Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/2818



Last week we posted an article comparing battery life using two different Gateway laptops - laptops that were essentially identical, with the exception of the motherboard, chipset, integrated graphics, and processor. This was a subject that we wanted to investigate closely for a long time, but acquiring laptops that are anywhere near "identical" when you are looking at two completely different platforms can be extremely difficult. Moreover, even companies that had very similar laptops didn't seem to have any desire to have us review their AMD models. Conspiracy theory, were they trying to avoid cannibalizing sales of more expensive laptops, or some other explanation… regardless of the cause, it took us many requests to finally have a mobile showdown between AMD and Intel.


After the initial article went up dissecting battery life under a variety of situations, we have received numerous emails questioning our test methodology, complaining of bias for or against AMD/Intel, and offering other suggestions for how to improve the tests. The battery life article was always intended to be a short preview, and we are well aware of many of the differences between AMD and Intel platforms. This, then, is the rest of the story where we look at general application performance, graphics performance, and provide a full review of both laptops. First, let's start with a recap of the test systems - this time with full specifications.

Gateway NV5214u Specifications
Processor AMD Athlon 64 X2 QL-64
(Dual-core, 2.1GHz, 2x512KB L2, 65nm, 35W, 667MHz FSB)
Chipset AMD RS780MN + SB700
Memory 2x2048MB DDR2-667
Graphics Integrated ATI Radeon HD 3200
Display 15.6" Glossy LED-Backlit 16:9 WXGA (1366x768)
Hard Drive 320GB 5400RPM
Optical Drive 8x DVDR SuperMulti
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
802.11n WiFi
56K Modem
Audio 2-Channel HD Audio (2.0 Speakers with headphone/microphone jacks)
Battery 6-Cell 10.8V, 4400mAhr, 47.5Whr
Front Side None
Left Side SD/MMC/MS/MS Pro/xD reader
Microphone/Headphone Jacks (2.0 audio with S/PDIF support)
2 x USB 2.0
HDMI
VGA
Gigabit Ethernet
AC Power Connection
Kensington Lock
Right Side DVDRW Optical Drive
2 x USB 2.0
56K Modem
Power Button
Back Side Heat Exhaust Port
Operating System Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 14.6" x 9.8" x 1.0"-1.5" (WxDxH)
Weight 5.8 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Extras Webcam
Alternate colors/models available
Blue: NV5213u
Black: NV5215u
Red: NV5216u
Warranty 1-year standard Gateway warranty
Extended warranties available
Price NV5214u available at Best Buy for $500

Gateway NV5807u Specifications
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo T6500
(Dual-core, 2.1GHz, 2MB shared L2, 45nm, 35W, 800MHz FSB)
Chipset Intel GM45 + ICH9M
Memory 2x2048MB DDR2-667
Graphics Integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD
Display 15.6" Glossy LED-Backlit 16:9 WXGA (1366x768)
Hard Drive 320GB 5400RPM
Optical Drive 8x DVDR SuperMulti
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
802.11n WiFi
56K Modem
Audio 2-Channel HD Audio (2.0 Speakers with headphone/microphone jacks)
Battery 6-Cell 10.8V, 4400mAhr, 47.5Whr
Front Side None
Left Side SD/MMC/MS/MS Pro/xD reader
Microphone/Headphone Jacks (2.0 audio with S/PDIF support)
2 x USB 2.0
HDMI
VGA
Gigabit Ethernet
AC Power Connection
Kensington Lock
Right Side DVDRW Optical Drive
2 x USB 2.0
56K Modem
Power Button
Back Side Heat Exhaust Port
Operating System Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 14.6" x 9.8" x 1.0"-1.5" (WxDxH)
Weight 5.8 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Extras Webcam
Alternate colors/models available
Black: NV5814u
Red: NV5815u
Warranty 1-year standard Gateway warranty
Extended warranties available
Price NV5814u available online starting at $580

In terms of core paper specifications, the systems really are as close to identical as we can get. There are no AMD chipsets for current Intel processors, and likewise Intel doesn't make chipsets for AMD processors. We could try to go the discrete graphics route, but virtually all current AMD-based laptops include integrated graphics and that's part of the features equation. We're looking not just at the difference in processors but what the mobile platform as a whole offers from each company. Those familiar with current trends should have an idea of what to expect: Intel has the better processor (faster and lower power), overall chipset features are similar, and AMD (courtesy of ATI) has the better integrated graphics. The question isn't so much who will be faster in various tests, but rather how much faster. That's what we're here to find out.



Gateway NV5214u - AMD

Representing the AMD corner, Gateway sent us their NV5214u. There are four current NV52 models (NV5213u, NV5214u, NV5215u, and NV5216u), all of which are identical in terms of performance and features as far as we can tell. The difference is in the availability (certain models are only available through select retailers), color, and pricing. The NV5214u for example is a charcoal gray laptop sold through Best Buy, currently selling for $500. Here's a quick look at the laptop.

The NV52 is a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio laptop, going with the current trend to better support HDTV resolutions. We actually like the "taller" 16:10 aspect ratio displays (or even the old 4:3/5:4 standard aspect ratio displays), but this isn't a huge concern for most users. What does concern us - and this applies to the vast majority of laptops currently being sold - are all the shiny surfaces. They might look great in photos, and glossy LCDs help to improve contrast ratios, but both trends are far too prevalent for our tastes. While some users will like the current trends, we have received numerous emails from readers lamenting these marketing forces. What we would really like to see is balance - go ahead and offer glossy LCDs and shiny laptops, but provide an equal number of matte LCDs and laptops.

As an aside, one of the most attractive laptops I've seen personally is the Dell Precision M6400. It has a surface that doesn't immediately show every single fingerprint, and it caters to both sides of the fence by offering matte and glossy LCD options. Unfortunately, the M6400 starts at around $2000 and is in a completely different category from the Gateway laptops we are looking at today. Still, we would love to see manufacturers retreat from the glossy LCDs and shiny plastic casings and give us other alternatives.

Thankfully, Gateway does make one concession to those looking for better features: they use an LCD with LED backlighting. This should help shave power requirements relative to conventional CCFL backlighting, providing better battery life. As we will see later, however, the overall LCD quality is still lacking in terms of contrast and color accuracy.

All of the necessary features are present, but it is interesting to note some of the omissions. Gateway does not include an ExpressCard slot or FireWire on the NV52 (or the NV58). That might be a concern for anyone that wants to use a mobile broadband card, but most users won't miss the extra slot. I know that I have yet to use an ExpressCard in any of the laptops I've reviewed, but then I don't use mobile broadband. For an inexpensive entry-level notebook, we are perfectly content with the feature set.

Looking at the various parts and accessories, there's nothing particularly noteworthy. Gateway provides a 6-cell battery and parts suitable for an entry-level laptop. It is nice to see that you can get 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, and a 64-bit OS for under $500.

Dissecting the NV52 follows a familiar pattern. After removing the bottom panel that provides access to the memory and hard drive, the next step if you want to proceed further is to remove the screws on the bottom that secure the multimedia panel and top casing. Next, carefully pry up the multimedia panel (the 1.5" strip above the keyboard) and then you can remove the keyboard. Unlike some laptops, you will need to remove the LCD panel if you want to pop the casing. After that, there are a couple more screws underneath the LCD panel hinges, and then you can (again carefully) pry apart the plastic shell. If you want to access the CPU socket, you'll have to remove the motherboard as well, since the CPU HSF/heatpipe is on the bottom side of the motherboard.

All told, it's a lengthy process if you want to try to swap CPUs, and there are better options if you want an "upgradeable" laptop. It took me more than 60 minutes the first time, but about 30 once I was more familiar with the chassis. Reassembly is slightly faster than disassembly, as you don't need to be as careful when snapping the shell back together. Given the 4GB RAM and 320GB hard drives, most users will never have any reason to think about upgrades before it's time to purchase a new laptop.



Gateway NV5807u - Intel

…And in the Intel corner, we have the Gateway NV5807u. Déjà vu. Again, there are several identical models that differ only in color and availability (NV5807u, NV5810u, NV5814u, and NV5815u). The cheapest is currently the NV5814u, which you can find at Amazon, TigerDirect, Circuit City, and CompUSA for $580.

In terms of external appearance, the only differences between the NV5807u and the NV5214u are the color and the stickers on the palm rest. The ports and features are the same, as are the accessories. Disassembly follows the same process as well, with the only difference being the type of chipset and CPU you find on the motherboard.



Test Setup

In the interest of full disclosure, here are the specific configurations of the two test laptops we received.

Gateway NV5214u Test System
Processor AMD Athlon 64 X2 QL-64
(Dual-core, 2.1GHz, 2x512KB L2, 65nm, 35W, 667MHz FSB)
Memory 2x2048MB Hyundai PC2-5300 @ DDR2-667 5-5-5-15
(Hyundai Electronics HMP125SEFR8C-Y5)
Graphics Integrated ATI Radeon HD 3200
Driver version Cat 8.582-090203a (Feb 03, 2009)
40 (8 x 5) Shaders at 500 MHz
Display 15.6" Glossy WXGA (1366x768)
AU Optronics B156XW02
Hard Drive Seagate Momentus 5400.6 320GB 5400RPM 8MB (ST932032 0AS)
Optical Drive 8x DVDRW (LG Electronics GT20N)
Battery 6-Cell 10.8V, 4400mAhr, 47.5Whr
Operating System Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit
Price NV5214u available at Best Buy for $500

Gateway NV5807u Test System
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo T6500
(Dual-core, 2.1GHz, 2MB shared L2, 45nm, 35W, 800MHz FSB)
Memory 2x2048MB Micron PC2-5300 @ DDR2-667 5-5-5-15
(Micron Technologies 16HTF25664HY-667G1)
Graphics Integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD
Driver version 15.13.4.64.1829
10 Shaders at 475 MHz
Display 15.6" Glossy WXGA (1366x768)
LG LP156WH2-TLE1
Hard Drive HITACHI Travelstar 5K500.B 320GB 5400RPM 8MB (HTS545032B9A300)
Optical Drive 8x DVDRW (TSST Corp TS-L633B)
Battery 6-Cell 10.8V, 4400mAhr, 47.5Whr
Operating System Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit
Price NV5814u available online starting at $580

If you've been paying attention to the various parts, there are a few differences between the two laptops. While both have the same size and rotational speed hard drive, the Intel model includes a Hitachi hard drive and the AMD model uses a Seagate hard drive. The optical drives are also different, and in fact even the LCDs come from different manufacturers (AU Optronics for the NV5214u and LG Philips for the NV5807u).

You might be tempted to cry "foul" right now in terms of having "identical" laptops, but we did do some (limited) testing to make sure that the differences in component choice did not affect the results. Changing the hard drive and display did not affect performance or battery life by more than 1% - well within the margin of error. Our guess is that users will find a variety of similar components from different manufacturers, based on whoever happened to provide Gateway the best price/availability. It is common for large OEMs to source similar parts from several vendors in order to meet their capacity requirements. Outside of low-level benchmarks, the differences are transparent to the end-users.

One other item that bears mention is that we also swapped batteries between the two laptops to ensure that the batteries did not have an impact on battery life. We reran the battery tests and confirmed that the overall change was less than 1%, which is again within the margin of error for our tests. As you will see, the difference in performance and battery life is far greater than a few percent, so it will take a lot more than a mere change in component manufacturer for either side to make up the deficit.

For our tests, we are going to have two sets of results to report. We will start by comparing the Gateway NV5214u (AMD) with the Gateway NV5807u (Intel). These tests are all run several times and we take the best score, and the results are as "apples-to-apples" as we can make them. After we have shown how AMD stacks up against Intel using our Gateway laptops, we will put things in context by showing how performance of both laptops compares to several other previously tested laptops. Both of these are budget laptops that cost less than $600, so it's no surprise that $1000 laptops are able to run circles around them in many of the tests.



Battery Life - AMD vs. Intel

We will start with a recap of our battery life testing. We are using a different format for the graphing than we used previously, so you can look at the other article if you prefer our "normal" graphs. For this chart, equal performance is denoted by the 50% mark in the middle of the chart. A larger bar means better performance, and the numerical results (in minutes) are available for those that prefer raw numbers.


We've already discussed this, but simply put Intel walks away with the battery life crown. On average, the Intel system offers 28% more battery life than AMD, with the closest result at Idle (20%).

We have heard several potential "solutions" for the poor AMD battery life - use one of the Turion X2 Ultra CPUs that have split power planes, for example, which should indeed help matters. However, we are comparing relatively similar offerings; after all, Intel also offers many CPUs that should provide better battery life than the T6500. The P8400 is one example, offering a lower 25W TDP, 50% more L2 cache, and a higher clock speed and FSB.

Undervolting is another suggestion, and one that definitely can improve idle battery life. If you consider the equation:

P = C * F * V2
(Power = Capacitance * Frequency * Voltage Squared)

…reducing the voltage of a chip can greatly improve power requirements. Like overclocking, however, undervolting is not guaranteed, requires the use of additional utilities, and you have to compare undervolted chips to each other. Undervolting an AMD chip might help to match a stock voltage Intel chip, but it's very likely both will be able to achieve lower voltages than what Intel specifies. (We will try to take a closer look at undervolting in the future.) The net result is that we truly don't see AMD closing the gap with Intel until they come out with a built-from-the-ground-up mobile architecture.

Okay, we already knew that the battery life comparison would favor Intel. We'll have a closer look at why this is in a moment when we look at power consumption. First, let's look at the rest of the performance spectrum.

Update

For those that prefer a more traditional presentation, here's a second graph showing the same data as the above chart. Also, the data labels got reversed at some point; the graphs are now both correct - sorry for the confusion.



Application Performance - AMD vs. Intel

Next up is an overview of application performance. We've already hinted that Intel wins handily when it comes to general performance, and this should come as no surprise. After all, the Intel juggernaut has been on a rampage ever since the launch of Core 2 Duo back in 2006. (Has it really been that long? Yup.) At the time Core 2 Duo launched, clock for clock (E6600 vs. 4600+ at 2.40GHz) Intel's Core 2 Duo was 10% to 50% faster than AMD's Athlon X2, with the average being somewhere around 20% faster. Three years and a switch to mobile platforms and smaller process technology doesn't radically alter the picture, although updated benchmarks and software that are more multi-core friendly tend to favor Intel even more.

Here's a look at various applications, including 3DMark and PCMark composite scores. We will have a closer look at the PCMark scores on the next page. As for 3DMark, while the CPU scores in the various iterations favor Intel (14% in 3DMark03, 17% in 3DMark05, and 23% in 3DMark06), the overall performance scores give a taste of things to come when we look at graphics performance.


The results aren't very surprising if you've been following the processor and graphics markets for the past couple years. The Intel laptop is clearly faster in applications that depend primarily upon the CPU: 34% faster in x264, 25% faster in DivX, 37% faster in CINEBENCH, 21% faster in PCMark05, and 32% faster in PCMark Vantage. Switch to the graphics intensive 3DMark and the tables turn. The AMD platform is 34% faster in 3DMark03, 86% faster in 3DMark05, 56% faster in 3DMark06, and 93% faster in 3DMark Vantage. Note that we used the "Entry" setting for 3DMark Vantage, and we had to use an external LCD in order to run at the standard resolutions in 3DMark06 and 3DMark Vantage. It's also worth mentioning that the Intel system consistently failed to run 3DMark Vantage at the "Performance" defaults.

The above results are good indication of performance in specific tasks, but PCMark tends to obfuscate the picture by combining many tests into one composite score. Let's have a closer look at the PCMark results, as they can be quite informative.

Update

Again, here are alternate graphs showing the same data as the above chart. Note that we had to split out some of the results to make the charts readable (i.e. the low FPS values for video encoding don't work with the other results; that's why we chose the "100% Stacked Bar" chart in the first place).




PCMark Performance - AMD vs. Intel

Futuremark's method of determining composite scores in PCMark (and 3DMark) can be something of a mystery. Rather than taking the results at face value, we felt it would be more beneficial to show the individual scores for the various tests. We'll start with PCMark05, which is somewhat outdated relative to current software but also provides a more realistic look at how many people continue to use their computers (i.e. most people continue to use single-threaded applications more than multi-threaded applications).


In PCMark05, the Intel system ends up 20.5% faster in the overall metric, but individual scores range from Intel leading by 66% (File Encryption) to AMD leading by 26% (3D Pixel Shaders). A couple other important metrics are Web Page Rendering, HDD XP Startup, and HDD General Usage. These are all common situations that you encounter any time you use a computer, and Intel leads by 38%, 37%, and 17% in these tests, respectively. During testing, it was obvious that the Intel system was substantially faster in general use. Booting both systems, it would always finish loading Windows noticeably faster, and when we ran a disk defragment on both systems after installing all of the test software the AMD system took hours longer to finish.

It should be clear why the AMD system wins in the Physics and 3D (9%) and 3D Pixel Shaders (26%) tests. What's not so clear is why AMD would win in the HDD Virus Scan (8%) result, and the likely culprit is the Seagate hard drive is faster than the Hitachi HDD in the NV58 in this specific test. It's also important to remember that individual scores can fluctuate quite a bit between runs on PCMark05 - up to 12% between the various runs we conducted on these two laptops. The overall scores on the other hand remain relatively consistent. Let's move on to PCMark Vantage and see if the picture changes at all.


This time the Intel system is 32% faster in the composite score, with individual scores ranging from 6% in AMD's favor to 61% in Intel's favor. Again, AMD takes the Gaming crown, although as we shall see shortly the 6% margin of victory is highly suspect when we get to actual games. Outside of the HDD test - a test that logically focuses more on the hard drive than the rest of the system - Intel maintains a comfortable lead of 20% or more.

The short story to this point is that not only does the Intel system provide substantially better battery life, it also provides a much snappier user experience. If all you're looking for is a typical office computer, the extra $80 you spend for the NV58 is definitely a worthwhile investment compared to the NV52. There is still the question of graphics, of course, so let's look at the last area and consider how much gaming performance matters in your laptop purchasing decision.

Update

Here's an alternate chart for PCMark Vantage showing relative performance. Given the disparity in scores for PCMark05, we didn't bother creating this style of chart.



Gaming Performance - AMD vs. Intel

Before we get to the gaming results - quit looking ahead and pay attention to this paragraph! - we need to put gaming performance in perspective. These integrated graphics solutions might be the best that AMD and Intel currently offer in laptops, but don't get excited. The fact of the matter is that neither of these solutions is particularly fast when it comes to playing 3D games. We loaded a variety of titles onto the laptops, and after a look at performance using medium detail settings we quickly decided that even the Radeon HD 3200 had no business running anything above minimum detail at 800x600. Okay, that's not entirely true; we did get a few titles to break 30 frames per second at the native 1366x768 LCD resolution, but those games where the exception rather than the rule.

While we're making disclaimers, we also need to mention that Intel's GMA 4500MHD failed to run quite a few games until we force DirectX 9 mode. In fact, out of the 18 titles that we tested, the Intel laptop still failed to run four of them. These four titles would crash to the desktop and nothing we tried fixed the situation. That's pretty bad if you're interested in gaming, but we do have to give Intel some credit: the last time I tried to test gaming compatibility with an Intel IGP (GMA 950), only about one third of the titles would even load properly! Okay, are your expectations set sufficiently low yet? Here we go. (I know… most of you have already skipped these two paragraphs and are staring at the chart. Sigh.)


As you probably expected, there's not a single instance where the Intel integrated graphics provide a better gaming experience than the AMD IGP. In fact, the closest Intel gets is in STALKER: Clear Sky where the AMD platform is only 31% faster. Frankly, the fact that Crysis runs at all on Intel (with DX9 mode forced) was a bit surprising, but AMD ended up being a whopping 335% faster so let's not dwell on the achievement. The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Athena, Fallout 3, Mass Effect, and Race Driver: GRID all failed to run on the Intel IGP. Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is another title that wasn't even close, with AMD's 780G providing 266% better performance than the 4500MHD.

If we add up all the frame rates in all of the titles (counting a zero against Intel for any games that they fail to run properly), the final tally is that the AMD platform ends up providing more than twice the performance of the Intel platform (140% faster) when it comes to gaming. (Incidentally, if we drop the four failed titles along with ETQW and Crysis from the average, AMD's HD 3200 ends up being just 88% faster, so further driver tweaks could still help Intel.) You might not think that's a fair comparison, but if we look at frame rates there are only five titles where Intel managed playable frame rates - and this is at 800x600 with minimum detail settings. Unreal Tournament 3, STALKER: Clear Sky (barely), Company of Heroes, Devil May Cry 4 (again barely), and Empire: Total War manage tolerable performance. Out of all of the games we tested, only Company of Heroes and Unreal Tournament 3 are even remotely playable (20 to 24 FPS) at the native LCD resolution. In fact, the AMD platform provided better performance at the native LCD resolution than Intel manages at 800x600.

Before we get too carried away, we should also mention that there are three games in our test list where neither platform could come anywhere near providing adequate performance: Call of Duty: World at War, Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Athena, and Mass Effect all failed to break 20 FPS at 800x600. Crysis, Assassin's Creed, Fallout 3, and Far Cry 2 aren't much better at less than 25 FPS. So congratulations AMD: your integrated graphics solution manages to walk away with the flyweight boxing title after going up against a sick one-armed man. What happens if we put a real contender in the ring?

First, we need to remember that there are Intel-based laptops that use integrated graphics from NVIDIA - or even ATI HD 3330 for a bit more. That will go a long way towards "leveling" the playing field, considering the ATI HD 3330 is actually faster overall compared to the HD 3200. Most of the people who are concerned with gaming performance also seem to feel battery life is less important, in which case you're far better off getting a laptop with a discrete GPU. How much of a difference does that make? As one example the Acer Aspire AS6920 is $70 more expensive than the Gateway NV58. Battery life will probably be quite a bit worse, but gaming performance should be 3x to 4x faster than the NV52. You can even get an Intel laptop with an ATI HD 4650 that should provide about 5x to 6x the performance of the HD 3200 (though prices for such laptops are noticeably higher, starting at around $800.

Our advice? If you want to play "real" games (i.e. newer 3D titles) on a laptop, spend the money on a laptop that can actually play games. Integrated graphics remains at best a poor solution for 3D games, and that will continue until someone invests a lot more effort in creating a compelling IGP. Honestly, AMD/ATI and NVIDIA are resting on their laurels. It wasn't long ago that Intel IGPs failed to run most games - even many casual games. These days the GMA 4500 is only about half the speed of ATI's HD 3200 solution. Their drivers have come a long way in the compatibility department, and another revision or two to their hardware could see Intel close the gap. We'd really love to see a serious mobile graphics solution that tackles power requirements the same way Intel CPUs do… shutdown inactive "cores" (SPs) to conserve power in 2D tasks, and only power up the SPs when necessary. This is really a question of "when" and not "if", and more notebook manufacturers need to pay attention to this area.

Then again, if all you have is a budget laptop and want to play some games, there are plenty of other alternatives that don't require high-end graphics. Plants vs. Zombies is one option that runs well even on netbooks, and there are countless browser games you can play. If you still want some "high-end" 3D fare, try setting the way back machine for 2003 (or earlier) and check out the classics. One of the joys of PC gaming is that the vast majority of older titles will still run on your modern rig. Diablo/Diablo 2, the earlier Fallouts, Half-Life, WarCraft 3… go relive some gory moments of yesteryear and even your entry-level laptop will feel fast - yes, even the Intel IGP should be fine.

Update

For the gaming tests, this alternate chart will help to provide a better look at where the two IGPs are actually able to provide acceptable performance. Again, this is at 800x600 and minimum detail settings, so this is a best-case scenario in terms of frame rates. Certainly anything in the <15 FPS range isn't playable, and we'd argue that 30 FPS is necessary for an acceptable gaming experience. By that criterion, the GMA 4500MHD can only run Company of Heroes and Unreal Tournament 3 acceptably, while the HD 3200 manages to reach near 30 FPS on half of the titles. Games like the Sims 2/3 and Spore aren't quite as taxing as many of the FPS titles and should run fine on the HD 3200. (We'll try to update later with results of those titles on both systems.)


Update #2

What about casual gaming - you know, The Sims 2/3 and Spore? Maxis has done a great job of providing games that appeal to a much wider audience, though many "serious" gamers aren't as fond of the titles. As a final update to the gaming question, we installed the three latest Maxis titles on these two laptops and used FRAPS to capture frame rates. Unfortunately, there were some difficulties that make these tests a little less useful. Spore for instance appears to force VSYNC, with no way to properly disable the feature. The result is that at 800x600, both laptops ended up reaching 30 FPS on minimum detail settings. The Sims 2/3 also hit apparent frame rate caps, and all three titles were easily playable at 800x600. We settled on testing these games at the native 1366x768 LCD resolution, since we could still play the games without serious difficulty.


In our tests, two of the three titles ran about the same on the AMD and Intel IGPs. The Sims 2 ends up tied at just over 20 FPS (though VSYNC does not appear active) while Spore gives a slight 6.5% advantage to the AMD platform. The Sims 3 still shows AMD with a comfortable margin of victory at 47% higher frame rates. So what's going on here?

The short summary is that the final rendered images are not 100% identical for a couple reasons. First, we are now dealing with games that have quite a bit of LOD (Level of Detail) adjustments going on, and it looks like certain details get dropped in order to improve frame rates. Second, some rendering errors on the Intel side (i.e. water reflections didn't work in either Sims game at Low detail where we tested) artificially boost the score. Of course, AMD wasn't without rendering errors, but the Gateway NV52 ATI drivers are about six months old (and unfortunately there's no good way to get updated drivers). HDD and CPU performance also appear to be more significant factors in these casual games, allowing Intel to close the gap.

AMD is still the better gaming option, but the fact is we were able to play Spore on low to medium details on the Intel platform all the way from the Single Cell stage up through the Space stage without any real complaints. Maxis is clever in that they decouple mouse cursor updates from the main 3D rendering loop, so your mouse still works properly even when frame rates are in the teens (or lower). Performance is also noticeably better at Low details, but we experienced some texture and rendering corruption at the Civilization stage that we fixed by running Medium details. If you want better rendering quality, the HD 3200 still wins easily, but if you just need a casual gaming fix Intel does better than most would expect in the latest Maxis titles.



Putting Performance in Perspective

We've shown you how Intel and AMD systems compare when using essentially identical components where possible. AMD wins in graphics tasks while Intel is the faster solution for most other applications along with providing better battery life. Now let's put the performance of these two entry-level laptops in perspective by showing how they stack up against some of the other laptops we've reviewed. Once again, our test systems:

Gateway NV5214u Test System
Processor AMD Athlon 64 X2 QL-64
(Dual-core, 2.1GHz, 2x512KB L2, 65nm, 35W, 667MHz FSB)
Memory 2x2048MB Hyundai PC2-5300 @ DDR2-667 5-5-5-15
(Hyundai Electronics HMP125SEFR8C-Y5)
Graphics Integrated ATI Radeon HD 3200
Driver version Cat 8.582-090203a (Feb 03, 2009)
40 (8 x 5) Shaders at 500 MHz
Display 15.6" Glossy WXGA (1366x768)
AU Optronics B156XW02
Hard Drive Seagate Momentus 5400.6 320GB 5400RPM 8MB (ST932032 0AS)
Optical Drive 8x DVDRW (LG Electronics GT20N)
Battery 6-Cell 10.8V, 4400mAhr, 47.5Whr
Operating System Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit
Price NV5214u available at Best Buy for $500

Gateway NV5807u Test System
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo T6500
(Dual-core, 2.1GHz, 2MB shared L2, 45nm, 35W, 800MHz FSB)
Memory 2x2048MB Micron PC2-5300 @ DDR2-667 5-5-5-15
(Micron Technologies 16HTF25664HY-667G1)
Graphics Integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD
Driver version 15.13.4.64.1829
10 Shaders at 475 MHz
Display 15.6" Glossy WXGA (1366x768)
LG LP156WH2-TLE1
Hard Drive HITACHI Travelstar 5K500.B 320GB 5400RPM 8MB (HTS545032B9A300)
Optical Drive 8x DVDRW (TSST Corp TS-L633B)
Battery 6-Cell 10.8V, 4400mAhr, 47.5Whr
Operating System Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit
Price NV5814u available online starting at $580

For reference, you can find the specifications for the other laptops at the following past reviews:

Acer 6920G
Alienware m15x
ASUS G50V
ASUS U6V
ASUS W90Vp
Clevo D901C (Note: upgraded to 2x2GB DDR2-667)
Dell Studio XPS 16
Gateway P-7808u FX
HP dv5t
MSI GT627
Toshiba X305-Q725

We'll dispense with the in-depth commentary on the following pages up until we get to the power and LCD tests, as the charts should provide more than enough information.



General Application Performance

Futuremark PCMark05

Futuremark PCMark Vantage 32-bit

Futuremark PCMark Vantage 64-bit

Video Encoding - DivX

Video Encoding - x264

Video Encoding - x264

3D Rendering - CINEBENCH R10

3D Rendering - CINEBENCH R10

Compared to the more expensive laptops we've tested, these two entry-level Gateway systems are quite slow. Performance is relative, of course, and even the Gateway laptops are plenty fast for typical office/Internet work.



Synthetic Graphics Performance

Futuremark 3DMark03

Futuremark 3DMark05

Futuremark 3DMark06

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage

We didn't run most of our gaming tests at higher resolution/quality settings, since performance was abysmal. 3DMark certainly isn't the final say in gaming performance, but it does give you a good reference point. The "slowest" laptops we have with discrete graphics are the HP dv5t (GeForce 9600M GT 512MB) and the Dell Studio XPS 16 (Mobility Radeon HD 3670 512MB). Both end up being more than three times as fast as the NV52 and it's HD 3200. Note that the NV58 failed to run the "Performance" setting in 3DMark Vantage, so it's not present in that chart.



Battery Life Compared

Battery Life - Idle

Battery Life - Internet

Battery Life - x264 Video

Battery Life - DVD Video

Relative Battery Life

Here we can see the flipside of the performance coin: the higher performance laptops all have worse battery life. In fact, looking at battery life relative to capacity, the NV58 is a lot closer to the MacBook than any other reasonably fast laptop we've tested. Apple uses the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M IGP, which definitely helps with power consumption and battery life. However, Apple also uses lower TDP processors and OS X seems to do a better job at keeping the CPU in low-power C-states than Windows. Hopefully we will see some improvement with Windows 7, but so far Windows is still an order of magnitude behind OS X.



Power Requirements

System Power Requirements - Idle

System Power Requirements - 100% CPU

System Power Requirements - Maximum Load

The power requirements at various loads help explain the battery life situation better. At idle, the Gateway Intel and AMD laptops are relatively close. AMD still uses about 2W more, but it's possible chips like the Turion X2 Ultra could close gap. We're hoping to get an appropriate ZM series processor to run the tests, but the real problem is when we look at load power requirements. Putting a 100% CPU load on the system using Folding@Home SMP, the 2W difference suddenly balloons to 15W. The IGP doesn't appear to be a major contributor to the power increase, as maximum load is only slightly higher at 17W. It's clear that the Intel processor never comes near the rated 35W TDP, since the whole system only uses slightly more than that when the CPU is at 100%. The AMD CPU on the other hand very likely does come close to the 35W TDP. That explains why the AMD system does so poorly in battery life tests that tax the CPU more.

Noise Levels

System Noise Levels - Idle

System Noise Levels - 100% CPU

System Noise Levels - Maximum Load

The noise levels correspond to power requirements, as expected. The Intel system is almost completely silent when idle, but the AMD system fluctuates - sometimes it's almost silent, but most of the time the fans spin up and raise the noise level above ambient. The AMD system gets noticeably louder under load conditions, although relatively speaking neither laptop is particularly loud.



LCD Quality

Wrapping up testing with a look at the LCDs, it's important to note that these are different LCDs in the same chassis. Since these are budget laptops, it's very likely Gateway switches LCD sources as necessary; some of the NV52 series might have LG Philips displays, and some of the NV58 series might use AU Optronics LCDs. We would also be surprised if results were consistent across all LCDs, since budget offerings usually get budget LCDs that can fluctuate wildly even on the same production line.

Laptop LCD Quality - White

Laptop LCD Quality - Black

Laptop LCD Quality - Contrast

Laptop LCD Quality - Color Accuracy

Laptop LCD Quality - Color Gamut




Gateway NV5214u


Gateway NV5807u

The white levels are similar while the black levels clearly favor the AU Optronics panel, with the result being that the AU Optronics LCD has a 43% higher contrast ratio. In fact, the LG Philips panel has the lowest contrast ratio of the tested LCDs. It's not the end of the world, and we do like the fact that Gateway is using LED backlighting, but these LCDs do little to change our overall impression of what a laptop LCD panel can do. Color accuracy is average (yes, the laptops attain the same average Delta E, though the individual color scores were very different), and color gamut is only slightly better than other laptops. Again, notice that the AU Optronics panel has a better color gamut than the LG Philips panel.



The Final Word

Hopefully we've now answered and explained any lingering questions about how the AMD and Intel platforms compare when it comes to laptops. Intel has much better battery life, but that's only one aspect of the overall equation and there are definitely areas where AMD has the advantage over Intel. Intel also wins in application performance, with noticeably snappier system responsiveness (i.e. loading applications, installing programs, booting Windows, hibernating/resuming). When it comes to 3D graphics, however, the AMD solution is clearly superior to Intel's anemic IGP.

Looking at the big picture, either one of these laptops - or similar laptops from other vendors - would work very well for any student or home office user. With an entry price point of $500, the Gateway NV52 series provides an attractive package that can handle just about any task you might want to throw at it, up to and including entry-level gaming. The Intel system on the other hand is clearly faster outside of gaming tasks, but the $80 price difference represents a 16% price increase. If you're willing to sacrifice graphics performance, you do get more than a 16% increase in battery life and general application performance, so ultimately you need to decide whether you want to have better battery life or if you would prefer improved graphics.

The graphics situation is a bit muddy when we consider the full GPU market. ATI's HD 3200 may be over twice as fast on average compared to Intel's GMA 4500MHD, but that's a lot like beating a Kia Spectra with a Hyundai Accent on the racetrack. There are many faster graphics options if that's your primary concern, and truthfully you would probably be better off sticking to older games on laptops and saving your real gaming for desktops where a $500 PC doesn't fall completely flat the instant you boot up the latest 3D tour de force.

Considering the contestants, it was almost a foregone conclusion, but it's always good to have concrete numbers to back up our recommendations. As far as we're concerned, laptops - especially entry-level laptops - need to function as a mobile computer first and foremost. By that criterion, Intel has the clearly better mobile platform. Faster CPUs that draw less power and provide better battery life rate a lot higher in our book than barely adequate gaming performance. A 16% price increase for 25% more battery life and 25% faster general application performance is hard to beat. Using a higher capacity battery on an AMD platform could give you equivalent battery life, but then you're lugging around a heavier laptop and many high capacity batteries cost far more than $80. If you really want improved battery life, you'd be looking at an Intel platform with a high-capacity battery - or a MacBook.

Finally, we can't neglect the netbook platforms. The vast majority of these use Intel Atom processors, which are completely different from Intel's Core 2 chips. They use far less power, but if the AMD Athlon X2 QL-64 in the NV52 seems slow, it's only 130% faster than an Intel Atom N280… in a threaded workload where the Atom does reasonably well. In single-threaded tests and other benchmarks, the Athlon QL-64 can be 200% or even 300% faster than an Atom N280. On the other hand, with a similar size battery we've seen Atom N280 netbooks manage over twice the battery life of the NV58, so as usual it's a case of priorities. Those who want a "real" PC experience will likely appreciate notebooks like the NV52 and NV58 series a lot more than netbooks, while users that only want something small with reasonable performance and great battery life will gravitate towards netbooks.

In the end, it's all about choice. Battery life, graphics, CPU, size, features... we have plenty of options on where to spend our money and how much to spend. AMD may not be the better platform overall, but they do provide a viable alternative to Intel platforms and the lower cost is certainly an attractive aspect. Personally, I'd stick to gaming on my desktop and if I "need" to game on a laptop I'll stick to less taxing titles or buy a laptop with a discrete GPU, but however you slice it, having choice is a good thing.

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