We had good things to say this summer about the mobile incarnation of AMD’s A-series APUs, otherwise known as Llano, after we picked apart the review notebook AMD sent us. Oh, sure, the Llano system wasn’t quite potent enough to knock out a competing Intel notebook in our CPU tests. The Llano rig’s integrated graphics performance was excellent, however, and its battery life was surprisingly competitive—better than an equivalent Intel config when playing movies or games, and only a little bit behind with web browsing.
Alas, the AMD notebook we tested was a “whitebook” put together by Compal and supplied by AMD with no trace of a PC vendor’s brand or equivalency to a retail product. We got a good feel for the silicon, but not necessarily for the kinds of systems that would ultimately end up in stores—and in consumers’ laps.
Now that the dust is settling, we have a chance to rectify that omission. We’re going to be looking at the Asus A53T: a genuine, honest-to-goodness consumer laptop powered by AMD’s latest and greatest accelerated processing unit.
Now, this is no ultrabook. It’s a productivity workhorse with a 15.6″ display, a quad-core Llano CPU, and discrete graphics. The A53T weighs in at over five pounds and has a beefy 1.3-inch-thick chassis. More likely than not, it’s going to spend much of its life sitting on some sort of table or desk. Folks seeking a couch computer will probably want to look elsewhere.
Asus has shoved a rather well-rounded set of parts into the A53T’s ample enclosure, as the full spec sheet below can attest:
|Processor||AMD A6-3400M 1.4GHz|
|Memory||6GB DDR3-1333 (2 DIMMs)|
|Graphics||Radeon HD 6720G2 1GB
(Radeon HD 6520G and Radeon HD 6650M)
|Display||15.6″ TFT with 1366×768 resolution and LED backlight|
|Storage||500GB Seagate Momentus 7,200-RPM hard drive
Matshita UJ8B0 DVD “super multi” drive
|Audio||HD audio via Realtek codec|
|Ports||1 USB 3.0
2 USB 2.0
1 RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet via Realtek controller
1 analog headphone output
1 analog microphone input
|Expansion slots||1 SD card reader|
|Communications||802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi via Atheros AR9285|
|Input devices||Keyboard with numeric keypad
ElanTech Smart Pad
|Dimensions||14.9″ x 10.0″ x 1.1-1.3″ (378 x 253 x 28-34 mm)|
|Weight||5.41 lbs (2.45 kg)|
|Battery||6-cell Li-ion 5200 mAh, 56 Wh|
We have USB 3.0 connectivity, a 7,200-RPM hard drive, a six-cell battery with a decent watt-hour rating, and of course, AMD’s A6-3400M APU accompanied by a Radeon HD 6650M discrete graphics module. The discrete GPU and the APU’s integrated graphics team up in a CrossFire… er, Dual Graphics configuration, forming what AMD calls the Radeon HD 6720G2, in what’s probably the most bizarre branding system we’ve yet to encounter. You’ll find the decoder ring on this page, but look at your own peril. Prolonged exposure may cause vertigo, dizziness, hives, and exploding cranium syndrome.
Asus does lose a few points for saddling the 15.6″ screen with a 1366×768 resolution. We realize that this is no upscale gaming rig, and that 1366×768 is about the most common resolution there is among laptop displays, but a few extra pixels would have been much appreciated. There’s a silver lining, though: you should be able to play games at the display’s native resolution without having to turn down detail levels too much. We’ll find out in our gaming tests.
How does this machine compare to the review notebook AMD sent us this spring? Well, the A6-3400M inside the A53T has four cores clocked at 1.4GHz, a peak Turbo speed of 2.3GHz, and 320 graphics ALUs (a.k.a. stream processors) running at 400MHz. The A8-3500M in the AMD rig, meanwhile, has a 1.5GHz base speed, a 2.4GHz Turbo speed, and 400 ALUs clocked at 444MHz. On the discrete graphics front, the AMD review notebook packed a slightly slower discrete GPU: the Radeon HD 6630M. Asus’ A53T, by contrast, features a Radeon HD 6650M. As far as I can tell, the only difference between those two graphics processors lies in their clock speeds—the 6650M’s GPU and memory are both clocked 100MHz higher than on the 6630M.
The benchmark numbers on the following pages will illustrate how these two APU-and-graphics configurations compare. Before getting into that, we’ll focus on the real story, which is the notebook itself. Let’s take a closer look at the build quality, display, touchpad smoothness, keyboard responsiveness, and other critical characteristics of Asus’ $600 Llano laptop.
The display and controls
There’s nothing all that remarkable about the A53T’s 15.6″ display, be it from an image quality or luminosity standpoint. Asus appears to have used a TN panel, a recipe for not-so-great viewing angles and somewhat approximate color reproduction. Nevertheless, the colors are reasonably bright (albeit with a slight blue tinge), and the backlight is powerful enough to make the notebook useable in a brightly lit environment… if you can stand the panel’s glossy finish, that is. (Matte displays are a rarity these days, so we won’t hold it against Asus.)
All of those subjective impressions are well and good, but we’ve long been meaning to beef up the display analysis sections of our notebook reviews. Armed with an X-Rite Eye-One Display 2 calibrator and a digital protractor, we took to conducting a few precise measurements to assess the A53T’s display quality—and to aid later comparisons with other notebook panels.
Our first step was to take a series of photos of the display at different angles, all using the same camera settings, in order to gauge color and contrast shift. We photographed the display facing the camera at a 90° angle, then leaning forward at 70°, leaning back at 110°, and rotated to the side by 30°.
Yep; that’s a TN panel all right. The colors are only rendered accurately if you’re looking at the display head-on. I’ve seen more dramatic examples, but there are definitely better performers out there.
Next, we used X-Rite’s Eye-One Match v3.6.2 software to calibrate the display. While we don’t expect folks will go around using professional calibration tools on consumer laptops, this little exercise does tell us a few important things about how accurate the default colors are. In the screenshot below, the graph on the left shows the correction curves required to achieve “correct” colors per the specified gamma and color temperature settings (2.2 and 6500K, respectively). The diagram on the right shows the panel’s color gamut. Although the display can be set to higher brightness levels, we specified a luminosity target of 120 cd/m² and attempted to match it as closely as possible using the laptop’s brightness controls.
The correction curves nicely illustrate the blue tinge mentioned above. To produce “correct” colors, the calibration software had to tone down blue levels and raise red levels.
Next, we cranked up the display to its maximum brightness setting and measured its luminosity at nine points along the panel’s surface. Brightness readings are presented both as cd/m² figures, which were produced by the calibration software, and as percentages of the brightest point we measured.
Presumably owing to an edge-mounted backlight, the A53T’s display is quite a bit brighter at the base than it is at the top. Our calibrator also measured black levels (which varied only between 0.6 to 0.7 cd/m²), allowing us to work out the display’s median contrast ratio from the nine measurements: 262:1. The median luminosity was 167 cd/m².
Those results aren’t terribly flattering, but as we noted above, the A53T’s image quality is really par for the course in the realm of consumer notebooks. We won’t be able to put our numbers in context until we get a chance to test some other systems (since, unfortunately, laptop makers don’t let us hold on to review samples), but don’t take our data as indication that the A53T’s display is somehow uncommonly bad.
Let’s now look down from the display to the keyboard and touchpad.
Oh my, what’s this? A non-chiclet keyboard in 2011? Indeed, Asus has used a more old-school design with flat, rectangular keycaps that have a tapered front edge. The keys don’t protrude out of a slim plastic backplate, which seems to have a positive impact on overall keyboard rigidity. I noticed a minimal amount of flex when typing. Getting used to this keycap design did take me a little while, though, and the lack of a clear separation between the main part of the keyboard and the numeric keypad proved a little disorienting at first.
|Total keyboard area||Alpha keys|
|Size||279 mm||106 mm||29,574 mm²||170 mm||55 mm||9,350 mm²|
|Versus full size||97%||96%||94%||99%||86%||85%|
Eschewing the chiclet style means broader keycaps that compare more favorably to our old-school, reference keyboard. The alpha keys are almost exactly as wide, though they’re quite a bit shorter.
Finally, we have the ElanTech touchpad, a comfortably large design that’s recessed ever so slightly into the palm rest, making it easy to locate without looking down. The touchpad supports multi-touch gestures like two-finger scrolling, pinching, and rotating, not to mention three-finger tapping to emulate a right-click. Everything works rather seamlessly (better than with some older ElanTech designs we’ve tested, it seems), although the surface is slightly too tacky for my taste. Something a little bit smoother would have worked better. Users who don’t like tapping to click may also take issue with the buttons, which feel cheap and clunky and could stand to be closer to the front edge of the laptop.
Connectivity and expansion
Now that we’re familiar with the A53T’s display and input area, let’s do some more exploring.
Around the left edge of the system, you’ll find the power, Ethernet, HDMI, VGA, and dual USB ports. One of these USB ports is of the 2.0 variety, while the one closest to the front of the system has SuperSpeed (USB 3.0) support. AMD’s A70M chipset provides SuperSpeed connectivity on this system, allowing Asus to get by without a third-party controller.
The Ethernet and HDMI ports are separated by the system’s exhaust vent, out of which you may feel hot air flowing from time to time. Pleasingly, though, the A53T manages to stay reasonably cool and only revs up its fan occasionally.
The notebook’s right edge plays host to a Kensington lock slot, a DVD burner, a third USB port (of the 2.0 variety), and 1/8″ analog audio jacks for headphones and a mic. The DVD drive is one of those old-school tray-loading models.
Flipping the A53T belly-up reveals some small cooling vents and easily accessible compartments for the hard drive, memory, and Wi-Fi adapter. The storage compartment is held shut with just one screw, as is the memory and Wi-Fi bay. That opening in the bottom right is the system’s SD card reader.
The last piece of the puzzle—at least as far as the hardware goes—is the system’s power brick. Asus bundles the A53T with a 90W adapter that measures about 5.2″ x 2.2″ x 1.2″ (131 x 56 x 30 mm) and tips the scales at 0.8 lbs (362 g). This bad boy requires a three-prong, grounded power cord, too.
Laptops pre-loaded with oodles of useful and not-so-useful software are, unfortunately, a fact of life these days. As part of our refreshed laptop test suite, we’re taking a closer look at just how much bloatware comes with each system. The boot time measurements later in this review will help highlight the performance impact of some of that bloat, too. For now, let’s see what this laptop comes with fresh out of the box.
The K53T’s default desktop isn’t terribly messy. Aside from a handful of desktop icons pointing to various Asus tools and manuals, the Power4Gear battery setting widget stands guard at the top right. More on that in a minute. Not pictured: one of the Trend Micro Internet Security pop-ups that randomly appears after the machine boots up.
As it tends to do, the Uninstall control panel reveals the full extent of the system’s bloatware infestation. There’s plenty of Asus software, some of which is actually quite useful, but there’s also a heaping helping of third-party apps, including an Office 2010 trial, some sort of non-Adobe PDF reader, and not one but two toolbars for Internet Explorer.
Among the pre-installed Asus apps is Power4Gear, which lets users manage power settings. Out of the box, the software offers up four profiles: High Performance, Entertainment, Quiet Office, and Battery Saving. All of them are accessible from Windows’ Power Options control panel, and some go the extra mile. For example, when the system is unplugged, the Battery Saving profile changes the desktop’s color depth to 16-bit, disables Aero, and changes the desktop wallpaper to a plain white color. This power mode also caps the processor clock at 60% of full speed regardless of whether you’re running on battery or wall power.
Asus throws in its WebStorage software, which lets you back up data and settings to the cloud. The free version of WebStorage provides 2GB of space, and users have the option of upgrading to unlimited storage capacity for $29.99 a year.
One other notable tool is Asus LiveUpdate, which takes care of fetching the latest driver and UEFI updates automatically. That’s always a handy feature, since laptops tend to have all kinds of obscure and custom-validated drivers for their integrated devices.
Our testing methods
We’ve run a great many laptops through our test suite, so for the sake of informativeness (and entertainment), we’ve included all the results in the graphs on the following pages. To make things readable, we’ve greyed out the results for everything but the A53T, the AMD Llano review notebook, and the HP ProBook 6460b, whose specs are roughly comparable with those of the AMD machine.
We ran the A53T through our test suite twice: once using the Power4Gear High Performance preset, which lets everything run at full tilt, and again using the Battery Saving preset, which limits the CPU speed to 60% and takes other energy-saving steps like changing the color depth, as we outlined on the previous page.
Before we go forward, we should talk about the other machines we tested in more than one state. The N82Jv, U33Jc, Eee PC 1015PN, and T235D were all tested using special “battery-saving” profiles, and the N82Jv, U33Jc, and 1015PN were run in “high-performance” mode, too.
With the N82Jv, we recorded our battery-saving results with Asus’ Super Hybrid Engine on, which dropped the CPU clock speed from 2.4GHz to 0.9-1GHz depending on the load. The U33Jc also has a Super Hybrid Engine mode, but we didn’t enable it for testing. On the U33Jc, the high-performance profile included by Asus raises the maximum CPU clock speed from 2.4 to 2.57GHz. On the N82Jv, the same profile leaves the CPU running at default speeds, i.e. up to 2.66GHz when Turbo Boost kicks in. Finally, with the Eee PC, the low-power profile limits the CPU to about 1GHz and disables the Nvidia GPU, while the high-performance profile raises the CPU speed by a whole 25MHz.
The Samsung Series 9 was tested both plugged in and unplugged, since the default battery profile limits the CPU clock speed to 50% of its maximum when the machine is running off the battery.
With the exception of battery life, all tests were run at least three times, and we reported the median of those runs.
|System||AMD A8-3500M test system||Acer Aspire 1810TZ||Acer Aspire 1830TZ||Acer Aspire One 522||Asus A53T||Asus K53E||Asus Eee PC 1015PN||Asus N82Jv||Asus U33Jc||HP Pavilion dm1z||HP ProBook 6460b||Intel Core i7-2820QM 17″ review notebook||Samsung Series 9 (900X3A)||Toshiba Satellite T235D-S1435|
|Processor||AMD A8-3500M APU 1.5GHz||Intel Pentium SU4100 1.3GHz||Intel Pentium U5400 1.2GHz||AMD C-50 1.0GHz||AMD A6-3400M 1.4GHz||Intel Core i5-2520M 2.5GHz||Intel Atom N550 1.5GHz||Intel Core i5-450M 2.4GHz||Intel Core i3-370M 2.4GHz||AMD E-350 1.6GHz||Intel Core i5-2410M 2.3GHz||Intel Core i7-2820QM 2.3GHz||Intel Core i5-2537M 1.4GHz||AMD Turion II Neo K625 1.5GHz|
|North bridge||AMD A70M FCH||Intel GS45 Express||Intel HM55 Express||AMD Hudson FCH||AMD A70M FCH||Intel HM67 Express||Intel NM10||Intel HM55 Express||Intel HM55 Express||AMD Hudson FCH||Intel HM65||Intel HM67 Express||Intel HM65 Express||AMD M880G|
|South bridge||Intel ICH9||AMD SB820|
|Memory size||4GB||3GB (2 DIMMs)||3GB (2 DIMMs)||1GB (1 DIMM)||6GB (2 DIMMs)||6GB (2 DIMMs)||1GB (1 DIMM)||4GB (2 DIMMs)||4GB (2 DIMMs)||3GB (2 DIMMs)||4GB||4GB (2 DIMMs)||8GB (2 DIMMs)||4GB (2 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||DDR3 SDRAM||DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 667MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 667MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz|
|Audio||IDT codec||Realtek codec with 184.108.40.2069 drivers||Realtek codec with 220.127.116.1143 drivers||Conexant codec with 18.104.22.168 drivers||Realtek codec with 22.214.171.12473 drivers||Realtek codec with 126.96.36.19973 drivers||Realtek codec with 188.8.131.5286 drivers||Realtek codec with 184.108.40.20624 drivers||Realtek codec with 220.127.116.1129 drivers||IDT codec with 6.10.6302.0 drivers||IDT codec with 6.10.6328.0 drivers||Conexant codec with 18.104.22.168 drivers||Realtek codec with 22.214.171.12471 drivers||Realtek codec with 126.96.36.19972 drivers|
|Graphics||AMD Radeon HD 6620G + AMD Radeon HD 6630M
with Catalyst 8.862 RC1 drivers
|Intel GMA 4500MHD with 188.8.131.522 drivers||Intel HD Graphics with 184.108.40.2067 drivers||AMD Radeon HD 6250||AMD Radeon HD 6520G + AMD Radeon HD 6650M 1GB
with Catalyst 8.861.0.0 drivers
|Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 220.127.116.111 drivers||Intel GMA 3150 with 18.104.22.1687 drivers
Nvidia Ion with 22.214.171.12412 drivers
|Intel HD Graphics with 126.96.36.1999 drivers
Nvidia GeForce 335M with 188.8.131.5296 drivers
|Intel HD Graphics with 184.108.40.2069 drivers
Nvidia GeForce 310M with 220.127.116.1121 drivers
|AMD Radeon HD 6310 with 8.821.0.0 drivers||Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 18.104.22.1681 drivers||Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 22.214.171.1246 drivers||Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 126.96.36.1996 drivers||AMD Mobility Radeon HD 4225 with 8.723.2.1000 drivers|
|Hard drive||Hitachi Travelstar 7K500 250GB 7,200 RPM||Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB 5,400-RPM||Toshiba MK3265GSX 320GB 5,400 RPM||500GB Seagate Momentus 7,200-RPM||Seagate Momentus 640GB 5,400-RPM||Toshiba MK2565GSX 250GB 5,400 RPM||Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB 5,400-RPM||Seagate Momentus 7200.4 500GB 7,200-RPM||Seagate Momentus 5400.6 500GB 5,400-RPM||Hitachi Travelstar 7K500 320GB 7,200-RPM hard drive||Hitachi Travelstar 7K500 320GB 7,200 RPM||Intel X25-M G2 160GB solid-state drive||256GB Samsung MZ8PA256HMDR solid-state drive||Toshiba MK3265GSX 320GB 5,400 RPM|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium x64||Windows 7 Home Premium x64||Windows 7 Home Premium x64||Windows 7 Starter x86||Windows 7 Home Premium x64||Windows 7 Ultimate x64||Windows 7 Starter x86||Windows 7 Home Premium x64||Windows 7 Home Premium x64||Windows 7 Home Premium x64 SP1||Windows 7 Professional x64||Windows 7 Ultimate x64||Windows 7 Professional x64||Windows 7 Home Premium x64|
We used the following versions of our test applications:
- Firefox 3.6.9
- Adobe Flash 10.1.82.76
- x264 HD Benchmark 3.19
- 7-Zip 4.65 x64
- TrueCrypt 7.0a
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 1.7
- Far Cry 2 1.03
- CPU-Z 1.56
All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.
We realize this is an old version of Firefox. However, the point of this benchmark is to compare web browsing performance across multiple systems, and we can do a good job of that now that we’ve accumulated a reasonable data set.
Right off the bat, we see that the A53T and the AMD review notebook are on equal footing—though the A53T has a slight edge, perhaps because the High Performance profile prevents the processor from throttling when connected to AC power. Using the Battery Saving profile reduces performance quite dramatically, though.
7-Zip has a handy built-in benchmark that lets us test both compression and decompression performance.
x264 video encoding
The x264 video encoding benchmark doesn’t call on GPU resources to accelerate the encoding process, leaving us with a good look at how the various mobile CPUs stack up.
The A8-3500M system pulls ahead in these more CPU-intensive tests, though again, the two Llano machines are pretty much neck and neck (and both behind the Intel system yet again). Oh, and the Battery Saving power profile seems to have less of an impact than in our web-browsing test.
This latest version of TrueCrypt makes use of the AES-NI instructions built into Intel’s Westmere and Sandy Bridge CPUs.
We see the same pattern in TrueCrypt as in 7-Zip and x264.
Startup and wake times
For this round of tests, we busted out a stopwatch and timed how long it took for the notebooks to boot and wake from hibernation. For the startup test, we started timing as soon as the power button was hit and stopped when the Windows 7 hourglass cursor went away. For the wake-up test, we measured the time it took to bring up the log-in screen after hitting the power button.
The A53T sits in the middle of the pack in our system startup test. Presumably, the 7,200-RPM hard drive gives it an edge that the pre-installed bloatware subsequently dulls. We’d probably see quicker boot times with a clean installation of Windows.
When resuming from hibernation, meanwhile, the A53T is considerably slower than the competition. That’s likely due to the system’s rather large memory capacity, which is higher than that of the other machines we tested here. Hibernation involves writing the content of memory to disk in a file with the same size as the system’s physical memory capacity, and then writing the contents of that file back into RAM when the system wakes up. The more RAM, the larger the file, and the longer hibernation takes.
You might have noticed that the AMD Llano machine and its Intel rival are both missing from these tests. That’s because the AMD laptop was a “whitebook” machine we’d used for a CPU review, whose test suite didn’t include boot or hibernation timing. The HP 6460b was tested as part of the same Llano CPU review.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
We tested the original Modern Warfare by running a custom timedemo, first at 800×600 with the lowest detail options, then again at 1366×768 with everything cranked up except for vsync, antialiasing, and anisotropic filtering, which were all left disabled. With the Eee PC and Aspire One 522, we opted for respective native resolutions of 1024×600 and 1280×720 instead of 1366×768.
Both of the graphics processors in the A53T’s Dual Graphics team, the Llano IGP and the discrete Radeon GPU, were enabled throughout our gaming tests. However, since Dual Graphics only supports games that use DirectX 10 and 11, some of the games we tested couldn’t make use of both GPUs.
Far Cry 2
In Far Cry 2, we selected the “Action” scene from the game’s built-in benchmark and ran it in two configurations: first at 1366×768 in DirectX 10 mode with detail cranked up, and then at that same resolution in DX9 mode with the lowest detail preset. Vsync and antialiasing were left disabled in both cases. Again, the Eee PC and Aspire One 522 were run at 1024×600 and 1280×720, respectively.
Our Call of Duty 4 and Far Cry 2 tests confirm what we already know: Llano’s mobile incarnation is a formidable contender in games, especially when supplemented by a discrete Radeon. In Far Cry 2 with the detail settings cranked up, the A53T pulls ahead of the N82Jv, a dual-core Intel system from last year with a GeForce GT 335M discrete GPU.
The AMD Llano and HP ProBook are once again missing, though in this case, it’s because our own Scott Wasson conducted much more extensive GPU performance tests on those laptops. Since the A53T is largely similar to the Llano test machine (albeit with a slightly slower APU and a slightly faster discrete GPU), the numbers from Scott’s article should be largely applicable to this system.
Off the beaten path
Although we have a decent idea of what Llano can do when paired with a discrete Radeon, a little seat-of-the-pants testing never hurt anyone. These gaming tests were conducted with the A53T running in its High Performance mode.
We kicked off our subjective gaming analysis with Bulletstorm, which ran happily at 1366×768 with v-sync disabled and all detail settings turned to “low.” In the game’s Hideout echo, frame rates generally hovered in the 25-35 FPS range according to Fraps.
Encouraged by this first attempt, we tried Deus Ex: Human Revolution, loading a saved game from the Sarif Industries level. After disabling DirectX 11, antialiasing, shadows, depth-of-field rendering, ambient occlusion, post-processing, anisotropic filtering, and triple-buffering, the game stayed reasonably smooth at 1366×768—but it didn’t look its best, as you might guess. Frame rates hovered around 30 FPS, with highs near the 40-FPS mark and lows closer to 20 FPS.
Finally, we gave Portal 2 a shot, expecting Valve’s Source engine to let us enable a little more eye candy. We loaded the Return developer commentary section (a handy way to jump ahead in the game) and got to testing. At 1366×768 with all of the detail settings cranked up (except for vsync, which was disabled, and texturing filtering, which was left at the default trilinear setting), the game was surprisingly smooth. The frame rate rarely dipped below 40 FPS and often climbed above 60 FPS.
Video decoding performance was tested using the Iron Man 2 trailer in multiple formats. Windows Media Player was used for the H.264 QuickTime clips, while Firefox hosted the windowed YouTube test. We tested a bit differently this time. Windows 7’s Performance Monitor was still used to log CPU utilization for the duration of the trailer, but we played each video three times and grabbed the lowest numbers for each. This method should provide representative numbers untarnished by CPU utilization from background processes.
|Iron Man 2 H.264 480p||0-8.0%||Perfect|
|Iron Man 2 H.264 720p||0-7.6%||Perfect|
|Iron Man 2 H.264 1080p||0-9.9%||Perfect|
|Iron Man 2 YouTube 720p windowed
No great surprises there. A quad-core CPU with not one, but two graphics processors manages to render high-definition video smoothly and without taxing the CPU too much.
What happens when we switch to the Battery Saving profile?
|Iron Man 2 H.264 480p||7.6-22.0%||Perfect|
|Iron Man 2 H.264 720p||6.8-19.7%||Perfect|
|Iron Man 2 H.264 1080p||8.0-21.0%||Perfect|
|Iron Man 2 YouTube 720p windowed
|18.9-34.1%||Smooth, some dropped frames.|
CPU utilization climbs, and surprisingly, our YouTube clip starts dropping frames (although not enough to affect the viewing experience in a terribly noticeable fashion). The energy-saving profile may be cutting corners a little too aggressively.
To gauge run times, we conditioned our systems’ batteries by cycling them two times. For the web browsing test, we used TR Browserbench 1.0, which consists of a static version of the TR home page that cycles through different text content, Flash ads, and images, all the while refreshing every 45 seconds. Then, we tested video playback in Windows Media Player by looping an episode of CSI: New York encoded with H.264 at 480p resolution (straight from an HTPC). Wi-Fi and Bluetooth were enabled for the web browsing test and disabled for movie playback.
We attempted to keep the display brightness consistent across all systems, choosing levels corresponding to a readable brightness in indoor lighting. A 40% brightness setting was used on the Acer 1810TZ, Asus A53T, Asus K53E, Asus N82Jv, Eee PC 1015PN (in its “Super Performance” mode), HP Pavilion dm1z, Toshiba Satellite T235D. We used a 50% setting on the Aspire One 522, Eee PC 1015PN in “Battery Saving” mode (since disabling the Nvidia GPU seemed to reduce brightness), as well as on the U33Jc. Because of their dim, matte displays, the HP ProBook 6460b and AMD A8-3500M systems were tested at 70% brightness settings. Conversely, because of its high display luminosity, the Series 9 was tested at a 30% brightness (and with its adaptive brightness setting disabled).
The A53T’s run times are nothing to write home about—and worse than those of the AMD review notebook. Scott did disable the discrete GPU in that system’s BIOS prior to running his battery tests, however. We didn’t stray from the A53T’s default configuration, with the exception of switching battery profiles and ensuring the system didn’t go to sleep. We would have liked to test the A53T’s battery life with the discrete GPU totally disabled, to see if that would help its run times, but Asus doesn’t offer any such option in this system’s BIOS.
Asus’ first stab at a Llano laptop compares favorably to last year’s N82Jv, the only system from our lineup that comes close in terms of gaming performance at high detail levels. The N82Jv we tested did have a 47Wh battery that’s smaller than the A53T’s 56Wh unit, though.
We measured temperatures using an infrared thermometer at a distance of 1″ from the system after it had been running TR Browserbench 1.0 for about an hour.
The A53T runs reasonably cool, but more importantly, it’s quiet. At idle and during web browsing sessions, we heard little more than the faint sound of air rushing through cooling vents. Even under a heavy load, like when playing games, the fan noise has an airy, wooshing sort of quality, making it easy to ignore.
Yes, the A53T is big and chunky, and it’s not the kind of system you’d take to Starbucks. (The Mac users would make fun of you, and you might injure your back hurling your laptop at them.) The battery life is also somewhat poor, and we’d have appreciated a higher-resolution display.
The A53T does, however, deliver solid CPU performance and commendable graphics performance for the money, all without running too hot or producing very much noise. As a general productivity and gaming machine, it’s not a bad choice at all. Not many laptops in that price range can run Bulletstorm and Deus Ex: Human Revolution without turning them into quaint little slide shows. This would have been a fine back-to-school machine, had it come out a few weeks earlier.
On a more general note, systems like the A53T tell us Llano has come of age. In addition to scoring reasonably well in benchmarks and trouncing Intel’s finest integrated graphics, Llano’s mobile incarnation can power compelling real-world products. There’s still room for improvement on the battery life front, but big, chunky 15.6″ systems like the A53T aren’t ultra-mobile road warriors anyway.
Update 10/4 7:45 PM: This review originally included a link to a Newegg listing for an A53TA-XN1 laptop with an A6-3400M processor and 6GB of RAM. At some point within the last four days, the listing was updated; it now says the machine has an A4-3300M processor. Since the A4-3300M has two fewer cores than the A6-3400M and a different clock speed, we’ve removed the link from the review.