Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/06/27/review_evesham_zieo_n500-hd/

Evesham Zieo N500-HD 17in laptop

Evesham tempts us with Intel's 'Santa Rosa' notebook technology

By Leo Waldock

Posted in Hardware, 27th June 2007 14:41 GMT

Review Evesham has moved fast to pack its Zieo N500-HD laptop with a long list of 'Santa Rosa' Centrino Duo features. The 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 processor runs on the new 800MHz frontside bus and the chipset is a combination of 965 northbridge and ICH8M. Ordinarily, a new southbridge adds a handful of new features such as extra USB ports, but Centrino Duo is heavily skewed towards power management and longer battery life.

Evesham Zieo N500-HD laptop

ICH8M introduces Active Management Technology 2.5, which requires AMT compliant firmware, Bios and drivers that enable all sorts of clever tricks. The CPU speed can be varied by dynamic switching of the FSB, or one core can be switched off when the system is running software that isn';t threaded. Indeed, when the system detects that it's idle, we're told that all or part of the CPU and chipset can be switched off to save power.

Power management is a major aspect of both Centrino Duo and Windows Vista and we'll come back to it shortly.

The new southbridge boosts the Ethernet connection to Gigabit, and while the new Centrino should add 802.11n Wi-Fi, our loan sample didn't come with this latest form of Wi-Fi. The mobile 965's integrated graphics take a leap forward from previous generations by using the GMA X3100 core, which is based on the hardware used in the desktop G965 chipset. However, it's irrelevant in this case as Evesham has opted to use an Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT graphics chip too.

The Zieo is the first laptop we've seen that includes Intel Turbo Memory. This as a plug-in module that uses the PCI Express bus and comes in 512MB and 1GB varieties - our machine had the latter.

In addition to the Centrino Duo platform there's a decent list of features, and the chassis is dominated by the 17in screen with its 1680 x 1050 resolution. No doubt that's the reason why Evesham chose to use the 8600M GT as there are so many pixels to push. We found that the high resolution limited gaming performance as you only get 15-20fps in the most graphically intensive games.

Evesham Zieo N500-HD
Evesham'Zieo N500-HD: the front...

That's not to say that the large screen is a bad idea. Evesham has included a TV tuner, which is identified in the Device Manager as an eMPIA Technology Hybrid TV device. Plug in an aerial using the supplied adapter and the Vista Media Centre software works really well with the FreeView TV tuner to transform the Evesham into a decent telly.

You also get an infra-red Philips Media Centre remote control, which looks a trifle odd as it is long and slim with a waisted middle. However, it feels great in your hand and does an admirable job. The remote carries a Philips logo with no sign of any Evesham branding, which is something of an annoyance as most of us have a fair few remotes scattered around and we need all the help we can get to pick up the correct one at any moment.

Evesham Zieo N500-HD laptop

From a marketing point of view, this is a weird move as you can't imagine the likes of Sony or Apple mixing their message with someone else's logo.

The size of the MSI Megabook GX-700 chassis used by Evesham means that the ports and connectors are spaced out. On the back you'll find the modem and Ethernet, on the left is the TV aerial connector, the dual-layer DVD writer and two USB ports.

On the right side there's another USB, a VGA output and an HDMI connector plus an ExpressCard 54 slot. On the front of the chassis there are three audio mini jacks, an SD/MMC/Memory Stick card reader and a mini Firewire port. We've no problem with any of that - however, the MSI chassis looks incredibly bland and isn't of the finest quality. The screen for instance is merely adequate while the keyboard has an annoying layout with the Function key at the bottom left and both Enter keys in the wrong position.

Evesham Zieo N500-HD
Evesham's Zieo N500-HD: the right side...

The touchpad is offset to the left, which is a touch uncomfortable to use, and the two mouse buttons lack precision and feel. We're happy with the specification of the Zeio N500-HD, but none too impressed by the look and feel of the chassis. And we also came across something a bit strange during our testing.

Evesham Zieo N500-HD
...and the left

We received the Evesham with the power scheme set on the middle, Balanced option. This gave impressive performance on mains power while the 4400mAh six-cell Li-Ion battery delivered an acceptable life of 94 minutes. That's continuous, intensive use, which is pretty much what we'd expect from a powerful laptop with a large screen.

When we pulled the power cord to run on battery the screen became very dark indeed so we checked the extensive Vista power scheme settings and found that the screen was set to drop to about 20 per cent of maximum brightness. We increased the brightness to 50 per cent and re-ran the battery test and found that the battery life changed by an insignificant amount. In both cases, the PCMark05 figure was very low compared to the test results that we got on mains power.

Battery power test
Battery power test - time in minutes
Time in minutes
Longer bars are better

In particular, the CPU performance was much lower on battery so we checked the settings in Vista and found that the Balanced Scheme caps CPU performance at 75 per cent, which is reasonable enough. The High Power scheme allows 100 per cent CPU performance on battery, so we re-ran our tests and found that the performance didn't budge, and neither did the battery life. The significant thing is that the power scheme suggested that the laptop would deliver full performance while running on battery yet this clearly was not the case.

PCMark05 benchmark tests
PCMark05
Longer bars are better

We can only conclude that either the Bios or the 965 chipset is taking precedence over the settings in Vista to decide what sort of performance you should get when you're running on battery. We don't much like that and firmly believe that he who pays the piper should call the tune.

3DMark06 benchmark tests
3DMark06

Longer bars are better

Verdict

Evesham has delivered impressive latest-generation Centrino Duo power and a useful Media Centre laptop. However, we didn't much like the laptop's look, and we were also troubled by the disparity in performance when we used the machine on battery, even when we had all of the performance sliders set to max.