Summary: Looking for a high-end desktop replacement notebook that won't drain all the funds out of your bank account? ASUS' L5000GA may be just the system for you! Our review system sported a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 processor with 1GB of DDR400 SDRAM, ATI's MOBILITY 9600 PRO graphics, 802.11g Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet, and an 80GB hard drive with an 8MB cache. This system sells for just under $2,500 and is capable of keeping up with a tuned P4P800 Deluxe system we setup with performance-enhancing features such as MAM and Turbo Mode enabled. But we haven't even mentioned the notebook's best feature, its jaw-dropping 15" ACE View display. See how this system stacks up to the Alienware's and Dell Inspiron XPS's of the notebook world in this review!
When you think of the name ASUS, the first thought that comes to mind for nine out of ten enthusiasts is Tier One motherboard manufacturer. This reputation is well deserved – besides ABIT, no other motherboard manufacturer has earned as many awards on this site as ASUS.
However, over the years we’ve shown you that ASUS not only builds high quality motherboards, but also kickass graphics cards. ASUS’ V9280S was the first GeForce4 Ti 4200 board to utilize a Ti 4600 PCB with BGA memory. It also didn’t hurt that ASUS overclocked the board from the factory. The net result was performance that was even higher than GeForce4 Ti 4400. ASUS’ GeForce FX 5900 Ultra and 5950 Ultra cards, the V9950 Ultra and V9980 Ultra, also stood out by utilizing a single-slot copper heatsink design. Most GeForce FX 5900 Ultra and 5950 Ultra cards consumed two slots.
And of course, ATI enthusiasts are well aware of ASUS’ RADEON 9800 XT/TVD and RADEON 9600 XT/TVD boards. These cards were the first of their kind to support VIVO functionality, this feature was previously only found in ATI’s ALL-IN-WONDER line. But both boards went well beyond just adding VIVO, ASUS’ Smart Doctor software went much further than the capabilities found in ATI’s OVERDRIVE dynamic overclocking software. In fact, we dedicated 1.5 pages to summarize all of Smart Doctor’s features. Smart Doctor even provides fan control and hardware monitoring capabilities!
Another business ASUS has delved into is notebooks. These aren’t your barebones, no-frills notebook PCs, ASUS’ notebooks can be equipped with all kinds of high-end toys and goodies. We’re not talking your typical Dell or Sony custom notebook here either, where “custom” usually means that you’re limited to choosing your hard drive’s size and memory, ASUS’ high-end notebooks have just as many bells and whistles as the specialty manufacturers like Alienware or VoodooPC.
To demonstrate this, ASUS sent over one of their high-end L5000GA notebooks from their L5000 line. The L5000GA is ASUS’ no-compromises flagship. The L5000s sport Pentium 4 processors with Intel core-logic, GeForce FX Go 5650 or MOBILITY 9600 PRO graphics, integrated 802.11g for Wi-Fi (with built-in antenna), and 7200 RPM hard drives as optional features.
All that sounds good right about now right? The scary part is, as great as all that sounds, we haven’t even talked about the best part in ASUS’ L5000: its jaw-dropping, everyone-stare-at-you-on-the-airplane ACE View LCD display! But we’ll get into that a little bit later.
Built on ASUS
Besides building notebooks, ASUS also acts as an ODM, original design manufacturer. This means that they design and manufacture the notebook, then slap someone else’s name on it where it’s then sold at retail.
At the heart of the L5000GA is Intel’s 865 “Springdale” chipset. As you probably know by now, Intel’s 865 chipset brings 800MHz bus operation and dual-channel DDR400 memory support among its long list of features. ASUS utilizes the “PE” version of the 865 chipset, which offers more performance than some of the other 865 variants.
Paired alongside the 865 chipset is an Intel Pentium 4 processor running at 3.2GHz. It’s important to note that this is a desktop Pentium 4 3.2GHz, not one of the mobile Pentium 4 or Pentium 4 –M variants. The mobile Pentium 4 processors top out at 3.2GHz, but don’t support Intel’s faster 800MHz system bus, however they do consume less power and generate less heat than desktop Pentium 4 chips.
For storage duties, an 80GB 5400 RPM hard drive from Hitachi was built into our L5000GA test system, the Travelstar 5K80. This drive sports an 8MB buffer with a 12ms average seek time. IBM/Hitachi took some heat a few years ago on the desktop side with its 60GXP/75GXP, but has since recovered well. In fact their 7200 RPM 7K250 line is highly regarded, earning high marks in reviews.
If you want a little more disk performance, Hitachi’s Travelstar 7K60 hard drive is also available as an option. This drive tops out at 60GB, but spins at 7200 RPMs with an 8MB buffer. Average seek time drops to 10ms typical.
Surprisingly enough, ASUS opted for a third-party for optical storage, Toshiba. ASUS makes its own line of optical drives so we expected to see a drive from ASUS in the L5000GA. The Toshiba drive boasts good specs: 8X DVD-ROM / 2X DVD-R / 1X DVD-RW / 16X CD-R / 10X CD-RW / 24X CD-ROM, all-in-all not bad at all for a notebook.
Remember, our L5000GA review system is of the Built on ASUS variety. This means that the processor, memory, and hard drive are all configurable options that are installed by the reseller. ASUS simply qualifies the components that are approved for use in the L5000GA. You can save money buy integrating a slower processor, less memory, or a smaller hard drive if you wish.
Visuals are outputted to a 15” Super XGA+ (SXGA+) display, which sports a native resolution of 1400x1050 pixels. At first glance, 1400x1050 doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you consider the power of ATI’s MOBILITY RADEON 9600 PRO VPU, it makes sense – the chip really doesn’t have the power to drive games at 1600x1200 (the native resolution of many desktop replacement notebooks) with adequate frame rates. And besides, the real gem of the L5000GA’s display is ACE View.
ASUS ACE (Advanced Color-Contrast Enhancement) View refers to the L5000GA’s In-Plane Switching (IPS) TFT LCD.
IPS works by shifting the location of electrode pairs, which are mounted parallel to each other in the lower substrate versus electrode pairs mounted above one another on separate substrates in TN+film displays. In TN+film panels, only the lower electrode is switched by the TFT, but with both electrodes parallel to each other in IPS panels, they’re both in the same plane. This design keeps liquid crystals parallel to the front of the panel, as the electromagnetic field runs horizontally through the material, effectively increasing viewing angle.
One of the main downsides to this approach is that this implementation consumes lots of power, as a more power-hungry backlight is necessary to provide a bright display. Traditionally response times of IPS panels have been higher as well, although some newer IPS displays boast sub-20ms response times.
The end result is a display that can be viewed at wide, 170-degree viewing angles. You will see a little brightness drop off at extreme angles, but color reproduction remains consistent. This means that IPS displays have excellent off-axis viewing characteristics, but tend to soak up more juice in the process.
As we just mentioned, one of the drawbacks of IPS panels is that the aperture ratio of each cell is lower than that of a TN+film panel. A brighter, and thus more powerful backlight is therefore necessary in order to provide a bright display. Because of this, IPS panels tend to consume more power than TN+film displays.
This isn’t a big deal in desktop LCDs, as you have a steady power source, but in notebooks this can be a problem if you’re running on the battery – it wouldn’t take long before you’ve run out of power.
To help overcome this, ASUS has implemented a new backlight in its ACE View notebooks. The new backlight increases the amount of light transmitted without drawing more battery power. But IPS and a new backlight isn’t all ACE View has up its sleeve. IPS is also combined with High Resolution Process (HRP) technology, which improves the displays contrast ratio and dot pitch. This is accomplished by applying a layer of poly-film to the TFT.
How does all this technology look in action? Simply brilliant! ASUS’ ACE View display panel provides a bright, sharp display. Colors are vibrant with accurate representation; blacks are deep and dark while on the other end of the spectrum, whites are nice and bright. While not quite up to CRT levels, the display looked great and performed well in a variety of lighting conditions. In fact, while flying to Chicago I had to get up to allow a woman to use the restroom (I had an aisle seat). As I was standing I noticed four other passengers with notebooks and a few others staring at the ACE View display! If I had had a movie playing at the time, I should have charged admission to nearby passengers.
As always, pictures speak louder than words, so we’ve included a few shots of the ASUS ACE View panel on the L5000GA versus Dell’s top-of-the line MOBILITY 9700 powered Inspiron XPS gaming notebook (full review coming shortly), which has earned high praises for its WUXGA wide aspect TFT display:
The display itself performed well, even fast-paced action sequences in movies were reproduced accurately with no visible ghosting. For gaming applications though, results were good, but not quite up to the level of a high-end desktop LCD panel. Strategy titles like Warcraft III ran perfectly, as did flight simulators like Lock On: Modern Air Combat, and IL-2 Sturmovik. We’re pretty certain role-playing titles would run well also.
Results were a little mixed with first person shooters though. The display wasn’t able to keep up with fast-paced titles such as Quake 3. Flinch movements such as quickly turning around to face an opponent, and to a more limited extent, rocket jumping did result in ghosting. Next, we booted up Call of Duty. If you’ve played Call of Duty, you know that the Activision and Infinity Ward splash screens when you first boot up the game sport rapid movement. We expected to see ghosting here, but were surprised to see both screens run perfectly.
In the game itself we noticed the same ghosting during rapid movements. We’re talking rapid flinching, where you quickly flip your mouse to snap your character around, not the rapid, yet slower movement of the melee attack in Call of Duty, where you use the butt of your gun to strike your opponent. The display was able to keep up with these movements with no noticeable ghosting.
Finally we booted up Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, which is a slightly slower paced shooter. Here the ACE View panel was able to keep up with the action.
Overall we’d rate the display as good for simulation, strategy, and role-playing titles, but may disappoint gamers who are hardcore shooter players. Perhaps ASUS will address this shortcoming in future desktop replacement notebooks.
Gamers will be pleased to see that the L5000GA sports ATI’s MOBILITY RADEON 9600 PRO graphics. Codenamed M10-P, MOBILITY RADEON 9600 PRO supports all the features of its desktop counterpart, although ASUS clocks their MOBILITY RADEON 9600 PRO core at 344MHz and its 128MB of memory at 200MHz. This compares well to the desktop RADEON 9600 PRO’s 400MHz core, the MOBILITY RADEON 9600 PRO is only 56MHz behind it. But this does fall behind RADEON 9600 PRO’s 300MHz memory (600MHz effective).
Audio and networking
For the audio subsystem, ASUS has integrated an AC’97 CODEC from Realtek. There’s nothing too special here, we’re basically looking at Sound Blaster PRO level audio, but considering the “power” of typical notebook speakers we really can’t fault ASUS too much for skimping a little on the audio side, the L5000GA’s speakers are a little underpowered though.
With a desktop Pentium 4 3.2GHz processor to cool, ASUS’ L5000GA has its work cut out for it. Intel’s faster desktop processors are known for putting out a lot of heat. ASUS did not wish to disclose the details on their cooling system, but from looking at the system itself we can make some deductions about how it works.
Software and accessories
While the operating system is installed by the reseller, ASUS does bundle the L5000GA with their DVD playback software, ASUS DVD XP 4.0, Power Director V2.5 ME, Medi@ Show V2.0 SE, a trial version of PC-Cillin 2002, NERO Express burning software, and ASUS’ suite of software utilities. The system also ships with a 2-button USB mouse (with scroll wheel) and carrying bag.
While ASUS’ stylish S5Ne is turning heads with its stylish design and lightweight, thin chassis, the L5000GA, with its emphasis on speed, is designed for performance and convenience.
You can see this right on the front of the L5000GA, where CD control buttons are present. These buttons can be used to control your system’s audio player while the system is on in the operating system, or for listening to music when the notebook is turned off! In this case, the buttons can be used to activate a CD player for listening to audio CDs. A CD power LED is also present, which shines when the CD player is in use while the notebook is off. Next to the LED is a power button for this player.
Other CD buttons are present for performing common functions such as stop, play/pause, and skipping to the next track (these buttons double as volume control when Windows is running). Next to the CD LED is an infrared port for communicating with other IR-equipped devices such as other computers, PDAs, or printers.
ASUS provides a wealth of options for connecting additional devices to the L5000GA. The chassis sports four USB 2.0/1.1 ports, two are located on the back of the notebook, while a third and fourth USB port are placed on the left and right side of the chassis for added flexibility. ASUS also includes a mini-1394 jack for FireWire devices, but unfortunately the system lacks a full-sized 1394 port. This would be a nice addition to the L5000GA, as it is a desktop replacement notebook.
A flash memory card reader is located on the right side of the notebook. The reader supports Secure Digital, Multimedia Card, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Select, Memory Stick Duo (with MS adapter) Memory Stick Pro, and Memory Stick Pro Duo (with MS Pro adapter memory cards are all supported. This is also where ASUS has located the optical drive and two PCMIA sockets.
For additional display options, the L5000GA is also equipped with S-Video and VGA connections, while on the audio side, a SPDIF-out jack is located on the right side of the notebook’s chassis. Inputs and outputs are also provided nearby for hooking up external speakers or headphones to the L5000GA, as well as a microphone input. And for those of you who still rely on legacy devices such as serial and parallel ports and floppy disk drives, those are all present on the L5000GA. Finally, modem and LAN ports are provided on the back of the system.
We don’t like the location ASUS has chosen for the L5000GA’s speaker system. For some reason ASUS has elected to place them on the bottom of the system. Fortunately, sound isn’t badly muffled, but for optimal audio performance the speakers should have been placed on the top of the system, perhaps directly above the keyboard, or even better, integrated on the panel with the LCD. From this location audio would be aimed directly at the user.
Keys on the 88-key keyboard are full-sized, crisp and responsive. Function keys can also be toggled for such functions as disabling the wireless, (handy for traveling on an airplane) controlling screen brightness and system volume, and placing the notebook in suspend mode. While status indicators are present on the front of the system for indicating drive activity, power, and charge indicator, there’s even a status LED for when you receive new email (compatible with Microsoft email software only).
Finally, for added convenience, ASUS provides four instant launch keys at the top of the system, near the power button. The first button is programmable, allowing you to launch the software application of your choice, while the second and third buttons launch your Internet browser and Email software. The final button is for ASUS Power4 Gear.
ASUS Power Gear allows you to quickly toggle between power modes. Each Power4 setting adjusts clock speeds and display brightness according to its function. For instance, if you’re running on the battery and want to maximize its longevity, press the Power4 button until you see the maximum power savings icon on the screen. If you need a little bit more power, you can toggle to the medium performance setting.
3DMark 03 – Direct3D
3DMark 03 – Game Test Results
3Dmark 03 does an excellent job of isolating graphics performance, so we went ahead and included it for this round of benchmarks.
Call of Duty – OpenGL
The L5000GA continues to keep pace with ATI’s RADEON 9600 on the desktop. We feel this is a pretty impressive showing on the L5000GA’s part, as the P4P800 Deluxe motherboard we’re testing with has been tuned for maximum performance. We’ve enabled ASUS’ Turbo mode, and their PAT-like Memory Acceleration Mode, these features give the P4P800 Deluxe a performance advantage over other 865PE motherboards. We’ve also got the memory timings cranked down for best performance.
Call of Duty – OpenGL
While the MOBILITY 9600 PRO graphics inside the L5000GA boasts a fill rate advantage over RADEON 9600 thanks to its 344MHz clock speed, we find ourselves more bandwidth limited than anything else (the memory on both is running at 400MHz effective). As a result, the L5000GA system performs similarly to the RADEON 9600.
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB - OpenGL
We ran into stability issues with the CATALYST 4.5 driver and IL-2 Sturmovik. Eventually we gave up on a few of the resolutions with the RADEON 9600 PRO. The L5000GA also had problems with IL-2 at 1280x1024.
Lock On: Modern Air Combat – Direct3D
Not much has changed in LOMAC, the L5000GA continues to perform similarly to the desktop ATI RADEON 9600. Again, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, as both cards sport similar clock frequencies. We do feel it’s reassuring to see the L5000GA perform neck-and-neck with our tuned P4P800 Deluxe system however. It certainly appears as if ASUS has adopted a smaller variant of this motherboard into the L5000GA.
Splinter Cell – Direct3D
Tomb Raider – Direct3D
We hoped to see the slight clock speed advantage found in the MOBILITY 9600 PRO graphics core give the L5000GA a larger performance advantage in a shader driven title like Tomb Raider, but as you can see this isn’t the case.
Unreal Tournament 2004
Unreal Tournament 2004
Far Cry – Direct3D
Like Tomb Raider, we were again hoping to see the L5000GA’s faster core clock play a role at lower resolutions, but the 44MHz boost it boasts isn’t quite enough in our test case.
Far Cry – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
Halo – Direct3D
ACE View: Without a doubt, the L5000GA’s best feature is its ACE View LCD display. As we mentioned earlier, ACE View relies on in-plane switching technology, which differs from TN+film by offering superior brightness and color reproduction at extreme angles. The difference between ASUS’ ACE View and other notebook displays is night and day, just take a look at the pictures we provided. If you’re a home theater buff, it’s a lot like comparing the older rear projection televisions to one of the newer displays or plasma.
Heat: While we realize that the L5000GA system we reviewed sports a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 processor, we do feel that the heat output is still a little excessive. Dell’s Inspiron XPS ships with a faster 3.4GHz Pentium 4 processor but still manages to run much cooler than the L5000GA. We’d also like to see the battery life improved a bit more, although we do realize that the ACE View display cuts into this. You’ve got anywhere from roughly 60-90 minutes of juice, depending on the power mode you choose and the applications run.
ASUS’ L5000GA proves that the company is not only capable of producing high quality motherboards, but top-notch notebooks as well. The L5000GA notebook ran neck-and-neck with a similarly equipped 3.2GHz system that we configured with an ASUS P4P800 Deluxe motherboard, one of the fastest 865PE boards on the market. This demonstrates that the L5000GA is not only highly reliable, but an excellent performer as well.
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