|Introduction and Specifications|
|For their new generation of notebook processors, Intel decided to take the opposite approach that they took in their desktop architecture, where they launched their mid-range quad-core product first, with a promise of top-end multi-core performance to come just a bit further down their roadmap. From a mobile standpoint, the Core i7 2820QM with four cores and eight threads is a heck of a lot of computing resources to carry around in your briefcase or backpack. It could be argued that the average, mainstream mobile end user doesn't need that kind of horsepower and as long as the multimedia muscle is there to get the job done, a dual-core, four thread capable machine is usually plenty.
And now it seems, with their Sandy Bridge wrinkles firmly tucked away, Intel is continuing to flesh out their mobile offering with a new, more moderately priced dual-core CPU that brings all of their latest technologies to bear in a 2.53GHz chip called the Core i5-2520M. With Turbo Boost technology available for bursts of performance on demand, this four-thread capable CPU should be a popular configuration in the midrange class of multimedia notebooks. The Asus K53E was the vehicle of choice that Intel went with for our testing and evaluation requirements here today and it's a looker.
This K53E's MSRP is expected to be in the $899 range, for the configuration you see above, and as we have tested it here. That's a reasonable price for a machine with the build quality and styling we'll show you shortly. However, also the K53E came nicely appointed with a combo CD/DVD RW drive, a 640GB 5400RPM hard drive and 6GB of DDR3-1333 memory. Though, drop in an SSD and this machine really becomes a screamer.
|The Asus K53E - Sandy Bridge In Stylish Skins|
|We told you the Asus K53E was stylish and we weren't messin' with ya. The notebook is encased in an all plastic shell and augmented nicely with an aluminum wrist rest area that is easy on the fingerprints. The top lid of the machine has a textured, almost herringbone style finish on it that also resists fingerprints and scuffs. The construction of the K53E has a high quality feel to it that will be aesthetically pleasing to most folks we're sure.
The K53E's chicklet style key caps have a solid feel to them with just a hint of flex in the keyboard area. There's plenty of travel in the keys as well. With a compact numpad added to the full-sized traditional QWERTY layout, there's plenty of room to pound around on this machine, and rather comfortably we might add.
The rather large multi-touch trackpad on the K53E also provides for comfortable cursor control. The split mouse button bar design also handles a lot better than previous Asus machines we've tested that have a single bar with a rocker in the middle that controls left and right mouse clicks. The split, two-bar design on the K53E is definitely much nicer, though admittedly, the tactile feel of the click mechanism inside it, still isn't quite up to the feel of some higher-end machines we've tested. It's not bad and certainly not uncomfortable per se; it just could be a little more polished.
Finally, just looking at the machine strictly from a styling perspective, we're pretty fond of the copper look and feel that adorns this model of the K53E. Some may call it metallic brown but we'd beg to differ. In addition to its DVD/CD RW drive, the machine also sports three USB2.0 ports, an HDMI port as well as VGA output, a Gigabit Ethernet port, line out and mic inputs, along with integrated 802.11n wireless and bluetooth radios. Need anything else? Not really, actually. Maybe a backlit keyboard?
|Vital Signs and Turbo Boost 2.0 Overclocking|
|The Core i5-2520M that powers the Asus K53E is a dual core processor with Intel HyperThreading technology and Turbo Boost 2.0 on board. As such, though it clocks in at 2.5Ghz stock frequency, the chip's max Turbo Boost frequency, under single threaded loads is actually 3.2GHz. That's quite an uptick. Let's have a closer look.
Core i5-2520M - Left: idle and Right: single-thread Turbo Boost at 3.2GHz
As you can see, this processor has rather wide scope of clock frequencies, from as low as 800MHz at idle on the desktop, to 3.2GHz under a momentary single-threaded burst requiring a quick snap of extra torque. Intel likes to call the new 2nd generation Core series processor's ability to achieve this level of clock gating, "HUGI" or "Hurry Up and Get Idle." Otherwise know by it's marketing name as Turbo Boost 2.0, the aggressive momentary overclocking and downclocking of the chip allows it to attain peak performance under a myriad of threaded or non-threaded workloads.
Core i5-2520M - Full load, all cores, Turbo Boost enabled
And finally, here's what the Core i5-2520M looks like under full load with all cores and threads exercised at 100% utilization. The processor is pushing 2.9GHz, in round numbers, and maintained that clock speed under continuous load in our Cinebench benchmark loop. Remember though that manufacturers, depending on the thermal requirements of their system, may elect to set the max Turbo Boost frequency lower if they so choose.
And here is the rest of the 2nd generation Intel Core i5 family of Sandy Bridge-based notebook CPUs. Don't ask why Intel decided to drop in the Core i5-2537M model number for their lower-power 1.4GHz chip. It doesn't make sense to us either but that's that way things are listed in Intel's decoder ring.
Intel is also building out their line-up of Core i3 Sandy Bridge dual-core chips as well, with the primary differences being slightly slower speed graphics clocks and no Turbo Boost support. They do however also support Hyperthreading. For the entire family of 2nd generation mobile chips (denoted with the number 2 in their suffix) check out Intel's Mobile Processor Comparison page.
|Test Systems and PCMark Vantage|
|For this article we were presented with a bit of a challenge with respect to providing relevant and reasonably balanced reference numbers for benchmark comparisons. The Asus K53E is more of a mainstream configuration, rather than a performance or gaming-targeted model. As such, for productivity, content creation and multimedia testing, we wanted to compare it to other machines in its class with previous generation Intel architectures. These test machines are listed in detail below here.
Also, for a few of our media encoding and gaming tests we're going to compare the Asus K53E and its Core i5-2520M processor, to a few of our reference machines in our original Sandy Bridge mobile launch article here. The high level processor specs will of course be duly noted in each graph but we thought to offer a quick heads-up to you on this, so there is no confusion.
Primary Test System
First, we ran a number of different test systems through Futuremark’s latest system performance metric, PCMark Vantage. PCMark Vantage runs through a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including HD TV and movie playback and video manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. Most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, so the tests can exploit the additional resources offered by multi-core CPUs.
If there's one test in this benchmark suite that clearly calls out Intel's latest Sandy Bridge core architectural enhancements, it would be the Communications test. Here, Intel's new AES instruction set with dedicated hardware processing for security algorithms offers a 2X improvement in performance over the previous generation Core i5 series of chips. Moving forward security and security processing is going to become an even bigger deal for the average end user.
Beyond the Communications test, we see a significant advantage across the board for the Core i5-2520M-infused Asus K53E, with a 32% lead over the fastest Core i5 Arrandale score we recorded.
|HD Media Playback and Encoding|
|On the video decode side of the equation, we selected an HD movie trailer clip to look at from resource utilization standpoint. With a powerful chip like the Core i5-2520M, we didn't expect
HD video playback to be an issue but regardless, we looked at CPU
utilization playing back this1080p H.264 QuickTime clip. We fired up the I am Legend trailer
.mov file with Windows Media
Player, while taking note of thread activity in Windows Task Manager
1080p H.264 QuickTime Movie Trailer - I Am Legend - 13% CPU utilization and no sweat
Here only two threads are currently being exercised and total CPU utilization is 13% or so. You could do some serious heavy lifting with a movie clip playing in the background on this machine.
The x264 HD benchmark measures how fast a system can encode a short, DVD quality MPEG-2 video clip into a high-quality H.264 HD video clip. This test does NOT make use of Intel's Quick Sync video transcoding engine and is more of an indication of raw CPU throughput for transcoding in software.
The numbers here scaled just about where we expected but the interesting datapoints are the variance between the previous generation Core i5 processor and the new Core i5-2520M in the Asus K53E notebook we tested. Intel's new Sandy Bridge architecture is showing a 19 - 25% performance edge in this test.
Cyberlink's Media Show Espresso is a video conversion tool that imports various video media files types and converts them to other standard video formats for publication, distribution and streaming. In this test, we take a 224MB high definition 720p AVCHD video clip and convert it to a 720p H.264-encoded video .mov file. Times are measured in minutes:seconds with lower times representing faster throughput in the video conversion process.
The top three gold bars in this graph are scores taken in Cyberlink Media Show Espresso with Sandy Bridge mobile crunching the file with its Quick Sync hardware engines enabled and also disabled in one instance. Intel's Quick Sync video transcode engine boast huge performance advantages in this application under our test conditions. The Quick Sync-enabled test runs were performed in just a few seconds, versus over a minute required for the Core i7-2820QM to process the file without Quick Sync. What's more impressive however, is how much faster Sandy Bridge was versus the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280M graphics chip along with Intel's previous generation Core i7-920XM. Even NVIDIA's CUDA video processing engines can't keep up with Quick Sync.
|LAME MT Audio Encoding|
In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding
test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a popular scenario
that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis to provide portability and
storage of their digital audio content. LAME is an open-source mid to high
bit-rate and VBR (variable bit rate) MP3 audio encoder that is used widely
around the world in a multitude of third party applications.
In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file (a hallucinogenic-induced Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. Shorter times equate to better performance.
Since the Core i5-2520M's base clock speed is about 200MHz faster than the Core i7-2820QM, we were surprised to see it lag Intel's flagship mobile quad-core in this test. Perhaps the i7's larger L3 cache gave it a bit more juice than we first anticipated. In the multi-threaded test, the Core i5-2520M fell just a couple seconds short behind the i7 chip, where the i7's dual-core Turbo Boost speed of 3.3GHz gave it an edge. Finally, again, Sandy Bridge is significantly faster than the Arrandale-based Core i5-540M, with roughly a 30% performance advantage.
|Cinebench R10 is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema
4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by 3D
animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others. It's very
demanding of system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure
This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The rate at which each test system was able to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below.
To be honest, we weren't blown away by the numbers seen here, at least in terms of our initial expectations. The dual-core Core i5-2520M is a notch or two behind its quad-core big brother, the Core i7-2820QM. However, if you look at the 2.53GHz Core i5-540M scores with the Arrandale core Intel CPU, things start getting more interesting, especially when you consider the OpenGL test, which rolls in almost six time faster for the Sandy Bridge processor. Granted, Intel's new IGP is no match for big discrete GPUs like we're showing paired with the Core i7-920 and Core 2 Duo X9000 here, but that goes without saying really.
|DX9 Synthetic Gaming Test - 3DMark 06|
|FutureMark states that, "3DMark score is an overall measure of your system’s 3D gaming capabilities, based on comprehensive real-time 3D graphics and processor tests. By comparing your score with those submitted by millions of other gamers you can see how your gaming rig performs, making it easier to choose the most effective upgrades or finding other ways to optimize your system. 3DMark06 has been downloaded more than any other 3D benchmark and the ORB database now contains over 8.5 million 3DMark06 benchmark scores from around the world."
Here we're back to our small assortment of midrange notebooks, some with previous gen Intel integrated Graphics Media Accelerator IGPs, others like the Samsung R580 and Asus U30Jc, are beefed up with discrete low-end NVIDIA GPUs and their Optimus switching technology. The GeForce 310M is a 16 CUDA core base-level GPU for Optimus solutions with DX10.1 support and a 64-bit memory interface. According to 3DMark 06, backed up with a strong CPU, the Optimus-enabled machines are generally faster.
|Gaming: Intel HD Graphics 3000 - Far Cry 2|
Here we're showing you Intel's previous gen IGP on the bottom of the graph (bringing up the rear by wide margin we might add), as well as the previous gen Core i5 coupled with an NVIDIA NVS3100M, which is essentially the same 16-CUDA engine GPU that we showed you in our 3DMark 06 testing, only in a business-class Optimus configuration. The Core i7-2820QM quad-core Sandy Bridge CPU is able to overtake the discrete GPU-powered configuration in DX9 mode but not quite catch it in DX10. The dual-core Core i5-2520M is somewhat further behind but still almost 2X the performance of the Arrandale Core i5 processor in this test.
|Gaming: Intel HD Graphics 3000 - Metro 2033|
|Next we turn up the heat a little bit with Metro 2033, which is known to be a
GPU-crusher if we ever saw one.
Apparently NVIDIA isn't paying much attention to DX9 rendering modes these days (at least if you consider this test and our previous FarCry 2 test), because here Intel's Sandy Bridge IGP is almost able to catch the discrete GPU and again shows about 2X the performance of the previous generation Core i5 series chip. Sure DX11 is where it's at with this game engine but with these mainstream mobile configurations tested here, things would slow to a slide show crawl and Intel's HD Graphics 3000 engine is only DX10.1 compatible.
|Power Consumption and Battery Life Analysis|
Before bringing this article to a close, we'll take a look at power consumption of the Asus K53E notebooks. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power this new Intel Sandy Bridge notebook test system was consuming using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and while under a heavy workload.
The Asus K53E consumed significantly less power than its quad-core counterpart at full load, though at idle, both chips hovered at around the same power consumption of 16 Watts or so. If you look at things from a performance-per-watt perspective, what Intel has done with the Sandy Bridge architecture is pretty impressive versus the Core 2 architecture of old. Versus Arrandale, the new Sandy Bridge Core i5 offers a significant increase in performance, as we showed you previously, for virtually no increase in power consumption across similar platform configurations. And with its more aggressive clock gating, battery life should play out better for Sandy Bridge as well.
Notes on Battery Life Performance:
Which brings us to battery life with the Asus K53E. At first we ran our traditional Battery Eater Pro test and under its rather heavy load, we saw power drain from the machine in only 96 minutes or so. However, this test taxes the processor and its graphics core continuously and with Sandy Bridge's higher Turbo Boost speeds, pushing a lightly-threaded heavy workload continuously may, or may not represent the average end user usage model. So, instead we decided to fire-up that 1080p HD video movie trailer and loop it in the background, while continuously refreshing web pages that have a fair amount of Flash content on them. We ran this test with mid-level screen brightness and all wireless and wired network ports enabled (WiFi connected and surfing the web). The result? The Asus K53E actually lasted 3 hours and 54 minutes under this more realistic workload. Watching a movie, or possibly even two shorter mindless, action flicks, on that long flight back from the West coast, is totally doable for you Yanks out there, with this powerful, full-featured 15-inch notebook.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
|Performance Summary: The Asus K53E with Intel's Core i5-2520M at the helm, offered a very satisfying experience for us, no matter what we asked of the machine. General computing and business apps were met with bandwidth to spare and the notebook excelled in multimedia and content creation usage scenarios, where Intel's integrated graphics engine was very much up to the task for anything you'd expect from this class of notebook. In general, the Core i5-2520M was anywhere from 15 - 25% faster almost across the board, versus its previous generation 2.5GHz Arrandale counterpart, all with roughly the same power draw and more intelligent, more granular power management capabilities.
About a year or back, in a trendy, mood lighting splashed French restaurant in New York City, we spent time with the Intel Product Marketing and Technical Marketing teams discussing their upcoming Arrandale product launch. At the time we were ribbing the Intel team about the integrated graphics solution that their then-current mobile product offered the end user. Back then, surprisingly and reluctantly they agreed that their 945 series mobile chipset (or desktop for that matter) just didn't have enough juice on the multimedia side of things to get the job done for many end users. They of course however, offered that the upcoming Arrandale Core i7/5/3 series of mobile platforms would offer the average end user a more capable experience with the ability to handle HD video and offer a bit of light duty gaming that would satisfy a large majority of the market demand. Looking back at those claims, we'd say now that Arrandale was close but not quite what we wanted to see and obviously folks like NVIDIA continued to make a business of propping up the chipset with solutions like Optimus. Now, all that seems to have changed significantly for the better with Sandy Bridge.
The Asus K53E and its Sandy Bridge-based Core i5-2520M processor offers the kind of processing power, features and capabilities you'd hope for in a notebook of its 15-inch footprint and weight. Thanks to Intel's new processor the machine rips through video and audio transcoding with aplomb, literally faster than any notebook architecture or discrete mobile GPU we have seen thus far; and that's a monumental feat if you really think about it. From a general productivity performance standpoint, this notebook offers more available bandwidth for multitasking and general computing, than previous generation Intel notebook platforms on the market and all with power consumption management that end users demand for mainstream mobile computing. Price-wise, the Asus K53E with its projected $899 MSRP is hard to beat in the 15-inch category. We hate to say it (or not) but the K53E is the kind of machine that "PC folk" thumb their noses at "Mac folks" with. 15-inch MacBook Pros start at $1799, about 2X the price of this machine. Sure, with the Mac you get discrete Radeon HD 6490M graphics but whether or not you need it is up to you. You also get a higher resolution display (1440X900 native) and a solid aluminum chassis that is arguably gorgeous, along with a Core i7 mobile quad-core chip -- but again, if you're willing to fork over two times the coin.
Certainly Intel doesn't mind either way you'd go, because Sandy Bridge is in both machines. So as far as they're concerned, you can't go wrong, though AMD might argue that a bit for thin and light machines, with something called Fusion. And of course Asus has higher-end SKUs with Core i7 Sandy Bridge chips under the hood as well, if you're looking for something in between this and the MacBook. In any case, with their early hiccups out of the way, Intel's Sandy Bridge 2nd Generation Mobile Core processor family is set to take the notebook market by storm now; and the Asus K53E? Well, let's just say Intel is no dummy sending over a machine like this to showcase it's new dual-core notebook chip.
Asus K53E and Intel Core i5-2520M