by Perry Longinotti, Canada
LG’s S1 Supermodel gets a brain transplant
Back in August we were lucky enough to have an S1 (S1-M001A9 to be exact) notebook sent to us by LG. I was instantly enamoured by its striking good looks and solid feeling build quality. Excellent performance did not hurt its appeal factor either.
Today we look at the updated S1. Because of an almost identical spec save for the updated Core 2 Duo CPU, we get a nice look at what Intel’s latest brings to the table in terms of increased performance and improved power usage.
Specifically, the model number of our review unit is the S1-M002A9. Beacuse of the similarities I am going to borrow heavily from my previous S1 review updated where appropriate.
Out of Box Experience – Look and Feel
The LG S1 is a premium notebook and the packaging reflects this. Rather than deliver your hot new notebook in a plan cardboard box, LG sheaths the S1 in a sharp looking glossy black box with matte accents. Pretty rich looking packaging, lets unpack it.
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 starting cards that greet owners of their notebooks and while most people know how to get started I think it s nice touch.
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. Imagine a really dark bass boat blue color and you have the right idea.
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. The white base is made of a material that is much nicer than past and present iBooks – there is no comparison.
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.
(view large image)
Left side view (view large image)
Right side view (view large image)
Front side view (view large image)
Handling the S1, it feels solid and flex-free. This notebook is made in Korea in an LG factory, no offense to Taiwan and China based ODM manufacturers, but everything else being equal I will always take the made in South Korea product. It is worth noting that LG used to make some of Compaq’s nicest notebooks in Korea. This was back in the day, before the HP merger, when Compaq made some really nice notebooks.
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. It is more solid feeling than the PowerBooks, ThinkPads and Ferrari notebooks that I have owned or tested. LG’s three year warranty backs-up my theory that the S1 is built to last.
The S1 looks like it is worth every penny of its premium price (approximately $2,300.00 USD for the highest configuration). But how does it perform?
- Intel Core 2 Duo T7400 2.16 GHz processor
- ATI Mobility X1600 graphics card with 512 MB
- 2GB of DDR2 667MHz RAM
- 100GB 5400 RPM hard drive
- HD-DVD/DVD/CD-ROM optical drive
- 15.4" widescreen display
Specs as listed on the box (view large image)
The main item that has been updated in the S1 is the CPU. Now you get the Intel Core 2 Duo T7400 running at 2.16 GHz. Even though the clock speed is the same, Intel’s improvements to the chip’s design results in a SuperPi score that is 22% better – calculating Pi to 2 million places in 58 seconds versus 71. I have run out of superlatives for this series of chips. They possess a clear performance advantage over AMD’s best.
|LG S1 (2.16GHz Core 2 Duo)||0m 58s|
|LG S1 (2.16 GHz Core Duo)||1m 11s|
|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|
As for PCMark 05, the updated S1 delivered a score of 4896 versus 4460 – that is a 10% improvement. In detail, the PCMark 05 scores looked like this:
|PCMark05||S1-M001A9 (Core Duo 2.16GHz)||S1-M002A9 (Core 2 Duo 2.16GHz)|
|HDD — XP Startup||6.31 MB/s||6.91 MB/s|
|Physics and 3D||182.95 FPS||201.41 FPS|
|Transparent Windows||430.48 Windows/s||418.68 Windows/s|
|3D — Pixel Shader||82.59 FPS||82.37 FPS|
|Web Page Rendering||3.31 Pages/s||3.66 Pages/s|
|File Decryption||53.94 MB/s||59.15 MB/s|
|Graphics Memory — 64 Lines||1165.93 FPS||1166.16 FPS|
|HDD — General Usage||4.27 MB/s||4.41 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / Audio Compression||2174.66 KB/s||2315.51 KB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / Video Encoding||331.82 KB/s||391.0 KB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Text Edit||114.05 Pages/s||150.79 Pages/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Decompression||26.0 MPixels/s||30.3 MPixels/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / File Compression||7.91 MB/s||5.07 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / File Encryption||20.05 MB/s||28.47 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / HDD — Virus Scan||22.99 MB/s||38.67 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Memory Latency — Random 16 MB||8.01 MAccesses/s||8.21 MAccesses/s|
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. In August, seeing this much RAM as part of a standard spec was unusual but today we are starting to see this amount pop-up in more and more notebooks.
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. The Seagate Momentus 5400.3 160 GB HDD would be a good place for LG to start as it offers an abundance of space and great performance. This hard drive uses a SATA connection.
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. Maybe it is too soon to pick a winner, but similarly priced notebooks are appearing with HD-DVD drives – if I had to bet my money on a standard that is the one that I would pick.
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. With the updated CPU, the S1 increased its score in 3DMark05 from 3904 to 4053. That is about a 15% improvement. This is a great video system and should allow you to play most games on the S1 at reasonable settings.
|Notebook||3D Mark 05 Results|
|LG S1 (2.16GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1600 512MB)||4,053 3D Marks|
|LG S1 (2.16GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 512MB)||3,904 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|
The LCD panel on the S1 does not use a gloss coating. I felt that the first S1 that I tested could be a bit brighter, but this one was fine. Text looks great on the screen. While watching movies and playing games there was no evidence of ghosting.
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 (3x USB 2.0 in this case) and audio. High Definition audio (formerly: Azalea) is included and routed through the RealTek ALC880 5.1 channel codec chip.
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.
The S1 has a 5-in-1 media card reader that supports the smaller card formats (XD/SD/MMC/MS/MS Pro). A four pin firewire port is included. For connecting other expansion devices, LG has provided a single slot compatible with ExpressCard/54 or PCMCIA Type II.
Wireless and Internet
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.
I have to mention that since switching from a Linksys to a D-Link wireless router that I have had lots of problems with all Intel WiFi chips. I used to get rock solid connections with 2200, 2915 and 3945 series WiFi chips and now I only get reliable performance from non-Intel solutions. Your mileage may vary.
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 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. I rank Widcomm and IVT’s solutions higher than Microsoft’s because they have more connectivity features. They also make it easier to get devices connected in my experience. 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 and show all the relevant connection profiles without fail.
Battery and Power
Battery Eater Pro still does not seem to like the S1. With no synthetic benchmarks to help me out, I turned to a DVD test. The S1-M001A9 failed to get through Fellowship of the Ring so I tried Shaun of the Dead with the S1-M002A9. LG’s Battery Miser 4 software detected what I was doing and loaded the correct profile. The brightness was a bit low – but I decided to test the unit with the stock setting. The movie is about 90 minutes long and the S1 completed it with about 15 minutes left in the tank. Clearly battery life could be better.
The small power adapter helps keep travel weight down (view large image)
Surfing the Net, I managed to get 1 hous 59 minutes before the S1 stopped. This is almost 30 minutes less than the previous version. LG makes a nine cell battery and if it were included would probably stretch time away from a wall outlet to three and a half hours. LG might want to consider bumping the price by a few bucks and equipping the S1 with the bigger battery.
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.
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.
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.
Intelligent Updater (view large image)
When you first boot up the S1 LG’s MUI utility will prompt you to select your language. You will find your new notebook in the most pristine and virginal configuration.
All you get is Windows and LG’s excellent value added software. Foremost among these is LG’s ‘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 (both 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.
Included disks (view large image)
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 in the box.
Keyboard and Touchpad
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.
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.
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.
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.
Heat and Fan Control
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?
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.
We don’t have to wait until the next revision to see the cons listed below worked out: a bigger HDD and a battery are easy to add. And please LG drop the VGA port for a DVI (with a DVI to VGA adapter for the retro-grouches out there). And while I am sitting on Santa’s lap, I would also create a SKU above this model with an HD-DVD drive.
LG is frustratingly close to a perfect notebook, but it is close enough to the mark to put ahead of many notebooks in the same price range.
- Very fast at all tasks
- Great build quality
- TPM and Biometric security
- Clean Windows install
- LG value added software
- Small AC adapter
- No DVI port
- A faster or larger drive would be better
- Bigger battery please