Summary: While we posted performance benchmarks in our MOBILITY RADEON X700 preview a few months ago, we were eager to see how ATI's latest mainstream mobile offering performed in a shipping notebook system. To accomplish this, we recently took Acer's latest Centrino notebook, the TravelMate 8100, out for a quick test run. See how the MRX700 and the TravelMate 8100 held up in a variety of games, as well as overclocking, in this article!
By combining the best attributes of the Pentium III with elements from the Pentium 4, Pentium M delivers performance competitive with the latest P4 chips, without the nasty power and heat issues that are now associated with Intelís latest high-end Pentium 4 processors. In fact, a lot of analysts have wondered aloud why Intel didnít adopt the Mís architecture instead of the Pentium 4.
On the graphics end, the situation is equally blissful. Whereas traditionally the introduction of a new mobile graphics chip has preceded its desktop counterpart by 9-12 months, more recently both ATI and NVIDIA have introduced their latest mobile offerings just a few months after the equivalent desktop part launches.
ATIís MOBILITY RADEON X700 is a perfect example of this. ATIís PR announcing the MOBILITY RADEON X700 hit the wire in mid-January Ė thatís approximately four months after the RADEON X700 launched on the desktop! In our performance preview of the chip, we were extremely impressed by its performance. In our testing, it outperformed a fully-fledged RADEON 9700 PRO desktop card in many tests, leading us to conclude that ďATI not only trumps the RADEON 9700 PRO, they do it in a package thatís intended for use in notebooks that can easily fit on your lap.Ē
Thatís pretty remarkable considering that a year ago, the 4-pipeline MOBILITY RADEON 9700 was considered to be the fastest DX9 chip out there in the mobile space.
As its name implies, the MOBILITY RADEON X700 (MRX700) is based on ATIís X700 RV410 VPU on the desktop. The MOBILITY RADEON X700 supports all the key features found in its desktop cousin, most notably being the chipís 8-pixel pipeline architecture with six vertex shaders backing them up. ATI relies on the same 0.11-micron manufacturing process used for RADEON X700, with a 128-bit memory interface. Notebook manufacturers can choose between DDR1, DDR2, or GDDR3 memory types, with memory configurations of 64MB or 128MB being the most popular.
Since itís a mobile graphics offering, the key changes ATI has incorporated into the chip are related to conserving power and heat. To help accomplish this, ATI uses lower clocks for the MOBILITY RADEON X700: 350MHz on the graphics core and 350MHz memory (700MHz effective). In addition, underlying changes are also important.
Thanks to PowerPlay 5.0, MRX700 can dynamically power down parts of the graphics core which arenít in use (such as the 3D engine), while technologies such as Vari-Bright and Low Power LCD technologies adjustís the LCD panelís brightness and refresh rate for greater power savings. The chip can even dynamically adjust PCI Express lane usage, when the graphics core is idling, the number of PCI Express lanes used by the graphics core can be reduced from 16 to just 1, conserving battery power. Once the graphics core is being taxed, it kicks back into gear running in x16 mode.
But enough about the graphics core, how does it perform in a thin and light notebook? Thatís what weíre here today to find out.
The TravelMate 8100 is Acerís flagship thin and light notebook, featuring Intelís 915PM Express chipset with Intel PRO/Wireless 2915ABG ďCentrinoĒ networking. Our test system was outfitted with Intelís latest Pentium M processor, the 770 model running at 2.13GHz with a 533MHz bus, 2MB L2 cache and built on Intelís latest 90nm manufacturing process. On the memory side, the 8100 system was equipped with 1GB of DDR2-533MHz memory running in dual-channel mode.
Acer outfits the TravelMate 8100 exclusively with ATIís MOBILITY RADEON X700 VPU, with the visuals outputted to a 15.4Ē WSXGA+ widescreen display capable of resolutions up to 1680x1050. Acer sweetens the package with a DVI output located on the back of the notebook, making it perfect for hooking the TravelMate 8100 up to a high-end LCD monitor, although it would have also been nice if Acer had included a component video output for hooking the 8100 up to an HDTV. For those of you with CRT monitors, Acer also provides a VGA output on the side of the system, while the S-Video-Out can be used to hook the system up to a TV.
For I/O and connectivity, the TravelMate 8100 ships with RJ-45 and RJ-11 Ethernet and modem ports (in addition to the aforementioned wireless) a 5-in-1 media card reader, four USB 2.0 ports, and a mini-IEEE-1394 connector.
In use, the TravelMate 8100 was quite speedy thanks to its Pentium M processor and MOBILITY RADEON X700 graphics. Acer sticks pretty close to the specs of the MOBILITY RADEON X700 reference board we tested, clocking the VPU in the TravelMate 8100 at 357MHz on the graphics core (7MHz higher than stock) and 297MHz on the memory (53MHz below stock). We honestly werenít surprised to see the memory running a little lower than default, as Acer elected to use cheaper DDR1 memory for the TravelMate 8100, rather than GDDR3 (which generates less heat than previous memory types).
In all honesty it isnít uncommon for notebook manufacturers to go conservative on the graphics memory side to conserve power/generate less heat and save a little money in the process, so Acer is by no means alone here.
To see what the TravelMate 8100 and its MOBILITY RADEON X700 graphics could really do, we decided to crank up the clock speeds a bit, overclocking the graphics core and memory each by 10%, resulting in speeds of 393MHz on the graphics core and 327MHz on the memory.
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
id Software Doom 3
Crytekís Far Cry
Valve Softwareís Half-Life 2
1C:Maddox Gamesí IL-2:FB
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
With eight pixel pipelines and a 350MHz core clock, the MOBILITY RADEON X700 boasts a fill-rate greater than that of the RADEON 9700 PRO, with the additions of six vertex shaders (two more than those found in RADEON 9700/9800), 3Dc, and 2.0b pixel shaders. In other words, pair the MOBILITY RADEON X700 up with a speedy CPU and youíll have a portable, mobile system just as powerful as a fully-fledged desktop from two years ago. This is pretty impressive coming from a thin-and-light notebook that weighs just a few pounds!
Itís also exciting to see the MOBILITY RADEON X700 following up the RADEON X700 launch on the desktop so quickly Ė only a handful of months Ė it wasnít that long ago that mobile graphics chips launched a year or more after their desktop counterpart. Can you believe that this time last year, 4 pixel pipes in a mobile offering was considered ďhigh-endĒ in a laptop?
The unsung hero that plays a critical role in making all this possible is undoubtedly TSMC. Their 0.11-micron manufacturing process is used for MOBILITY RADEON X700.
The smaller process allows ATI to integrate eight pixel pipes affordably into the MRX700 graphics core, while still allowing for high clock speeds with low thermals. Without 0.11-micron, MOBILITY RADEON X700 still would have been possible, but at a higher price point.
Despite all the praises weíve heaped on the MOBILITY RADEON X700, enthusiasts need to keep their expectations realistic. The MOBILITY RADEON X700 lacks the memory bandwidth for buttery smooth playable gaming at 4xAA, especially at higher resolutions, nor will it allow you to play DOOM 3 in the higher visual quality modes. That is of course unless you want the game to turn into a slideshow.
For gamers looking for a little more performance, ATI offers the MOBILITY RADEON X800; just keep in mind that it sells for a much higher price point, and since it ships with more pipelines and higher clocks, demands more power and better cooling. Basically youíll have to sacrifice your notebookís battery life and its size/weight (not to mention a few Benjaminís) in order to step up to an MRX800.
For the rest of us, ATIís MOBILITY RADEON X700 fills the bill quite nicely. It performs well enough to enjoy todayís latest games (provided you keep visual quality and screen resolution in check), all while fitting in a nice, small, power-conserving package.
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