F3Sv (pre-production model)
After Intel's success with Centrino, as well as its Core 2 Duo CPU for notebooks codenamed Merom, we've been eagerly anticipating the release of Centrino Pro with the latest platform codenamed Santa Rosa.
- 1GB turbo memory, new Centrino Pro technology
- Pre-production model only
Centrino Pro has definitely brought some interesting benefits to the game and the Asus F3Sv is a prime example of what can be done with this hot new hardware.
Among the first Centrino Pro-based notebooks to hit Australia is a pre-production model of the ASUS F3Sv, a model Australia can expect to see in the near future (see also the Fujitsu Lifebook E8410).
The Santa Rosa platform offers up a number of new enhancements including faster wireless networking with 802.11 AGN, improved graphics performance with the Integrated Intel 965 Express chipset family (X3100), Turbo Memory and a range of new CPUs based on the Core 2 Duo Merom CPU. Centrino Pro notebooks, such as the Asus F3Sv, will also ship with the new management feature called Intel Active Management Technology (AMT).
Faster Core 2 Duo?
The ASUS F3Sv is installed with the new T7300 CPU, 2GB of DDR2 RAM and NVIDIA's new 8600 GS graphics card for notebooks. Performance was solid across our tests, except battery life, which didn't change much from the previous platform. The new T7300 CPU runs at 2.0GHz, like the previous generation's T7200 CPU, which we've seen in notebooks for some time now. However, the new CPU and platform offer some hidden advantages.
The most obvious change is the increased front side bus (FSB) speed, which has been lifted from 667MHz on previous Centrino models to a faster 800MHz on the Santa Rosa platform. This increase in bandwidth allows the CPU and chipset to transfer data to and from the memory at a faster rate, providing an increase in overall performance. Like the high-end T7200 to T7600 model CPUs, the new processors use a 4MB L2 shared cache like we've seen in the desktop space.
In our benchmarks the F3Sv performed very well. It scored an overall of 80 in WorldBench 6. By comparison, the high-end Dell XPS M1710 gaming notebook with 2GB of RAM, a GeForce Go 7950 GTX and a 2.33GHz T7600 Core 2 Duo CPU, scored 81.
The new setup also performed very favourably in comparison to the Acer Aspire 9425WSMi, which scored 74 in WorldBench 6. The Acer Aspire 9425WSMi has the same frequency CPU (2.0GHz), but uses the T7200 from the current generation of processors, 2GB of DDR2 RAM and a GeForce Go 7300 graphics card. In areas relating to both CPU performance and graphics, such as Photoshop, DirectX, multitasking and rendering tests, the ASUS showed significant improvements over the similarly built Acer notebook (though the graphics cards are not necessarily a fair comparison).
We also encoded 53 minutes worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3 files using a freely available, single threaded application called CDEX. The FS3v was able to complete the task in 139 seconds, while the aforementioned Acer took 143 seconds. This small difference may seem minor but still shows a distinct performance boost.
Turbo Memory is an optional feature of Santa Rosa notebooks which offers both performance and power saving benefits. Our ASUS F3Sv is installed with 1GB of Turbo Memory which helps to explain the better performance in the multitasking test in WorldBench 6.
With a low-latency flash memory cache available for loading and executing applications, we hope to see faster multitasking and Windows load times, as well as quicker resume times from hibernation. Physically, the Turbo Memory sits between the system memory and the hard drive, giving quick access to both, as well as faster response times. Rather than accessing the hard drive for every data request, regularly used applications are now loaded into the faster, more power efficient flash memory. In theory, without the hard drive spindles being constantly set in motion we are also going to see very small decreases in power usage which will help towards extending battery life.
Without comparing two identical systems, one utilising Turbo Memory and the other one not, it's impossible to truly gauge the performance boost. However, the performance results of the Asus F3Sv with 1GB of Turbo Memory and a T7300 2.0GHz CPU suggest it had about an eight percent improvement in multitasking over the Dell XPS system with no Turbo Memory and a 2.33GHz T7600 CPU from the current generation of processors. Against the T7200 2.0GHz -based Acer, it verged on a nine percent improvement in multitasking tests.
While the Santa Rosa platform offers a more powerful integrated 965 Express graphics chipset with Clear Video technology aimed at increasing the brightness and clarity of images, many notebooks are likely to come with either NVIDIA's or ATI's latest mobile graphics solutions. Our ASUS test machine is installed with an NVIDIA 8600GS. It scored 2459 in 3DMark 2006, a figure that suggests it can handle some newer games albeit at medium settings. In 3DMark 2001 SE it scored a whopping 16415, so older games will run without a hitch.
The 8600 GS is one of NVIDIA's latest DirectX 10 graphics cards with a unified shader architecture and PureVideo HD, which reduces overheads on the CPU when decoding video, specifically High Definition HD-DVD or Blu-ray titles.
Power efficiency and battery life
As with the original Centrino platform, and the switch to Core 2 Duo, much of the focus with Santa Rosa has been on improved efficiency rather than raw power, allowing the hardware to perform faster without greatly impacting on battery life.
Two of the new features are Enhanced Dynamic Acceleration and a dynamic bus switching feature. Enhanced Dynamic Acceleration allows the Santa Rosa platform to power-down one core of the CPU if no multi-threaded applications require it, and use that freed headroom to boost the still-active core for running single-threaded applications. This feature can theoretically offer faster performance in single-threaded applications, on top of reducing power wastage. As well as throttling down the CPU, the dynamic bus switch allows the FSB to be throttled down when maximum performance isn't required, so there will be even less unnecessary wastage of unused power. The new system also offers an enhanced deeper sleep by preventing instructions from unnecessarily waking the powered-down core.
In our DVD run-down test, where we loop a DVD to run down the battery, the result of 70 minutes was hardly impressive. This test is considered a worst case scenario because a DVD movie will use the optical drive and the speakers, as well as the core components. Despite the new efficiency features of Santa Rosa our initial results indicate that, like the move to from Core Duo to Core 2 Duo, the battery life has remained much the same while performance has increased, which is something in itself.
Wireless N and Active management Technology (AMT)
The latest generation of wireless networking is the pre-n 802.11 N standard, which offers a theoretical maximum transfer speed of 300Mbps, up to five times the current wireless speed and twice the range. The new Wi-Fi standard uses MIMO technology with three antennas built into the lid of the notebook.
In Centrino Pro machines, like the Asus F3Sv, the 4965AGN wireless card now supports another function called AMT, similar to the desktop vPro technology. AMT uses what's called an out of band (OOB), or sub-operating system portal to communicate with the notebook. This system allows administrators to remotely access, patch and diagnose any number of computers in a business fleet. What's different to vPro is that AMT in Centrino Pro offers the same management wirelessly.
Apart from the dazzling new technology this notebook is also quite pleasant to use. The 15.4in screen offers a fairly bright and clear image, although the screen's viewing angle isn't very impressive. The image clarity starts to wain as you move off a central viewing position, but it isn't so bad that you'll need to meticulously prop yourself in the optimum front-on position every time you use it. The keyboard is easy to type on and the touchpad is quick and responsive.
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