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Gigabyte's G-Max N411
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Date: Feb 08, 2005
Section:Mobile
Author: Andrew Ku
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Introduction

Widescreen notebook solutions are becoming more popular for general consumers, which is evident looking at the newest offerings from Dell or HP/Compaq.  And as far as other OEMs go, there are few new players entering the market as well. In the past few years, we have started to see large motherboard manufacturers join the fray of OEM notebook manufacturers, case in point the big three MB guys: Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI.

Asus has a much better profile in the notebook market than the other two companies we mentioned.  They built up their reputation by following through on the notebook announcements in their roadmap and press releases, and by releasing a reasonable variety of quality notebooks. Gigabyte seems to be taking a page from Asus' playbook and has been taking the notebook market a bit more seriously over the past two quarters.  Gigabyte has since brought to market more than one design (seen in the NB-1401), while MSI is still finding its way.

New notebooks aren't introduced as frequently as say a new line of motherboards, but in the last quarter we have definitely seen an increase in the number of new releases.  In the past few weeks we have seen quite a variety of new notebooks for what some people refer to as the "school year" refresh. We plan to incrementally notch up our reservoir of mobile reviews in the coming weeks / months because of this trend, and now have Gigabyte's G-Max N411 in the labs...

Gigabyte's G-Max N411
Specifications
Processor
_Designed for Intel Pentium-M/ Intel 90nm Dothan Pentium-M with 2MB On-Die L2 Cache processors
_Supports 400MHz FSB

Chipset
_Intel 855GME/ICH4-M Chipset

Memory
_Two 200-pin SODIMM sockets
_Supports DDR 333/266/200 Unbuffered Non-ECC memory
_Supports maximum memory capacity up to 2GB

Graphic
Intel Extreme Graphics 2 technology
- 32-bit 3D/2D graphics with frequency up to 250MHz
- Bi-Cubic Filter
- Video Mixer Rendering
- AGP 4x (discrete graphics only)
- Supports Intel Stable Image Technology
- Supports Intel Dual-Frequency Graphics Technology (DFGT)
- Supports Display Power Saving Technology (DPST)


ATA
Intel ICH4-M South Bridge:
- 2 x DMA 100/66
- 40GB/60GB HDD
- Mashita/Panasonic UJDA755 DVD-ROM/CD-RW


Communications
_Realtek 10/100 Mbps Ethernet
_Intel Pro/Wireless 2200 (802.11b/g) Wireless Lan
_56K v.92 Fax/modem

Display
_14.1" WXGA Glare Type TFT LCD (native 1280 x 768)

Audio
_Full-duplex 16-bit stereo speakers with wave table support
_Compatible with AC'97 2.2
_Built in dual speakers

External I/O Connectors
_1 x Power port
_1 x Lock jack
_1 x Modem jack
_1 x 4-pin mini IEEE1394 port
_1 x headphone jack
_1 x microphone jack
_1 x VGA-out port
_1 x SD/MMC/MS Card Reader
_2 x USB 2.0/1.1

Dimension and Weight
_12.8" x 9.6" x 0.9" ~ 1,1" (325mm x 244mm x 23mm ~ 29mm)
_~ 4.8 to 5.2 lbs.

 


Measuring in at 12.8" x 9.6" x 0.9"~1.1" and weighing in at 5.1 pounds, the N411 is not a terribly small notebook. Gigabyte's design favors those that need a desktop replacement notebook without the power level of a desktop. The use of Centrino parts gives the N411 the advantage of being able to travel, but its limitation is in its size, which gives off a feel that you can't use it easily during transport from location A to location B. Granted, it is easier to lug around than a Dell 8600 and the like, but it lacks the same mobility as the diminutive HP DV1000.

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Construction: Build, Appearance, Size
Construction: Building, Appearance, Size
Very Sleek

The notebook is cased in a simple white enamel-like plastic, which is softer than some of other composite materials we usually see from the big three system manufacturers: Dell, HP/Compaq and IBM. The top of the notebook is somewhat reinforced with ridges, which we assume is to make it safer to place something on top of it. Practically speaking, the ridges provide no real benefits, so they may just be there for aesthetic reasons.

Opening the notebook is easy enough, as there is no clip, security tab or otherwise.  The weight of the display lid is what keeps it in place when closed. It almost feels like there is a weak magnet holding the lid shut, but there are no magnets used in the case design of the N411. While the clip-less design makes it easier to use the notebook, we feel it comes at the expense of long term use. Those on the go will find it annoying to have their lid possibly swing out during travel, either in their backpack, briefcase, or holding it in any manner that would put the forces of gravity to work.

The feel of the notebook is fairly sturdy, but the casing material could use some improvement, when we compare it to the likes of notebooks from Dell, HP/Compaq, IBM.

Front (left to right):

  • Left Speaker
  • Right Speaker

Left (left to right):

  • Lock jack
  • Modem jack
  • 4-pin mini IEEE1394 port
  • USB 2.0 port
  • Exhaust vent
  • headphone port
  • microphone port

Gigabyte actually uses a multi-bay design for their optical drive, which gives them and users more options in the long term, but the manufacturer is providing no direct options other than the Mashita OEM 9.5mm extra slim optical drive.

Back (left to right):

  • Replicator port
  • Back of battery pack
  • VGA out port

The replicator port isn't the same one used on other notebooks, as it is used to hook up an external expansion box, not to dock the notebook.

Right (left to right):

  • Mashita/Panasonic UJDA755 DVD-ROM/CD-RW
  • SD/MMC/MS Card Reader
  • USB 2.0 port
  • Ethernet jack
  • Power port

 

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Construction: Field Tested
Construction: Field Tested
So, How Does it Work in the Real World?

Charger – The charger for the N411 is an average size, but we would have liked to have seen Gigabyte chose a different power design. Since the power port is on the side of the notebook, the charger has an angled power plug. The best design is to have the power port on the back side of the notebook with a straight power plug. The reason that all the big names have chosen this design is that a side power port/angled plug forces the user to situate the power port facing the wall outlet. If you don't, you might not have enough slack to run the power cord, and if you do have enough cord, running a lot of cable is just unsightly. This is also the reason that most manufacturers put the Ethernet jack on the back side of the notebook.

Display – Gigabyte chose a 14.0" WXGA widescreen display that is capable of native 1280 x 768 with 16 different brightness settings. The highest two settings (16 and 15) are hard to distinguish between, but at the lowest setting, the dimness of the notebook is still enough to use in a dark room without too much eye strain. At its brightest setting on AC power; the display has a natural feel and looks great. On battery power, the brightest setting is a tad dimmer, but there is a large enough difference that we wouldn't watch videos unless connected to AC power.

One unique aspect of this notebook is the "high gloss" or "glare" display type. This is the same type of screen seen on HP's DV1000 or Dell's 700M. These LCD displays are chosen mainly for multimedia notebooks because movies and videos tend to look better on an ultra bright screen, along with the benefit of a wider viewing aspect for the person sitting next to you. Other than that, text is clearer and bright colors appear more vibrant.

The glare effect isn't as high as the two other notebooks we have used that are equipped with this same screen technology, but it is high enough that if a light source is behind you, you can see its reflection on the display.

Fan - Just about all of the fans on current and reasonably current notebooks use a variable speed design, which allows for low rotation speeds when CPU usage/heat are low, and vice versa. The heatsink on the G-Max N411 is fairly large, which we will get to once we get to the blood and guts of the notebook a little later, but the noise level on max is loud enough that you can hear the whirl in a quiet room. It is pretty close to one 80mm x 80mm case fan, but rarely does it reach this volume level. In a quiet room, you would have to put your ear within 3 inches of the notebook's fan (above or below the keyboard), in order to hear the high pitch whine of the fan on low.

Heat – Typically speaking, any large notebook using Centrino technology tends not too get very warm, which happens to be the case with the N411. The only places that get warm after a while is the intake vent on the bottom of the notebook, hard drive heat vent (beneath touchpad), and the WiFi card cover. The temperature of the casing gets about as warm as hot but not scalding tap water, but overall, the top of the notebook stays fairly cool.

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Construction: Field Tested (cont.)
Construction: Field Tested (cont.)
More Usage Characteristics...

Keyboard – Because this is a whitebox solution, we didn't expect Gigabyte to build it with a unique keyboard. While the keyboard gives you a good feel for tactile feedback, there is noticeably less of a "click" when compared to the notebooks from IBM, Dell, and HP. After prolonged use, you probably won't get that feel unless you switch over to/from a tier 1 notebook maker.

The only three problems we have with the layout are, one, that the home/end/page up/page down keys are all clustered on the right hand side. While this means you don't have to stretch your fingers to access them, you don't get the same feel for the notebook, because their placement is counterintuitive. The second is more of a by product of the first, as the delete key and insert key are in the upper right hand corner and force some finger stretching. "Correct" placement is debatable, but generally speaking, it should be a three by two button arrangement (home/end/page up/page down/delete/insert) in the upper right hand corner . The third problem we have is more common, as Gigabyte has incorrectly placed the control key to the right of the function key in the lower left hand corner.

One of our size complaints isn't so much about the keyboard, as it is about the design of the notebook. For whatever reason, Gigabyte has spaced the keyboard closer to the front of the notebook, which gives you less space to rest your palms and gives you a general feel of "cramped space."

LEDs – There is only one LED strip directly above the keyboard which include LEDs for (left to right): power status (green when active, orange on standby), battery status (green when full and orange when charging), hard drive activity (blinking green when active), wireless activity (orange when active), num lock (green when active), caps lock (green when active), and scroll lock (green when active).

 

TouchPad & Buttons -Though we already mentioned the keyboard being spaced too close to the front of the notebook, this also affects the use of the touchpad. Basically, the lack of space gives the user less room to switch between the keyboard and touchpad. Ideally, Gigabyte should space both further north, spaced apart a bit more, and enlarge the size of the touchpad. For such a large notebook, this is probably once of the smallest touchpads we have ever seen. There certainly is a large amount of real estate, but there is a lack of utilization.

Speakers & Microphone – Unfortunately, there is no microphone on the N411, which is too bad for those that like audio messaging and the like. The speakers on the N411 can get loud enough so that the room one over can hear what you are listening to easily. Turning up the volume didn't give us any specific cases of distortion, but the speakers on our Dell 8600 are still sound better to our ears.

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Construction: Upgrading and Maintenance
Construction: Upgrading and Maintenance
A Look Inside...

Removing the bottom access panels reveals the hard drive, second SODIMM memory slot, and Intel's 2200BG 802.11b/g WiFi card in the N411's miniPCI slot. Our N411 sample came with only 512MB of system RAM, so our second memory slot was unpopulated. The first SODIMM slot cannot be accessed by end users, unless the notebook is completely taken apart, but we'll get to that part a bit further in the review.

 

The CPU and CPU cooler can be accessed by unscrewing the "K" screw (marked on casing) and lifting up the keyboard from the bottom end with a flat head screw driver. Once you remove the five screws holding the CPU cooler down, the cooler can be removed by lifting it up and out to the right. Just get out a vacuum or can of compressed air to clean it. If you are up for it, you can even just blow into the exhaust vent, but be careful of all the dust and lint.

 

Notice that Gigabyte uses a socket CPU design, which means that this model can come configured in a variety of speeds. Socket designs are much more common because it allows the user and manufacturer to customize the notebook. The bottom line is that you have more options and can configure a cheaper notebook should you choose to do so.

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Construction: The Guts
Construction: The Guts
At the Heart of the N411

We probably won't be disassembling many notebooks in future reviews, because it is generally quite difficult. Aside from tracking where the multitude of 1/4" screws go, and separating them from the numerous 1/2" screws, it takes a lot of time.  And messing with a brand new $2,000+ notebook always has its risks. One slip of the screw driver, and there goes the motherboard.  We have gotten pretty good at taking notebooks apart, however, with or with out instructions (most of the time without). So, we'll take the risk when appropriate...

After you have seen one notebook taken apart, you have seen them all. They all follow the same basic layout and use the similar components: display, keyboard, motherboard, CPU, hard drive, SODIMM memory, WiFi card, etc., whether it is an ultra portable or desktop replacement, albeit in different sizes.

 

There isn't much to see inside the N411, but this is what the motherboard of the N411 looks like (left to right: motherboard top, motherboard bottom). Notice the SODIMM slot that was not accessible before taking the notebook apart, which is located directly under the touchpad.

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Systems Tested
HotHardware's Mobile Test Systems
A Sampling of Centrinos...
Gigabyte G-Max N411
  • 1.7GHz Dothan Pentium-M 735
  • Intel 855GME chipset (16MB allocated to VRAM)
  • 1 x 512MB Hynix PC2700
  • 8x DVD-ROM/CD-RW
  • 60GB Toshiba 5400RPM Hard Drive
  • 14.0" WXGA glare effect display (native 1280 x 768)
  • Intel's 2200BG 802.11b/g WiFi card
  • Realtek 10/100 Ethernet
  • 6 cell battery (11.1V, 4.4AH, 65WH)
  • 12.8" x 9.6" x 0.9"~1.1"
  • 5.1 pounds
Dell's Inspiron 700M:
  • 1.8 GHz Dothan Pentium-M 745
  • Intel 855GME chipset (16MB allocated to VRAM)
  • 2 x 256MB ProMOS PC2700 CL2.5
  • 8x DVD+-RW/CD-RW (Sony DW-D56A)
  • 60GB Hitachi 5400RPM Hard Drive
  • 12.1" WXGA display (native 1280 x 800)
  • Dell's 1350 WLAN 802.11b/g WiFi card
  • Broadcom 10/100 Ethernet
  • 4 cell standard battery (14.8V, 2.2AH, 32WH)
  • 8 cell extended battery (14.8V, 4.4AH, 65WH)
HP/Compaq's Business NC6000:
  • 2.0GHz Dothan Pentium-M 755
  • Intel 855PM chipset
  • 2 x 256MB Samsung PC2700
  • 4x DVD+RW/CD-RW (HL-DT-ST DVD+RW GCA-4040N)
  • 60GB Hitachi 5400RPM Hard Drive
  • ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 w/64MB
  • 14.1" SXGA+ display (native 1400 x 1050)
  • Intel's 2200BG 802.11b/g WiFi card
  • Broadcom Gigabit Ethernet
  • HP's Bluetooth
  • 8 cell primary battery (14.4V, 4.4AH, 63WH)
  • 8 cell modular battery (14.8V, 4.4AH, 53WH)
Dell Inspiron 8600:
  • 1.7GHz Dothan Pentium-M
  • Intel 855PM chipset
  • 2 x 256MB Samsung PC2700
  • 2.4x DVD+RW/CD-RW
  • 60GB Toshiba 7200RPM Hard Drive
  • NVIDIA GeForceFX Go 5650
  • 15.4" WUXGA glare effect display (native 1920 x 1200)
  • Dell's TrueMobile 1300 802.11b/g DualBand
  • Broadcom 10/100 Ethernet
  • 6 cell battery (11.1V, 6.486AH, 72WH)
Dell Latitude D600:
  • 2.0GHz Dothan Pentium-M 755
  • Intel 855PM chipset
  • 2 x 256MB Hynix PC2100
  • 4x DVD+RW/CD-RW (HL-DT-ST DVD+RW GCA-4040N)
  • 80GBHitachi 4200RPM Hard Drive
  • ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 w/32MB
  • 14.1" SXGA+ display (native 1400 x 1050)
  • Intel's 2200BG 802.11b/g WiFi card
  • Broadcom Gigabit Ethernet
  • Dell TrueMobile 300 Bluetooth
  • 6 cell primary battery (11.1V, 4.7AH, 53WH)
  • 6 cell modular bay battery (11.1V, 4.32AH, 48WH)

 

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General Performance
General Performance: The Winstones
"Real World" Application Performance

Business Winstone 2004 from Veritest uses scripts to tests the performance level of a computer in business related applications:

  • Microsoft Access 2002
  • Microsoft Excel 2002
  • Microsoft Frontpage 2002
  • Microsoft Outlook 2002
  • Microsoft PowerPoint 2002
  • Microsoft Project 2002
  • Microsoft Word 2002
  • Norton AntiVirus Professional Edition 2003
  • Winzip 8.1

Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 from Veritest uses scripts to tests the performance level of a computer in multimedia rich environment:

  • Adobe Photoshop 7.0.1
  • Adobe Premiere 6.50
  • Macromedia Director MX 9.0
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 6.1
  • Microsoft Windows Media™ Encoder 9 Version 9.00.00.2980
  • NewTek's LightWave 3D 7.5b
  • Steinberg™ WaveLab™ 4.0f

Higher scores here indicate better performance. You can read more about Business Winstone 2004 on Veritest's FAQ page. And you can read more about Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 on Veritest's FAQ page.

 

The scores are pretty consistent with results we have seen from similarly configured Dothan based Pentium-M systems. Even though the N411 uses a 1 x 512MB memory configuration vs. a 2 x 256MB, all of the scores are of systems with a 85X based chipset, which do not utilize Dual Channel technology. When we introduce 9XX based mobile chipsets into the fray, the increased memory bandwidth will skew things a bit.

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Battery Info & Performance
Battery Info & Performance
How Long Does She Last?

We are using the standard benchmark settings from Bapco, along with a few other minor system tweaks. The screensaver was disabled and volume was set at approximately 20%.

MobileMark 2002 utilizes the following applications:

  • Microsoft Word 2002
  • Microsoft Excel 2002
  • Microsoft PowerPoint 2002
  • Microsoft Outlook 2002
  • Netscape Communicator6.0
  • McAfee VirusScan 5.13
  • Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1
  • Macromedia Flash 5
  • WinZip 8.0

The white papers for MobileMark are available on Bapco's website should you want to read up on how this benchmark works. In the graph above, higher scores equal better performance.

With regard to batter life, the N411 gave us a little under 3 hours of use, which is pretty good considering the size of the battery. Though, the difference is that the N411 doesn't have an extended battery pack option, which limits further battery life beyond the 3 hour mark.

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Startup Performance
Startup Performance
Powering Up...

The times listed below reflect the time it took for the system to power up until the cursor appeared with no busy indicator on the desktop background.

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Final Words

Gigabyte's departure from its motherboard line is somewhat of a success; they have brought out a decent notebook in the G-Max N411. However, Gigabyte has a few hurdles to overcome to make it as a notebook manufacturer and to compete with the likes of other OEMs, like Asus, or the large ODMs. Beginning with the N411, the number one thing we want to see is a bigger touchpad and bigger touchpad buttons.

The G-Max N411 has a feel that fits into the multimedia format more than anything else, but practically, it functions better as a good lightweight mobile workstation. On the multimedia side, there are no dedicated multimedia buttons for play/pause/etc., nor is there an emphasis on the multimedia experience, minus the "glare type" ultra-bright display. For general users, this notebook makes a great platform to work with when away from your desktop machine, particularly since it only weighs about 5 pounds. We should note that with its 855GME chipset, this notebook uses Intel's Extreme Graphics 2, and isn't designed for those interested in gaming.

According to Gigabyte, they won't be selling this notebook directly to end users. Their strategy is to offer it as an OEM solution or barebones solution to other system vendors. We can say with confidence that it won't be Dell, HP/Compaq, or IBM that will be adopting this design, however. The big three like to design their own notebooks and will contract with ODM builders instead. The likely brands that will consider Gigabyte's design will be Voodoo, Alienware, Sager and Hypersonic, which means that the quantities sold will be relatively low. Priced at about $1899 (our sample minus Bluetooth), the Gigabyte G-Max N411 could also use a price-drop to attract larger companies.

We's also like to note that only recently has Gigabyte taken up the notebook mantle. Their first notebook, the NB-1401, was actually manufactured by FIC, and it was identical to FIC's model in every way, minus the engraved Chinese "ji" symbol on top of the casing (translated to "extreme"). What we have been seeing from Gigabyte now is a sampling of original notebook designs. The thing to keep in mind is that unlike Asus, Gigabyte and MSI are currently middle-men. They still contract out to companies like Arima, Wistron, Compal, Uniwell, Samsung, Quanta, etc. to manufacturer their notebooks. Due to this fact, Asus has a bit of a leg up over MSI and Gigabyte because they are manufacturing their own notebooks and bringing them directly to end users and the OEM market. Gigabyte has shown some promise, however, and we look forward to Gigabyte's future mobile offerings. In its current state, we're giving the Gigabyte G-Max N411 a 7 on the Heat Meter.

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