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Computex 2007: MSI, VIA, and ASUS
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Date: Jun 15, 2007
Section:Misc
Author: Paul Jastrzebski
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Computex 2007: MSI

One of the more interesting items MSI had to show at Computex wasn’t even on the show floor. MSI had a back room showing of a new technology product they are calling Luxium. The idea behind Luxium is pretty simple, it is essentially an enclosure that houses an external PCI Express x16 slot and is connected to your PC through an external PCI Express interface (ExpressCard in case of notebooks). As you may have guessed, Luxium’s value proposition is to bring high end desktop graphics capabilities to computers without much graphics horsepower, which amounts to a large majority of the notebook market today.

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Many enthusiasts want high end graphics with their notebooks but don’t want to give up form factor or battery life, and MSI’s Luxium fills this void, it gives these users the high end graphics they crave as they want it. The most likely usage scenario would be someone using their laptop for school or work in the day, bringing the notebook home, plugging in the Luxium via ExpressCard, and then gaming, either on the notebook's LCD or an external monitor.

 

As we turn Luxium around, we can see that it has a back panel filled with extra connectivity options. It adds 5.1 channel audio support, two extra USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet port, and an external power port. MSI has said that the Luxium runs well with most mid-ranged cards, including the likes of an NVIDIA GeForce 7900GS. However, the company has had a little trouble getting ultra-high end cards, like the GeForce 8800GTX or GTS to work on Luxium due to bandwidth issues. It’s great to see that MSI is pioneering this external graphics technology and we hope to see Luxium work with the latest high end graphics cards when it is released later this year.

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In addition to Luxium, MSI engineers have been working on a few side projects to expand the functionality of NVIDIA’s MXM technology. One of these products is called the 8600 Geminium, and like the 2600 Geminium (Dual Radeon 2600 Pro Graphics Card) we showed last week, is not likely to ever hit the retail market. The 8600 Geminium is a desktop PCI Express graphics card that features a removable mobile GeForce Go 8600 series graphics chip.

 

MSI was also showing off their new GX600 series of gaming laptops. The GX600 is a Santa Rosa based notebook with an 800MHz bus, 802.11n wireless capability, a 512MB GeForce Go 8600 graphics card, HDMI output, and a “Turbo” overclock button, that when pressed, can overclock the GX600’s mobile Core 2 Duo CPU by 20%.

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There were some other interesting items on display as well, including the Crystal 945 Touch panel LCD PC, which is currently slated to be sold in Japan, Taiwan, and possibly the United States later this year. I couldn’t help but load up Microsoft Paint and see if the 945 Touch panel LCD PC would be good for drawing my infamous cartoon raptor, and as you can see, I left impressed.

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Next we looked at MSI’s Blade GM965, a totally silent Mini ITX, Core 2 Duo based small form factor barebone system. Because the GM965 was completely passive and had no fans, it was a bit hot to the touch, but MSI touted the GM965’s fanless design as a necessity for reliable operation in places where there is a lot of dust or debris in the air. Without a fan, the debris and dust will never get into the GM965. And finally we took a look at MSI’s upcoming X38 Diamond motherboard. As you can see, the X38 actually has six memory slots, two of which support DDR2 memory and the rest of which support DDR3. MSI’s X38 is the only X38 board that we have seen thus far that supports both memory types, an excellent design feature due to the fact that most X38 boards at Computex only supported DDR3. With DDR2 prices hovering around all time lows and with a 2GB kit of DDR2-800 going for around $85 today, DDR2, it is likely that most enthusiasts will want to build a DDR2 based systems in the next few months.

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Computex 2007: New ASUS Products

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Aside from its vast array of new motherboard offerings, ASUS was showing off its new line of Xonar audio products. The first we looked at was the Xonar U1 Audio Station, essentially an external digital sound card that connects to your PC via USB. The Xonar U1 Audio Station uses a toned down version of the AV200 audio chip that the PCI Express and PCI versions of the Xonar line use, and integrates the same sound-enhancing technologies from Dolby and DTS, just in an external solution. A problem common among many notebook users is that the integrated audio on their notebooks simply isn’t loud enough, especially when traveling or on an airplane. We tested the U1 Audio Station at the ASUS booth and were impressed by the crisp and loud quality of the sound we heard from the audio station, it almost completely drowned out the dozen or so people chatting all around us.

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There are two versions of the desktop Xonar audio card, the Xonar D2X, a PCI Express x1 variant, and the Xonar D2, a standard PCI version. As mentioned earlier, the Xonar line is a 7.1 channel audio card that brings technology like Dolby Digital Live, Dolby Headphone, Dolby Virtual Speaker, Dolby Pro Logic Ilx, and DTS Interactive to the table. All of these technologies are designed to enhance the audio in your system. Also on display was the ASUS EN8600GT OC GEAR, a GeForce 8600GT based PCI Express graphics card comes with a 5.25” dongle that allows for on the fly graphic card overclocking (up to 30%) and temperature / voltage monitoring.

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ASUS was also showing off their new C90 notebook, a notebook that they have said is the market’s “first, true enthusiast friendly DIY notebook”. ASUS is aiming to reach out to enthusiasts by offering them the ability to actually upgrade the C90 in the future, allowing end users to easily swap out the CPU, optical drives, and graphics chip. While inspecting the machine, we asked ASUS to show us how an upgrade would work.

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First things first, we had to do was take the C90’s back panel off. If you’ve ever tried upgrading or fixing a notebook over the last few years, you probably know that taking off the notebook’s bottom panel is usually the hardest part. OEM’s often have complex back panel notebook designs, use very small screws, and require you to open the back panel in separate parts: one part to install your memory modules, one to install your CPU, another for your wireless card, etc. The C90 is the first notebook we’ve seen that gives you access to all of the components inside your notebook after simply unscrewing four standard sized screws. ASUS is calling this easy access back panel the ACE door (Accessible, Convenient, Effortless).

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Once we had the back panel taken off, we were able to take a closer look at the inside of the C90. As you can see, the C90 actually uses a desktop Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, that along with the NVIDIA GeForce Go 8600 MXM module, is connected to a huge heatsink with four small fans. Because of the large cooling unit on the C90, ASUS is guaranteeing CPU overclocks of at least 20% on the C90. The notebook will ship with overclocking software so that all overclocking can be done from within Windows.

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Lastly we have to talk about the notebook’s MXM graphics modules, which were first introduced over three years ago. MXM promised to provide full graphics upgradeability to notebook users, but in reality, due to the proprietary design nature of most notebooks, no one has really tried a fully user-upgradeable notebook. Another key problem has been that MXM modules simply haven’t been available to purchase anywhere, so even when a new graphics chip came out, you couldn’t go out, buy it, and put it in your notebook. ASUS is adamant about future support for the C90, and although they haven’t said exactly how they will offer future MXM graphics chips to end users, the company promised that they would.

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ASUS was also showing off a completely new product category, Internet Radio appliances. The company had two models, the AIR2 (ASUS Internet Radio) and the AIR3 on display, and both work on the same, simple concept. The radios have over ten thousand terrestrial radio stations all over the world programmed into memory, and once connected through the internet via either wireless 802.11g or 10/100 Ethernet, AIR connects to the station’s online feed and almost immediately you start hearing your radio station. We listened to radio stations from Germany, France, and even from Detroit, with all the quality you’d expect to hear from standard radio.

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And finally we took a look some rather interesting concept design notebooks with an exterior made from bamboo. There was even a notebook that had built in audio mixing equipment. Close by ASUS was also showing off a new 22” LCD monitor that featured its own subwoofer and loud built in speakers.

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Computex 2007: VIA

VIA focused on its low voltage and low power CPU and chipset products at Computex. One of the products the company was showcasing at CES was the OQO Model 02 UMPC. First announced to the world at Bill Gate’s CES Keynote earlier this year, the OQO Model 02 is a fancy, fully functional Windows XP based UMPC that can actually fit into your pocket.

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It is one of VIA’s biggest design wins on the UMPC front, and features VIA’s 1.5GHz C7-M processor, a 60GB hard drive, 512MB of DDR memory, and integrated Bluetooth and WIFI. The Model 02 has a slide under keyboard and a 5”, 800x480 screen. The OQO Model 02 has one integrated USB 2.0 port and has a sleek dock that has an integrated DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive, HDMI, VGA, Ethernet, 3 USB 2.0, and audio ports.

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The OQO Model 02 really is a fully functional PC that fits right into your pocket, and using it gives a glimpse at the future of mobile computing. Not only is the full internet available, but so are all Windows based applications. The OQO Model 02 even supports Windows Vista. I used the Model 02 to surf the web and check email, and was left truly impressed. It can even be pre-configured with a Sprint Mobile Broadband or Verizon Wireless Broadband Access Module so that you have full internet connectivity wherever you are. The drawback? Despite not having very much horespower, it costs around $1900.

 

VIA was also showing off their latest product, the VIA Nanobook. Half UMPC and half notebook computer, the Nanobook is a very light weight portable computer (weighs around 1.9 pounds), features a 1.2GHz VIA C7-M CPU, 1GB of RAM, a 30GB Hard Drive, 7 inch display (840x480 resolution), 802.11G WIFI, Bluetooth, DVI output, and an ExpressCard slot.

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The Nanobook’s small form factor requires a keyboard that resembles the one used in the Dell Inspiron 710M and the upcoming ASUS EEE PC 701, meaning that it is a little smaller than standard notebook keyboards. The Nanobook is fully customizable at the OEM level, meaning that OEMS, like Dell, HP, etc. can customize the Nanobook to include more onboard features, or even to use a different screen size. VIA has announced that Packard Bell will be shipping their Nanobook later this year in Europe, but haven’t officially announced who will be taking the Nanobook to retail in the US yet (although they have mentioned that talks are under way). We were able to use the Nanobook with Windows XP to surf the web and to type up a quick word file, and couldn’t find any issues with the Nanobook. It will be coming to market later this year and will cost around $600.

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And finally, VIA was showing off a new embedded motherboard platform that is about the size of a credit card. The platform has 256 or 512MB of  RAM built in, a 1GHz C7M CPU, and VIA says it can run Windows XP very easily. The company hinted that this new, still unnamed platform will bring even smaller UMPC designs to market, with perhaps some announcements around the time of CES 2008.

 

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