Mobile Workstation Performance To Max
Building a viable alternative to a powerful desktop workstation poses quite a challenge. In our article on the ATI Mobility Radeon, we looked at what we considered to be one of the first true desktop replacement PCs. Notebook manufacturers, not content with substituting desktop PCs with laptops, have invented a new category of notebook, which is now being referred to as the "Workstation Replacement" category of notebooks. To date, this category of notebook has had few contenders for the crown. However, we think that the impending release of the Intel Mobile Pentium 4 processor might change this scenario.
The historical argument has been that it is just not possible to cram the raw processing power of a typical workstation into a mobile platform. Typical desktop workstations used for such tasks as AutoCad, Avid, MicroStation, 3D Studio Max, ARC View, Alias Wavefront, Pro/E, Ideas, Softimage XSI, and similar applications, are for powerhouse systems which often feature "exotic" components not typically found in mainstream desktop systems, let alone notebooks. The basis for the majority of these exotic components are rooted in the same components that make up a desktop PC, but often they are built to more exacting and demanding standards. The workstation market, in general, is so outrageously overpriced that it makes one ask, "Why?"
Workstation Graphics In Notebooks?
A substantial part of the high price is attributable to the certification process required for these products. For example, most workstation-oriented video cards feature ISV certified 3D OpenGL accelerated drivers, and the certification and development process for designing product drivers that can be ISV certified is expensive. However, the certification process does result in somewhat improved drivers for video cards in the same product families. In the past, these video cards performed well on the targeted OpenGL applications for which they were intended, but due to low pixel fill rates, they had a tendency to fall short on mainstream applications and games.
This has begun to change with the new crop of workstation video cards. New workstation solutions from ATi and nVidia use a mobile version of the GPU core as found in each of their higher end, mainstream video cards. The ATi FireGL 7800 is built on the ATi Mobility Radeon 7500 GPU core, while the nVidia Quadro4Go is built on almost the same silicon as Quadro4, only with slightly different bonding. It is important to remember that the major difference between the workstation and the desktop versions of these products is the optimization made to the driver in order to achieve ISV certification; however, there might also be some added hardware features as well.
Although currently it is not possible to achieve the total true performance of a workstation, these notebooks do have the ability to provide a viable alternative to the existing group of desktop replacement notebooks. Again, expect to pay a premium for this technology, due to the important ISV certification.
Notebook Hard Drive Performance Lags Desktops
Look what we found inside the IBM ThinkPad A31p! IBM's 12.5mm 60GB 5400 RPM laptop hard drive!
While processor performance and graphics performance of today's notebooks are not far behind desktop performance, what has yet to be improved are the hard drives, which are rather sluggish in comparison to their desktop counterparts. The main reason notebook components are frequently slower is due to the miniaturization of components, as well as heat and power requirements of the typical modern laptop. This is a particularly perplexing problem with hard drives, because they are not just silicon chips (such as processors and graphics processors), but are mechanical in nature. With the advent of the modern Windows operating system, the impact of hard drive performance on overall system performance is a key factor. Due to Windows' continuous use of virtual memory technology, which requires the hard drive to process the virtual memory swap file, the hard drive is used for more than just executing core files, programs, or reading user data.
The hard drive is one of the biggest bottlenecks in mobile technology today, as evidenced in most modern notebooks. Laptop hard drive manufacturers have attempted and continue to attempt to address this issue with faster hard drives. The rotational latency of the modern laptop hard drive is far behind what you find on a modern desktop, and when side by side with desktops, the numbers pale in comparison. Currently, the simple laws of technology keep most hard drives spinning at 4200 RPM, but IBM introduced the first 5400 RPM 2.5" drives (12.5 mm high drives only) already a year ago and, finally, the first of the thin 9.5 mm drives are starting to ship in 5400 RPM versions. .Today, 12.5 mm thick 2.5" drives at 5400 RPM are shipping in sizes up to 60 GB, while IBM recently announced a 40 GB 9.5 mm thick 2.5" drive with 5400 RPM, as well. We have seen an increase in performance with the movement from 4200 RPM to 5400 RPM, and although it is not as great an improvement as we would have hoped, it is still significant. The problem with 12.5mm hard drives is that they will not fit in many of the smaller laptop form factors. These notebook designs will only accommodate the newer 9.5mm form factor. Unfortunately, this means that you cannot use the 12.5mm form factor, which offers both greater storage capacity and 5400 RPM performance.
As we have already discussed, the mechanical nature of hard drives is such that major breakthroughs have been required to achieve 5400 RPM in a 9.5mm form factor. In addition to the 5400 RPM performance, much work has been done to improve the caching performance and transfer rate performance of the new notebook hard drives to help overcome the sheer deficit in RPMs. The 5400 RPM hard drives will help achieve better notebook performance overall, but these hard drives will still lag behind modern desktop hard drives. A real breakthrough in hard drive technology is needed to tap into the ultimate performance of some of these advanced desktop replacement and mobile workstation units. Currently, with the 9.5mm form factor you are limited to 40GB if you want a drive that is 5400 RPM. We congratulate the notebook hard drive manufacturers, as breaking the 5400 RPM barrier was clearly no small feat. We challenge them to produce 9.5mm 7200 RPM notebook hard drives as soon as possible, and think there will be plenty of us waiting in line to buy them.
Mobile Pentium 4 Is Now Here
It took Intel a mere 15 months until Pentium 4 was finally fit for mobile devices. The first Pentium 4 core, going by the code name of 'Willamette,' was unable to meet the power and thermal requirements of a mobile environment. The 0.18 micron Willamette core was big, power hungry and hot. The door into the mobile world was finally pushed open for Pentium 4 when Intel had finished the 0.13 micron 'Northwood' core, as found in all desktop Pentium 4 models with the 'A' at the end. Northwood is much smaller, needs a lot less power and doesn't get nearly as hot as its older brother Willamette. In the interim, the Pentium IIIm 'Tualatin' at 1 - 1.2 GHz filled the void. In fact, many of the strides made in the Pentium IIIm are evident in the design of the Pentium 4m.
From a processor architecture point of view, Pentium 4m is identical to the new desktop Pentium 4 A processors. It comes with the same features and the same 512 Kbytes of second level cache. However, due to its nature as a mobile processor, Pentium 4m comes with a boatload of power-saving features that cannot be found on desktop Pentium 4 CPUs. You'll also find that Pentium 4m has, with its 479 pins, one pin more than its desktop brother. The power-saving features of Pentium 4m are already known from the latest Pentium IIIm processors. A 'Deeper Sleep Alert State' allows the CPU to run with very little power, while still able to 'wake up' extremely quickly. The 'Enhanced SpeedStep' technology allows throttling according to software performance requirements, rather than just according to the power source.
The Pentium 4m and the Pentium IIIm are both built on a 0.13 micron process technology. The Pentium 4m features an average power rating of less than 2 W when running in 'Battery Mode' at 1.2 V, throttled down to 1.2 GHz. Pentium IIIm required an average power rating of 1.5 watts in the same mode when running throttled down to 800 MHz at 1.15 V. At full speed, Pentium 4m requires 1.3 V, while Pentium IIIm requires 1.4 V for full speed operation. As nice as those 1.5 or 2 W of average power rating in battery mode may sound, little should we forget that those mobile processors burn a lot more power in full speed mode, either when the notebook is connected to an AC-power source or in case the user manually switched to full speed mode in battery operation. In this case, Pentium 4m has a 'TDP' (Thermal Design Power) of 30 W, and Pentium 3m at 1.2 GHz is specified with a TDP of 22 W. The TDP is the amount of thermal power that needs to be removed in a real world software worst-case scenario. The notebook designers have to ensure that their new Pentium 4 notebooks have a thermal design that allows the removal of up to 30 W of heat.
Of course, Intel also introduced a new chipset for Pentium 4m, the i845MP. As you can guess by its name, this chipset is obviously based on the i845 chipset known from desktop systems. The i845MP runs with either up to 1 GB SDRAM or DDR-SDRAM memory, and consists of the MCH-M north bridge and the already known ICH3-M south bridge that can also be found in Pentium 3 notebooks with 830 chipset.
Don't get too excited about Pentium 4m's power requirements. The major "power drainer" of today's notebooks is not the processor anymore. Especially power hungry is the display, but other components do their part, as well; for example, hard drives have a larger impact on overall power usage. Therefore, Pentium 4 notebooks should run neither significantly shorter nor longer than modern high-end Pentium III notebooks.
An Exclusive First Look At The IBM A31p
Today, IBM launches the new ThinkPad A31 Series Pentium 4m notebooks. In the past, many buyers may have overlooked IBM for potential purchase consideration. This might have been due to the misconception by some that perhaps IBM was not bringing enough innovative technology to the table. After our examination of the ThinkPad A31 Series, the launch of this new ThinkPad is a considerable move forward for IBM in staking its claim in both the desktop replacement and mobile workstation markets.
Over the years, IBM has played a leadership role by introducing such innovative (or funky) features as the ThinkLight keyboard work light and the UltraPort Connector. In the ThinkPad A31 series, IBM has combined almost every notebook feature at its disposal, such as the UltraPort 2000 and Ultraport Plus Connector, ThinkPad FlexView Display w/170є Viewing, Optional Embedded Security Subsystem, Ultrabay Plus with the new numeric keypad or Palm cradle support, ThinkLight keyboard work light, integrated 802.11b wireless with dual antenna system built into either side of the display, optional integrated Bluetooth support, and the new ATi Mobility FireGL 7800 with 64MB DDR. While some of these features are known in one form or another from other ThinkPad models, this is the first time that ALL of these features have been put into one IBM notebook model.
The ThinkPad A31 is available in two models, the A31p and A31. Each model comes in four different configurations, with eight different configurations available between the two models. These configurations allow purchasers to select the feature set best suited for their needs. IBM supplied THG with the A31p in the H6U configuration for our review.
The IBM ThinkPad A31p in the H6U configuration is directed toward the mobile workstation market. IBM has targeted the typical user of the A31p as one who needs to handle large amounts of multimedia data, present complex presentations, manage complex projects, as well as requires the ability to run engineering software. With its number of networking options, the user can be connected in a variety of ways. As you will see, the A31p pulls out all of the stops to make typical 'engineering types' content.
The Full Tour Of The A31p
Here is a picture of the full A31p with the screen open so you can get a better idea of the size of the unit.
One of the first things we noticed about the A31p ThinkPad is that it is a little smaller and lighter than typical desktop replacement notebooks. Checking in at 7.7 pounds in our configuration, the A31p was nearly two pounds lighter than some desktop replacement notebooks that we have seen. While 7.7 pounds is not exactly "light," in the desktop replacement mobile workstation market space, that is a very comparable weight. There will be some people reading this article who will argue that 7.7 pounds is still rather heavy, but it is a reasonable weight when compared to a unit with similar features. As for the A31p's dimensions, it is 13 inches wide by 10.7 inches deep and 1.8 inches thick. The thinness of the unit really surprised us; the innovative design applied to the unit has reduced its girth, making it seem thinner than many other desktop replacement notebook models.
You can get a better idea of how thick the ThinkPad A31p is by looking at this picture.
The front of the A31p is angled, while the top of the palm rest area has a gradual slope. In the front of the unit are two speakers. Beyond that, IBM tries to give the A31p a sleeker look by eliminating the assortment of buttons that are typically located on the front of many other desktop replacement units. Although some may find these buttons have a useful purpose, we think the jury is still out on this.
The keyboard of the A31p has a solid key action for typing. The key travel is excellent, as are the size and spacing of the keys. The A31p includes a variety of special function keys. Perhaps the biggest and most interesting feature of this keyboard is the addition of the new, optional Ultrabay Plus Numeric Keypad. The ThinkPad Ultrabay Plus Numeric Keypad fits into an optional ThinkPad Ultrabay Plus device carrier to create a keyboard extension for the A31 Series. IBM did not provide us with a sample of the Ultrabay Plus Numeric Keypad, thus we were unable to test it and cannot provide any feedback about it, but it looks to be an innovative concept, if you have the need for such a device. The A31 Series also offers the three-button TrackPoint pointing device, with the middle button featuring IBM's internet scroll technology. Those wanting a touch pad are going to be disappointed, as a touch pad isn't built in to the A31 Series. It would have nice for IBM to have provided the user with the freedom of choice, such as is provided by several of IBM's competitors in the notebook arena.
A picture of the IBM A31p's impressive keyboard.
The optional Ultrabay Plus Device Carrier comes with two options: a numeric keybad, and a cradle for the WorkPad C500 series.
FlexView's 170 Degrees of Freedom
The A31p features a 15-inch UXGA TFT screen, which uses IBM's FlexView technology with a max resolution of 1600x1200. The incredible thing about this FlexView technology is its 170є horizontal viewing angle. This allows the user to see the panel at almost any horizontal angle, which makes the new ThinkPad superior in presentation situations, where a wide-angle display is a big advantage. However, when traveling on a plane or a train, this could allow the passenger seated next to you to view what is on your screen, which could be a distinct disadvantage. Unfortunately, we found that the vertical viewing angle did not seem to have improved much. IBM claims a 25% to 50% increase in brightness and twice the contrast. It would appear that IBM has put a great deal of time into selecting the correct display for the A31p, and during our testing, we found their selection to be excellent. The image on the screen was crisp and clear. When running in resolutions other than the max resolution of 1600x1200 when scaling and interpolation become an issue, the display was remarkably good. This has been a weakness of many other laptops on the market today. The impressive display panel is fed by ATi's Mobility Fire GL 7800 graphics adapter, which comes with 64 MB of video memory.
It's useful and intelligent - IBM's ThinkLight casts a light on your keyboard.
As with many other high-end ThinkPads, the A31p includes the ThinkLight, which is a feature that is built into the top of the screen. It allows you to cast light on your keyboard in a dark room, for example, so that you can see the keys on your keyboard. It might seem like a pure gimmick on first sight, but we consider this little Thinklight an extremely useful and intelligent feature.
We were also very impressed with the metal supports used for the hinges on the A31p. We found the lid of the unit to be durable and wellconstructed. The A31p includes a dual integrated antenna system that is built into either side of the display for the 802.11b and Bluetooth. We found the reception of both the 802.11b and Bluetooth to be excellent. When using our Netgear ME102 Access Point, the signal was strong, no matter where we went inside or outside our lab. This is one of the better-integrated antenna designs that we have seen so far, and it worked well during our testing. In fact, for the first time during our testing, we connected to the servers and pulled all of our benchmark testing software across the 802.11b wireless, rather than using a wired connection. Although 802.11b wireless was considerably slower than the 100mbit that we normally use, it was impressive to see how the 802.11b performed when handling a large amount of data.
Here is a picture of just the screen of the A31p.
On the left side of the notebook you will find the Ultrabay 2000. The Ultrabay 2000 is compatible with a variety of Ultrabay 2000 devices. In our case, IBM elected to supply a standard 1.44MB floppy. Next to the Ultrabay 2000 is an infrared port, microphone in, line in, and headphone out. Next to all of these is a large cooling exhaust area. Behind this area sits the fan CPU cooling fan. It is quiet, so we could hardly hear it when it was running. Next to the cooling exhaust area, you can see the port for a locking cable device.
This is the left side of the A31p.
The right side of the A31p has the Ultrabay Plus, which in our test unit had a CD-RW/DVD combo drive installed in it. Two PC Card/Cardbus are stacked on this side of the notebook, as is the 1394 Firewire port. The 12.5mm hard drive is removable and can be released by removing one screw, located on the bottom of the notebook.
This is the right side of the A31p.
The rear of the notebook is where the vast majority of the A31p connection options are located. The ports on the rear of the A31p include: 9 Pin Serial Port; S-Video In; S-Video Out; Integrated LAN; Integrated Software Modem; VGA Out; Printer/LPT Port; and two USB ports. The integrated LAN uses a chipset by Intel, and Agere Systems designed the integrated software modem.
Here is what the rear of the A31p looks like. The ports are well labeled and color coded for the most part.
Turning the notebook over doesn't reveal much. The battery is located on the bottom front of the unit. Two access doors are bolted to the bottom of the notebook, one for the MiniPCI slot access, and the other for access to the memory slots. In our sample unit, under the MiniPCI access door we found both the 802.11b and the Bluetooth cards. The 802.11b adapter was using the MiniPCI slot, while the Bluetooth, on the other hand, was connected directly to the unit using a cable. Removing the memory access door revealed 512MB of DDR memory. The A31p is expandable to 1 GB of DDR SDRAM, which is the maximum supported by the i845MP chipset. Also, on the bottom of the unit is the connector for the ThinkPad dock or port replicator. Unfortunately, IBM did not supply us with either the ThinkPad dock or the port replicator, so we cannot offer any opinion on the performance or functionality of either of these.
Here is a view from the bottom of the A31p with all of the access doors and the battery removed.
The Fire Inside - The ATI Mobility Fire GL 7800
The ATi Mobility Fire GL 7800 is built upon the Mobility Radeon 7500. We took an in-depth look at the Mobility Radeon 7500 in the following article: The Mobility Radeon 7500 - NVIDIA and ATI Go Head to Head In The Mobile Market. At the time this article was originally written, only one notebook then shipping contained the Mobility Radeon 7500, and the Mobility Fire GL 7800 was not yet on the horizon. With the launch of the Pentium 4m, this is about to change.
It is important to understand that the Mobility Fire GL 7800 is built using the same GPU and technology as the Mobility Radeon 7500, with the main difference between the two of them being the drivers. You might remember the name 'FireGL' from the good old days when Diamond was still around. 'FireGL' stood for Diamond's professional OpenGL cards, designed by a special team located in the beautiful town of Starnberg, south of Munich, in Germany. ATi acquired FireGL about a year ago, and now the Starnberg specialists are responsible for ATi's high-end OpenGL workstation products that give NVIDIA's Quadros a very good run for its money. This team is also responsible for all of ATi's professional OpenGL drivers. The drivers for the Mobility Fire GL 7800 feature optimizations that are directly targeted at providing performance for professional OpenGL applications, CAD Development, and digital content creation. The Mobility Fire GL 7800 drivers are ISV certification-ready from ATi, but each OEM must individually get the entire platform ISV certified. We found the Mobility Fire GL 7800 drivers to be exceptionally stable and to provide excellent performance on the applications toward which these drivers are targeted.
The Mobility Fire GL 7800 includes the same technology that is found in the Mobility Radeon 7500, so you will find the same Charisma Engine, Pixel Tapestry technology, Hydravision, and Powerplay power management that is in the Mobility Radeon 7500. Like the Dell Inspiron 8100 that we looked at in the Mobility Radeon 7500 review, the IBM A31 series does not yet have a full implementation of ATi's Powerplay technology. We expect that to perhaps change during additional BIOS and driver revisions from IBM.
IBM markets the A31-line in both directions, as a desktop replacement with Mobility Radeon 7500, and as a workstation replacement unit with Mobility FireGL 7800. We now know that both graphics solutions use the same silicon, only the drivers are different. However, you don't need to fear that A31p-ThinkPads with the Mobility FireGL 7800 will run 2D or 3D-gaming applications worse than those with the Mobility Radeon 7500. The drivers for Mobility FireGL 7800 are an actual superset of the Mobility Radeon 7500 drivers. In other words, this means that the FireGL 7800 driver is able to do all the stuff that the Radeon 7500 driver can do, but it adds the support for professional OpenGL software, and comes with the certification of over 20 different ISVs.
The short time in which this review had to be finished did not allow us to test this new ThinkPad with professional OpenGL software. We will revisit this issue at a later stage.
The ATi Mobility Fire GL 7800 in our A31p was in the 64MB 128-bit DDR 4X AGP configuration. This configuration is standard on the A31p H6U, H5U, H4U, and H3U units. The A31 in the D6U, D5U, D4U, and D3U configuration, on the other hand, is configured with the ATi Mobility Radeon 7500 in a 32MB DDR 4X AGP configuration. It is easy to see that by offering the A31 configurations, IBM hopes to also open possible avenues into the desktop replacement market as well as the mobile workstation market.
Customizing Your ThinkPad Can Make All The Difference
The ThinkPad can be customized with a variety of options, using the Ultrabay 2000 and the new Ultrabay Plus. Using these Ultrabays gives you the ability to customize this two-spindle design. Our Ultrabay 2000 was equipped with a standard floppy drive. It is possible to swap out the floppy drive in the Ultrabay 2000 and exchange it for one of the many other Ultrabay 2000 devices, including the following: LS-240 Superdisk; Iomega Zip 250; CD; DVD; CDRW; and CDRW + DVD.
The Ultrabay Plus on our A31p was equipped with an 8x4x24 CDRW + DVD combo drive. We are puzzled as to why IBM is not yet shipping a 16x10x24 CDRW + DVD combo drive, as you are able to order this through other manufacturers. Perhaps for some the most exciting accessory for the Ultrabay Plus is the new ThinkPad Ultrabay Plus Numeric Keypad. If you don't have a use for the numeric keypad, with the Ultrabay Plus you can also purchase the Workpad C500/Palm 505 Series cradle for the Ultrabay Plus. The Ultrabay Plus is expanding the use of spindle technology on the typical notebook and taking it to the next level.
Here is a picture of the UltraBay Plus with the CDRW/DVD drive removed.
By adding the optional 802.11b wireless and Bluetooth into your A31 series notebook, the A31 series can be expanded. The 802.11b uses the MiniPCI slot under the bottom of the notebook. The Bluetooth, on the other hand, is hard-wired into the notebook.
Here is an up close look at the MiniPCI slot that houses the 802.11b wireless and next to it you can see the Bluetooth solution as well.
Another innovative feature is the addition of the UltraPort connector, which is located at the top of the screen. The UltraPort connector can be used for a variety of devices, including the UltraPort Camera II, the Bluetooth UltraPort module, the UltraPort Flash Reader, UltraPort IDRA, and the UltraPort Array Microphone. IBM did not send us any accessories for the UltraPort, so we can't tell you any more about it other than the devices that are available for it.
The UltraPort connector can be use for a variety of accessories and devices, but we did not have access to any for testing purposes.
With such a large variety of options for changing the configuration of your ThinkPad A31p, it is easy to adapt the unit for almost any user. IBM features a robust line of expansion accessories to allow you to get the most out of your ThinkPad A31 series.
IBM's Embedded Security Subsystem
The IBM Embedded Security Subsystem is the first such product we have seen that integrates security onto a chip contained within the PC. The 'ESS,' as we like to call it, requires client software, which is a download from IBM. Once downloaded, the client software works together with the hardware to provide an integrated security solution. The integrated security chip provides protection of critical information, including passwords, encryption keys and other electronic credentials to help keep them safe from "sniffers," Trojan Horses, and other possible hostiles.
The security software can also act as an interface between security-aware applications and the security chip itself. It can also provide support for the latest in peripheral security access control devices. The ESS can also protect files and folders with a stronger level of encryption. It also offers support for a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) by using a combination of digital keys and signatures to protect sensitive information. Unfortunately, we did not have the chance to do in-depth testing on the ESS during our testing of the A31p.
| Specifications Of The A31p Model H6U
||Intel Pentium 4 Mobile - 1.7Ghz w/512K Cache
||Motherboard Based On The Intel i845 Mobile DDR Chipset
||512MB PC2100 DDR SDRAM
||15" UXGA FlexView 1600x1200
||60GB ATA-100 12.5mm 5400 RPM Hard Drive
||ATI Mobility Fire GL 7800 128-bit 64MB DDR - 4X AGP
||802.11b Wireless - Actiontec
||56K Softmodem by Agere Systems
10/100 Intergrated Ethernet by Intel
Bluetooth Connectivity By Actiontec
||Li-Ion Batter Life - 2 Hours
||2 USB Ports
Audio - Headphone/line out, Mic In,
AC Adapter In
IBM Embedded Security Systems
2 PC-Card/Cardbus Slots - Stacked Configuration
|Dimensions - Weight
||13"x10.7"x1.8" - 33.02cm x 27.2cm x 4.6cm
7.7lbs - 3.5kg
||Limited 3 Year
||Microsoft Windows XP Professional w/all current updates applied
||Windows XP Home/Professional / Windows 2000
|Supported Operating Systems
||Windows XP Home/Professional - Windows 2000 - Windows ME - Windows 98SE - Windows NT 4.0 (All devices not supported w/NT 4.0)
||Access ThinkPad, Access Connections, Access Support, Adobe Acrobat Reader, ConfigSafe (Windows 2000 models Only), MGI VideoWave (A31p Models Only), PC-Doctor, ThinkPad Utilities, Update Connector, IBM RecordNOW by Veritas (CDRW Models Only), Client Security Software (Embedded Security Subsystem Models Only - Download), IBM Data Transfer, IBM Rapid Restore, IBM Director Agent, Lotus SmartSuite Millennium, and Lotus Notes Stand Alone Client
Benchmarks & Testing
Like we said, we got this notebook very quickly from IBM. We are still awaiting the arrival of additional Pentium 4m notebooks to test, and are a little disappointed by the speed of response of some vendors. This makes it difficult to compare the performance difference between the A31p and other notebooks in its class. We plan to do a P4m round up very shortly, though.
In the meantime, we choose to compare the IBM P4m to the Dell Inspiron 8100 in the same configuration that we used in our article on the ATi Mobility Radeon 7500. The numbers in the performance benchmarks should be viewed as a comparison between the Pentium IIIm and the Pentium 4m platforms. Both notebooks were using the same ATi Mobility Radeon 7500 driver, so we can consider the video equal. By looking at these numbers, we can gain some additional insight into the processor performance of the Pentium 4m and how much it will affect overall system performance. Look for a more complete test of the Pentium 4m using more of our standard benchmarks in our upcoming Pentium 4 notebook round up.
To this day, Quake III is still a good indicator of overall processor and video performance. Since we can consider the video equal, we are really getting a feel for the processor performance. With its score of 111.9 FPS, the A31p runs right past the Inspiron 8100. An increase of 45.9 is very good for the IBM A31p.
At the 1600x1200 resolution, which is the native resolution of the panel, the gap closes a little. The A31p was able to achieve 64.3 FPS which is still very good, but the Inspiron 8100 was still able to hang in there with a score of 55.5. The 8.8 FPS advantage for the A31p is narrower than we would have estimated.
3D Mark 2001
3D Mark 2001 produced some interesting results. Clearly the Pentium 4m has more power than the Pentium IIIm, with an 834 advantage.
We have used Lightwave and the Skull_Head_Newest.LWS test for some time. We thought it might be good to try to get an estimate of the processing power of the Pentum 4m. As you can see, the advanced architecture of the Pentium 4m is no match for the older Pentium IIIm.
We chose to compare the ATi Mobility Radeon 7500 driver to the ATi Fire GL 7800 driver. Using SpecViewPerf 6.1.2, we are able to get an idea of the performance difference between the drivers. Although there was a difference in the drivers' performance, it was not as large a margin as we would have guessed. The biggest advantage of using the 7800 drivers comes with the fact that they are ISV certified, as far as we can tell.
Battery Life performance of the A31p was what we would consider a little above average for a notebook that is in the mobile workstation/ desktop replacement category. After making sure that the A31p had a full charge, we then used the included DVD, software, and copy of the Region One DVD Driven, and set the DVD in endless loop playback mode. Tests yielded a playback of 2:17 minutes. This time could be extended, by adding an additional battery, but this, of course, will add weight to the system. The battery took a little over three hours to obtain a full recharge, but according to the IBM documentation, this time can ary due to the mode the laptop is in during the recharge cycle. The Dell, on the other hand, does flex its might here, turning in a score that is almost 20 minutes higher. Neither unit benefits from a full implementation of ATi's Powerplay technology.
The IBM A31p flattened the Dell Inspiron 8100 in this test. With its faster hard drive and faster processor it had a clear advantage.
We found the A31p to be an excellent choice for users who are looking for the ultimate in mobile workstation technology. The A31p packs an incredible amount of punch for the cost. It is still a big notebook, but in order to pack all of the necessary features into such a small package, you have to allow for the extra weight and increased form factor.
The biggest "down side" of the A31p (in our tested configuration) is the price. However, if you are running mission-critical applications in the CAD, MCAD, EDA, and petroleum exploration industries, the extra cost to move up to a premier notebook like the A31p can likely be justified. The A31p is pricey, and when it ships, we expect the A31p in the H6U configuration that we tested to retail for close to $4000.
We strongly recommend the A31p as a value for its target audience, but you might want to investigate the A31 if you can live without all the features that the A31p offers. It will be difficult for our editors in the lab to let go of the most powerful and feature-rich notebook that we have tested so far.
At 1.7Ghz, the P4m delivers the best performance in mobile computing. As we have noted, there has not yet been a notebook that has been able to take full advantage of the performance of the new generation of CPUs, due to factors such as hard drive performance. The introduction of IBM's 5400 RPM 9.5mm hard drive is just as important as the release of a new, faster CPU. The sad part about the 9.5mm hard drives is that they are limited to 40GB at the moment. However, continued development on other minor components will also require full exploitation of all of the potential power of the Pentium 4m.