Asus embraces overclocking on newest notebooks

Wooing technically savvy users who don't mind trading battery life for performance

Asustek Computer Inc.'s latest wave of netbook and notebook PCs lets users easily tune them to run up to 33% faster, all while staying within warranty.

The $400 Eee 1101HA netbook introduced in August includes an application called the Super Hybrid Engine that lets users push its 1.33 GHz Intel Atom Z520 CPU all the way to 1.73 GHz.

Similarly, Asus' new UL line of thin-and-light notebooks announced last month includes software called Turbo33 that lets users overclock Intel's CULV (Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage) processor, the 1.3 GHz Core 2 Duo SU7300 processor, by up to 33%, or to about 1.73 GHz.

Users of the higher-end $1,100 UL50 and UL80 can also switch on the Nvidia GeForce discrete graphics card for better multimedia performance or use the power-sipping Intel integrated graphics chipset.

Overclocking involves turning up the voltage or frequency of a CPU to make it run faster. It is generally done on desktop PCs by gamers and other performance hounds, using third-party tools that will void owners' warranties.

But users of inexpensive, lightweight netbooks and CULV-based laptops are starting to clamor for vendors to provide them the ability to boost performance-on-demand, for example, when they are running multiple applications or watching HD video.

Jack Gold, an independent analyst, likens Asus' overclocking-friendly laptops to "buying a car with a manual transmission.

"There is a segment that will say, 'Cool, I'm in control,'" he said. "Basically, this allows them to go and sell these devices to geeks."

Long known for its over-clockable motherboards, Asus has shipped overclocking apps on some prior notebooks and netbooks, though speed increases were capped at about 10%, according to Josh Norem, a senior technical marketing specialist at Asus.

The biggest reason these models can be overclocked more, he said, is because their CPUs out-of-the-box run slower and cooler.

Most netbooks use the Atom N270 CPU, which natively runs at 1.6 GHz, 20% faster than the 1101HA's Z520. Similarly, the Core 2 Duo SU7300 in Asus' notebooks puts it on the low-end, speedwise in Intel's entire mobile CPU lineup.

On the other hand, Asus claimed that both the 1101HA and its UL-series notebooks can get up to 12 hours of battery life when their CPUs are run at normal speed -- far faster than many competitors.

That can soften the biggest complaint about overclocking -- that it quickly drains the battery life. One review site, Anandtech, found that the UL50V still ran almost seven hours even when overclocked to the maximum.

Other downsides to overclocking include: hot-running laptops, noisy fans, and crash-prone systems.

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Eric Lai

Computerworld (US)
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