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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  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    First, the "closed system" as such is not something we would recommend. Dual core with only 512MB of RAM? I already covered that. Second, the system *is* available as a barebones (MSI MS-1058), as I mentioned in the review. Memory compatibility aside, this isn't a great laptop. It's okay.

    The memory issues are something worth mentioning, even if we got them worked out. Even if everything had worked without issue, the laptop would have still only been okay - there are quite a few competing notebooks in the same price range, and this one fails to stand out from the crowd in any meaningful way.
    Reply
  • Furen - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    Sounds like you had huge memory compatibility problems, though. Personally, I always buy Crucial because when I used to buy other RAM (Kingston, etc), more often than not, I had some sort of memory compatibility problems (probably because I mixed brands but I've never had ANY problems at all with Crucial stuff). Reply
  • DrMrLordX - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    I know the Core Duo is now an old product that is being replaced by the Core 2 Duo in the mobile sector, but it would have been nice to see the Turion X2 benchmarked against a Core Duo laptop as well. Surely a similarly-configured Core Duo machine exists out there somewhere. Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    One thing is the Core 2 Duo laptop has 7200RPM HDD while the Turion X2 has 5400RPM. It shouldn't impact is greatly but it'll make a difference. Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    quote:

    This leads us to an interesting conclusion in regards to battery life and power requirements. As best we can tell, it appears that the Core 2 Duo processor actually requires less power than the equivalent Turion X2 processor when both are placed under full load.


    Uhh. No. Clearly no. Explanation?? Turion X2 system uses integrated graphics, while Core 2 Duo system uses a powerful video card. Do you guys really think idle power of video card+chipset is equal to chipset alone??
    Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    http://www.computerbase.de/artikel/hardware/grafik...">http://www.computerbase.de/artikel/hard...hnitt_le...

    Integrated graphics power is clearly lower than even super low-end discrete. Now on this AT review we are talking about a mid-range part.

    Sorry for triple post, but I must get my point across.

    Two laptops, each possessed by one of my friends, both a Dell:
    Pentium M 765 2.0GHz/533MHz FSB
    1GB DDR2-533
    120GB 5400RPM HDD
    Geforce Go 7800GTX 128MB
    15.4 inch wide-screen
    70WHr battery
    2.5 hour battery life with internet surfing, usage

    2. Pentium M 1.6GHz/400MHz FSB/Dothan
    512MB DDR2-533
    Intel GMA900
    60GB 4200RPM HDD
    14 inch screen
    45WHr battery
    3.5 hour battery life with internet surfing, light usage

    Is there a reason some high-end laptops are featured with integrated/discrete graphics card option?? You can turn one off?? Cause video cards in laptops suck huge amounts of power.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    There are multiple issues involved with testing comparable laptops. Short of going out and purchasing a laptop, it's very difficult to pull off. At this point, there's not much reason to get a Core Duo notebook instead of a Core 2 Duo notebook, other than price. So we're doing our best to compare laptops that are similar, and we wanted to get this review out the door before it got any older. Obviously, we're still not recommending the MSI S271 over other laptops.

    In regards to Inteluser2000, he makes several comments. I have now reworded the page on power consumption to clarify a few points. However, not all of his points are entirely valid either. For example:
    quote:

    No. Clearly no. Explanation?? Turion X2 system uses integrated graphics, while Core 2 Duo system uses a powerful video card. Do you guys really think idle power of video card+chipset is equal to chipset alone??


    I don't think he was reading clearly, because I had just explained that at maximum CPU load MSI Turion X2 is consuming MORE power than ASUS Core 2 Duo. In other words, even with integrated graphics versus discrete graphics and with all of the other variables involved (7200 RPM hard drive versus 5400 RPM Drive, 14 inch LCD versus 12.1 inch LCD, etc.), without putting a load on the GPU one would expect the ASUS system to draw more power than the MSI system, and it doesn't. At idle, all of the variables can explain why the ASUS consumes more power, but when I put 100% load on just the CPU Turion X2 clearly requires more power.

    I have no idea what he is trying to say with his comment about Dell laptops. Comparing a high-end system with a GeForce Go 7800 GTX to one that uses IGP is far worse than comparing something that uses GeForce Go 7700 to IGP. Different battery sizes, different display sizes, different processors, different hard drives, memory, etc. -- of course they're going to have different results. However, in this case are not drawing any final conclusions about idle power, other than to point out some interesting trends. What I am concluding is that if we were able to isolate just the CPU power use, a Turion X2 TL-60 at 100% load would require a lot more power than a Core 2 Duo T7200 at 100% load.

    The ASUS system is there more as a frame of reference, particularly on the power requirements page. I really can't say for certain whether Turion X2 uses more power or less power at idle, but I am positive that it requires more power when it's placed under 100% load. Hope that explains things.
    Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    quote:

    I don't think he was reading clearly, because I had just explained that at maximum CPU load MSI Turion X2 is consuming MORE power than ASUS Core 2 Duo. In other words, even with integrated graphics versus discrete graphics and with all of the other variables involved (7200 RPM hard drive versus 5400 RPM Drive, 14 inch LCD versus 12.1 inch LCD, etc.), without putting a load on the GPU one would expect the ASUS system to draw more power than the MSI system, and it doesn't.


    Nonono. I don't care about the load power, I care about your conclusions regarding idle. Even if you don't put load on the GPU, it consumes power. In laptop standards, lots of power. Its not a coincidence some laptop manufacturers put dual video card solutions(integrated/discrete), because they realize discrete cards affect battery life in idle, not just load. What I don't like is the explanation that its the CPU and chipset that contributes to idle power consumption and less battery life at DVD playback, Mobilemark, etc.

    Check this out: http://www.trustedreviews.com/article.aspx?page=50...">http://www.trustedreviews.com/article.aspx?page=50...
    (Dual GPU machine)

    DVD playback
    IGP: 164 minutes
    Nvidia Geforce Go 6600: 112 minutes

    MobileMark 2005 general battery life test
    IGP:128 minutes
    Geforce Go 6600: 92 minutes

    30-40% battery life difference. Looks like video card is quite a big drain on battery life. I bet significant battery life difference between my friend's two system lies in the video card.

    This is really a laptop review rather than a CPU review. Of course, due to laptops peculiarity of outperforming one with what looks like similar specifications, the idea of a CPU comparison on a laptop is far-fetched.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    I did reword the rest of the page in regards to power use. I have used an ASUS W5F and found that it used about the same amount of power as the S271 (at idle). It was slightly more, so the remaining conclusions (i.e. Turion X2 in low power mode uses a bit less power) seem to be consistent. Tough to say 100% without nearly identical laptops - and you still have chipset and mobo components that can have an impact. Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    quote:

    I did reword the rest of the page in regards to power use. I have used an ASUS W5F and found that it used about the same amount of power as the S271 (at idle). It was slightly more, so the remaining conclusions (i.e. Turion X2 in low power mode uses a bit less power) seem to be consistent. Tough to say 100% without nearly identical laptops - and you still have chipset and mobo components that can have an impact.


    You can find otherwise similar looking laptops that have different power consumption. How did you test out the W5F?? Just dropped in a Core 2 Duo in replacement of Core Duo?

    Otherwise nice test.
    Reply

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