Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/1196

Voodoo Envy M:855 Part 2 - Take Two

by Andrew Ku on November 14, 2003 6:00 PM EST


In the past several days, we have received requests to compare the Envy M:855 to something to the likes of a Pentium 4 800FSB based Sager desktop replacement, Additional requests have been made on the use of the most current desktop NVIDIA drivers, when we benchmark something the likes of a Dell Inspiron 8600, which happens to use the GeForce FX Go5650.

While Sager doesn’t make their own notebooks (they ODM though Clevo), we have in fact been welcome to the idea of a Sager notebook, as we have looked at one in the past. We have sent our own inquiries to Sager and NVIDIA (*separate cases*), so the lack of addressing these topics aren’t for our lack of trying.

We recently did our own scouting and contacted the folks at DriverHeaven about their Mod Tool, which is a program that modifies ATI desktop drivers for mobile and IGP use. Due to qualification issues, we wanted to ensure and oversee the modification process used to convert desktop drivers to mobile drivers first hand. For ATI, we have seen what modification takes place, and have no problems using self-modified drivers for benchmarks, as the Mod Tool is nothing more than a script that automatically edits lines in three driver files for mobile use.

On the other end, we were trying to find the NVIDIA equivalent for DriverHeaven’s Mod Tool, but there doesn’t seem to be one. Additionally, modifying desktop NVIDIA drivers seems to be a more complicated process, due to LCD issues, which were cited by those that have gone through the trouble of doing so.

Getting back to part 2, the Voodoo Envy M:855 is the highest end notebook offering from Voodoo, and is intended to be of the desktop replacement class. Voodoo is also offering three other alternative desktop replacement notebooks based on Pentium 4: M:600 (800FSB), M:700 (533FSB), and M:750 (800FSB). All three are ODM from Clevo; though, the M:700 is from an older model, which has already gone through a refresh for the Intel Pentium 4 800FSB processors. Voodoo is going to be releasing their M:750 tonight, which is basically M:700 with a new chipset to support the 800FSB Pentium 4 processors. The M:750 will also be sporting the Mobility Radeon 9600 Pro with 128MB of video memory, which will effectively make it the replacement for the M:700. At least for now, the M:855 clearly out classes the M:600, M:700, and M:750. To top it off, it surprising comes with a lower starting price point than the M:700, $3000 to $3100 respectively.



Construction - Build, Appearance, Size

Voodoo has been known for putting in that extra effort, which is particularly apparent in the very slick high gloss paint job. Many of our pictures don’t do Voodoo enough justice on the paint job; it can only be experienced up close. Of all the systems we have seen, Voodoo probably does the best paint job in this respect.

Accessing this powerhouse notebook is as simple as sliding the single clip that secure the lid and opening.


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The M:855 is unlike the M:700, as it is a desktop replacement notebook that doesn’t use a 17” WXGA (1440x900) wide aspect screen. Instead, the M:855 resorts to the more common 15” SXGA+ (1400x1050). There are no other available options for display configuration.

On many notebooks, the 15” screen makes the system look overly large, even though the system maybe of the thin and light variety. In contrast, Voodoo’s use of a 15” SXGA+ actually helps to give the perception that the notebook is compact and small. Voodoo's implementation of the SXGA+ also has the ability to use Windows XP's virtual desktop, where higher resolutions can be scrolled through by the mouse instead of being out of sync.

The keyboard is something that we come to expect from desktop replacement notebook: full sized, good response, and a tactile feel. Unlike many of the notebook keyboards we have seen, the Voodoo keyboard is translucent, which adds to the aesthetic appeal. Though, this has another unforeseen benefit. Over time, notebook keyboards get dirty and or some smart article lodges itself between keys and prevents full functionality. The translucent keyboard allows for the use to tell how dirty the keyboard is and if anything is lodged between keys. On the other hand, a non-translucent hides the dirt.

The problem we have with the keyboard is that the control key is not in the correct place on the keyboard. This isn’t a limited to Voodoo, as we have seen this on several other notebooks. Our M:855 was an engineering sample so there were a couple of keys that didn’t function correctly, but production units shouldn’t be effected.


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There are no buttons other than the one for power and wireless connectivity. The power button is located in the upper right hand corner of the laptop, left of the right speaker. Meanwhile, the wireless connectivity button is on the front of the system and lights up to a bright blue hue when active.

The layout of the M:855’s touchpad is fairly similar to the type seen on HP and Compaq notebooks: oval-shaped with curved buttons. The buttons have a reasonable level of feedback, quite similar to Dell’s Inspiron 8600. The 4-way scroll button is recessed more than what we have seen on other systems. In our opinion, we would prefer to see it recess a bit less.

Directly south and to the left of the touchpad, there is a set five status LEDs. These LEDs indicate (left to right): wireless status, hard drive activity, number lock status, caps lock status, and scroll lock status. All of the LEDs are green to indicate status. The conflict in placement of the LEDs here is that they will be covered by the left wrist while typing, which defeats the purpose of monitoring the LEDs.

There is another set of LEDs near the bottom and inversely on the back side of the LCD panel. Our M:855 had three LEDs in these two locations (left to right): one for AC power status (green while active), one for battery status (green while charging and red while low), and one for battery charge (orange while standby and green when AC is on).



Construction - Build, Appearance, Size (continued)

The front of the system is home to several features that would many times be seen on the back the system. The set of five status LEDs near the edge are not visible once the screen is closed, though the LEDs on the back of the LCD panel are. The sound can be heard reasonably well from the speakers, even when closed, but there is noticeable dubbing. Because the M:855 is first and foremost designed as a gaming system, the use of headphones is expected during gameplay; which is provided at the front of the system. In addition the front of the M:855 is home to (from left to right) a wireless button (blue when active), volume control scroll, microphone in, 4 pin IEEE-1394 firewire port, flash card reader (for MMC, SD, CF, SM), and IR window.


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The left side of the system is fairly bare, due to the placement of the M:855’s battery: a huge 12 cell 14.8V 6.6AH (our sample was 2.4AH) that weighs in at about 0.5 pounds. Left of the battery are numerous slots that act as an intake vent for the processor’s heatsink. There is a small horizontally oriented slot that at first appears to be part of the intake vent, but upon closer inspection, it is, in fact, a lock port.


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The back side of the M:855 is mainly occupied by a pair of exhaust vents for the heatsink. Left of the pair of vents is home to the power in port, which is unlike what we have seen on any notebook to date. The 4 pin power connector is quite similar to what we have seen the ECS EZ-Buddie SFFs use, though not identical. Next to the power in port and the parallel port is another vent for a fan that is used to cool a cluster of capacitors on underside of the M:855’s motherboard. For video out, the M:855 comes with a s-video out port and VGA-out port; there are two USB 2.0 ports next to the VGA-out port for peripheral connectivity.


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Other than the front side, the right side of the system is where Voodoo designed most of the interaction to take place. Another pair of USB 2.0 ports are located here and to the left of them lies a modem and ethernet jack. The placement of the two connectivity jacks here instead of the more common placement on the back of the notebook does limit orientation a bit, but only so much in the length of the cable being used.

The Voodoo Envy M:855 comes with a DVD-RW drive, which is the default configuration as well as the only one available. The downside we see with DVD-RW is the late adoption of this standard, which is clearly reflected in the other notebooks we have seen. The more popular preference is the DVD+RW drive. In theory, Voodoo has the ability to offer a DVD+RW drive because the notebook supports a modular bay interface. Note Voodoo doesn’t offer DVD+RW drives for their notebooks. Instead, this format is only offered in their SFF and tower systems but is only available via their DVD±RW drive.


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The charger we got for the M:855 is unlike anything we have ever seen before. This is one mammoth size charger, which Voodoo admittedly joked about as being “a laptop in itself.” As a reference point, we put it next to the charger for the Dell Inspiron 8600, and the immense size of the charger is clearly visible. Topping it off, the battery pack weighs a great deal (about 0.5 pounds) and this does reduce the mobility factor.


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After our testing, Voodoo has since informed us that they will be implementing a new charger for all shipping models. This was expected, as the charger we got was an engineering sample used by Voodoo to tinker around with the M:855’s thermal budget. The new charger should be about 1/5th the original size and weight and charge about 50% faster: 1.5 hours to 3 hours.


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As mentioned earlier, there are three status LEDs on the back of the back side of the LCD panel. Aside from the one of a kind Voodoo paint job, Voodoo is known for the graphical art work they put onto their casings for notebook and desktop systems, which they refer to as a “graphical tattoo.” Our Envy M:855 system came with what is known as “The Voodoo Tattoo.”

The bottom of the system only has two access panels. The access panel in the upper right hand corner covers the heatsink, which is the reason behind the meshing: airflow. The lower access panel covers the system’s hard drive, which Voodoo gives several options for configuration. The two tabs on the bottom of the system are to secure the large and heavy battery pack. The upper tab locks the battery in place, and the lower tab is a secondary release tab.

Curiosity has probably set in about the electrical tape strips on the bottom of the system. Our Envy M:855 is an engineering sample, so Voodoo was still playing around with heat dissipation and airflow right before we got in the labs. There was originally going to be two horizontal vents, but Voodoo has decided to revamp the design a bit by removing the vents in that location, which will be effective as of production units. For testing purposes, we left the tape on during testing to emulate the thermal characteristics of production systems.

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Click to enlarge.

The Envy M:855 is no doubt a desktop replacement notebook. However, unlike many notebooks of this class, the M:855 has a physical footprint of 13” x 12” x 1.7” thick that is similar to typical notebooks just with a larger height. The use of length and width specifications reminiscent of typical a notebook passes on the sense of being compact and somewhat mobile, even though the M:855 weights in at about 8 pounds, which is heavier than what we would refer to as non-mobile desktop replacement notebooks (i.e. Sager/Hypersonic/Eurocom notebooks). Though, the mobility factor of the M:855 is nothing compared to the likes of the IBM X31 or Dell X300.



Construction - Under the Hood

As we mentioned in part 1, the M:855 is based on the Athlon 64 DTR processor, which AMD offers in two processor configurations: Athlon 64 DTR 3000+ or 3200+. Voodoo offers both for the M:855, but the default configuration option is the Athlon 64 DTR 3000+. Our system came with an Athlon 64 DTR 3200+, 1GB DDR PC2700 memory, WiFi connectivity, and a 60.0GB 7200RPM hard drive.


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Since the Athlon 64 DTR has thermal characteristics close to its desktop counterpart, Voodoo had to employ the use of a large heatsink allowing them to use a larger and slower fan, which cuts down on audible noise.

There is a small amount of thermal grease that helps the CPU interface with the copper heatpipe, which is connected to the aluminum heatsink. In our use, the fan got very quite at points when idle, almost to the point of a whisper, but it would so speed up to the point of being noticeable audible, though definitely not loud. It is very similar to the Inspiron 8600 in this respect.

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The northbridge is mounted directly below the CPU socket. Of the solutions available, Voodoo chose the K8T800 chipset for the Envy M:855. We have yet to see an NVIDIA solution of this category, though Voodoo has toyed with the idea back at the original drawing board.

For now, Voodoo feels that the VIA has the best performing solution. We may yet see something based on NVIDIA nForce3 class chipsets in notebooks, as Voodoo tells us that NVIDIA’s single chip solution is being considered for Centrino based notebooks, because the single chip solution will offer the advantage of saved real estate space.

As we went over in our part 1 coverage, the M:855 has uses a ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 Pro configured with 64MB of video memory. Within the past 24 hours, we have received information regarding how the “Pro” dubbing will be used, which we will discuss further shortly in an upcoming article. For now, we can safely say that Voodoo is in the clear about using the term Mobility Radeon 9600 Pro on the Envy M:855. The refresh model of the M:855 will still be bumped up to 128MB of video memory.

Ethernet support is provided by the VIA’s VT6103 10/100 ethernet controller, which is located on the top side of the motherboard near the right edge. While it is designed as a high end system, the M:855 isn’t provided with Gigabit ethernet support.

The M:855 employs the use of the C-Media CMI9378S AC’97 audio codec, which is located on the bottom of the motherboard in the bottom left hand corner.

The motherboard is about three quarters the length of the actual system. The battery pack for the M:855 interfaces with the pins that are exposed on the far left side of the motherboard. The directly next to the battery pack is reserved for the large heatsink.


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Construction - Under the Hood (continued)

The M:855 comes default configured with a single 512MB DDR PC2700 memory module. Our system came with 2 x 512MB DDR PC2700 memory modules.

While the K8T800 supports DDR400, SODIMM modules are still limited at DDR333, which is why Voodoo had to go with this memory speed. Additionally, though the K8T800 supports up to 4GB of system memory, SODIMM modules are limited to 1GB maximum per module, which means the M:855 has the ability to max out at 2GB of system memory due to its two SODIMM slot design. We should note that there is a dramatic increase in price when scaling up from 512MB SODIMM modules to 1GB SODIMM modules for both PC2100 and PC2700.

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Click to enlarge.

The mini-PCI slot on the M:855 comes default configured with the MSI MP54G 802.11g WiFi card. This is the only wireless configuration/mini-PCI configuration available for the M:855.

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Click to enlarge.

The mini-PCI slot is on the top side of the motherboard to the right of the Mobility Radeon 9600 Pro video chip. Directly below the mini-PCI slot is the modem riser interface, which is home to the Billionton MDC56S-I modem.

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Click to enlarge.

The bottom side of the motherboard is where most of the chips reside, including the National Semiconductor PC887393F-VJG Super I/O controller (for keyboard, PS/2, parallel, and serial port control) and the VIA VT6307L IEEE 1394 firewire controller.


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The M:855 has four hard drive configurations available: 40GB 5400RPM, 60GB 7200RPM, 80GB 4200RPM, and 80GB 5400RPM, all of which are of Hitachi’s Travelstar line. Our system came with a Hitachi Travelstar 7K60 60.0GB 7200RPM hard drive, though the default configuration is the 40.0GB 5400RPM solution. The use of a 7200RPM hard drive over a 5400RPM or 4200RPM solution comes with the sacrifice of some power consumption, but for a gaming system, a 7200RPM hard drive is very beneficial.


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Even though the Voodoo Envy M:855 is a desktop replacement notebook, Voodoo doesn’t seem to be packing that much in the audio department, as the speakers on the M:855 are one of the smallest we have seen before. Voodoo is likely working on increasing the size of the speakers; though because it is first and foremost a gaming system, gamers will be using headphones with their M:855.



The Test

Our configuration for the Athlon 64 3200+ was the same as mentioned in our ABIT KV8-MAX3 review, which we used to achieve scores to compare against the DTR counterpart. The Pentium 4 3.0GHz 800FSB scores were achieved with the Asus P4C800-E. We would have liked to have used a Pentium 4 3.2GHz 800FSB setup, but for timing purposes, it wasn’t possible. The Pentium 4 3.0GHz 800FSB scores have been entered in as a reference point.

It is important to note that the PowerNow (AMD’s equivalent of Intel’s SpeedStep) drivers that came with our Voodoo Envy M:855 are premature. They are full version (non-betas), but never the less are early. Voodoo will qualify the new PowerNow drivers next week, and this will concurrently affect performance. AMD has a general footprint of PowerNow that is sent to OEMs/ODMs/SIs/etc… However, system vendors have the choice of modifying the footprint to a degree. The modification of the PowerNow drivers is dependent on how much a system vendor is willing to take on thermal emissions for performance, and vice versa.

The new drivers from Voodoo should increase performance, as they are readily willing to increase their thermal budget. Additionally, we should note that in many timing benchmarks, PowerNow will create a conflict, as the timing between intervals is often times derived from the CPU. Because CPU frequency dynamically changes in response to the operating environment, the timing is derived incorrectly, and therefore the benchmark reports incorrectly.


Windows XP Professional Test System
Voodoo Envy M:855 Dell Inspiron 8600 Dell Latitude D800 Gigabyte NB-1401 IBM T40
CPU(s) Athlon 64 DTR 3200+ Pentium M 1.7GHz Pentium M 1.6GHz Pentium M 1.4GHz Pentium M 1.5GHz
Motherboard(s) Voodoo K8T800 Dell 855PM Dell 855PM FIC 855GM IBM 855PM
Memory 1GB PC2700 512MB PC2700 512MB PC2100 512MB PC2100 256MB PC2100
Hard Drive 60GB 7200RPM 60GB 7200RPM 40GB 5400RPM 40GB 4200RPM 40GB 5400RPM
CDROM CD-RW/DVD DVD+RW CD-RW/DVD CD-RW/DVD CD-RW/DVD
Video Card(s) ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 Pro 64MB DDR NVIDIA GeForce FX Go5650 128MB DDR NVIDIA GeForce4 4200 Go 64MB DDR Integrated 855PM ATI Mobility Radeon 7500
Ethernet Onboard VIA 10/100 Onboard Broadcom 10/100 Onboard Intel Gigabit Onboard Intel Gigabit Onboard Intel Gigabit
Operating System Windows XP Professional SP1
Video Drivers ATI 6.14.10.6378 (latest available for Voodoo) NVIDIA 44.82 (latest available for Dell) NVIDIA 42.56 (latest available for Dell) Intel 6.13.10.3510 ATI 6.13.10.6278 (latest available for IBM)
Benchmarking Applications Bapco SysMark 2002
ZDM Content Creation Winstone 2003
ZDM Business Winstone 2002
BAPCo Mobile Mark 2002

As mentioned earlier, our system came configured with 1GB of system memory. This is a stretch in many aspects because the system comes default configured with 512MB. Additionally, 512MB is the most widely scaled configuration for the motherboard market. For testing purposes, we benchmarked under both 1GB and 512MB configurations. Unless otherwise noted, the Voodoo Envy M:855 was benchmarked under the 512MB configuration.

We already covered graphic performance in our part 1 coverage of the Voodoo Envy M:855, which we recommend reading if that is of interest.



General Usage Performance

The Voodoo Envy M:855 competes very well against the high end Centrino platforms, but clearly lags behind the Athlon 64 3200+ and Pentium 4 3.0C 800FSB desktop platforms. We first thought that the M:855 relatively low scores compared to the desktop Athlon 64 3200+ system in Business Winstone 2002 were because of the false timings that the benchmark applications were deriving from the PowerNow drivers. However, after looking more in depth, we feel that the scores are legitimate in both Business Winstone 2002 and SYSMark 2002.

We should note that the new PowerNow drivers for the M:855 are expected to increase performance, but the trade off will be thermal emissions, which Voodoo says they are willing to contend with.



Content Creation Performance

Compared to the desktop systems, the M:855 performs more competitively than it did in the General Usage Performance benchmarks. In Content Creation Winstone 2003, it took the lead over all, while the gap between the Voodoo Envy M:855 with 1GB of system memory and Athlon 64 3200+ desktop system is close enough to attribute to the standard deviation between retesting.

We should note that the new PowerNow drivers for the M:855 are expected to increase performance, but the trade off will be thermal emissions, which Voodoo says they are willing to contend with.



Mobile Performance

When taking into account the type of components that the M:855 employs (desktop/desktop-like), the M:855 performs very well on the battery life scene. The Envy M:700 is ODM through Clevo, which we have seen models of from different vendors. The battery life of this notebook is terrible, at least in the 533FSB models we toyed with. We are hearing that the 800FSB refresh is even worse. The 533FSB model we looked at didn’t have the ability to play through an entire movie, which was very disappointing.

Voodoo accomplishes an impressive battery life with a large cell battery pack. After all, a bit after 3 hours, the M:855 is still kicking, which makes it a very powerful road warrior. The weight of the battery pack for the M:855 is really no different than battery packs on other even beefier desktop replacement notebooks. For this reason, we are even more thoroughly impressed with battery life.



Startup Time Performance



Conclusion

Even with the use of desktop/desktop-like components, the Voodoo Envy M:855 is able to provide a very satisfying amount of battery life. This was perhaps one of the greatest feats that Voodoo had to overcome with this notebook, particular since it eats up power like there is no tomorrow. In this case, it is like Voodoo gave the notebook a whole oil tanker to feed off of, which ends up providing the notebook with battery life similar to some of the Centrino systems we have seen.

For the most part, the Voodoo Envy M:855 has lived up to and surpassed our expectations in a desktop replacement notebook. It has a very durable build and is designed well as a gaming and high-end solution. Clearly, the Dell Inspiron 8600 is not of the same class as the Voodoo Envy M:855, though we do benchmark it as a reasonable reference point. The pure enthusiasts and gamers wouldn’t be caught dead with a Dell gaming notebook; instead they would turn to something the likes of Sager, Hypersonic, Eurocom, etc... The problem with a few of these vendors is that technical support is sometimes not up to par with what is desired.

Voodoo offers great support, which is even transparent in the upgrade options they provide. Once you purchase one of their notebooks, they will allow you to upgrade to the latest and greatest technology costing only whatever the wholesale price of the upgrade components may be. This is limited only to the newest laptop that uses the same notebook frame, as the new components need to naturally fit into the old notebook frame.

We recommend this beautiful notebook to those looking to tackle the best of desktop gaming, high-end multimedia users, and even those looking for an alternative to the very popular Pentium 4 desktop replacement notebook, like those that are ODM through Clevo (Sager/Eurocom/Hypersonic). At the moment, this is the only notebook on the market to use a processor from the Athlon 64 family, and we are sure there will be more to follow. We are particularly excited to hear about AMD’s upcoming mobile Athlon 64 processor, which should breathe a breath of fresh air that mobile systems have yet to fully appreciate.

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