Centrino 2 Laptop Roundup

by Jarred Walton on October 24, 2008 3:00 AM EST


One of the fastest growing market segments in terms of computer sales is of course the mobile sector. As we have repeated many times in the past, for most of the work people do on a computer we have now reached the point where a decent laptop is more than sufficient. Yes, you will still pay more money than you would for an equivalent performance desktop. Yes, many desktop components are faster than any mobile options. And yes, we still find keyboards, mice, and desktop LCDs to be far more pleasurable to use overall. However, if you only have one computer in your household, there are plenty of good reasons to choose a laptop.

We'll start with the last area: input devices and displays. If you don't plan to move your laptop around, it's extremely simple to just connect a desktop keyboard, mouse, and LCD. More likely, you can set up a computer desk for normal use and use the laptop as a sort of docking station. Then if you ever want to go somewhere else to work - the couch, a coffee shop, the park, etc. - you can easily pick up your computer and cut the wires. As far as performance goes, outside of gaming and a few high-end applications, there's not much need for a state-of-the-art quad-core processor with a powerful GPU. In fact, if you don't plan on playing games at all you should be more than happy with the integrated graphics solutions.

Before you actually decide to take the mobile plunge, however, we need to step back for a moment. You may not need all of the performance that a modern $1500 desktop can offer, but sometimes needs change. Besides the additional cost of the notebook relative to a desktop, upgradability is without doubt one of the major deficiencies of laptops. Take just about any budget desktop system and you can add more memory, more hard drives, better audio, and significantly faster graphics cards - if you're willing to put in a bit of time spent tinkering. You can even replace the motherboard and processor should the need arise.

Laptops on the other hand are pretty much a static system. Sure, it's possible to increase the memory in some cases (though many laptops now ship with 4GB of RAM, which is certainly more than 32-bit Windows will ever need), and you can upgrade or replace the hard drive and often even the CPU. However, graphics chips, motherboards, and the built-in screen, keyboard, and touchpad are pretty much set in stone at the time of manufacture. If you need something faster, you will usually be better off just selling your old laptop and buying a new one rather than trying to figure out how to upgrade the various components (although we could probably say the same thing about some desktops). There's also the issue of component failures, which tend to occur far more often on notebooks and desktops in our experience. If your laptop is no longer covered by a warranty, repairs can be prohibitively expensive.

Okay, that should set the stage once again for a review of several new laptops. What makes these new laptops interesting is that they use Intel's Centrino 2 platform. Centrino 2 officially launched several months ago,, but outside of the gamer oriented Gateway P-7811 FX, we have not been able to get any review samples until now. Part of that seems to be related to some teething problems with Centrino 2; we know several of the manufacturers we contacted a few months back said that they were still working on finalizing their Centrino 2 offerings. Or maybe it's just that Centrino 2 doesn't really have many noticeable advantages over older Centrino laptops? That's certainly one of the things we want to investigate with these three new notebooks.

There are of course many different categories of Centrino 2 notebooks, starting at prices well under $1000 and going all the way up to the ultra expensive solutions. Once again, we have three notebooks that fall into the midrange category, although how they get there differs quite a bit. Two of the laptops are from ASUS and the third is from HP. Unfortunately, none of these are integrated graphics solutions - we just received a fourth notebook with Intel's latest GM45 chipset late last week, but testing is still underway. For now, we will be comparing these three notebooks with other recently tested midrange laptops. Since the other notebooks all use the Centrino platform, that will certainly be an interesting point of comparison.

ASUS G50V – Overview
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  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    I chatted a bunch with ASUS on this; there was some confusion so I may have ended up with the wrong conclusion. (Yeah, marketing wasn't positive on the specs, and engineering didn't ever pass on the exact details.) I actually had a paragraph detailing the differences between the 9800M GTS and this supposed 9800M GS. Since I don't have one in my hands, I can't say one way or the other with certainty.

    The worst case would appear to be clock speeds equal to that of the 8800M GTS (500 core instead of 600 core on the 9800M GTS), which is still going to be a lot faster than these other notebooks. Since it's also limited to 1366x768, gaming performance should be no problem at native res... but there's a lot of headroom left untapped. Certainly, gaming performance won't be lower than the G50V tested here, unless the game happens to be CPU limited.
  • Enrox - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    Take a look at the Gateway P-7811 battery's life: it's about 150 minutes regarless the task (DVD playback, web surfing, H.264 playback).
    That to me says only one thing: no power management in place.
    Is that a Vista issue or a BIOS issue?
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    Oh, the P-7811 is definitely doing *something* - though idle battery life is lower than I'd expect relative to the others. Actually, I think it's more that the P-7811 is doing quite well in other tasks. Remember: 17" 1920x1200 LCD, 7200 RPM HDD, and a 9800M GTS put it at a much higher power envelope than most of the other laptops. Relative to the P-6831 and m15x, the results seem to be right where you'd expect. If only Gateway had implemented Hybrid Power....
  • jonmcc33 - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    Did you verify that with the Power Saver setting that EIST was working properly? Use CPU-Z or similar to see if the clock speed of the FSB and CPU does change as it should. Check the BIOS settings as well.
  • CU - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    Yes it would be interesting to know what the cpu, gpu, fsb, and ram clocks are at when in power saving mode for Vista and OSX.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    CPU speed drops to a 6X multiplier, so at least that aspect is working. Looking at the voltages (according to CPU-Z), they're all at 1.083V except for the G50V, which runs at 1.338V most of the time. (I'm still trying to figure out what's going on there and will update when I know more.) I'm not as concerned with G50V battery life, though, since it's in a different class of performance and size; it's the U6V and similar notebooks that need to do a lot better.

    Regarding RAM, GPU, and FSB, the FSB stays locked at the base speed - 1066 MHz on the Centrino 2 notebooks. RAM likewise stays at a set speed, in this case 800 MHz. 2D GPU clocks (according to GPU-Z) are 169 MHz core, 200 MHz (100 base) VRAM on all three of these notebooks. GPU-Z also reports a memory clock of 800 MHz (400 base) for the HP dv5t, which seems wrong - I though the 9600M GT was supposed to be much faster RAM, but apparently not.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    Update: The G50V was back on "High Performance" mode after rebooting (an issue with some of the ASUS software). Setting it back to "Balanced" or "Power Saver" dropped the CPU voltage to the expected voltage - though still slightly higher than the others at 1.063V.
  • fabarati - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    Asus is known for their crappy batterylife in the latest generation. When compared to equal or even better specced laptops, they fall flat on the ground. It's probably because of bad ACPI coding. My F8Sa has worse battery life than my old A8Js, despite having less powerhungry parts. And the A8Js had mediocre batterylife (I reached about 3½ hours, with hardware disabled). I can barely break 2 hours, and that's when I disable hardware.

    The HP DV5 seems to suffer from the same issue, at least that's the conclusion we came to when it was tested by NBR.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    I haven't tested a comprehensive selection of laptops by any means, but if you look at the specs for the various laptops and the resulting Minutes/Whr chart you can see that if this is bad ACPI coding the practice extends far beyond just ASUS and HP. If the MacBook Pro was around 3 or 4 Min/Whr, I'd think maybe it was just some fine tuning that was missing, but it's still literally double what the closest tested Vista laptop managed.

    The best result I've personally seen on Vista to date is the http://www.anandtech.com/mobile/showdoc.aspx?i=328...">ASUS U2E, which manages 3.72 Min/Whr with the 86.5 Whr battery. That's a lot closer than the other laptops, but keep in mind that has a U7500 CPU (10W max TDP), X3100 IGP, and an SSD, plus an 11.1" LED LCD.

    Another 15.4" laptop I'm currently testing with T7250 and X4500 graphics (plus 4GB RAM, 250GB 5400RPM HDD) manages 4.18 Min/Whr, which is closer to Apple. Still, that's a 50% advantage for the MacBook, so it's not really *that* close. (It gets 204 minutes of battery life in our web surfing test.)
  • nizanh - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    Can't you just install Vista on one of the MacBooks?
    Sounds to me like the best testing methodology.

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