usual suspects
The largest category, with 13 laptops, is designed to brave the daily grind. Endurance apart, these laptops sported some of the best lookers, and the most well-configured of the lot. Heavyweights such as Dell, Toshiba, LG, and HP had one model each competing for the award, as did ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte, and TCL. The contenders are the Asus Z35H, Asus V6000J, MSI Megabook S425, Gigabyte W551N, Gigabyte W511U, Toshiba Tecra A8, Toshiba Satelite L100, LG XNote T1, LG XNote P1, Dell Inspiron 6400, Dell Inspiron 640m, TCL K41, and the HP Pavilion dv2025TU.

How We Tested
Here's a description of the tests and benchmarks we used to compare the laptops.

Features such as the size of the display, the number of I/O ports, hard disk size, type of optical drive, etc. were noted and rated. Extra features, if present, were also noted. Weightages were assigned to the noted features according to their importance.

Usability is evaluated on the basis of how easy it is to handle the laptop in day-to-day life. Importance was given to weight and dimensions, as well as the ergonomics of the keypad, touchpad, etc.  Music files were played to rate the speakers on a scale of 5.

Package Contents
We took into account the OS, recovery, and driver CDs provided by the vendor. Extra accessories or bundled software got extra points.

To gauge the performance, we ran a series of tests to evaluate each sub-system. We used the following benchmark suites:

PC Mark 2004 v1.3.0
This system-wide benchmark tests the entire system as well all the individual components-the CPU, memory, graphics sub-system, and hard drive. It returns the combined score as well as individual scores by running day-to-day apps such as file encryption, virus-scanning, and graphics applications.

SiSoft Sandra Engineer 2007
Another system-wide benchmark suite. We used it to evaluate the performance of the CPU, memory and hard disk.

Ziff-Davis Business Winstone 2004
This tests the system by performing a scripted run of applications used on a daily basis-MS Office, as well as applications such as Norton Anti-virus and WinZip. The overall system performance is evaluated, and a composite score is returned at the end of the run. The higher the score, the better is the system's performance.

Apart from these, we also did a few real-world tests:

Video encoding
This involved converting a 100 MB VOB file to AVI using DivX Creator 6.2, and the encoding time was noted.

Gaming benchmark
We tested the OpenGL capabilities with Call of Duty. The game was run at 800 x 600 and 1024 x 768 with all the details turned on. The average scores were noted.

LCD screen display tests
DisplayMate Video Edition was used to gauge the sharpness and level shift of the LCD screens.

Digit Battery Meter
We charged the battery to full capacity and then ran a VOB file until the battery ran out. During the test, the screensaver and power management features were disabled. The volume level was set to the maximum, brightness to 50 per cent, and Wi-Fi was turned off. This tells us whether the notebook will last a long enough to watch a full movie.

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