LG S1 Review (pics, specs)

by lewdvig Reads (59,179)

by Perry Longinotti, Canada

Sexy Beast: Taking the Wraps Off of LG’s Stunning S1

Even though the price of basic computing continues to fall, and a nice notebook can be purchased for historically low prices this year, there is still an active and competitive high end. Notebooks like the Acer TravelMate 8204, Ferrari 4000 and 5000 series, MacBook Pro, ThinkPad T60 are some fine examples from companies looking to add some sex appeal to their lineups. I think the LG is an example of the latter.

LG’s notebooks, available in North America for about a couple of years now, are generally sharp looking machines with competitive specifications. Until recently they have not had a flagship model though. Enter the S1.


LG S1 (view large image)

My rich man, poor man experience is complete this month having gone from the inexpensive and plucky little Acer TravelMate 2428 WXCi to the stylish and powerful LG S1. This is a notebook that would make any successful business person proud to own.

Out of Box Experience — Look and Feel

You can tell right off the bat that the LG S1 is a premium notebook — the box is lovely. Rather than deliver your hot new notebook in a plain cardboard box, LG sheaths the S1 in a sharp looking glossy black box with matte accents. Pretty rich looking packaging, let’s unpack it.


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Inside the box you will see the accessories box and the laptop itself. LG could stand to add a welcome card or something. Acer includes getting started cards that greet owners of their notebooks and while most people know how to get started I think it’s a nice touch.


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Removing the laptop, you’ll see a good deal of plastic film protecting the S1′s finish. And what a finish! I have handled an insane number of notebooks and I have never laid hands on any as nice as the S1. The lid is a deep black/blue metallic color that looks fantastic — on par with any finish you can get from a boutique PC builder. They call this piano black, but I have not seen a finish this good on any piano.

Open the magnetic lid and you are presented with a glorious shiny white acrylic base. It looks like a giant slab of ivory. This is easily one of the best looking laptops that I have ever seen — even as I am typing this article my wife is commenting on how pretty the S1 is. The white base is made of a material that is much nicer than the Apple iBooks that I have owned.

Trying to capture the S1′s looks is futile; pictures do not do it justice. LG entrusted the S1 design to a top-grade design studio in Tokyo called Geo Design Inc. LG won the 2006 Red Dot design award for the S1 and it is no surprise. Looking at previous winners of the award reveals some real gems: Apple’s iPod, iBook, Nokia 8800 and several Sony Vaios.

Handling the S1, it feels solid and flex-free. LG seems to have used a variety of high grade materials in the construction of the S1. I did not detect any cheap plastic — even the memory panel door was magnesium or aluminum.

The S1 looks like it is worth ever penny of its premium price (approximately $2,200.00 USD for the highest configuration). But how does it perform?

Specifications: Zero Bottlenecks

I don’t think LG held anything back when planning the specifications of the S1. We were sent the S1-M001A9 variation. I suspect this is the top of the line model because there are only a few areas where the specifications could be improved. In most areas I could not think of any superior components available as of this writing.

Processor

Starting with the CPU, you get the Intel Core Duo T2600 running at 2.16 GHz. I think we have run out of superlatives for this chip. It is fantastic, offering performance equivalent to some of the fastest desktop CPUs while requiring far less power. I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed by the performance of this chip. It completed SuperPi to two million places in 1 minute 11 seconds.

Memory

Memory is 2 GB of DDR2 running at 667 MHz in dual channel mode. This amount of RAM should handle almost anything that you will be able to throw at the S1. You get quantity and quality.

Hard Drive

Storage is handled by a Hitachi Travelstar 5K100 100 GB HDD and the extremely capable LG GSA-4082 Dual Layer DVD-RW drive with Lightscribe.

The hard drive could stand to be bigger or faster — we are talking about a deluxe laptop here. It might have been a good idea to spec one of the newer perpendicular hard drives in the S1. In LG’s defense I have found many of the current crop of 5400 rpm drives to be great performers with a good balance of speed, thermal qualities and noise output. This hard drive uses a SATA connection.

Optical Drive

The LG optical drive will handle all the formats of CD and DVD media that are out there with the exception of HD DVD and Blu-ray. With a WSXGA screen and 5.1 audio support, the inclusion of either next gen optical format would have been nice, but would likely also have resulted in a much higher price — probably another $800.00. In my opinion, paying that much to play either format is a waste of money right now because we all know how cheap those drives will be in a year or two.

Graphics and Screen

ATI’s Mobility RADEON X1600 powers the S1′s 15″ 1600*1050 display. For non-desktop replacement notebooks, this is the best video adapter available. LG has outfitted the S1 with an enormous 512 MB of dedicated video RAM. This system will allow you to play games like Doom III in Ultra Mode. It managed a score of 3904 in 3DMark05. I tested Prey and GTR2. Prey ran fine with auto-detected settings (medium-high) at 1024*768 resolution, GTR2 ran great at 1600*1050 and high settings (no anti-aliasing or filtering). This is a great video system and should allow you to play most games on the S1.


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The LCD panel on the S1 does not use a gloss coating. I also felt that the screen could be a bit brighter but playing with ATI’s Catalyst Control Center a bit allowed me to get brightness, contrast and gamma settings to a comfortable level. Text looks great on the screen. While watching movies and games there was no evidence of ghosting.

Chipset

Intel’s 945 PM Express chipset ties all of these components together. This is Intel’s top of the line core logic chip, which means that it is by far the best mobile core logic chip available right now. The increased performance versus Intel’s other offerings comes in the form of maximum bandwidth in the connection between components: PCI-Express x16 and x1, Serial ATA, dual channel DDR2 667 support. This chipset also supports Intel Active management Technology — something that will, or will not, send your heart fluttering depending on how close your desk is situated to the IT department.

Behind every great Northbridge there is an equally great Southbridge. In the S1 you get Intel’s ICH7 south bridge chip — another state-of-the-art component. It handles the Input/Output duties such as the storage and USB connections and audio. High Definition audio (formerly: Azalea) is included and routed through the RealTek ALC880 5.1 channel codec chip.

Audio

Audio is worth taking about here because LG have invested some thought into making it better. The 3 watt stereo speakers are enhanced by SRS Labs audio technologies: TruSurround XT and WOW XT. These technologies provide virtual surround and make compressed audio such as MP3s sound better. They work quite well, the virtual surround coming in particularly handy when watching movies with headphones. I found the output from the speakers to be good and loud, and I was impressed by the quality when using headphones.

Slots

The S1 has a 5-in-1 media card reader that supports the smaller card formats — no Compact Flash support. These readers come in handy for transferring files in our floppy-less computing environments so it is nice to see LG include one. A four pin firewire port is included.

For connecting other expansion devices, LG has provided a single slot compatible with Cardbus/PCMCIA. There will be interesting Expresscard devices coming out in the near future but compatibility with the older format insures that you will able to use the cards you have already bought.

Wireless

WiFi is handled by the Intel PRO/wireless 3945ABG chip. It is Intel’s top of the line wireless chip and offers all three official WiFi formats but lacks speed doubler technology — something that Intel has not adopted. You also get LG’s Hexa-Band antenna technology for increasing signal strength. In my tests I found the LG S1′s ability to find wireless networks to be about average – equal to other notebooks I have tested or owned. For folks that still use wires, LG has included a Gigabit Ethernet port powered by an Agere PCI-Express x1 chip. Often, cheaper solutions use the PCI bus for Gigabit networking. Because PCI is three times slower than PCI-Express x1 this can cause a bottleneck. Speaking of bottlenecks, a 56k modem is also included.


Bluetooth setup (view large image)

Bluetooth is handled by the CSR BlueCore V4 chip. IVT’s Bluesoleil communication stack is used in place of the more common Microsoft or Widcomm software. As a frequent user of both and a first time user of Bluesoleil I have to give the nod to LG’s choice. In addition to having a simple to use Toshiba-esque utility that shows devices in range on a radar-like screen, the Bluesoleil software managed to connect to my phones without fail. This was the best Bluetooth experience I have had.

Battery and Power

Once again I had trouble with Battery Eater Pro. In this case the ATI video chip and the benchmark’s OpenGL renderer seemed to be at odds with each attempt at a measurement ending in a unsupported pixel format’ error.

So, with no synthetic benchmarks to help me out, I turned to my trusty Lord of the Rings battery torture routine. How far into the Fellowship of the Ring (extended edition) could the S1 get before inevitably failing (as all other before it had). I found that I needed the LCD panel set to maximum brightness, and that will certainly affect battery life. LG’s Battery Miser 4 software detected what I was doing and loaded the correct profile. I managed to complete disk one just as the system shut down with absolutely nothing left in the tank. Disk one is about 1:45:40 long. A quarter of an hour short of two hours with screen set to max brightness — not great.

Surfing the Net, I managed to get 2 hours 24 minutes before the machine stopped. Not bad for a notebook with this much power, but the nine cell optional battery would probably stretch time away from a wall outlet to almost four hours. LG might want to consider bumping the price by a few bucks and equipping the S1 with the bigger battery.


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The S1′s power supply is itsy-bitsy for a notebook this powerful. Welcoming the inclusion of a small power supply like this will be anyone that actually intends to take the S1 on the road. I would conservatively say that it is the size of the unit that came with my Ferrari. It is small touches like these that elevate a product.

Extra Hardware Features


Biometrics software (view large image)

Biometric security is present in the form of a Trusted Platform Module and a finger print scanner. Softex Omnipass manages accounts and enrolling users on either of the security technologies. It is a user friendly system that a biometric security novice like me completed with a little patience.


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Another interesting hardware feature is a Cardbus-sized remote control for media playback. It uses Infrared to transmit its signal to the S1. This might be work useful to people that like to connect their notebooks to external displays or televisions. The S1 has VGA and S-Video ports but sadly there is no DVI port. Personally, I think a VGA port looks as out of place on a notebook of this caliber as does a serial or parallel port.

Software and Setup

When you first boot up the S1 LG’s MUI utility will prompt you to select your language.


Intelligent Updater (view large image)

You will find your new notebook in the most pristine and virginal configuration. All you get is Windows and LG’s excellent ‘Intelligent Update’ utility. This utility quickly connects to the Internet and checks for LG and Microsoft updates. It then updates all of your drivers and software to the latest LG-tested versions — automatically. It even downloaded and installed the S1′s copy of Norton Antivirus!

The process is at least as nice as Windows update (which if you miss it can work concurrently to update Microsoft’s Operating system). In addition to seemingly giving you everything you need, it did not prompt to install Microsoft’s spyware validation tool. Frankly this development is long overdue and I applaud LG for getting it right.

LG’s Battery Miser 4, On Screen Display Manager and IP Manager round out the included utilities. You also get a CyberLink software disk that includes a selection of their ubiquitous software including PowerDVD 6.0.

Restore disks for the Operating System and Utilities are included.


Included disks (view large image)

Performance

My expectations regarding performance from a notebook were completely reset by the S1. Not only was the LG S1 the fastest notebook that I have tested, it was the fastest PC that I have tested. It easily eclipsed the performance of my 2.6 GHz Athlon 64 desktop — only the desktop’s ATI X1900 saved it from being beat in gaming tests.

Specifically, the LG S1′s performances looks like this: SuperPi testing was almost twice as fast as the 2 GHz Turion 64 CPU in my Ferrari 4005 WLMi. And the score of 29 seconds for 1 million places is as good as you would get from much faster wattage eating desktops. In fact it is in the same league as desktops with wildly over-clocked Opterons and Athlons.

As for PCMark 05, the S1 delivered a score of 4460 which is within striking distance of fast desktop computers. Remember, notebooks are designed to be energy efficient so to see them running fast power hungry desktops so closely is a testament to how far we have come. The performance delta between notebooks and desktops is getting very small. In the case of PCMark 05 results it can be attributed to the I/O performance of desktops.

In detail, the PCMark 05 score looked like this:

PCMark05

HDD — XP Startup

6.31 MB/s

Physics and 3D

182.95 FPS

Transparent Windows

430.48 Windows/s

3D — Pixel Shader

82.59 FPS

Web Page Rendering

3.31 Pages/s

File Decryption

53.94 MB/s

Graphics Memory — 64 Lines

1165.93 FPS

HDD — General Usage

4.27 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 1 / Audio Compression

2174.66 KB/s

Multithreaded Test 1 / Video Encoding

331.82 KB/s

Multithreaded Test 2 / Text Edit

114.05 Pages/s

Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Decompression

26.0 MPixels/s

Multithreaded Test 3 / File Compression

7.91 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 3 / File Encryption

20.05 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 3 / HDD — Virus Scan

22.99 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 3 / Memory Latency — Random 16 MB

8.01 MAccesses/s

 

Super Pi

Notebook

Time

LG S1 (2.16 GHz Core Duo)

1m 11s

Asus W3H760DD (2.0 GHz Pentium M)

1m 33s

Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo)

1m 16s

Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)

1m 18s

Toshiba Satellite M100 (2.00GHz Core Duo)

1m 18s

Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo)

1m 29s

Dell XPS M140 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)

1m 41s

Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)

1m 53s

IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)

1m 45s

 

3DMark05:

Notebook

3D Mark 05 Results

LG S1 (2.16GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 512MB)

3,904 3D Marks

Asus W3J (1.83Ghz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)

3,925 3D Marks

Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400)

1,791 3D Marks

Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)

4,236 3DMarks

Alienware Aurora M-7700(AMD Dual Core FX-60, ATI X1600 256MB)

7,078 3D Marks

Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)

2,092 3D Marks

Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI x700 128 MB)

2,530 3D Marks

Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)

2,273 3DMarks

HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)

2,536 3D Marks

Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 256MB)

2,090 3D Marks

Ergonomics

Simple things like a good keyboard are often overlooked by notebook makers. Thankfully LG has equipped the S1 with great specimen. The S1′s high quality chassis gives the keys a solid base. I would rank the S1 keyboard as one of the best that I have ever used. LG has used the space offered on the S1 very well and as a result this is one of the few 15.4″ notebooks with a numeric keypad.


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Touchpads are another area that can be easy to screw up. Sometimes a manufacturer is tempted to add lots of cool looking extra functionality to the touchpad. My experience with these extra features is that they do not work very well and just complicate things. I shudder when I see busy touchpads. LG has given the S1 a nice simple touchpad that works well with a minimum of tweaking.


Front side view (view large image)


Left side view (view large image)


Right side view (view large image)

The S1 is average sized for a 15’4″ notebook. It could be a bit thinner — it measures up at a little more than one inch think. It weighs about 6.2 lbs which is fair considering the solid-feeling construction. Only time will tell if the build quality is as good as it feels, but right out of the box it has an edge over some of the notebooks I have tested.

Like many notebooks, the S1′s keyboard has quite a few Function keys. The Onscreen Display Manager gives visual feedback about these functions as you enable/disable them. It is a pretty sharp-looking utility. In addition to volume, brightness and wireless the S1 also includes a feature that I have not seen before: fan control. You can toggle between three settings: automatic, cool and quiet. I left the unit on ‘cool mode’ throughout the entire test and did not find the fan noise intrusive.

By adding the fan control option to the S1 LG has made its life easier when it comes to pleasing its users. If you do not like a hot notebook, leave the setting to ‘cool.’ If fan noise irritates you, leave the fan setting on ‘quiet.’ And if you don’t care, let the S1 decide what fan speed is best.

As a result of my fan setting preference (cool), I did not have any heat issues with the S1. It gets a bit warm when plugged in but it never approached uncomfortable. I found that while playing games the GPU fan would kick in and it could get loud. This goes with the territory – a powerful GPU generates a lot of heat.

Using the S1 on battery power, I found it to be neither hot nor noisy.

Conclusion, is it worth the money?

This is a premium notebook, no question about it. I think it easily justifies its cost especially when stacked up against two of its closest competitors: Acer’s TravelMate 8205 WLMi and the MacBook Pro.

LG S1

MacBook Pro

Acer 8205 WLMi

CPU

2.16 GHz

2.16 GHz

2.16 GHz

RAM

2 GB DDR2 667

2 GB DDR2 667

2 GB DDR2 533

HDD

100 GB 5400 RPM

100 GB 5400 RPM

120 GB 5400 RPM

Video

512 MB X1600

256 MB X1600

256 MB X1600

Networking

Intel 3945ABG

Bluetooth 2.0 EDR

Airport BG

Bluetooth 2.0 EDR

Intel 3945ABG

Bluetooth 2.0 EDR

Display

WSXGA+ (1600*1050)

1440*900

WSXGA+ (1600*1050)

Optical

DVDR 8x Dual Layer w/Lightscribe

DVDR 4x

DVDR 8x Dual Layer Swappable

Slot

Cardbus

Expresscard/34

Cardbus, Expresscard/34

Wired Networking

Gigabit Ethernet, 56k Modem

Gigabit Ethernet

Gigabit Ethernet, 56k Modem

Extras

Biometrics, TPM, Media Remote, 5in1 Reader

OSX, iLife, Front Row, iSight Cam, Mag Safe PSU

VOIP handset, 1.3 MP Orbicam, 5in1 Reader

Price (CDN)

$2599

$3199

$2599

In this league the S1 looks pretty good. The choice comes down to the LG S1 or the 8205 WLMi because of the large premium you have to pay for the MacBook Pro. I would take the LG. In my limited experience with the Acer TravelMate 8204 (one notch below the model listed above) I found its chassis to be subject to flexing and creaking. LG’s S1 is built out of materials that are much nicer than the Acer (other than the carbon lid on the Acer).

Ferrari notebooks are left off the list because quite frankly the 4000 series models are considerably slower than the Core Duo notebooks listed above. I have not been able to get my hands on the new 5000 series, but I would bet on it being 15-20% slower in most tests. AMD is going to have to do something quick if they intend to compete with Intel in the high-end notebook market.

There are a lot of really good notebooks in this price range, and the two models above that I decided to pit the S1 against are just a couple of the better known models. The point of the exercise is to illustrate that if you are shopping in this range, you should put the S1 on your list.

LG has made an almost perfect notebook in the S1. It is well constructed, offers terrific performance and looks extremely stylish. Yes, you will pay a premium for this notebook but compared to its rivals it is priced aggressively.

Pros

  • Very fast at all tasks
  • Great build quality
  • TPM and Biometric security
  • Clean Windows install
  • LG value added software
  • Small AC adapter

Con

  • No DVI port
  • A faster or larger drive would be better
  • Bigger battery please




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