by Perry Longinotti, Alberta Canada
Korean technology companies are going to take over the world. I have felt this way since the 2002 Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, where Samsung and LG showed up with some of the nicest products I have ever seen. Both companies went from being bargain brands to be best in class in about a decade – amazing.
LG LM70 (view larger image)
Samsung and LG seem to have an uncanny ability to get new products right without having to spend lots of time learning the nuances of consumer electronics or computer segments. And now it appears that they both have their targets set on the notebook market. We recently got to spend some time with LG’s flagship product the LM70 Express.
LG is aiming for the premium thin and light notebook segment with the LM70. This is the first notebook that I have tested that really takes Intel’s updated Centrino platform and runs with it. There are few compromises here. The LM70 is easily the most powerful unit that I have reviewed. This is a product designed to compete with IBM, Toshiba, and Dell’s best products. LG is aiming for top spot and have equipped it accordingly:
- Intel Pentium M 770 (2.13 GHz, 533 MHz FSB, 2MB L2 cache)
- Intel 915 Express Chipset
- ATI Mobility X600 64MB RAM
- 15″ SXGA+ (1400 x 1050)
- 512MB DDR2 533 MHz SDRAM (256MB x 2)
- 80GB SATA Hard Drive
- DVD-R/+R drive
- (802.11 a/b/g)
- Microsoft Windows XP Professional
- One year warranty
This is an extremely impressive list of specifications, but it might be hard to find a notebook like the one we tested. At the time of this writing LG notebooks were not listed on the LG USA website, I have since received confirmation that LG has not announced any plans to sell their notebooks in the USA. While there are notebooks on the LG Canada website; this particular LM70 configuration is absent. I was able to find Canadian resellers who carry the LM70 in various configurations ranging in price for $2,999.99 to $3,199.99 (CDN), but not the same configuration I tested (they were slower). Configurations can vary wildly region to region, so if you manage to track down an LM70 keep this in mind.
Construction and Design
You can’t label a notebook ‘premium’ and then construct it out of plastic. A Magnesium chassis is very important for a notebook that is going to be used by business travelers. It is stronger than plastic, has a very low density which makes it light, and its shielding properties mean that wifi will not be adversely effected. Often, even magnesium construction can not prevent the flexing and creaking normally associated with plastic because the material is too thin (this seems to afflict Toshiba in particular). The hallmark of a durable notebook is a solid construction and the LM70 does not disappoint. In fact, I will go on record and say the the LM70 is the best made PC notebook that I have ever used. It feels more solid than my IBM T40, and any of the Dells and Toshibas that I have owned and tested. In fact I would rate it equal to the solid feel of the aluminum Apple PowerBooks – high praise.
LG LM70 Left side view (view larger image)
LG LM70 Back side view (view larger image)
LG LM70 Right side view (view larger image)
The LM70 has nice, tight hinges that do not creak or flex. The LCD is firmly mounted in a reassuringly flex free frame. The palm-rests are silent and flex-free and the underside has panel covers that match the solid construction of the chassis. If I was a Product Manager at any PC manufacturer with a line of premium notebooks, I would be buying an LM70 to study how it is made. It is that good.
In terms of design, the LM70 is understated. Perhaps too much so – it risks being boring. The controls and indicator lights are well laid out, and tastefully subdued. The LG logo on the lid is quite large and chromed/polished. I think it would look better backlit like Apple does with their notebooks (LG has a nice distinctive logo). I think it could use a dose of personality.
LG’s marketing materials refer to the sleek European design of the LM70. I can’t say for sure whether this was designed in Europe, but it has a minimalist look. The LM70 is finished in a nice silver which would be quite boring if not for some nice piano black accents on the lid. There should be more of this piano black finish in my opinion – that would really make it a looker. One of the prettiest laptops ever made was the IBM ThinkPad S30 (Japan only), and its distinguishing feature was a gorgeous mirror-like piano black lid.
I think that LG may want to spend a few dollars on a Jonathan Ivy-like talent to design a distinctive look for them. IBM, Apple and Toshiba portables are all quite easy to spot, but the LM70 would be hard to spot in a sea of clones. If LG is serious about being a competitor in the global PC market than its products deserve their own look.
LG LM70 Keyboard and Touchpad (view larger image)
LG has packed an incredible amount of high performance hardware into what is undoubtedly a thin and light package. The LM70 is highly portable, despite its ample 15″ high resolution screen. At 2.3 kg it is easy on the shoulders – and its 90 watt power brick is also small and light. In terms of size, it is approximately the same thickness as my Titanium PoweBook, and it only exceeds the overall dimensions of my Apple because of the LM70’s large 15″ screen.
LG LM70 alongside Apple PowerBook (view larger image)
LG LM70 (left) alongside Apple PowerBook (right) (view larger image)
Processing is handled by Intel’s top Pentium M the 770. There is not much to say about this processor other than it is blazingly fast. It really impresses. Don’t let the clock speed fool you, this is a match for almost any currently shipping CPU, and its design is the future of Intel’s desktop and mobile offerings.
LG has equipped the LM70 with Intel’s latest core logic chipset, the 915. This brings a whole boatload of performance enhancements to the Centrino platform including faster dual channel memory (DDR2), better hard drives (SATA), more powerful video (PCI Express-based chips) and new peripheral support (SuperCard). Taken as a whole these features make the Centrino platform faster and lower the already frugal power consumption characteristics of the platform.
Memory / RAM
In order to fully exploit the dual channel memory controller of the 915 chipset, the notebook needs to have two memory sticks installed. The LM70 comes with a single 512 MB stick. This means you will have to add another 512 MB stick of the same speed in order to get dual channel mode and the most performance from your notebook. Normally having an open memory slot would be a good thing, but this is a premium product. A notebook in this class should come with 1024 MB of RAM. The LM70 would have scored better in our tests with dual channel enabled.
The ‘Fine Bright LCD’ has a native resolution of 1400*1050. No 16:9 widescreen here, and I can’t say that the typical business traveler will miss the wide aspect ratio. Also absent is the shinny LCD screen coatings that are all the rage right now. They may be great for home computers, but in offices with lots of artificial light a glossy coating is more headache than its worth.
LG LM70 Right side oblique view (view larger image)
According to LG the Fine Bright LCD ‘uses low-reflection processing technology based on the polarization effect, and ART (Anti Reflection Treatment), to minimize screen reflection and improve the visual experience.’ The LM70’s screen is easy on the eyes. The viewing angle is acceptable.
Graphics and Video Card
The LCD is powered by ATI’s RADEON X600 video chip. I believe that this is a PCI Express version of the 9600, so performance should be similar. This is a pretty good DX 9 capable videocard. DX 9 support means the latest games will look great, but it also means that the LM70 will run Microsoft’s next operating system, ‘Longhorn’ very nicely. Longhorn has a user interface (code-named Avalon) that relies on powerful video cards to deliver many more video effects – kind of like the effects found in Mac OS X. Our LM70 was equipped with 64 MB of RAM which is probably half as much as it should have in order to play the latest games, but is plenty for typical business use. With the PCI Express video bus operating much faster than AGP, and system ram running at 533 MHz, we should not see too much of a problem if textures are shuttled between video and system ram – at least in theory.
Azalia High Definition 24 bit audio is supported, but there is no optical output. The 0.8 Watt speakers do an OK job of reproducing sound, but the LM70 is not really geared towards the multimedia enthusiast. You will get the best experience from a good set of headphones. Audio performance is good for this class of notebook.
LG equipped the LM70 with a Fujitsu MHT 2080BH Hard Disk. This drive uses the new Serial ATA interface rated for 150 MB/second. It spins at 5400 RPM and has an 8 MB buffer. SATA’s 150 MB bandwidth is great, but a 5400 RPM hard drive is never going to take full advantage of it. This drive is not as fast as the Hitachi 7200 RPM Travlestar ATA drives. LG should consider switching to the faster Hitachi drives on a notebook like the LM70. Hitachi’s fast notebook drive will do more to improve I/O performance on the LM70 than SATA will. A premium product should use Hitachi’s drives until the other manufacturers of notebook storage catch up to them.
Wireless and Connectivity
Wireless connectivity is handled by Intel’s 2915 ABG miniPCI card. It is great to see all of the major 802.11 standards supported. This should make wireless connectivity a lot easier. The LM70 uses a ‘Dual Hexa Band’ antenna which, ‘breaks the band down into 6 bands and uses an optimized antenna for each band for wider coverage and enhanced network connectivity.’ I found WiFi performance to be comparable to other notebooks that I have reviewed. No problems obtaining and holding a signal.
Noticeably absent from the LM70 is BlueTooth (either in the stock configuration or as an option). An executive class notebook should have this feature. I know that I, for one, could never live without it.
Intel’s Azalia audio spec includes a 56k soft modem for folks who like to connect the old fashioned way. Soft modems are not well supported in Linux, so keep this in mind if if you prefer Linux to Windows. The LM70 also includes gigabit ethernet.
Multi Card Reader
The LM70 includes a multi card reader that supports SD, MMC and MemoryStick formats but not the ubiquitous Compact Flash. I am not sure why Compact Flash is omitted from most multi card readers on laptops these days. It is a waning format, but it is quite likely that you will encounter one on a trip.
Performance / Heat / Noise
A really good notebook balanced power and performance with mobility. Factors such as heat, weight, noise and battery consumption are just as important as how fast a notebook performs.
The LM70 absolutely blasted our Super Pi test, easily outscoring the other machines we have tested. The Intel 770’s clock speed helps here, but so does the 533 MHz RAM. Many notebooks sporting the 915 chipset have used the slower 400 HMz DDR2 Ram.
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|LG LM70 (2.13 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 37s|
|Dell Inspiron 6000 (1.60GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 52s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Banias Pentium M)||2m 23s|
|Compaq R3000T (Celeron 2.8GHz)||3m 3s|
|HP DV4000 (1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 51s|
|Dell Inspiron 8600 (1.7GHz Banias Pentium M)||2m 28s|
During normal use, heat and noise were not a problem. The base of the notebook will get warm, but not uncomfortably so. LG list silent cooling as a feature of the LM70 and I would have to agree. According to LG marketing the LM70’s Multi-Source Single Cooling System, ‘minimizes weight by using copper, as it has a high heat conductivity, and an optimized fan solution. LG notebook computers equipped with the MSC system offer higher performance and extremely stable operations.’ Copper heatsinks are usually heavier than aluminum in my experience, so perhaps the heatsink/heatpipe on the LM70 is smaller and thereby lighter due to the higher conductivity of copper.
I can not remember the fan coming on – if it was on, I did not hear it. This is somewhat concerning as LG is using regular heat pipes and fans in the LM70, nothing too exotic. The quiet cooling system is great but can it handle the heat generated by all of these high performance parts?
It can be hard to quantify performance especially when comparing notebooks against each other. This is why we use synthetic benchmark suites, as they can usually give us a good idea of relative perfomance. In the case of our synthetic benchmarks, the LM70 returned some strange results. It took a few days of testing the LM70 but I think I have uncovered the culprit: heat.
PCMark04 returned scores ranging from 2694 to 4182 – all environmental conditions were the same in each test, except for the temperature. Similarly, 3DMark03 results ranged from 2856 to 3011. I normally put very low value on synthetic benchmarks as an indicator of general performance, but when testing Half Life 2 (HL2) on the LM70 some other problems popped up. I found the first few passes of a benchmark returned scores in the expected range, but if I ran Futuremark’s PCMark04 and/or 3DMark03 after running through a few Half Life 2 benchmarks I received very low scores.
Heat becomes an issue for the LM70 when playing demanding games – more so than with any other laptop that I have tested. While looping through HL2 time demos, the LM70 was hot enough to burn skin. This excess heat manifests itself during games. Frame rates drop into the slideshow range, and pixel shader effects like glass and water reflection/refraction display as purple blotches. Given enough time to cool down, both problems vanish. The results suggest some thermal down-clocking on the part of the X600. Benchmark scores get progressively lower as tests are looped.
I even propped the machine up allowing a one inch space between the bottom vents so that it could get adequate airflow – this only helped a bit and is not indicative of normal use. The heat builds very quickly, so keep this in mind. As mentioned earlier, in normal use the LM70 never gets too hot. Modern video chips operate very hot, so the heat when playing games is likely a result of the X600 being worked hard.
Due to the heat issue gaming performance was not what I expected, it was a disappointment. This machine has enough power on paper to be able run new games like Half Life 2 (HL2) at the LCD’s native resolution. But either the heat or the limited video ram kept performance low enough to declare HL2 unplayable. This is a surprise as I have played through the game on notebooks that were far less powerful than the LM70. The LM70’s RADEON X600 is clocked at 298 MHz for the GPU and 250 MHz for the video RAM. For those of you that are into modifying your laptops; It would be a very bad idea to over-clock the video system in the LM70 given the heat issues already mentioned. In fact I would recommend under-clocking.
It is debatable how important video gaming performance is to a laptop like the LM70. But heat is an enemy of any notebook, and I don’t know that an almost silent operation is enough of a payback for the heat compromise. Heat is more than an annoyance, it can shorten the life of components. A failure on the road can be quite costly.
Battery life was disappointing for a notebook in this class. In my DVD playback test I was only able to get 79 minutes through Lord of the Rings. This result was achieved using the default DVD setting. Normally surfing activities averaged 90 to 120 minutes. This is with the stock battery which is a six cell unit good for 4.8 Ahr. A nine cell version is optional, but if I were LG I would make the bigger battery standard. This is a bigger letdown than heat or noise.
From what I can tell, the LM70 lacks any of the protection features found on the latest IBM, Apple, Dell and Toshiba notebooks. There is no HDD impact protection, no impact resistant shell (crumple zones) and no spill resistant keyboard. Other machines in this price class feature some or all of these features – and they are useful features.
LG has implemented an update feature that is very similar to Microsoft Windows Update. A service runs in the background that looks for updates to the LM70s drivers and configuration files on LG’s servers and notifies you when they are available. You can then update the system with a couple of clicks. I love this feature! I have requested this feature from countless other notebook vendors and LG delivers it right off the bat with their lineup of notebooks. LG owners are spared the monotony of searching a website for new drivers, or worse never even knowing that performance fixes or upgrades are available.
There were several updates available during testing, all but one of them installed. The problem update was listed as a CPU enhancement weighing in a 39 KB. I attempted to install it about ten times, as each time I would boot the LM70 the update utility would inform me that it was available for download. I never could get the update to install.
The power management software, Battery Miser 2005, works well in that it is able to change settings for you on the fly. When I started up Cyberlink PowerDVD (included) the LG Power Miser utility automatically switched to DVD power mode. Upon exiting from PowerDVD the profile automatically switched to default power mode. I don’t think the software can be blamed for the battery life shortcoming of the LM70, but I could be wrong.
LG includes a HDD encryption system which prevents access to sensitive data if a notebook is lost or stolen. It would be nice to see other security features such as a biometric scan (increasingly popular on professional grade notebooks).
The LM70 is not a machine that I can recommend. It is all downhill after the first impression, which was very favorable due the weight and construction.
The specifications of our review unit were good. A faster Hitachi Hard Drive, 128 MB of video memory and 1024 MB of RAM in a dual channel configuration would have been appropriate for a high end notebook. Our LM70 as configured would likely be in the $3,500 to $4,000.00 range. I have to guess the actual price because I can not find an LM70 with the same specifications as our test unit for sale anywhere. Our unit featured an Intel 770 CPU as opposed to the more common 750 CPU on the LM70 models that I was able to find for sale in Canada. The difference in price between these two processors in Canada is about $500.00. Our LM70 also came equipped with the Intel 2915 ABG wireless chip whereas the units that I was able to find for sale in Canada came with the 2200 BG.
Given the erratic performance, which was likely due to heat issues, it does not make sense to pay a premium price for the LM70. An equally generic looking Dell Latitude D610 can be had for a lot less money and similar specs. Apple, IBM and Toshiba all make notebooks in this class that have features that I feel justify a premium price.
The LM70 proves that making a really good professional notebook involves more than just assembling the fastest parts and placing them inside a generic shell. These days, a lot of computing can be had for very little money (Dell) or you can opt for innovative features and stylish designs (IBM, Apple, Toshiba). It is really hard for a unit like the LM70 to compete in this marketplace. There are some incredibly good laptops in the $3,000.00 to $4,000.00 range and I can’t say that the LM70 would be my first choice.
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