Tag Archive | "ontario"

Acer Aspire One 522 Upgrade. How-To and Tests

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Out-of-the-box, the Acer Aspire One 522 is a very decent netbook. 3D graphics and HD video support out-pace anything that’s built on an Intel platform and with a dual-core 1Ghz CPU that challenges the dual-core Atom at 1.5Ghz AND keeps the battery drain down to impressive levels, a 1280×720 screen and a reasonable build quality you have something of a bargain at 299 Euros but I wanted to see just how much I could get out of the Aspire One 522 if I pimped it out with a RAM, storage and OS upgrade. The results have been impressive; But there’s a limit.

Aspire One 522 (17)

The Acer Aspire One 522 is built on the AMD Brazos platform with the Ontario APU. The CPU is a 64-bit part and supports 4GB of RAM. In the standard build, however, it is delivered with 32bit Windows Home Starter, and 1GB RAM. Even with a RAM upgrade it is OS-restricted to 2GB of RAM usage. Clearly an upgrade to Windows Home Premium 64bit with a clean install over 4GB of RAM is the easiest way to enhance the device. I spent about 125 Euro on a Home Premium license and a 4GB RAM stick to achieve that but before I did, I took a Runcore Pro IV 64GB SSD (2.5 inch SATA) worth $150 and dropped it in with a copy of the standard OS build. If I was to recommend just one upgrade, this would be it. The SSD cuts boot times and application startup times in half and gives the system a much better feel all-round. Lets take a look at the results using a CrystalMark test suite.

Using CrystalMark 2003 (a simple, easy-to-run suite that I’ve been using for 5 years) I tested the stock system and came up with a respectable score all-round.

5506008891_4d533e2e47_b

In comparison, a Pinetrail –based netbook (Single-core 1.6Ghz) will turn in about 25K and a dual-core N550-based system like the Samsung N350 gives a similar 35K score but most of that score comes from the CPU. A 1.6Ghz dual-core Atom-based Asus Eee PC 1015pn due to be launched soon clocks in at an impressive 45K. While the AMD-based system is good, it’s not class-leading.

By dropping in the SSD though, the HDD score goes through the 100MB/s barrier and really gives the system a boost along with the scores. Here’s the CrystalMark score after the SSD upgrade and the replacement of 1GB RAM with a 4GB stick (2GB enabled in Windows Starter.)

5506008891_4d533e2e47_b5516030442_d9c33088f4_o

I was surprised to see that some of the CPU scores went up so much after the disk and memory swap and I was unable to repeat the 8270 ALU score at a later time but the important thing here is the jump in disk performance. You can see the ‘HDD’ score at 14648 and the sequential read speed at up to 108MB/s which is about double that of the original disk.

How Do you Upgrade RAM and Disk on the Acer Aspire One 522?

Before I show you the results for a fresh 64-bit Windows Home Premium install (which frees up the full 4GB of RAM) let me show you how to take apart the netbook to upgrade it. The video shows my early attempt at taking apart the device so please take note of the annotations because you don’t have to remove the outer casing screws, you don’t have to remove the two rubber feet and you don’t have to disconnect the keyboard. Be careful of the keyboard catches too. I have already broken two of mine and I’ve seen a report from someone who broke all of them meaning the keyboard would have to be stuck down permanently with glue or tape.

IMG_6886

Statistics are all well and good but how does the device perform in real life with a fast SSD upgrade? In the video below I show the boot-up time and startup times for some common applications. On average, boot-up and application start times are cut by half which is a huge, huge difference.

Upgrade to Windows Home Premium 64-bit (and full 4GB RAM usage)

This part of the upgrade is useful on many levels. Importantly, you get to make a fresh install of the OS without the pre-installed services and software from Acer. Secondly, Windows Home Premium opens up more Windows 7 functionality including Windows Media Center, Aero and Themes and, importantly here,  the ability to access more than 2GB of RAM.

The license cost me about 85 Euros (OEM License) and installation was made on a clean SSD from an external USB DVD drive.

Drivers for the various Acer Aspire One 522 models are available here and can be copied from a USB stick (the Wi-Fi, LAN and SD card don’t work on initial Windows 7 install.)

After install you should see this in the system settings.

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Final Performance Check.

With Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, 4GB of RAM and the Runcore Pro IV SSD installed, here’s a rundown of performance reports starting with the impressive disk scores which rise 30% above the 2GB, 32bit scores.

creystaldisk - fresh x64 w7hp  4gb ssd

Yes, that’s a 138MB/s transfer rate, on a netbook! Importantly, the small block read speeds are excellent.

Final Crystalmark score (Note: This is a 32bit test)

crystalmark - fresh x64 w7hp  4gb ssd-2crystalmark - fresh x64 w7hp  4gb ssd

The two results were taken at different times with different Windows 7 themes.

Battery life, Noise, Heat

No differences in battery life, noise or heat were noticeable after the upgrade. There may be a measurable difference in battery life but I estimate no more than 5% gain under full-usage scenarios. Note that on the Aspire One 522, the fan is on nearly all the time. It’s relatively quite but audible in a quiet room.

4GB vs 2GB

Having 4Gb of RAM available on a netbook is somewhat of an overkill and any applications that might require such memory are also going to require more CPU processing power than is available on the platform. The recommendation would be to buy a 2GB RAM stick although the small extra cost and zero additional effort of buying a 4GB stick means you might as well do it anyway! Remember that hibernation will be much slower with 4GB of RAM than with 2GB of RAM.

32bit vs 64bit

I’m not seeing clear, end-user advantages yet on the system build here but clearly there are some 64bit-capable programs that might take advantage of it. Cinebench 10 returned 1390 points with the 64-bit version compared to 1290 with the 32bit test – a 7.5% improvement. More testing is needed here and through my ultra-mobile video editing project, I should get some more results.

cinebench10 - 64bit

Windows 7 Starter vs Windows Home Premium

At over 80-euros to enable an extra 2GB of RAM, themes and a media center, it seems a little excessive and is something that needs to be considered carefully. A clean install of Windows 7 Home Starter on a fast SSD could be a better choice unless the user is looking to get every last drop of capability out of the system.

HDD vs SSD

There’s no question that the SSD upgrade brings the best end-user improvements. SSDs can be lighter too but the user needs to be careful not to choose a slow SSD (some aren’t built for speed.) I’m currently using a Runcore Pro IV that was loaned to me.

Lightweight SSDs.

I’ve got a 32Gb SSD here (Sandisk SDSA3AD-032G loaned by Tegatech)  that weighs 9gm. Thats 100gm lighter than the pre-installed solution and would bring the weight of the 522 down to under 1.1KG which is impressive given the CPU, GPU and battery life. Worth considering.

Alternatives and weight considerations

After the upgrades, the device returns much better performance but there are alternatives out there. The Asus Eee PC 1215PN with dual-core 1.6Ghz CPU and Nvidia Ion platform offers excellent CPU and graphics performance and we expect it to be available with 2GB and Windows Home Premium (as the 1.5Ghz version is) for around the 450 Euro mark. Add the SSD to this and you’re at the same price with a much better performance. The weight is the same although you don’t get the 1280×720 screen.

Looking at 12 inch devices it will be interesting to see how the 1215n and 1215b compare. Weight is 200-300gm more but performance gets a big boost. The EeePC 1215b is said to be available for 450 Euros and, it the end-user is happy with 300gm more weight, could be a better buy.

If the user is looking for a good value 10 inch device with HD screen and future upgrade steps, the Acer Aspire One 522 represents a very good deal indeed.

Will I keep the Acer Aspire One 522?

I’ve been impressed at the ability of the AMD Brazos platform to go to 4GB RAM and 64-bit Windows. The disk controller also responds well to a fast SSD. Overall, the ‘balance’ of CPU and GPU power is also good. The advantage of going to 4GB RAM is, however, a little over-the-top for a device that really can’t be used for high-end memory intensive work that often requires high-end CPU power. What would make more sense is 4GB RAM in the higher-end Brazos platform with the dual-core 1.6Ghz ‘Zacate’ CPU and the higher-clocked GPU. If that platform can be down-clocked to a similar 1Ghz rate with the same power requirements as the 1Ghz Ontario part you will have an interesting power-efficient platform with a relatively wide dynamic range of processing capabilities. Unfortunately there are no Zacate-based device with the E-350 (Zacate) variant so you’ll have to look at 12 inch solutions with higher screen power requirements and a weight of 200-300gm more. If 300gm is acceptable to you then taking a closer look at the Asus EeePC 1215b will make sense.  I’m expecting better battery life and more processing power than the successful Intel-based 1215n making it a top-candidate in its class. I will use the 522 for the time being now though as going back to the single-core N270-based Gigabyte Touchnote is not an option but when the 1215b is available, it will be at the top of the list for my next purchase and test.

Component and cost details

Aspire One 522 – 299 Euros (Germany)

SSD – Runcore Pro IV 64GB 2.5 inch SATA (Loaned for test by My Digital Discount) – $139.99

Memory – Corsair CMSO4GX3M1A1333C9. 4GB single module. 45 Euro

OS – Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit English OEM – 83 Euros

Acer Aspire One 522 Live Review Videos and Results

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There’s one thing that was clear from last nights live testing of the Aspire One 522 – I’m the worst person in the world to demonstrate 3D games. Interestingly though, that’s because I never have devices that can play games. In the last 5 years we’ve seen just a handful of mobile devices that can play games and the fact that I was thrown into Half-Life 2 and Unreal Tournament demos shows that the Acer Aspire One 522 is quite unique – and an indicator of where netbooks are going next. We tried hard to find showstoppers and major issues, design problems, heat and noise or anything that would confirm that this is a cheap device but no, after 3 hours, it was clear that the Aspire One 522 is a real bargain and a true upgrade option for those with first or even second generation netbooks.

 

Aspire One 522 (12)

Highlights and Lowlights

  • 1080p playback via local or YouTube works flawlessly on-screen (1280×720) or via HDMI
  • In normal use, this is a 6 hour working device with a 3-hour gaming capability, 5 hours or more video playback and up to 10 hours with radios-off in low-power use as a text-entry device.
  • No heat or noise to speak of although the fan is constantly spinning and can sometimes be heard or felt through the chassis.
  • The Hard Disk seems to be a bottleneck in some situations
  • Mono speaker just about does its job
  • The glossy screen appears to be a little washed out compared to high-end displays
  • Wifi reception is better than average
  • No USB 3.0 or charging USB port
  • Plastics very thin
  • Access to memory and HDD is easy. Upgrade to 4GB is possible (Only 2GB available in Windows 7 Starter)
  • Gaming needs more testing but viewers on the live session seemed very excited!
  • Battery life / weight ratio is very good

A word of warning though, in terms of CPU processing power, there’s not a lot of difference here between the Intel Pinetrail platform in single or dual-core variants. in a pure-CPU video rendering test we saw the Aspire One coming in at 15% faster than a Intel N450 CPU which puts it between the N450 and N550 in terms of processing power. Compared to first-gen netbooks, that’s a great improvement but its far from mainstream.

It’s the ‘balance’ of CPU, HD Video and 3D that works so well with the Acer Aspire One 522 (and, we suspect, other Fusion C-50 APU -based devices) and if Intel don’t one-up the C-50 with Cedar Trail in a significant way, they will lose a good percentage of netbook sales. At €299, there’s very little room for beating AMD on price.

So here are the three videos we made during the 2.5hrs online last night. As usual they are captures of the low-quality stream but I’m sure you’ll get a lot out of them. Thanks again to everyone that joined and helped-out in the live session. Spread the word – this is how reviews should be done!

 

Part 1 – Overview and first impressions.

 

 

Part 2 – Heat, battery life, video performance, browsing tests

 

 

Part 3 – Video testing, webcam, high and lowlights, Crystalmark test

 

AMD C-50 (Ontario) – CPU Performance Round-Up

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By now we’re fully aware that the Fusion platform comprising AMD Ontario/Zacate CPU and Radeon 6250 can turn in some impressive 3D performance. With HD video decoding on board too it’s a double-punch to Intel platforms with the Atom CPU but with the high-end E-series requiring power that most mobile computers can’t deliver it’s only the C-series (C-30 single-core and C-50 dual core) that we’re concerned with here and in day-to-day usage mobile computing usage, where the CPU is all-important, we need to find out how it’s going to compare with dual-core Atom CPUs

I have a personal interest in getting as much CPU power as possible in my netbook but all I want to do here is highlight some reports that are coming in via the C-50-based Toshiba NB550D. Overall, it looks like the high-end Atom N550 is still the best performing mobile CPU. Here are the test results we’ve seen so far.

Passmark, a company that collects 3rd-party reports via its own software now has a few reports in from the C-50. The first benchmark was received just a few days ago so be aware that there are only 2 data points so far. The C-50 is clocking in with an average CPU mark of 480. It’s a better score than the older N470 (score:355) but the Atom N550 is averaging a score of 559 – 16% more.

Eprice have had reports of the NB550d before but on the 25th Jan a new report was posted that included PCMark05 scores. Unfortunately the device used is an engineering test sample with a single-core C-30 APU inside so bear that in mind. The report does links to a Cinebench mark of 1271 for the C-50 CPU, however. For the Atom N550 CPU i’ve found cinebench scores of 1504 and 1461 and 1444 – An average 15% more.

Netbooknews are currently testing an NB550D and has delivered a full suite of test results and a video.

NB550DCM

It’s an interesting Crystal Mark score. The total is about the same as I’ve seen on two Atom N550 based devices but the CPU score is down, especial for the ALU tests. Below is a result I took from an Acer D255. (Atom N550.) I saw similar results on a Samsung N350.

D255 ALU result

Overall then, were seeing the C-50 CPU score lower than the Atom N550 .

It’s not the complete picture of course (Graphics and video decoding on the C-50 APU is in another performance bracket altogether!) but for those wanting to number-crunch on a netbook, these results should help you decide.

With my requirements firmly in the ‘office’ space with a view to some low-end video editing, I’d choose the dual-core Atom-based devices. What about you?

Unboxing: Toshiba NB550D AMD Netbook (Netbooknews)

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One of the biggest potential changes in the netbook market is being driven by AMD who think that high quality GPU and video decoding should be included. The C-50 / Ontario ‘APU’ is the part we need to take note of in the Fusion range and Netbooknews are now providing us with one of the first English language reports of an Ontario-powered device. This is the unboxing of the Toshiba N550d with a great Harmon Kardon speakers. The benchmarks will follow.
I’ve done my own analysis based on some reports that are already out there and I think that the X86 part of the platform is going to come in at just under Atom N550 performance. The 3D and HD performance will blow the Intel netbook platform, Pinetrail, away but it will be at the expense of about 10%-20% battery life. For those wanting 3D and HD video, its a small price to pay. For those more interested in general office-style computing, the high end dual core Atoms will probably be the way to go for the 1-1.3kg range of devices.

Via Netbooknews


Toshiba NB550D – AMD Fusion Pre-Order. Unboxed, Tested for Video Performance Too

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Are you waiting to see how that 1Ghz dual-core AMD Fusion platform benchmarks before buying your next 10 inch device? I am. As someone who’s had a netbook for nearly two years now I am probably in the same boat as millions of other people – I’m looking for an upgrade. I’m not buying until i’ve assessed Fusion though which means I’m scouring the web for information every day.

I’ve seen reports on the 1.6Ghz dual-core Zacate E-Series devices but they’re not targeted at the 10 inch segment. The one that’s going up against the Atom is the Ontario series. The C-50 being the dual-core 1.0Ghz version, the C-30 the single-core 1.2Ghz version. While the latter has been benchmarked, its the C-50 that is more interesting for day-to-day work.

Background on the C-series ‘APU’s’

The Toshiba NB550D has just hit the German online channels in the last week and is showing up for around 325 Euro (lowest price.) which puts it head to head with the ASUS EeePC 1015PN (with ION graphics.) The question is, which platform has the better day-to-day performance. The two platforms has a similar total TDP but the AMD part is going to be a lot better in 3D and HD video performance. With Flash 10.1 and HTML5 canvas elements taking advantage of GPU, the AMD advantage might be more significant that it first seems for non-gamers. For gamers, the advantage is clear.

Enough of the pre-amble. What have I found?

Well we’ve got a price as mentioned above. It’s Windows Starter 7 and 1GB of RAM for the 325 Euro price which doesn’t impress me so assume a 400+ price for 2GB and Windows 7 HP. The EeePC comes in at a minimum of 429 with those specs. That’s the entry point you want to be looking at if you’re upgrading though.

Secondly, we’ve got some unboxing pics.

nb550d-1 nb550d-2

The unboxing comes via eprice (translation link) and there are more images available. The keyboard reminds me instantly of the one on the Toshiba AC100. That’s good. I like the look of the speakers too.

Unfortunately the author doesn’t go as far as to benchmark the device (although I’d expect it to happen soon) but there are some YouTube tests. I’m looking at the results thinking, hmmm, that’s very similar to what I saw on the Samsung N350. The 720p videos are playing with >50% CPU load.

720P video playback time when most of the water is running between 56 to 68% will go to 7X% or even to 9X% off

nb550d-3

All I can say at the moment is that given the C-30 performance data and this YouTube performance data it’s going to be a very close match between the CPU performance of the C-50 and N550 but as I said earlier, if you get the extra 3D performance and it translates to noticeable improvements in web and UI speed, Cedar Trail is going to have to really bump up the GPU performance in order to compete. (Unless, of course, it brings in significant power savings. Intel’s Oaktrail platform indicates that it might.)

Let’s keep an eye out for more data points, and battery life figures, over the next week.

Acer Aspire One 522. AMD Fusion, 6hrs, 10″ in 1.3KG. Price now available.

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D255 The average weight of a 6-cell netbook is somewhere around 1200-1300 grams with true battery life of about 6hrs so seeing the specs for the Acer Aspire One 522 (AO522-BZ897) is quite encouraging considering the increase in CPU and GPU processing power that this will offer.

6hrs sounds good but let me send a quick warning out because the power envelope of this device is likely to reach much higher than any netbook. I predict that you could run this baby dry in under 3hrs if you pushed it hard, especially as the 6-cell battery looks to be a relatively low-capacity one. (4400mah)

Still, when you think about the upgrade thoughts of tens of million of existing netbook users that have 3hrs battery life on their 1-2 year old netbooks, this is quite an attractive upgrade in the 10 inch segment. It’s certainly one that I’m looking at very closely indeed, especially at the $329 price shown on Amazon.com now.

AMD look to be filling the big gap left between Atom and the new Core processors quite well. Let’s see what Intel come up with the for the next generation of their netbook platform (Cedar Trail) which really needs to hit similar performance to the AMD Fusion platform (Ontario AMD C-50 APU) in a smaller power envelope to be competitive. With HD video, HTML5 and Windows 7, the requirements for CPU,GPU and memory have changed a lot since 2008.

Via. Netbooknews

Is AMD Now In the Ultra-Mobile Game with Ontario?

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In our podcast on Monday, we spoke briefly about AMD’s ‘Atom killer.’ Coming from the ultra-mobile sector we were fairly negative about the potential impact of Fusion architecture. A comment on Carrypad made me think twice and take a closer look at the low-end of the Fusion processors (or APU’s – Accelerated Processing Units- as AMD calls them) to see just what might be possible with Ontario.

I’ve seen a demo of Zacate, the dual-core 1.6Ghz version of the APU and yes, it was impressive. What demo isn’t? What was deeply imprinted on my mind though was the scary TDP of 18W. Even if that part is able to get things done and let an OS sleep faster than others, thus reducing average drain, designing around it is going to result in netbook sized devices. It’s nothing for mobile tablets.

Zacate is dual-core running at 1.6Ghz so seeing an opportunity for another part, AMD have cut down the clock and managed to reduced the design power to 9W with the Ontario part. (The overall platform is called Brazos.) We’re probably looking at 900Mhz to 1.2Ghz clock speed on a single-core here. Remember, this is a dual-core out-of-order CPU so not directly comparable with the 1.5Ghz Atom parts.

The power-envelope will be similar too. The N550 is an 8.4W part.

ontario
Image from AMD Fusion Blog

At this point though, it’s time to say ‘stop’ because once again, we’re talking about a netbook platform. Sure, we’ll see it in a tablet or two (it’s highly likely to be in the Acer slate) but don’t expect them to be much less than 1KG and average less than 8 to 10W drain. With the standard 30Wh battery inside this isn’t going to break new ground in terms of battery life and with battery life the #1 consideration for ultra-mobile computing, what’s the point of talking about HD decoding and GPU-accelerated HTML5?

AMD’s Zacate and Ontario will help bring competition to the netbook sector for sure and that’s a good thing. It will highlight how badly the Atom Netbook platform needs HD video decoding and a boost in 3D performance (although that is likely to be fixed in the Cedar Trail product in 2011) but it isn’t something for the ultra-mobile market. Looking at the roadmap, it looks like the 28nm ‘Wichita’ might be competition for Oaktrail with Windows but don’t expect huge leaps forward.

What the X86-based ultra mobile market needs is a change of platform AND operating system to permit always-on, ultra-low-power sleep states, high integration of Wi-Fi and 3G on new platforms. This is why ARM/Android devices are idling, connected, at 0.5W and a netbook is taking 10x that amount! It’s also why MeeGo and Oaktrail/Moorestown are being developed. Migrating away from Windows desktop support is probably the best long-term strategy there is.

 

Some information in this hothardware article was used in this report.