WinBook A700 Series Review (pics, specs)

by Reads (20,782)

by Nick Kokkinos, Ohio USA

Overview & Introduction:

The notebook in question is a Winbook A700 series desktop replacement notebook.  I bought the lower priced version, which is denoted the A710.  It comes with:

  • Processor — Mobile Athlon 64 3000+ (1.8 Ghz, 800Mhz HTT, 1Mb cache, 130nm, socket 754)
  • RAM — 512MB PC2700 DDR333 (Upgraded to 768MB)
  • Hard Drive — 80GB, 4200RPM
  • Optical Drive — Dual Layer DVD Burner
  • Graphics — ATI Xpress200 supporting 128Mb shared video memory
  • Screen — 1440 x 900 WXGA 17″ Widescreen (15:9 aspect)
  • Sound — 7.1 Channel Azalia HD Audio
  • Network — 56Kb/s Voice/Fax Modem, Gigabit LAN, Wireless b/g LAN
  • Operating System — Windows XP SP2 Home Edition

There is a second, more expensive configuration (the A730) priced at $1299.99, but this one could be had at MicroCenter for only $999.99.

Reasons For Buying:

I am a college student and was looking for a second computer for close to or less than $1,000.  Because my school has wireless across the entire campus, having a desktop, though useful for heavy tasks, was not convenient when I needed to do reasearch and study away from my desk.  I was looking for a machine with average to above average battery life, lots of connectivity, and the power to handle the occasional game or movie.  Notebooks I considered other than the A200 were:

  • Winbook A200 Series
  • Compaq M2000Z Series
  • Compaq V2000Z Series
  • Averatec 4100 Series

The Winbook A200 was the clear price winner at around $500, but the smallish battery and lack of a PCMCIA slot for expansion were negatives.  Plus, it was lacking in firewire and other high-end options that I had grown used to on my desktop.

Both Compaq models were at the pricing midpack, and could be reasonably equipped for around $700.  Plus, they could be equipped with huge 12-cell batteries for extra life.  But because they are assembled to specification in China, delivery can take over 2 weeks, and I had final exams coming up fast so needed a laptop

The Averatec 4100 series was at the high end of the price scale (around $900), was sleek and thin, but only included weak SiS integrated graphics.  Though it was an excellent notebook otherwise, all the notebooks I was looking at came with more powerful ATI-based graphics.

I did not look at any Intel-based machines, even though the Celeron and Pentium M chips get excellent battery life and are strong performers, because they all came equipped with Intel’s substandard integrated graphics.  Although many of these machines can be optioned with better graphics, this bumps the price considerably.

Where and How Purchased:

The Winbook A700 was bought at MicroCenter for $999.99.  Though it can also be ordered online directly from Winbook or MicroCenter, I decided to purchase it from the store because it was cheaper (no shipping costs).  There were no mail-in rebates to fill out, but in my past experiences with MicroCenter, rebates have never been an issue.  I believe that this notebook was a good value, because it undercuts the price of similar 17″ widescreen desktop-replacement notebooks while providing features that other companies do not offer. 

Build and Design:

WinBook A710 (view larger image)

This notebook is built like a brick, which is evident in both build quality and the subsequent weight of almost 8 lbs.  There is no flex from any component, and the screen is solid.  I haven’t dropped it, nor do I plan on it, but aside from possible hard drive damage, I’m sure it would survive.  There is nothing sticking out to get damaged in transit, and the screen latch is simple, yet secure.  I am also a big fan of the stylish blue LED indicator lights; they look great at night along with the glowing, but not too bright, blue power button.  The “Made In Canada” sticker next to the AMD64 sticker is of my own doing; this notebook, like most others, was probably made in China.

Screen:

The screen is probably the most enjoyable feature that this laptop has to offer, it is a 17″ widescreen with a 1440 x 900 native resolution.  It does not have one of the gloss coatings such as Brightview or Xbrite, but I was not looking for that feature and prefer the standard LCD anyways because of its superior viewing angle and better scratch resistance.  There were NO dead pixels, which is amazing for a screen this size.  I continue to be amazed by the screen size, and the resolution is high enough to tile two webpages or documents side by side while retaining legibility.  The brightness can be adjusted using keyboard shortcuts, but not by much.  It is bright enough, even for outdoor viewing, but I wish it could be dimmed more to save battery power or for nighttime use.

Speakers & Sound:

Another pleasant surprise, this notebook includes not two but four speakers.  Two are below the screen, and two are below the keyboard.  They are loud but obviously do not have the bass of larger external units.  However, the notebook includes 7.1 Channel High Definition Azalia audio by Realtek, and can connect via 4 jacks or SPDIF to a home theater surround system should the need arise.  For travel or casual listening, the included speakers are more than sufficient, but for serious gaming and movies, feel free to jack into your surround system.

Processor and Performance:

(view larger)
 
The processor is more than sufficient, as it is clocked at 1.8 Ghz and includes a huge 1Mb of on-die cache.  This is no thin and light processor, as it is based on the old 130nm Clawhammer (CG rev.) core.  However, it runs cool because it has Powernow!  Which can clock it down to 800Mhz when not under full load.  In my experience, watching movies (DVD, Divx, Xvid, etc.), viewing web pages, and using office apps are all light enough to run at 800Mhz.  As a result, a single fan only runs seldomly and is not very loud.

Though this processor runs hotter than the Turion, Sempron, Pentium M, and Celeron M offerings, it is much cooler than Pentium 4 systems.  For the most part, it runs clock-for-clock with Turions and Pentium Ms, while outperforming Semprons and Celeron Ms.

The chipset is the ATI Xpress200 northbridge, but Winbook decided to do away with ATI’s problematic southbridge and use the faster Uli 1573 solution.  As such, it benefits from enhanced USB performance and the ability to interface with HD audio.  The Xpress200 integrated graphics are very good for their price level; as it is based off the Radeon X300 core, they are have full DirectX 9 hardware compatibility.  I was able to run Halo at 800 x 600 using low settings with playable framerates, which is not too shabby for integrated graphics.  It’s achilles heel is memory bandwidth, so if you are looking for the best mobile gaming experience, look elsewhere.

The hard drive is large for a notebook, at 80 Gb, but don’t expect to break any speed records with this 4200 RPM Fujitsu.  It has 8Mb of cache, which helps somewhat during transfers.

RAM is limited to DDR333 to save power, even though the Athlon 64 memory controller supports DDR400.  Even at this reduced speed, the low latencies inherent to AMD’s on-die memory controller make this computer a stellar performer.  The notebook came with two 256Mb sticks of Hynix DDR333 memory, but I swapped one of them for a 512Mb Patriot stick that I had lying around, so it now runs with 768Mb.  Remember, 128Mb of memory will be taken up by the integrated graphics, so plan your upgrades accordingly if you plan on running memory-intensive applications. 

Benchmarks:

Though I had no other applications running while I did benchmarks, I did not make the effort to go through the Windows Task Manager and disable background services.  All benchmarks were run while plugged in with the battery removed, and with power management turned off.  My system, though fully defragged and uncluttered, has 65% free HD space.  Each benchmark was run seperately after a full reboot.

Notebook  Time
WinBook A710 (1.8 GHz Mobile Athlon 64 3000+)  2m 8s
 Fujitsu S6231 (1.6 GHz  Pentium M)  2m 6s
 HP ZE2113 (1.6 GHz, AMD Sempron 2800+)  2m 20s
 IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s
 Asus Z70A (1.6GHz Pentium M)  1m 53s
 Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)  1m 48s
 Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  1m 52s
 Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  2m 10s
 Sony VAIO S360 (1.7 GHz Pentium M)  1m 57s
 HP DV4170us (Pentium M 1.73 GHz)  1m 53s
 Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s

 Notebook  Futuremark 2004 Score
WinBook A710 (1.8 GHz Mobile Athlon 64 3000+)  2868
Acer Aspire 3003LCi (1.8GHz AMD Sempron 3000+)  2491
HP ZE2113 (1.6 GHz, AMD Sempron 2800+)  2557


3DMark05: 464 (Measures graphics performance)

 HDTune: Measures hard disk performance  
 Temperature  43
 Access Time  20.3 ms
 Burst (Max) Transfer  42.8 mb/s
 CPU Usage  3.9%
 Average Transfer  20.8 mb/s

Boot Time: Power on to Windows Login screen 47 Seconds

The benchmarks prove that this computer is strongest in areas that stress the CPU and RAM, but weakest in areas that stress hard drive and graphics performance.  The processor seems to match up to a 1.7 Ghz Intel Pentium M in terms of performance.  The ATI Xpress200 integrated graphics offered superior performance to competing Intel, Via, and SiS solutions in 3DMark, but is still nowhere near the power offered by a discrete graphics solution with dedicated memory.  Bear in mind that I upgraded the RAM, and this should slightly affect the PCMark04 and 3DMark05 scores.  However, since SuperPi is a CPU stresser, and HDTune focuses on the hard drive, they will not be affected.

Keyboard and Touchpad:

Keyboard (view larger image)

The keyboard is solid, with little flex if any and a satisfying, but not overwhelming, click feel while typing.  It is large and easy to type on, and also includes a numpad, which most notebooks omit to save space.  Around the keyboard is integrated a stylish glossy black surface with a silver “Winbook” moniker.  Though susceptible to fingerprints, it looks stunning if kept clean.

Touchpad (view larger image)

The touchpad is integrated into the casing for a sleek look, and is just the right size for where it is placed.  The click buttons are actually one button (though it looks like two).  This feels cheap and annoying, but with time it feels better than a laptop with two distinct left and right-click cursor buttons.  For a notebook this size, I wish a “nub” could be included along with the touchpad for cursor movement, but maybe I’m just getting nostalgic for a good, old-fashioned computer company like IBM.  There is also a built-in microphone for sound recording or chatting.

Input and Output Ports:

Ports and expansion are all simple, labeled, and easy to reach.  First, a basic look from all angles…

Front view (view larger image)

The front has audio controls, headphone jack, mic jack, firewire400 port, wireless switches and infrared port.  Note that the firewire port is the 4 pin mini connector that does not provide power, so don’t look to charge any iPods or other such devices (this is standard for notebook PCs, excepting of course Apple’s notebooks).

Right side (view larger image)

The right side has only two features, an RJ-11 modem jack and the optical drive.  The optical drive is a Mashita unit, and supports DVD read and write speeds up to 8x, with CD read and write speeds up to 24x.  It also supports dual layer recording for both -R and +R.

Back view (view larger image)

The back is mostly taken up by the battery, and has all the most used ports set off to one side.  These include VGA, DVI-D, S-Video, and the power connection.  There is also a Kensington lock recepticle. The notebook doesn’t come with an S-video to RCA adaptor, but all the ones I’ve tried have worked.  Keep in mind that DVI-D only supports digital connections and will not work with DVI to VGA adaptors.

Left side (view larger image)

The left side is where the majority of ports are conveniently placed, and include 6 USB ports, gigabit LAN port, PCMCIA port, SD memory card slot, line in, and line out/SPDIF optical ports.  There is also a vent to remove heat from the processor and internals.

Expansion:

Under side view (view larger image)

This computer is easy to work on, with only two panels that need to be removed from the bottom for upgrades.  The smaller of the two is for the hard drive.

The larger panel takes up almost a third of the bottom surface, and when opened reveals the rest of the notebook components.  From here, the RAM, processor, and wireless card can all be upgraded.

(view larger image)

Opened up, you can see the north and south bridge chipsets, and the single fan with its sizeable all-copper heatsink that is used to cool the entire system.  Dual copper heatpipes are utilized for heat transfer.  On the bottom-right is the wireless card, and on the bottom left is the RAM.

Under the heatsink is a standard AMD socket 754 interface with 2-phase power, capable of accepting the Mobile Athlon 64, Turion, and Mobile Sempron processors.

Communications:

This notebook can communicate using wired Gigabit LAN, wireless 54G LAN, dial-up modem, firewire, or the old school infrared port.

Gigabit LAN is provided by the Realtek RTL8169/8110 NIC, and includes features like jumbo packets and auto-crossover detection.  This is welcome, as I am often transferring huge files over my home network and between PCs.

Wireless LAN is provided by the RaLink RT2500 chipset, which supports the wireless B and G specs (2.4 Ghz, up to 54 Mbit/sec).  This chipset is widely known to be a strong performer, and unlike many of its competitors, is Linux compatible.

The 56K dial-up modem is also present for those who need it, and it is a Smart Link unit that runs off the HD audio chipset to deliver data and fax capabilities.

A firewire network can also be utilized, and firewire 400 (IEEE1394a) is provided by the excellent Texas Instruments controller.

Finally, if you have older laptops or PDAs lying around, this notebook has an infrared port which runs off a Winbond chipset.

Curiously, this notebook includes an on/off switch to activate built-in bluetooth, but no indicator light turns on and no bluetooth is detected.  Since this feature was not advertised on the packaging, and I have no bluetooth devices to sync with, I was not disappointed, but this may be something to keep in mind if you are looking for bluetooth support.
 
Battery:

Another pleasant surprise, the battery life is above average for a notebook of this size, averaging around 2.5 hours for office tasks.  If the screen is off (such as when watching a movie on a TV), the battery can hold out for a little over 3 hours, and disabling wireless also helps.  The battery is a beast; it is rated at 6600 Mah and 11.1 V (72.6 Wh).  The power brick is of average size, and is rated at 19V and 4.7 A, for around 89 watts of max power.  The battery takes around 3 hours to fully charge, less if the notebook is powered off. 

Battery life could be extended if the processor were upgraded to a Turion; while the Mobile Athlon 64 uses around 50 watts of max power, an MT series Turion only uses up to 25 watts.  Or, you can buy a second battery from MicroCenter for around $120.

You may notice that the battery does not have “feet” on it to support the laptop on a table; this is a refreshing change as the last notebook I owned relied on the battery for support and would teeter precariously if typed on with the battery removed.

Operating System and Software:

The computer comes with Windows XP SP2 Home Edition.  This should be sufficient for most users, though it does not include more advanced features like remote desktop.  It also comes installed with InterVideo WinDVD player, a trial of Norton AntiVirus, and Nero for burning.  I promptly uninstalled the Norton because I prefer AVG Free, but that’s just a personal preference.  I left Nero and WinDVD installed because they are both very useful for burning and movies respectively.

I was very happy with the software package because it is not “bloated” like some of the competitors (Dell and HP are the biggest offenders).  Another thing to note about this computer is that it is a 64 bit machine, and is compatible with Windows XP Pro x64 Edition.  All the hardware has 64 bit driver support should you choose this more powerful operating system.  Linux (in both 32 and 64 bit flavors) should also be possible, thanks again to excellent hardware support.

One annoyance is that the manufacturer does not include a disc to restore the computer to factory settings, or even a Windows XP disc.  To restore the computer or reinstall Windows, you must manually burn the disc yourself using a simple backup program.  You are only allowed to burn one copy, so if you get a coaster, you’re out of luck.  I think this is a horrible practice, and it is shameful for a company to charge $1000 for a laptop and not include a pressed restore disc.

Support:

I have not had to use Winbook’s tech support, and judging by the quality of this purchase, I don’t think I’ll have to.  The notebook comes with a three-month warranty, but can be extended to one year by filling out a “registration” form.  This is another undesirable practice; I shouldn’t have to fill out marketing surveys to guarantee myself warantee service.

Conclusion:

Overall, I am pleased with this purchase.  It has met my particular needs spectacularly.  Winbook may not be a household name, but they sure can build a solid laptop.  If you are looking for a well-priced desktop replacement, and don’t play too many games, this is your ticket.  If you like this notebook but would like a Turion and a few more features, upgrade to the A730 for $300 more.

Pros:

  • Beautiful display
  • Lots of features, ports, and connections
  • Big, easy keyboard with numpad
  • Attractive design, durable construction
  • Beefy, upgradeable processor
  • Competitive Price
  • Linux, 64-bit ready

Cons:

  • Well featured, but weak, integrated graphics
  • Slow hard drive
  • No restore disc
  • Another warranty registration form
  • A little more battery life wouldn’t hurt


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