So you're in the market for a new notebook, but what are the choices? Dell, Compaq, Toshiba, Sony, Acer........ASUS? Up until a few years ago the latter of those manufactures would more than likely resulted in a rather blank look on most peoples faces. After all, for more than 10 years previous ASUS had concentrated their efforts on products such as motherboards and graphic cards for the OEM and enthusiast markets. However, in 2008 everything changed. ASUS released the EEE-PC on the unsuspecting public and all of a sudden the Taiwanese manufacturers name was on the tip of everyone's tongues, and the EEE-PC at the top of many shopping lists.
But the diminutive size and conservative performance of the EEE-PC was never going to be everybody's cup of tea, and with many people beginning to take more of an interest in their fuller fat notebook range, ASUS took the opportunity to refresh their existing line-up with a plethora of new models for every occasion. Looking at the ASUS website now you will see exactly what we're talking about. There's models for Business, Gamers, Multimedia, Mobility and even special edition models made from Bamboo or designed in conjunction with Lamborghini!
Today however we're going to be keeping our feet firmly on the ground with a no-nonsense, no frills model from the K50 "Versatile Performance" range. Kitted out with 15.6" screen and weighing in at 2.6KG, the K50IN is neither a nimble netbook nor a monstrous multimedia laptop. But what of the other specs?
|Processor & Cache Memory||Intel® Core™2 Duo Processor T6500/T6400 : 2.1 GHz - 2.0 GHz, FSB 800Hz, 2M L2 Cache;|
Intel® Pentium® Dual Core Processor T4200 : 2.0 GHz FSB 800MHz, 1M L2 Cache
Intel® Celeron® Processor T3000/900 : 2.2 GHz - 1.8 GHz, FSB 800MHz, 1M L2 Cache
|Operating System||Genuine Windows Vista® Home Premium,|
Genuine Windows Vista® Home Basic,
|Main Memory||DDR2 800 MHz SDRAM, 2 x SODIMM socket for expansion up to 4GB SDRAM |
*Due to the 32-bit operation system's limitation, only 3GB will show up with a 4GB memory. The 64-bit operating system will not have this issue. For more information, please check Microsoft's support site: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/946003
|Display||15.6" HD (1366x768) LED backlight,Color-Shine (Glare-type),Asus Splendid Video Intelligent Technology|
|Video Graphics & Memory||NVIDIA® GeForce® G102M, with 512MB VRAM|
Up to 320GB, 5400rpm
|Optical Drive||5.25" , 12.7mm |
DVD Super Multi
|Card Reader||3 in 1 card reader, SD,MMC,MS|
|Video Camera||1.3 Mega Pixel web camera|
|Fax/Modem/LAN/WLAN||Integrated 802.11a/b/g/n |
10/100/1000 Base T
|Interface||1 x Microphone-in jack|
1 x Headphone-out jack
1 x VGA port/Mini D-sub 15-pin for external monitor
4 x USB 2.0 ports
1 x RJ45 LAN Jack for LAN insert
|Audio||Built-in Azalia compliant audio chip, with 3D effect & full duplex|
Built-in speaker and microphone
Altec Lansing® co-brand speakers
Support Audio Jack Detect for Vista Basic Logo
Support Audio CODEC criteria for Vista Premium Logo
|Keyboard||19mm full size 88 Key with MS Windows function keys|
|Battery Pack & Life||6 cells: 2900/2200 mAh, |
|Dimension & Weight||37.0 x 25.6 x 3.1~3.55 cm (W x D x H)|
2.6 kg (with 6 cell battery)
|Warranty & e-support||2-year limited global hardware warranty|
*different by country
1-year battery pack warranty
On-line problem resolution through web interface (BIOS, Driver update)
OS (Microsoft Windows Vista) install/uninstall consultation
Bundled software install/uninstall consultation
ASUS software supporting
|OS Compatibility||Windows Vista/Windows XP|
A choice of several Intel based processors are available with the runt of the litter being a 1.8Ghz T900 Celeron. Combining this chip with only 2GB of ram could make for quite an unbearably slow Windows Vista based machine, so it's good to see that ASUS do provide support for Windows XP if required. On the flipside, a quick browse around the support section of the ASUS site seems to reveal that ASUS do also offer unofficial support for Windows 7 with a small selection of drivers for download.
Providing the graphical grunt is an Nvidia G102M based GPU with clockspeed of 450MHz and 512MB of 400MHz DDR2 memory. Support for DirectX10 and CUDA is also included, but considering that this chip falls under the "Mainstream" category on Nvidia's website, its doubtful that we're going to see it playing any of the latest games without experiencing a slideshow.
Aside from these key specifications there really isn't anything else about the K50IN that jumps out as being worthy of talking about. So let's move on to the next page and take a close look at the notebook itself...
Despite being the self confessed "no frills" model in the ASUS notebook range, the K50IN actually manages to keep up appearances with with a rather classy looking carbon fibre effect gloss casing. Now I can hear all the "gloss haters" huffing and puffing right about now, worrying about how you're going to keep it looking 'new' without carrying a can of Mr Sheen around in your laptop bag. But fear not. Whether it be intentionally or by pure fluke, the K50IN actually conceals finger prints pretty well.
The actual colour of the K50IN is quite hard to determine as it can change between anything from jet black, to brown, to grey depending on the lighting and angle viewed. More importantly though the casing is also surprisingly rigid. Even when pressing down hard on the back of the screen there is virtually no flexing of the plastic visible and it takes some extreme pressure to make any distortions appear on the TFT its self.
If you're expecting fancy optical or hi-def outputs from your next notebook purchase then it's time to stop reading now. The K50IN isn't going to connect to your 40" 1080p TV, it's not going to output audio over a TOSLink to your surround sound amp, and its not going to hook up to your DV camcorder. Essentially all you get is a DVD-RW drive, four USB2.0 ports, a Gigabit ethernet connection and a VGA D-Sub output spread out over the two sides of the notebook. Internally there's also an 'N' capable Wireless 802.11 connection but that's right about where the list ends.
Opening or adjusting the position of the lid on the K50IN requires a fair amount of force making it very difficult to perform using only one hand. This may sound like quite a persnickety remark, but for any commuter who regularly tries to juggle the use of their laptop with a cup of Starbucks in one hand, you'll know the importance of a notebook lid being manoeuvrable under only the weight of its base.
Additionally, the hinges produce a few small creaking sounds during the opening process that are far from problematic, but do give us one of our first clues that this is not a 'premium' model.
The carbon fibre style plastic is continued onto the inside of the K50IN and once again the plastics prove to be extremely rigid with no signs of flexing when lifting the entire notebook by only the very edge of the palmrest area. Most notebooks would normally let out some creaking noises at this point or reveal gaps between the joins in their chassis, but the K50IN remains totally solid.
The touchpad is integrated into the plastics of the palmrest which gives it a clean look and additionally makes it easier to clean too. ASUS have seen fit to perforate the trackable area to give more control when using it with sweaty fingers, but unfortunately it has the negative effect of feeling 'laggy' and imprecise. The left and right mouse buttons have a chrome effect finish that adds some contrast to the notebooks overall appearance, but unfortunately feel quite tacky and occasionally let out a springing noise during use.
The front of the notebook features a 3-in-one card reader capable of supporting the major SD, MMC and MS formats. This will certainly come in handy for those times where you need to grab some photo's off a friends camera but don't fancy installing all the crap that comes on the driver disks. Around the back of the notebook there is support for a notebook security cable often used in office environments to prevent opportunist theft from employee's desks.
Moving on to the keyboard, ASUS have gone for a full-sized 88 key affair that has quite a familiar layout for desktop keyboard users. The only tripping point is the location of the directional arrow keys that are merged in with the number pad and had us often hitting the 0, CTRL, SHIFT and Return keys when trying to navigate around word documents or spreadsheets.
In terms of tactile feedback, the keys are fairly soft and springy with minimal travel required in order to engage a key press. Noise from the keys is also minimal, so hopefully you'll receive no sideways glances from other commuters on the train when you're bashing away at the keys trying to rush out that report in time for your 9am meeting.
The power bezel above the keyboard is finished in a brushed black plastic designed to look like aluminium. Only the power button and Num/Caps/Scroll Lock lights are present here along with a few logo badges.
Now let's start putting the K50IN through the paces...
It's been quite a while since we last reviewed a notebook here on Overclock3D and as a results we'll be basing todays testing more around the usage of the K50IN rather than making any direct comparison to other notebooks from the distant past. Before we get down to business though, let's remind ourselves of the K50IN notebook specs that we've got on test:
• Intel® Core™2 Duo Processor T6500 @ 2.1GHz (2MB Cache)
• 4GB DDR2 800 MHz SDRAM
• 320GB 5400rpm SATA Hard Disk
• NVIDIA® GeForce® G102M, with 512MB VRAM
• Windows Vista® (32-Bit)
As we can see in the abbreviated specs list above, the K50IN comes pre-loaded with Windows Vista 32-Bit. Depending on how much money you spend determines whether you get the "Home Basic" or "Home Premium" versions, but unfortunately there's no options available for upgrading to a 64-Bit OS. ASUS are quick to point out that if you're planning on picking a model with 4GB of RAM then 1GB will go completely unused as the 32-Bit operating system is unable to address more than 3-3.5GB.
Our test model arrived with Home Premium Service Pack 1 (SP1) installed and considering that SP2 has been out for over 6 months now, Windows Update had a field day with our internet connection. In fact, the first few days of using the laptop were so unbearably slow and annoying with Windows installing updates in the background and then taking 15 minutes to apply them at shutdown/startup that the K50IN almost took a trip out of the window (no pun intended).
But it wasn't just Windows Vista testing our patience....
ASUS have seen fit to install a total of 49 applications, 11 of which carry the ASUS name. Granted that most of the apps are unobtrusive and just have shortcuts on the desktop, but its the few that run in the background and pop up at unsuspecting intervals that really irritate. Take the ASUS Live Update for example. At least 2-3 times a day while happily typing away, this application would take focus asking if it could update the system BIOS? Erm no thanks!
ASUS should really consider a 'crud-free' option with their notebook ranges much like Dell and Sony are already providing. Or at the very least just provide these applications on a CD so that users can make up their own minds exactly which ones they need without having to go through the messy process of uninstalling them.
Probably the most exaggerated specification of any notebook is its battery life. Manufacturers seem to believe that we're all interested in hearing just how long our fully charged notebook will run for with the screen brightness at its lowest setting, all wireless devices turned off and suspend mode set to engage every 5 minutes. Thankfully ASUS haven't gone down this route with the K50IN and instead have just listed the battery specifications. This avoids any potential complaints from customers who have been led to believe that they can use their new laptop in a flight from London to Sydney on a single battery charge, but doesn't really give us any idea of how long the 4400mAh 11.1v Li-Ion battery will last.
So to find out for sure we're going to run a couple of tests. One in a 'real world' daily usage scenario where the K50IN will be used in a 90 minute round-trip to and from Central London every day until it runs out of juice, the other using a battery draining application aptly called Battery Eater Pro. Here's the results...
During the 'real world' testing the notebook was used only for editing Word documents and browsing the internet using a Huawei E230 3G dongle. All power-saving settings were left in the capable hands of Windows Vista and ASUS' own management software. This is in contrast to the Battery Eater Pro testing where the notebook was placed in "High Performance" mode and the CPU, Hard Disk and Graphics all heavily utilised.
As we can see from the graph above, the K50IN managed 2hrs 15 minutes of real world usage (2x inbound + 1x outbound trips to/from London) or just over 1hr 20mins of simulated heavy usage. This is a fairly reasonable result for a notebook of this specification and just about puts its self ahead of any other notebook we've tested in the past. Had it have not been for the use of a 3G dongle during our real world testing, there's quite a possibility that the notebook could have lasted nearer to 3 hours.
We've all read the news: Laptops can roast your chestnuts and boil your banana (if left on top of your lunch box!). Not only that, but some laptops get so damn hot that using them on anything other than a fan assisted notebook stand can cause system crashes and even hardware failure. For this reason we're going to perform a simple test. Run the CPU and GPU in the K50IN at 100% load for 2 hours using both OCCT and rthdribl stability testing tools simultaneously. Once the testing is complete, take temperature readings from several key points at the base of the notebook to identify any potential cooling (or health and safety) issues.
Then plot the results...
The hottest part of the notebook was unsurprisingly right next to the exhaust area for the cooling system where the temperature reached 44°C. This certainly isn't a bad result considering that the CPU and GPU were reported to be running at just shy of 80°C, but it's still not going to be very comfortable to use on your lap for prolonged periods of time. Interestingly though, the rest of the notebook including the immediate area around our 44°C marker was at least 10°C cooler showing that the cooling system on the K50IN is highly effective and that ASUS' "Cool Comfort" palm-rest probably does live up to its claims.
One last point before we move on is that the notebook was also surprisingly quiet during the testing. When writing reviews I'm easily distracted by the whirring of a fan, or clicking of a hard disk - but the H50IN didn't become an annoyance not once.
With most notebook manufacturers having made the switch to LED backlit displays over the past couple of years, it's good to see that ASUS have followed suit even on a "no-frills" model such as the K50IN. LED backlit displays are much more desirable than their ageing CCFL counterparts as they offer greater energy efficiency, brighter colours and slimmer dimensions. As mentioned in the specifications, the K50IN makes use of a 15.6" version with a 1366x768 resolution that makes it an ideal candidate for watching widescreen movies in 16:9 letterbox format.
The screen itself has a dark black glossy finish that ASUS call "Colour-Shine". This helps with colour reproduction and achieving 'black' in a darkened room, but does unfortunately comes at the cost of being highly reflective and fingerprint happy. Sitting atop the display is a 1.3mpixel webcam that gets the job done, but nothing more.
Sideways viewing angles of the screen are actually pretty good, with the person next to you on the train having absolutely no problems reading your confidential emails! However vertical viewing angles are quite the opposite with only a little tilting of the screen back or forward required to invert the colours.
The overall picture quality of the screen is very impressive with vivid colours, clear crisp lines and no visible colour banding. If it wasn't for the mediocre sound output by the speakers, the K50IN could actually make quite a respectable multimedia-centric notebook.
Now that we've got most of the observations out of the way, let's move on to a small collection of benchmarks to find out just how the K50IN performs...
SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility capable of benchmarking the performance of individual components inside a notebook. Each of the benchmarks below were run a total of five times with the highest and lowest scores being discarded and an average being calculated from the remaining three.
SuperPI is the benchmark of choice for many overclockers as it's lightweight to download and can give a quick indication on how good a system is at number crunching. A test of 8 million iterations was performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest times removed from the results and an average calculated from the remaining three.
Although the K50IN is certainly no powerhouse, it still manages to make mincemeat of the Acer 7220G in the Sandra results. Of course, this is pretty much to be expected considering that the ASUS has a faster processor and more memory. The tables are turned however when we move on to the slightly outdated SuperPI results where the Acer actually manages to trounce the ASUS by several minutes in an 8M run. This can only be attributed to the additional 2MB of L3 cache on the Acers T7300 CPU.
HDTach is a free hard disk benchmarking program from SimpliSoftware. This benchmark is not only capable of producing results on hard disk access times but also CPU usage required during disk access. The "Long bench" was run a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being omitted and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results.
In terms of hard disk performance the Acer and ASUS are on a fairly level playing field when it comes to latency and average read speeds. However mostly thanks to the larger platter size of the 320GB hard disk installed in the ASUS, the K50IN manages to produce a massive 69MB/s increase over the Acers 107Mb/s burst speed. This should be visible mostly in the opening of small files and in general Windows responsiveness.
PCMark Vantage may sound like potentially the most 'synthetic' benchmark on the market, but this couldn't be further from the truth. In a whitepaper published by Futuremark (developers of 3DMark and PCMark) they describe how PCMark mimics actual PC usage by performing application launches, web browsing, video playback, photo editing, file searching, and other day-to-day tasks. This potentially makes PCMark Vantage the most 'real world' benchmark of them all, and a perfect utility for gauging the performance of a notebook.
Cinebench 10 is a benchmarking tool based on the powerful 3D software Cinema 4D. The suite uses complex renders to guage the performance of the entire PC system in both single-core and multi-core modes. Testing was performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being omitted and an average created from the remaining 3 results.
POV-Ray is short for the Persistence of Vision Raytracer, a tool for producing high-quality computer graphics. The freely available software suite is bundled with a benchmarking scene that uses many of POV-Ray's internal features to heavily test the abilities of the CPU.
In both POV-Ray and Cinebench the K50IN takes the lead by a clear margin which is to be expected considering that both benchmarks are heavily reliant on CPU and Memory performance. Unfortunately having only just recently obtained a license for PCMark Vantage, the Acer Aspire that was in our labs a while back was unable to participate in these results. However, with everything we've seen so far it's fairly safe to say that the ASUS would come out triumphant.
3DMark06 has been around for a while now (well 4 or so years...), and despite being considered as more of a synthetic benchmark it can still give a good indication of general graphical performance. To be honest, we was planning on using 3DMark Vantage (the latest version) instead, but due to Vantage not supporting any of the K50IN's screen resolutions we had to settle for '06.
Call of Duty 4 is somewhat of an old favorite among the editors here at Overclock3D. Unfortunately for a lot of our testing nowadays it has really started to show its age. However, being that the K50IN doesn't sport the latest hgh-end graphics card, using a game that's a few years old is probably a better option.
FarCry2 might well be considered a big of an optimistic choice for a no-frills notebook, but with every quality setting either turned off or set to its lowest option, it'll be interesting to see whether the DirectX 10 GPU in the G102M can actually cope with a DX10 game.
Stop, stop, stop. It's like fingernails on a chalkboard. Despite the promising sounds of "GeForce", "512MB VRAM" and "DirectX 10" it's blatantly obvious that the ASUS K50IN with its Nvidia G102M GPU can't game at its native resolution for toffee. The now ancient Call of Duty 4 barely hit 20FPS even with AA turned off, and FarCry2 was so much of a slideshow even at its lowest settings that it felt like there should have been a handle on the side of the notebook to wind it up.
Let's move swiftly on to the conclusion.
If you're in the market for a no-nonsense, reasonably priced notebook that's not going to fall apart in your your rucksack, then the ASUS K50IN could well be one for the shortlist. The build quality and strength of the materials used are exceptional for a notebook in this price range, and despite not being trimmed with anything as fancy as leather or aluminium its subtle carbon fibre like appearance still managed to turn heads.
ASUS are the first to admit that the K50IN is a "no-frills" model and as such you don't get anything not entirely necessary. For example, there's no Bluetooth connection, no HDMI output, no dial-up Modem and the sound quality is pretty average. The Nvidia GeForce G102M GPU is also completely incapable of playing any half decent games made in the past few years, and the CPU options are more suited to general home or office usage rather than anything such as photo/video editing which could be deemed as 'demanding'.
The LED backlit 15.6" display on the other hand is crisp and vibrant, and was a joy to use during testing. Visibility in daylight was acceptable, though having not seen any sun for the past few weeks it's impossible to comment how it would perform sitting in the garden on a summers day. Battery life was also a little better than some of the other notebooks we've tested in the past (possibly thanks to the LED display), but not to the point where it made a significant improvement on productivity. 2hrs 15mins of internet usage is certainly enough time to reply to a few emails or watch a few vids on youtube, but it's never going to compare to the staying power of a netbook.
Overall it seems that ASUS have distributed their money wisely on K50IN, putting it into the areas most important for a budget notebook, rather than skimping in quality just to get a little higher performance figures. Priced at £400-500 depending on where you shop and what specs you decide on it's anywhere from £50-150 more expensive than a decent quality netbook. But if you need the larger screen and the power to run anything from Windows XP to Windows 7, then it's definitely worthy of consideration.
- Subtle but appealing looks.
- Very solid construction.
- High Quality display.
- Reasonable performance.
- Official support for Windows XP, and unofficial support for Windows 7.
- Sound is pretty good, but not great.
- Touchpad could be better.
- Battery life is good but not great.
- Stiff hinges make lid hard to open.
- All the junk installed on the laptop and outdated Vista install make the first few days of use absolute hell.
We would like to thank Asus for the sample we reviewed today, you can discuss our thoughts in the forums.