Netbook Battery Life Comparison

We've expanded our battery life testing on netbooks to include many scenarios, at least for this initial look. Since most netbooks don't include optical drives, we ripped our standard test DVD to a hard drive and copied those files over. Obviously there's a benefit to not powering a spinning DVD, but even without that advantage the netbooks provide much better battery life than higher performance laptops. Note also that battery results from the GIGABYTE M1022 are missing in several of the charts; at five or more hours (plus recharge time) per test, we'll be working on getting the remaining results for a couple more days.

Battery Life - Idle

Battery Life - Internet

Battery Life - Xvid Video

Battery Life - DVD Video

Battery Life - DivX Video

Relative Battery Life

Few laptops are able to come anywhere close to the same battery life using a moderately sized battery, and the ASUS 1005HA in our worst-case test (720p DivX playback) still provides 35% more battery life than the Gateway NV58 at idle. Besides DVD playback from the hard drive, we included battery life testing using HD DivX and SD Xvid formats. It's interesting to note that the Acer 751h essentially ties the 1005HA in the DivX test, while it trails in most of the other battery life tests by over 10%. Xvid playback is also closer at only 5%, so the GMA 500 hardware looks like it handles certain video playback scenarios better than the GMA 950.

The ASUS 1005HA by default ships with their Super Hybrid Engine software enabled and set to "Auto" performance. This results in a 12% underclock on battery power, improving battery life in the Internet test by 5.6%. Considering most people buying netbooks aren't ultra concerned with raw performance in the first place, the boost in battery life is a nice extra. If you prefer to run the CPU at stock performance, selecting the "High Performance" setting within the Super Hybrid Engine utility will allow you to do so. You can see the difference between the two settings on the Internet and Relative Battery Life charts above. We ran the remaining tests using the "Auto" setting.

Note that we calibrated all of the test laptops to run at 100 nits brightness (give or take about 5% as many laptops don't provide fine enough control to hit 100 nits exactly). Considering the ASUS 1005HA and the Gigabyte M1022 have virtually identical hardware, we were a little surprised that the battery life relative to battery capacity favored the ASUS 1005HA by 37% (and we'll recheck that score before the final review). Either the battery in the M1022 is flaky or ASUS has done a lot more work in fine-tuning the power saving features on the 1005HA. However, even at idle we didn't reach the advertised 10.5 hours of battery life; we could likely do so if we reduce the LCD brightness to its minimum level, but that's not how most people will use their netbooks.

Overall, despite the 10.5 hour claim being somewhat exaggerated, the 1005HA routinely manages over 6.5 hours of battery life in situations that are known for taxing laptops. You'll have enough time to watch three or four full-length movies without recharging, if that's what you're after. If you stick to less strenuous usage like surfing the web or basic office tasks, getting eight hours or more out of the 1005HA between charges is possible. And you get all that in a package that only weighs 2.8 pounds; that's not something you'll get from a regular laptop.

Netbook Performance Comparison Netbook LCD Quality
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  • Mugur - Friday, August 21, 2009 - link

    I have an Acer Aspire One 150 from last year (N270, 1.5 GB RAM, 120GB harddisk) and I must say that the "slowness" is far less noticed than some may think. I tested with XP Pro, Vista Ultimate and now I have Windows 7 Ultimate RC on it. If you keep it clean and with some trivial optimizations (turn off system restore etc.) it performs fairly nice on tasks like browsing, Office, even movies.

    Some "myths" like not supporting Aero, or 720p video are false. It plays nice with Aero and using Vista's or 7 included video drivers I can play 720p with no dropped frames up to a certain bitrate. I tested with the wmv 720p clips from MS site and also with x264 encoded MKV files - the catch is to use Media Player Classic and CoreAVC codec (smt support). Files around 1 GB for a TV show (40 minutes) or up to 4-6 GB for a full length movie are 100% playable.

    I have also an old CeleronM 1.73 Ghz notebook with 2 GB RAM and 120 GB 7200rpm hdd and, side by side, the Atom doesn't feel slower. The benchmarks are "true", but I think that they are not painting the real picture: for light tasks and with a "clean" OS and not a bunch of start up applications :-) netbooks are perfectly usable.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, August 21, 2009 - link

    You are apparently correct; CoreAVC ($15) allows you to decode x264 720p videos. CPU usage looks to be around 70%, give or take. I'll run the battery test to see how it fares under that load and update the text. Reply
  • Codesmith - Thursday, August 20, 2009 - link

    At your desk you hook it up to a 24" LCD, POWERED usb hub that connects to an external optical drive, keyboards, mouse, printer, and plug it into your speakers and you are good to go.

    When you are not at your desk its small, lightweight and has insane battery life.

    Even though I have a powerful gaming desktop and a 13" Macbook I loved the netbook, I just can't justify the purchase.

    If I was a student, or traveled a lot I'd buy one in a heart beat.

    Reply
  • ashegam - Friday, August 21, 2009 - link

    regarding the browser size comparison (dots)

    you can rearrange firfox to display your buttons, File menu and address bar all in one line (bar). Add "addblock" to it you should have the most browsing real estate then all the other browsers.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, August 21, 2009 - link

    With the customizations you mention and with "small icons", Firefox is still *slightly* larger than Chrome. But I do like having menus. Of course I was going off of default settings, and AdBlock is an add-on... going there would open up a large can of worms. The basic comments still stand, however: the 600 pixel height is a real issue with netbooks and web pages. Honestly, even 768 or 800 is too short. It's on reason I miss the old 5:4 1280x1024 displays. Reply
  • GeorgeH - Thursday, August 20, 2009 - link

    This review suffers from the same thing 95% of Atom/Ion/Nano and other low-end performance reviews suffer from: too many benchmarks and not enough subjective impressions.

    I already know it's pitifully slow. I already know it can't do HD video. I already know it can't game. What I don't know is how painful it is to use doing the basic tasks it was designed for, and when it starts to choke and become annoying.

    This criticism isn't as critical for Netbooks, but if you ever do a Nettop review (especially for one designed as an office light-use low-power desktop replacement) subjective usage impressions under different types of typical workloads would be orders of magnitude more helpful than yet more graphs.
    Reply
  • bigkah624 - Thursday, August 20, 2009 - link

    Ditto what GeorgeH said. A netbook is for easy portable net browsing and document-editing on a usable screen. If you want a powerful netbook, then pay for it. Dont expect to spend sub-$400 (not yet anyway) and still expect all the sweet things most commenters are asking for here. If you want a powerful little box, go look at Sony's VAIO TT. And yes, expect to pay for it. Dearly. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 20, 2009 - link

    George, when we don't run the additional tests, people complain. Your own statement already sums up the situation: it's pitifully slow... compared to any modern PC. These netbooks are as fast as single-core 1.2GHz Pentium M Centrino laptops from about 2003. Plenty of people still use such laptops for office tasks, though.

    Subjectively, you *know* the netbook is slow when you use it. Launching Internet Explorer (or Firefox, Chrome, Opera, or Safari for that matter) takes noticeably longer. Opening and rendering web pages takes noticeably longer. Interacting with Windows in general is far more sluggish. I included the detailed PCMark05 results for a reason, because they explain in numbers exactly what you'll experience with a netbook. An entry-level $500 laptop is about 50% faster at rendering *simple* web pages. Loading up AnandTech.com in IE takes around 3.5 seconds per page compared to 2-2.5 seconds. MS Office will load slower and take a bit before you feel it reaches full responsiveness (maybe 10 seconds or so).

    Does any of that qualify as choking and being annoying? Relative to a really fast system, perhaps, but for $300-$375 I don't think so. Don't run tons of web pages in tabs, don't open eighteen applications at once, and you'll be fine. I don't know what you want me to say subjectively that isn't already conveyed by the performance charts. It's slow, but it's "fast enough".

    The most annoying aspect for me continues to be the low resolution LCD. It's at its best in movies, and everywhere else I wish I had a larger, higher resolution LCD. However, it will suffice for normal office use. Note also that most web pages aren't designed for optimal viewing on a 1024x600 LCD panel - the majority don't have a problem with the width, but the height is a real issue so expect to do a lot of scrolling. IE8 (or Firefox) with the address bar, menu, tabs, and status bar uses 150 pixels. The task bar is another 30 or so (unless you hide it). That's one third of the vertical space without any useful content! Most web sites then put a ~130 pixel site banner at the top, and perhaps some other stuff. For instance, our site is 330 pixels before you even see the articles on the home page and 600 pixels to the article text when reading an article. It's why the touchpad gestures are useful, because you'll do a lot of scrolling.

    Hope that helps... maybe I'll update the conclusion.
    Reply
  • GeorgeH - Thursday, August 20, 2009 - link

    That helps. Part of the problem is that in the past 4+ years I haven't spent any real time with anything much slower than a high end Prescott, so I have a hard time visualizing what scores as low as the Atom's really mean or "feel like" in practice.

    After thinking about it more, I guess I'm really asking what types of users and what types of tasks you think Atom/Nano platforms would be acceptable for, purely from a performance perspective and beyond the obvious ones such as a 12th PC or simple fileserver. I realize that's a very difficult and highly subjective question to answer, but that's why you get the big fat paycheck, right? ;)

    One scenario that might help explain what I'm trying to get at:
    Imagine yourself as the head of IT for a large, multinational corporation (one that only uses mainstream applications.) The CEO wants to "Go Green" and replace as many PCs as possible with low power Atom/Nano boxes without negatively impacting productivity or morale. How many new PCs do you buy (if any), and for whom?
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Thursday, August 20, 2009 - link

    Well, I know you did not address me, but I would like to add on things that I feel Jarred left out.

    First, I have helped a couple of friends do the initial OEM setup on XP netbooks, and they are dog slow. Boot up on these Dell netbooks takes what seems like forever, just to enter into the the welcome/setup screen. Probably around 1.5-2 minutes for first boot. Then going through the different setup pages for the various things such as computername, and network setup are very sluggish compared to say a doing the same on a Pentium 4 onward. Honestly, I have installed XP Pro on a PII 300 with 384 MB of RAM, and I do not think it was this slow( it was a few years ago ). This I would have to assume would have to do with HDD speeds but I am not 100% sure. In relation again to your Prescott onwards comment, I would have to say if you're not very patient, you would probably get upset waiting to do things, or perhaps start reading a book, or doing something else ( cook dinner ? Yes, exaggeration ). I myself got very frustrated just navigating around in XP home on these two Dell mini's, but I am not exactly patient. For someone else who has little experience with reasonably updated Windows system, they would probably be happy. *Until* they try and do something like play a game other than minesweeper, or tried using Photoshop, etc.

    On the flip side of things, the atom classed CPU's would make for a fairly decent embedded system CPU. But only for certain applications, and definitely not in netbook form. unless perhaps a developer was using one for the development stages for some reason.

    In your scenario where you may have a CEO who wants to "go green", there are better options. One could consider buying a specific motherboard with the ability to undervolt/underclock the system, and pay someone to set this up in the BIOS. George Oui ( last name correctly spelled ? ) from ZDNets tech article section ( before he left ) seemed to have done some very intensive/hands on testing of some of the lower power rated Core 2 Duo CPU's, and was able to to achieve ~50W for a single system including a LCD monitor ( full load ). That is definitely not bad for a desktop classed system, but you could do better with laptop classed parts in a mini ITX system ( which are available ), but at a comparitively higher price. All in all however, it would probably be better to contact an OEM vendor such as Dell, tell them what you need, and see if they can build something to meet your needs.

    As for the testing . . . I do not see what they could do really. Well, other than what they have done except perhaps include system boot times. Only the odd "current" titled games such as WoW will play on these, and even on the ION platform, are terrible compared to any desktop system made within the last 5-6 years ( assuming said parts were current at the time ).

    Reply

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