24 April, 2013

Ultrabook for my sister

I was recently asked by a family-member to look for a decent study-laptop for my sister. I'll admit I was kind of thrilled. I was playing around with the idea of finding a low-budget laptop, with decent specifications. Having done a machine-architecture report for school (x86/x64) last year, I had become thoroughly aware of what AMD has been doing lately.

I have always been a fan of AMD. Mainly because of their support for hardware-hacking (NOTE: this voids any warranty) and / or chip overclocking (in many cases also voids any warranty), and their clever innovation of techniques (amd64/APUs). And last but not least, their open and full support of FOSS.

In my report, I wrote about AMDs budget-line processors; the "FusionC-series and E-series, direct competitors to Intels "Atom" budget-line processors. In fact, the C-chips match similar Atom-chips in both TDP (Thermal Design Power) and clock-frequency (GHz). Whereas the E-series is higher clocked, resulting in a higher TDP, but also making it more similar to an Atom-chip system paired with a dedicated GPU (e.g. ION2).

My sisters computing-needs do not require massive number-crunching abilities, but it shouldn't be sluggish in operation either, so I went for the high-end mobile-solution: AMD E-450 (codename: Zacate) APU (Accelerated Processing Unit) used in a 13,3" LED-screen Asus model U32U laptop with 4GB DDR3 RAM.

The AMD E-450 is a 64-bit dual-core ("Bobcat" low-power x86-cores @ 1,65GHz) processor with an integrated Radeon HD 6320 GPU on the same die (which AMD markets as a so-called APU-chip), with a total TDP of 18 watts.

(The basic idea behind this type of system, is that: the stripped, low-power x86-cores (x2) does most of the general-purpose processing, but, hands over floating-point unit calulations to the GPU-cores on the same die, thereby eliminating both process load-balancing and CPU-GPU inter-communication delays.)

Asus product-link:

When unboxing the machine, I was pleasantly surprised :-) with the battery firmly locked-in the thing didn't weigh more than 1,55 kg! Didn't take up much space when closed either so it was a perfect carry-on companion and study-tool.

First boot took a few minutes, Windows always does at "first-boot".

Running Windows Update took around 4,5 hours to complete from a fresh install, after downloading everything that is (on a 2Mbps cable-DSL connection no less :-P *shrug*).

Installing Microsoft Office 2010 (with the help of an external USB 2.0 CD-ROM drive) actually didn't take all that long, and it ran like a dream.
Overall the CPU-response was acceptable when installing and pretty good in operation. It won't blow away anything with 4GB of RAM, but in combination with AMDs Fusion (referred to as a: Heterogeneous System Architecture by AMD) chipset and APU-chip, it didn't do half bad for an ultrabook-like laptop.

This was my first ultrabook-like experience, and I must say, I am impressed :-) I want one! Strictly speaking, the U32U does not fit the ultrabook-specification (being an Intel-trademark, and the U32U being AMD-based).

Personally (speaking as a poweruser), I would probably cram at least 8GB of RAM into the machine afterwards. And replace the 320GB HDD with an SSD for both system-speed and machine-weight. But for my sister, it was perfect! :-)

I might also add that I actually own two machines with Atom-processors, and the E-450 blew them both away on graphics and processing-power.

I had to add a total of 8GB DDR3 RAM modules to the machine. She complained that it was getting sluggsish after a period of time. I had apparently not anticipated her usage-patterns good enough. 4GB of RAM was a little weak, especially if you want to run office-suites and similar resource-hogging software.

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