Mobile History

Over the past few months, the enthusiast market has experienced a dramatic shift, as Core 2 Duo has proved itself to be the fastest consumer processor currently available. The interesting part about this is that Core 2 Duo as the name implies is based off the Core Duo architecture, which is in turn based off of the Pentium M architecture. While Pentium M chips never did reach the high clock speeds Pentium 4 was known for, the processor was actually very powerful and could compete well in many applications, especially when paired with a more powerful desktop platform. The dual core Yonah/Core Duo was even more impressive (and expensive) in Mobile On Desktop platforms, with the architectural enhancements Intel made. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few other moderately interesting attempts, Pentium M and Core Duo were basically relegated to use inside laptops.

In contrast, AMD's K8 architecture has done extremely well on the desktop during most of its life, and it is only recently that Intel has managed to regain the performance crown. Intel still continued to sell a large number of processors, in a large part due to brand recognition and large OEM connections, but the enthusiast market definitely found everything they wanted in the various AMD offerings, with one exception. Forgetting what might have been on the desktop space, Intel's mobile architecture and Centrino platform became the runaway favorites for anyone looking to purchase a new laptop, and with good reason. Sporting much lower power requirements than any previous mobile offering courtesy of the new architecture (or rather, a modification of the Pentium III architecture), Pentium M and Core Duo provided near-desktop levels of performance along with increased battery life.

Athlon 64 offered better performance per watt than Pentium 4 ever since its introduction, which seems like it should have made for a great mobile platform. While AMD did produce chips for the mobile sector, in general they remained a distant second in terms of popularity compared to the Intel offerings. Part of this may have been due to the amazing success Intel experienced with their Centrino brand name, a brand name that could only be used for laptops that included an Intel Pentium M (and later Core Duo) processor, an Intel chipset, and an Intel wireless networking adapter. In this way, Intel managed to sell three chips for every Centrino laptop, and customers were guaranteed a minimum level of performance and features. Eventually AMD tried to compete better with the Centrino platform by creating a new mobile processor, the Turion.

Turion was really nothing more than a renamed Athlon 64 socket 754 chip with lower power requirements, and while performance was still good the majority of laptop purchases continued to use Intel processors. In fact, performance wasn't merely good; due to the architectural design Banias/Dothan, there were quite a few areas where Turion was able to outperform Pentium M, and it was competitive in terms of performance per watt.

Having a competitive processor isn't enough for a laptop solution, unfortunately, as laptops are purchased as an entire unit. There were plenty of high-end Pentium M mobile offerings available, but most of the Turion designs were targeted more at the value sector, which means they often came equipped with less memory, lower end integrated graphics, slower/smaller hard drives, etc. in an attempt to keep costs down. Turion could hang with Pentium M, but once Intel launched the Core Duo offerings in early 2006 the single core Turion chips clearly became lower end options. Eventually, AMD would release dual core Turion X2 chips, hoping to once again become competitive with the Intel laptop designs.

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We managed to get our hands on an MSI S271 ultraportable laptop equipped with a Turion X2 several months back and planned on doing a head-to-head comparison against Intel's Core Duo. Unfortunately, various issues delayed our article and it is only now that we are finally able to present the results. Of course, Intel has now launched Core 2 Duo (Merom), raising the performance bar in the dual core mobile market.

So what sort of problems did we encounter with the MSI laptop? Once they were resolved how does it perform? In short, does it compete well with Intel's offerings, and should you consider buying one? Let's take a closer look.

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  • ShapeGSX - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    The Core 2 Duo mobile processors DO support 64 bit instructions!

    Core Duo does not.
    Reply
  • randomas - Tuesday, October 17, 2006 - link

    Doh! I guess I should have checked then, but all the more reason to see them both pull their weight with a real OS! Reply
  • Wesleyrpg - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    hey all,

    im eager to see a review of the a8js, thats the laptop that i got my eye on at the moment, if asus play their cards right, the a8js could become one VERY popular laptop.

    Any idea on availability though on the A8JS?
    Reply
  • piesquared - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    Good review, but which system was being reviewed, the Asus C2D or the MSI X2? Reply
  • duploxxx - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    Nice comment, whenever it fits there results, they will publish it.. (does remember me of the time you would test 2P wood-opty in windows, but probably the result was not as expected of your sponsor). Also the memory issues do question your results......

    the core2duo is for sure the better performing one. Few months ago the X2 versus coreduo was a tight battle, but we all saw the core2duo outperforming the coreduo with glance, so the same thing happens with turion. Intel made his design for laptop and changed it up to desktop and server, AMD did it the other way around.... so for a 3year old design I think it was rather good against all those updating Mobile en core technologies from Intel.

    Now from an other perspective. Most of the laptops are supplied with Intel internal graphics. How Will this perform against the ATi Graphics? that would be an interesting review.......
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    ATI Xpress 1100 is about twice as fast as GMA950, plus it has full DX9 support (though not SM3.0). Problem is, it's pathetically slow still. I mean, what can you want that the Xpress 1100 can provide but the GMA950 can't? 20 FPS at minimum quality in HL2? If you want 3D performance, I'd say the 7700 in the A8JS is a good starting point. X1400 and GeForce 7400 are both substantially faster than Xpress 1100, buth still pretty sluggish for actual 3D work. X1400 is still okay for video playback and older games (as is 7400), but you can get 7600/7700 for about the same cost I think. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    MSI today, ASUS later this week. It's probably already clear which one we preferred, but there's more to say about the ASUS and putting out a 14000 word article seemed like overload. Reply
  • piesquared - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    Yes, i know, and sorry for the sarcastic question. I guess i'm just wondering why so much content on the Asus solution, when as you say there will be a seperate review later this week. My overall picture of that article was that AMD's solution was a steaming pile of mess not really suitable for anyone. At least that's the impression i(and probably most visitors that read or will read it, so i guess it was successful that way) got, regardless of any conlusion throwing it a bone here and there. What i can't understand is why MSI would even offer up such an abomination for review!! ;)

    BTW, i did think it was a very good article, aside from the above mentioned slant that seem to ooze from it..

    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    It's basically a case of getting an okay system, but we would say there are better options out there. If the MSI is cheaper, faster, has more battery life, or some other benefit than other competing laptops, great. It's basically at best equal to other ultraportable options.

    The ASUS W5F with Core Duo is about as fast (with "slower" integrated graphics, though it doesn't matter much), but it costs more, so there you could say the S271 is "better". Unfortunately, there aren't many faster Turion X2 notebooks around, other than the MSI MS-171772 mentioned in the conclusion.

    If all you're after is ultraportables, the MS-1058/S271 is about all I see for Turion X2. It does tend to be about $100-$200 cheaper than any Core 2 equipped ultraportables, or about the same cost as Core Duo equipped ultraportables. In that market, it has a place. I'm not a huge fan of ultraportables, but some people are. I'd personally rather carry an extra 2 pounds and get a 14" (or larger) display.
    Reply
  • aidanjm - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    you rip apart a closed system not designed to be opened up by the consumer, fiddle around inside, then complain when things don't work? even the complaints on memeory compatability seem lame. Reply

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