Reviewing a Notebook
Reviewing a notebook is much different than reviewing a video card, processor, hard drive, or even a complete desktop system. There are, however, some characteristics important in these items that are likewise important in notebooks. The most obvious of these is speed.
As with most items in the computing world, speed is of paramount concern with notebooks. The only way that a notebook can be a fully functional computer is if it runs all the programs that we expect to see on a desktop. Running the programs is not the only requirement; the speed at which these programs run is also of concern. Depending on what you want in a notebook, speed can play a major or minor role. Those wanting full desktop power may be willing to sacrifice weight for speed. Others who crave a thin and light notebook may trade speed for a smaller footprint. Regardless of your preference, the speed of a notebook should, and likely will, play a role in your laptop decision. For this reason we will put each notebook that passes through our lab through fairly extensive performance testing focusing on content creation and office type programs. We will point out not only how a specific notebook performs in comparison with other notebooks in its class but also how it performs compared to desktop computers. Depending on the notebook and the level of 3D acceleration that it employs, we may also test the performance of the notebook under various gaming situations.
Going hand in hand with application performance is boot speed. Although the time required to startup a desktop system may not be important, having to wait for a notebook to boot when you need to perform an operation can make seconds seem like hours. For this reason we will test to see exactly how long it takes for each notebook to go from cold boot to the Windows XP Professional desktop.
Speaking of operating systems, we will test each notebook with a fresh install of Windows XP Professional just like we do with desktop systems and components. This levels the playing field for all notebooks, as almost every notebook comes preloaded differently. Don't get us wrong, the operating system and applications that come preloaded on a notebook computer are extremely important since a lack of bundled software at purchase time can easily cost hundreds of dollars later. Each review will be sure to note what software each notebook comes with and what we think of the bundle.
Apart from the above items, reviewing a notebook is much different than reviewing almost any other computer component, peripheral, or system. Items that receive little attention in other areas are of great importance when it comes to notebooks. One such item is overall design.
Notebooks are meant to be carried around and used in a variety of different locations. This means that in order for a notebook to be a good one it has to be built well. Construction of a notebook is one important aspect here. A metal case is preferred to a plastic one. Durable hinges on the screen are preferred to ones that could easily break. Weight and size also play a major role in this aspect of notebooks: what good is an indestructible notebook if it weighs too much to carry around?
A product of notebook design is heat. Cramming high power components into a small area with little breathing room creates quite a bit of heat. To deal with the heat, many systems have active cooling solutions that vent hot air to one place or another on a notebook. Depending on where the hot air goes, it can make placing a notebook on your lap about as comfortable as putting a hot frying pan there. The temperature at the underside of each notebook will be measured and noted.
Extras, such as speaker placement, customizable buttons, pointing options, and included ports, drives, and slots can also make or break a notebook's ease of use. Is the keyboard comfortable? Is the pointing device located in an appropriate area? Are ports easy to access and buttons easy to locate? These simple characteristics may be overlooked at first, but after extended use they can turn a desktop replacement into a seldom used paper weight.
Another item that is important in notebooks is upgradeablity. Although you are stuck with many of the components that a specific notebook comes with, upgrading some parts of a notebook are becoming easier and easier. The ability to access memory, the hard drive, and even the CPU can make an aging notebook gain new life.
Battery life also plays a major role in a notebook's attractiveness. We will test to see how long a notebook can last when running various various programs using the latest battery benchmarks, which at time of publication happens to be BatteryMark 2001. For these tests, the systems will run with medium brightness and BatteryMark's recommended power saving settings.
Of course, the components in each notebook system will be described, from the chipset to the LCD display to the video processor. A notebook is a whole package, but the pieces that a notebook is made up of is what makes one more attractive than another.
We plan to pick up where other notebook reviews leave off. The truth of the matter is that there simply are no comprehensive notebook reviews out there; no notebook reviews done the AnandTech way. With the above methodology, we are going to change all that. As always, we are more than open to your suggestions, so please shoot us an e-mail if you think we are leaving something out. We will be sure to take each and every recommendation into consideration.
With that in mind, let's get to the moment we have been waiting for: AnandTech's first notebook review. We kick off the new section with the ASUS T9.