by Jerelyn Parker
Overview and Introduction
The Asus R1E is the younger, almost-identical sibling of the Asus R1F. Except for a few upgrades, it shares most of the features and problems of its predecessor. The notable changes it has are the Santa Rosa chipset and eSATA/USB combo port.
Because the R1F is known to have certain short-comings, the purpose of this review is in part to determine whether improvements to those concerns were silently fixed in the R1E. If you are someone who is interested primarily in those issues, skip to the Battery and Headphone Jack categories.
The specifications of the reviewed machine (R1E-B1) are:
For more detailed specs you can check the Asus website; the above are just those components which can vary from the factory default.
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Reason for Buying
I am a software professional by day and a webcomic artist and casual gamer by night. I have a Wacom Cintiq at home for my digital painting hobby, but I was attracted to the idea of a Tablet PC with which I could draw during lunch hours and when traveling. I was also determined to have a Tablet PC that could replace my custom-built desktop as a gaming platform, because I like a minimalist lifestyle, and maybe even allowing me to run some older games while on the road. To that end I needed a laptop with the following mix of features:
The Asus R1E is currently the only Tablet PC that combines all of these features. While there are other tablets that satisfy most of the other requirements, they tend to lack an ExpressCard slot, have an ultra-low voltage processor, or have a passive digitizer.
Build and Design
The dimensions of the R1E are 12.6" (W) x 9.48" (D) x 1.37" (H) and it weighs in at 4.3lbs. It has the same design as the Asus R1F. It is a sturdy, beveled little gray armful. Not light enough to carry around on your arm for hours, but great to prop against a knee or use on your lap with your feet propped up. I did not find any flex or wobble in any part of the chassis.
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Compared to the 12.1" Dell XPS m1210 the Asus R1E was surprisingly, not that much larger, thanks to more efficient use of screen space and the monstrous battery of the Dell. On our home scale they were the same weight. I'm not sure whether this speaks well of the Asus, or poorly of the Dell.
Asus on the left and Dell on the right. (view large image)
Heat and Noise
During normal use the vent on the left side does put out a moderate amount of heat. Only when running a heavier gaming application did the tablet become what I consider "hot," though without giving you numbers that is only a subjective observation. I will say that I was able to game 2 hours with it on my lap without it becoming uncomfortable.
I would also consider this a reasonably quiet little machine. My husband and I have always put extra effort into building our desktop systems as quiet systems, suspending hard drives and foregoing cooling fans in favor of passive cooling, so this is something I'm fairly sensitive to. The optical drive is of course a little noisy, but otherwise the tablet was a pleasant experience. Louder than our desktops, to be sure, but not alarmingly so.
With all power saving features off and using BatteryEater Pro 2.70 to maximize battery usage, the battery on R1E went from 100% to 1% in 58 minutes.
On the other hand, just writing this review in notepad on and off, I got about 2.5 hours of use (not counting when I would leave the tablet and it would go to sleep) from the main battery.
So battery life isn't great, but for most tasks the main battery isn't obscenely short-lived. Add in the second battery, which comes standard with the R1E-B1 configuration, and you should be good for around 4-5 hours: I haven't had enough time with the system yet to know how long that battery will truly last.
The disquieting news, and the news that many have been waiting for, is that after running the BatteryEater Pro test, the battery wear went from 0% wear to 3% wear. Our second laptop, which had lighter use but ran down to empty twice, experienced 1% wear.
That said...after calibrating the battery from the bios, and then using the battery in a lighter fashion, that wear has apparently "reversed". So it is hard to say whether or not the old problems with the R1F batteries has been resolved. FYI, the battery itself does say "R1F" on it.
The screen is described as "13.3" ColorShine (CS) 160° WXGA (1280x800) Display".
The good: The colors are attractive. It is a much more vibrant screen than that on my husband's Dell XPS m1210. It is not something you can photograph easily, but with the naked eye I was impressed by the improved contrast and color accuracy. I was also pleased to discover that the screen is matte, not glossy.
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The bad: When I have the R1E in tablet mode, with the intention of drawing, I find that there is a subtler viewing angle at work. Any picture I am working on shows a gradient of brightness between what is directly under my eye and the edges of the screen. I suspect that this is a factor of the tablet graininess, that at any angle but straight-on the light is muted.
The ugly: The screen has the graininess classically associated with Tablet PCs (the same thing is on my Cintiq, albeit not nearly as severe). I find that the viewing angles for reading text or watching movies is "ok." Not as spectacular as some other LCD's I've seen, but usable.
Keyboard and Touchpad
I love the touchpad. Love, love, love it. Very smooth and responsive. It is unlike anything I have personally used before. I don't know if this is industry standard nowadays, but I had no idea they had improved this much.
The keyboard is firm and responsive. I have long fingers and I type fast (about 80 wpm), and I found that it kept up with me just fine. I have no complaints about what keys are available, though this isn't an area I'm picky about so YMMV.
Speakers and Headphone jack
The onboard speakers are, well, there. I find them handy for hearing the little bongs and dings the OS makes, and in a pinch they do for listening to a Youtube video so you know what the heck is being said. To enjoy audio, especially music, I reach immediately for headphones or external speakers. The speakers are too tiny to do any justice to music. So that is bad news #1.
Bad news #2 is that with my headphones I did hear the static that users of the R1F have reported. When I move the mouse around it grows louder, and I also found it to be somewhat dependent on where in the room I sat, so it is there. The good news is that with the tablet's optical SPDIF support you can hook this thing up to a receiver and go to town with.
Tablet Buttons, Fingerprint Scanner and Stylus
So far the fingerprint scanner has worked flawlessly for my logins. Not much to say there except that it works.
As a writing tool, I am perfectly happy with the tablet and stylus. The stylus feels like a normal pen and I find it as easy to write on the tablet as I do on a pad of paper. So far I haven't seen any of the "silo scratching" on the stylus that R1F users reported.
However, for drawing I was frustrated that I couldn't find anywhere to customize the three tablet buttons. They are set by default to Ctrl-Alt-Del, Esc, and to rotate tablet orientation. All useful things, but being able to program those to allow me to pan (SPACE) and select colors via eyedropper (ALT) would be really handy. Hopefully this is user error. There is no doubt that this screen is less sensitive that my Cintiq or Intuos 3, but I was expecting that. So far I've been effective at sketching, so I'm looking forward to becoming more familiar with it.
The available I/O ports are:
I can confirm that the modular bay battery and DVD drive are hot-swappable, as I went back and forth many times over the course of the past few days.
I think the list above speaks for itself so I'll just make a few comments about some of the ports that you might not be able to read elsewhere.
The SPDIF in the jack is optical SPDIF, which requires a special adapter similar to those used in iMacs. I was thrilled to discover that the interface was optical, because this isolates the tablet electrically from the receiver. So no buzzing from ground faults or the like.
I was equally thrilled to have the presence of the eSATA confirmed, and that it supports NCQ (native command queuing). This is the only tablet at this time with support for this functionality, and it is VERY valuable. If you see the two tests done below, comparing the internal HD to an external RAID1 array connected via eSATA, it allows for very fast external hard drives. This would also be the case for any optical drives you connected using eSATA.
Upclose view of the eSATA port. (view large image)
We ran a quick benchmark of our two hard drives using HDTune. The first shot is the results of the hard drive that came with the R1E(we got the hybrid drive, though I don't think the hybrid feature is enabled), and the second is of our eSATA RAID1 array.
Internal Seagate hybrid drive:
eSATA RAID1 array:
There's no question that this thing can handle most business applications you throw at it. As long as it doesn't require a powerful graphics card, you'll be fine. But since benchmarks speak louder than words, here are a bunch. I'll talk about games in a bit. These benchmarks are with the latest released Intel drivers, not the latest beta drivers.
Comparison Results for PCMark05
PCMark05 measures the systems performance as a whole.
|Asus R1E (Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz, GMA 965 chipset)||4,679 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook T2010 (Intel Core 2 Duo ULV 1.2GHz, GMA X3100 graphics)||2,334 PCMarks|
|Gateway C-140x (Intel Core 2 Duo 2GHz, ATI X2300 HD graphics)||4,342 PCMarks|
|HP Compaq 2710p (Intel Core 2 Duo ULV 1.2GHz, GMA X3100 graphics)||2,453 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (Intel Core 2 Duo 1.6GHz, GMA X3100 graphics)||3,473 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook T4220 (Intel Core 2 Duo 2.2GHz, GMA X3100 graphics)||4,171 PCMarks|
|Gateway E-155C (Intel Core 2 Duo ULV 1.06GHz, Intel GMA 950 graphics)||2,205 PCMarks|
|LG C1 (Intel Core Duo 1.2GHz, Nvidia Go 7300)||2,568 PCMarks|
|Toshiba R400 (Intel Core Duo ULV 1.2GHz, Intel GMA 950 graphics)||2,187 PCMarks|
|HP tx1000 (AMD Turion X2 2.0GHz, Nvidia Go 6150)||3,052 PCMarks|
|Asus R1F (1.66GHz Core Duo, Intel GMA 950 graphics)||2,724 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X60t (1.66GHz LV Core Duo)||2,860 PCMarks|
|Panasonic ToughBook T4 (Intel 1.20GHz LV)||1,390 PCMarks|
|Asus R2H (900MHz Celeron M)||845 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Tecra M6 (1.66GHz Intel T2300E, Intel GMA 950)||2,732 PCMarks|
Comparison Results for 3Dmark05
3DMark05 tests the overall graphic capabilities of a notebook.
|Notebook||3D Mark 05 Results|
|Asus R1E (2.4GHz Core 2 Duo, GMA 965 chipset)||923 3DMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook T2010 (1.2GHz ULV Core 2 Duo, GMA X3100 graphics)||566 3DMarks|
|Gateway C-140x (2GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X2300 HD graphics)||1,956 3DMarks|
|HP Compaq 2710p (1.2GHz ULV Core 2 Duo, GMA X3100 graphics)||634 3DMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (1.6GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA X3100 graphics)||812 3DMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook T4220 (2.2GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA X3100 graphics)||925 3DMarks|
|Gateway E-155C (1.06GHz ULV Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA 950)||500 3DMarks|
|LG C1 (1.2GHz Intel Core Duo, Nvidia Go 7300)||1,392 3DMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook S2210 (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52, ATI x1150)||810 3DMarks|
|PortableOne UX (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA 950)||590 3DMarks|
|Toshiba Satellite A135 (1.73GHz Core Duo, Intel GMA 950)||519 3DMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||2,092 3DMarks|
I tried two of my favorite games on the R1E, Guild Wars and Neverwinter Nights 2, as well as a new (to me) game, Jade Empire.
With Guild Wars I used medium settings without anti-aliasing, and the game ran smoothly. I spent two hours playing it, my feet propped up and the R1E on my lap, and the only issue I had was that the screen itself is a little small to enjoy the game. But that is what I have an external monitor for. The tablet got hot, but not painfully so.
NeverWinter Nights 2 was the bigger question, though, because it has much higher requirements than Guild Wars. So I reduced all of the graphics options except resolution to their lowest settings, and gave it a whirl. And, to my delight, I could play the game. It wasn't the prettiest thing, but for killing time on a plane or someone who keeps their expectations in line with the GPU of the system, it was playable.
Jade Empire I only played long enough to see if there was any lag moving around, and I turned off everything I thought would slow down performance. I did not notice any lag, and on the small tablet screen, I actually thought it looked fairly attractive nonetheless. Not surprising, since I think it is a little older than NWN2.
Given that there is a very real possibility that Intel will write drivers in the next 6 months that significantly improve the graphics performance of the Intel GMA 965 chipset, I'm very optimistic that I will be able to continue playing. For those of you who play WoW, yes, there's no question this tablet will support it, given what I've been able to play thus far. Now Everquest2 or Vanguard I'd still be skeptical about, but I don't have accounts for those right now so can't say for sure.
Tablet as Art Tool
I have only had a few chances to use the tablet as an art tool so far, but what I have experienced thus far has given me enough of a taste that I know I will be spending many evenings curled on the couch with my tablet resting against my knees. Once the latest drivers were installed from Wacom to enable the pressure sensitivity, I had a great time working on a recent character concept.
As far as programs were concerned, I found that Open Canvas and Alias Sketchbook Pro were easier than Photoshop CS2, because of Photoshop's reliance on keystrokes. Unfortunately the Asus R1E, like the R1F, does not allow customization of the three buttons on the tablet. That was a huge disappointment. Fortunately the stylus button can be customized, but more than one would be nice. I downloaded Photoshop CS3 though, and was pleased to find that it's new UI is more tablet-friendly. If I could get my hands on a penabled stylus with two buttons, then I would be able to keep working comfortable in Photoshop CS3.
The Asus R1E is not the Tablet PC for a user who just wants to take notes in meetings or class, check their email, and navigate the Internet. If you are such a user, you would get a better experience for your money from a less powerful system that is lighter, thinner and has longer battery life.
There is a use-case of people who really only need to run on battery for only a few hours at a time. People who need the power of a desktop or a normal laptop, but who think "wow, wouldn't it be nice if I could sometimes use my computer to take notes, read an ebook, or sketch?" For the user who doesn't want to sacrifice computing power, the Asus R1E is a godsend. Its ability to connect to external hard drives via eSATA and external graphics cards via ExpressCard make it a veritable chameleon of a system, going from portable tool to powerhouse home system with a few plugs.
The presence of the battery wear is disappointing, to put it mildly, so for people from areas where Asus support is questionable (such as the UK), I could not in good conscience recommend the R1E at this time. For North American (especially Canadian) customers, it really depends on whether you mind doing a cross-shipment with Asus to get your battery replaced. Fortunately the R1E-B1 comes standard with a second battery, so you won't be completely land-bound while you wait for a replacement.
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