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ASUS L3 Notebook Review

October 22, 2002



This all-in-one notebook can entirely replace a desktop computer. The multiplatform system supports Pentium 4 and Pentium 4 Mobile processors. 3D graphics, TFT 15" display, optical and floppy drives, i.e. everything you need for fruitful work. This is how this notebook is positioned.

Technical characteristics of the Asus L3 (claimed by the manufacturer)

  • Processor - Intel Mobile Pentium 4 (Mobile Northwood) Processor, 512K On-Die L2 Cache of 1.4/1.5/1.6/1.7/1.8 GHz or Intel Pentium 4 Processor up to 2.2 GHz (the tested model has P4 2.2GHz). 
  • Chipset - Intel 845MP 
  • RAM - 256 MB DDR SDRAM + 2 x SODIMM (expandable up to 1024MB, the tested model has 512MB) 
  • Display - 15.0" active matrix color TFT XGA/SXGA+/UXGA 256K hi-color (6 bit interface) Dual Channel LVDS I/F, up to 1400x1050 
  • Video system - ATI Mobility Radeon 7500, 32MB DDR SDRAM 
  • External monitor modes supported: 
    • VGA 640 x 480, 256/32K/64K/16.7M colors 
    • SVGA 800 x 600 256/32K/64K/16.7M colors 
    • XGA 1024 x 768 256/32K/64K/16.7M colors 
    • SXGA 1280 x 1024 256/32K/64K colors 
    • UXGA 1600x1200 256/32K/64K colors 
  • Audio system - AC 97 S/W audio, compatible with SoundBlaster Pro; built-in 1W stereo speakers and microphone; Digital VR volume control 
  • PC Cards slot - Ricoh R5C552 card bus controller PCMCIA 2.1, two Type II/I or one Type III can be used
  • Hard drive - 20/30 GB Ultra ATA100 (the tested model has IBM IC25N030ATCS04 30 GB) 
  • Built-in 3.5" 1.44MB drive
  • Optical devices
    • 5.25" 8X (max.) DVD-ROM drive (Fixed Type), Toshiba DVD-ROM SD-C2502 on the tested model
    • 5.25" ATAPI DVD 8X & CD-RW 8/4/24X (max.) combo drive 
  • I/O ports: 
    • 1 16550 UART-compatible Serial port/D-sub 9-pin 
    • 1 EPP/ECP Parallel port/D-sub 25-pin 
    • 1 PS/2 Keyboard/Mouse port 
    • 1 Infrared port support IrDA V1.1 
    • 1 S/PDIF/ Headphone-out jack (Stereo) 
    • 1 Microphone-in jack (Mono) 
    • 1 VGA port/Mini D-sub 15-pin for external DDC monitor 
    • 1 Video Connector which includes S-Signal and Composite video signal 
    • 1 RJ11 Modem jack for phone line 
    • 1 RJ45 LAN Jack for LAN insert 
    • 2 USB ports
    • 2 IEEE 1394 ports
    • 1 Port-Bar II support
  • Optional - IEEE 802.11b compatible wireless network (missing on the tested model) 
  • Dimensions and weight
    • 326 x 267 x 37-42mm 
    • 3.2kg (with an 15" LCD, 9.5mm HDD, 8 x DVD-ROM and 8 cells Li-Ion battery pack) 
  • Power subsystem
    • 8 cells Li-Ion battery pack, 2000 mAh, 59Whrs 
    • 65W 100-240V AC adapter
    • Run-Down life, ~ 2 hours
    • ACPI 1.0 support
Well, the pack of components looks brilliant. In this respect, the ASUS L3 can easily replace a desktop computer. There is even a COM port (sometimes it comes in very handy when it's necessary to connect equipment unable to work with a COM-USB adapter). It's only short of USB ports. 

Preinstalled software:

  • ASUS DVD2000 (PowerDVD v3.0 & WinDVD v2.6) 
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader v4.05 
  • Trend PC-Cillin 2000 (antivirus program)
  • ASUS ChkMail Program 
  • Instant Key Utility 
  • ASUS PC Probe (provides system information)
  • ATKACPI Utility (power saving modes)

What's in the box:

  • notebook
  • power supply unit with a cable
  • phone cable
  • S-Video-RCA adapter
  • printed user manual
  • guide to utilities and drivers
  • ASUS international warranty
  • CD with drivers and utilities
  • CD with ASUS DVD2000 
  • card with addresses and phone numbers of the ON-line support
  • warning card (the maximum load on the display panel must not exceed 1.5 kg) 

First impressions

This is a classical design from ASUS. Straight lines, right angles, pronounced functional style typical of the T9 and B1 models, only the profile is softer. Besides, the casing is made of plastic instead of magnesium alloy, though it's still rich blue. The style is sacrificed to the light weight (3.2 kg) and low price. Although such a machine is certainly not for fishing or berry-picking, the warning that the notebook won't stand more than 1.5 kg doesn't please me. A buyer must be an orderly person. As for me, I would definitely forget it and plonk down something heavy :). 









front

Front View: 

  1. Display Panel Latch
  2. Audio Speaker (they are rather below) 

rear

The connectors are grouped on the back panel which seems to be natural taking into account the computer's destination. Here we have: 

  1. Serial Port
  2. Parallel Port
  3. LAN Port
  4. Modem Port
  5. External Monitor Port
  6. Air Vent
  7. PortBar II

  8. External Expansion Port. It connects to a port-replicator measuring 200 x 160 x 37mm (max.) with the following connectors: 
    • 100/10 Mbit RJ-45 LAN port
    • EPP/ECP Parallel port/D-sub 25-pin 
    • PS/2 keyboard/mouse port
    • 2 USB ports
    • VGA/D-sub 15-pin port for external monitor
    • power supply connector (when connected to a power source, the notebook gets power from the replicator's interface) 
    This is important for portable notebooks like ASUS S1, here most ports are simply duplicated.
  9. TV-Out Port
  10. PS/2 Port
  11. 2 USB Ports

left

Left View: 

  1. Digital VR Volume Control
  2. Reset Button
  3. Kensington® Lock Port
  4. Air Vent
  5. DC Power Input Jack
  6. Air Vent
  7. Floppy Drive

right

Ergonomics


open

The keyboard and instant keys are standard and typical of all big models of ASUS. The marks on the instant keys read badly, which is also peculiar to ASUS, but I remember them by heart :). The right key lets us choose a power saving mode. I wonder how this option is going to work with a desktop computer, but we'll take it up a bit later. 

The nice-looking touch pad is very similar to that of the ASUS B1, only it comes in two colors. I must say that the silvery details look imposing and underline the austere design of the notebook. The swinging Digital VR volume control is inherited from the B1, though it lost its original color. The speakers are arranged the way that makes no way for high quality. If quality is really important for you, you should use the S/PDIF-out, though an optical cable is not supplied. 

The floppy drive and optical disc reader are laid out perfectly, no problems in operation are noticed. The eject key is prominent - you won't miss it and, at the same time, it's resistive enough to prevent occasional opening. 

The rubber legs let the computer stand steadily on almost any surface, though you won't like working on the computer having put it on your lap or belly :) - later you will find out why. 

I'm a conservative person and a desktop computer is preferable for me. But I find only the touch pad that gives the trouble when I change the desktop for this machine - I can't help touching it with my thumbs - but this seems to be a disadvantage of my own.  :). 

Operation

The notebook is based on the real Pentium 4 2.2GHz. The processor heats up marginally (judging by the temperature and air blown out). A noise level is fortunately not high. The company says that the profile of the air vent was designed to reduce resistance Cx and noise level. Nevertheless, after intensive operation during several hours (when we ran the SysMark 2002) I've got an impression that the cooling system worked to its full capacity. There are two fans to carry away the heat (one is designed specially for the processor) with their channels ending up on the lower surface. 


cooler

That is why you'd better place the notebook on an even surface, otherwise the holes can turn out to be blocked causing overheating of the processor. You shouldn't put close to the air vents fusible stuff and a power supply unit (I did make that mistake: I put the unit next to the vent and a couple of hours later I nearly burnt my hand :). 

Warranty and service

I gave the in-depth information on warranty in the review of the ASUS T9400, and here I will just highlight the key points. All ASUS's notebooks come with a 2-year warranty starting from February

2002. The international warranty does work. The online support works efficiently and without much fooling around. 

Site

The Taiwanese site is perfect. It's comprehensible, all the descriptions are detailed and illustrated. There is a base of drivers and BIOS updates. 

Upgrade

You can replace the processor and the hard drive and add memory, but it should be done in the service center during the warranty period. 

Subjective estimation

So, the scores are: 
 
Scores max. Our mark
Accessories 25  25
Appearance and ergonomics 25  25
Ease in handling 25  24
User support 25  24

Total: 98 scores. 

We lowered the scores for 

"-1" - heats up considerably (though there is no other way out). 

"-1" - lack of user manuals on the sites in other languages. 

Tests

The results of the run-down time test are taken into a separate table to demonstrate operation of the Power4Gear utility. Note that this utility allows selecting one of three battery modes (High, Medium and Max power saving) with a button on the panel or via the screen menu.
 

  High Medium Max power saving
Mode Performance Level 100%
Brightness level 73%
Video off timer 10 Minutes
Hard Drive off timer 20 Minutes 
Performance Level 100%
Brightness level 46%
Video off timer 5 Minutes
Hard Drive off timer 10 Minutes 
Performance Level 37%
Brightness level 20%
Video off timer 1 Minutes
Hard Drive off timer 3 Minutes 
BapCO/MadOnion MobileMark2002 (Productivity workload) Performance rating 128 102 67
Average response time, sec 1.54 1.93 2.96
Battery life rating, min 119 130 144
Ziff-Davis BatteryMark 4.0.1, hr:min 1:59 2:06 2.05

The new benchmark MobileMark 2002 reflects the reality more adequately. The results coincide only in the mode of the maximum performance. It's not the first time when decreasing of the processor's frequency (SpeedStep) makes the BatteryMark's scores worse. The notebook easily reached claimed 2 hours of run-down operation. By the way, if you reduce backlight brightness and cut down time of turning off the devices (+11 minutes), it will have a marginal effect. The concurrent performance drop can be explained by the fact that the test makes quite long pauses after which a disc need a certain time to spin up again. It should be noted that the time of operation in the Reader workload mode (screen text reading) is greater by just 5 minutes. 

The performance scores of the ASUS L3 will be compared with the Sony VAIO PCG GRX-570 as the closest competitor among the notebooks I have already tested. They do have the same chipset, memory size and video card. The Sony's solution has a mobile processor clocked at 1.6 GHz while the model from ASUS has a desktop version running at 2.2GHz. Well, ASUS must be a winner. Let's see. 
 

  ASUS L3 Sony VAIO PCG GRX-570
BAPCo/MadOnion SysMark 2002 156 151
BAPCo/MadOnion SysMark 2002 Office Productivity  117 108
BAPCo/MadOnion SysMark 2002 Internet Content Creation 208 212
ZD Content Creation Winstone 2002 26 24.5
ZD Winbench 99 v1.2 CPUMark 116 100
ZD Winbench 99 v1.2 FPU WinMark 5820 5500
ZD Winbench 99 v1.2 Business Disk WinMark 2790 3750
ZD Winbench 99 v1.2 High-End Disk WinMark 10100 10300
ZD Winbench 99 v1.2 Business Graphics WinMark 417 403
ZD Winbench 99 v1.2 High-End Graphics WinMark 1010 725

The processor of the ASUS L3 runs faster, but its disc subsystem performs worse. In the synthetic tests the ASUS outedges its rival, though it falls behind it in the SysMark 2002 Internet Content Creation. On the whole, it wins by a slight margin. 

Now the tests of graphics. The Sony's scores are given in parentheses. 
 

MadOnion 3DMark 2001
(1024x768, 32 bit color, 32 bit Texture Format, 24 bit Z-buffer depth, Frame Buffer - Double buffering, Software T&L)
Resolution 800x600 1024x768 1280x1024
3DMark Result 3444 (4282) 2199 (2616) 1714 (2616)
In detail
Game fps
Car Chase  
Low Details 70.6 (74) 43 (53.4) 27.8 (33.6)
High Details 27 (25.9) 19.8 (23.2) 12.9 (18.4)
Dragothic  
Low Details 67 (76.4) 47.8 (62.6) 31.4 (42.2)
High Details 28.5 (33.2) 16.2 (27.7) 14.9 (21)
Lobby  
Low Details 74.4 (87.5) 46.9 (73.4) 40.9 (52.9)
High Details 25.6 (36.1) 24.1 (33.5) 12.9 (27.1)

Quite unexpectedly. The test was run on the "cold" notebook. The test lasts 15 minutes, which mustn't have caused overheating. However, the Report indicates that the CPU's frequency is 2.1 GHz. BUt even if it was reduced by 100 MHz, the results must have been hgiher anyway. Maybe, this is a problem os a certain sample. Nevertheless, the results are rather high. It's only the GeForce4Go that goes ahead.
 

Quake III (fps)
16 bit color 32 bit color
Fast (512x384)
195.9 (186.5) 159.3 (186.4)
Normal (640x480)
180.4 (182.5) 147 (178.7)
High Quality (800x600)
87.7 (141.4) 79.2 (138.2)
All settings are set to maximum (1024x768)
49.3 (58.5) 44.3 (50.9)

I have no idea on what's happening. On the one hand, scalability is low (the difference increases as the resolution and color depth grow up), i.e. the computer seems to be short of the processor's power. But it actually has a lot of it! 

One more test is Rage Games Expendable 
 

Expendable, timedemo (fps)
Resolution Color depth
640x480 106.83 (88.1) 89.58 (87.65)
800x600 95.12 (86.25) 76.84 (85.66)
1024x768 77.3 (80.79) 61.66 (79.66)
1280x1024 58.89 (68.58) 44.96 (62.6)

Well, the situation is similar. 

Summary. Conclusion

Our mark is 98 scores. 

I think ASUS hit the bull's eye - the L3 model is really able to replace a desktop computer. I know a lot of people out there who have already replaced their desktop systems or are going to do that. The pros are compact size and easy transportation (at least from home to work and back). The weak point is that you have to get used to the keyboard and touch pad (or you can connect your own peripherals but it will certainly affect the compactness). Besides, although the notebook produces less heat and noise, it lies right under your hands, not under the desk. So, it's for you to decide.
 
 

Nikolai Dorofeev (niko@ixbt.com
 

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