Reasons for buying:
My older BenQ Joybook 7000 was getting old, and on top of that my desktop PC was acting up with intermittent incidents where it refuses to boot up even to the BIOS. What perfect excuses than to tell this to my wife. So, with her blessing, I went shopping for a notebook.
Although I was hoping for an ultraportable (less than 3lbs) with at least a dedicated GPU but unfortunately that is extremely rare. The only options available were Sony’s SZ series and LG’s TX Express.
Sony’s was ultra expensive selling at over HK$20,000 (US$2578) with 2GB RAM and it integrated a 3-year-old technology of offering 4x DVD+/-R Write speed and 2.4x DVD+/-RW speeds whereas nowaday every system provides at least 8x Write, 4x Rewrite, and 2.4x Dual-Layer. LG’s wasn’t that good either. It’s not even out yet and rumors has it that it will be selling around the same price vicinity as Sony’s, at over HK$20,000 (US$2578). Then there’s also the outdated 1.3 GHz Sonoma CPU; my minimum requirement was dual core.
Anyways, the decision with price per performance in mind beating out Asus A8Jm (which came quite close except for the whopping HK$15,980 (US$2059) and no remote control) the BenQ Joybook S73G was the way to go. Seeing it comes integrated with a DVB-Tuner for Digital TV and an ATi x1600 w/256mb RAM, and for an extremely reasonable HK$12,980 (US$1673) suggested retail price, I was instantly sold. Without thinking further, I went out and bought it.
Where and How Purchased
My favorite official BenQ retail stores situated in Golden Computer Center, Hong Kong. It was one of the three available there, all owned by the same person. That was where all three of my BenQ notebooks were purchased from. I found their hospitality top notch despite my constant [intentional] bi-tching, whining, and nagging. I normally haggle a little but not the extreme type like many HK’ers do. In return, I was offered a even HK13,000 (US$1675) for the standard configurations plus 2GB (2x1GB) of KingMax DDR2 533MHz RAM. Well, I was hoping for Corsair RAMs but seeing this price is exactly the same as its suggested retail price but with an additional 1.5GB RAM more, I gave in and made the deal.
BenQ Joybook S73G Configuration as reviewed
- Intel Core Duo processor T2300 1.66 GHz
- Intel 945PM chipset
- 14.1″ 16:10 1280×800 TFT LCD, 200nits
- 2GB DDR2 533 MHz RAM
- ATi Radeon Mobility X1600 w/512MB (256+256)
- 80GB 5400RPM SATA HDD
- QSI 8X DVD-Dual Layer Writer – 8x DVD+/-R, 4x DVD+/-RW, 2.4x DVD+R DL
- Broadcom Gigabit Ethernet
- Intel Pro/Wireless 3945 802.11a/b/g
- Bluetooth Rev 2.0 EDR
- 56K Data/Fax Modem
- 4x USB 2.0
- 1x IEEE1394
- 1x RJ45
- 1x RJ-11
- 1x SPDIF
- 1x D-Sub VGA Port
- 1x DVI-D Port
- 1x S-Video Port
- Type II PCI Express slot
- 6-cell (4700mAh) Battery
- 2.3kg with 6-cell Battery
Joybook Showdown (From left to right: 7000, S72, S73G)
(Forgive the rather dark, handshaking and bad quality of the pictures; I was too lazy to ensure they are perfect. Maybe I’ll make things better in the near future when I feel like it. )
Well, as you can see, the 7000 and the S72 are virtually identical. The chasis, component layout, screen, and size are the same; just the inside is slightly different. The S73G on the other hand is totally different. It seems it was re-designed from the ground up. Sadly, the S73G is also bigger and thicker than its cousins. And not to mention its slightly heavier too:
Joybook 7000 = 1.9kg with 6-cell battery
Joybook S72 = 2.1kg with 6-cell battery
Joybook S73G = 2.3kg with 6-cell battery
Benchmarks and Diagnostics
(Click for full picture)
…and everyone’s favorite game:
Elder Scroll: Oblivion FPS
Top left corner showing the framerates, retrieved using Fraps v2.52. The game was set to 1024×768, No Anti-Aliasing, Large Texture but with HDR (High Dynamic Range) enabled. Framerates ranges from 17-33, which are actually very good and very playable with very little stuttering. At least it’s a lot better than what I was used to with the GeForce 6600GT AGP, which can only achieve 10-25 fps.
UPDATE August 29, 2006
The Bapco SysMark 2004 SE and MobileMark 2005 are extremely buggy for a HK$20,000 (US2500) benchmarking tools. It took me 8 runs before I can complete one sucessful from-beginning-to-end run. And these are the results on the BenQ Joybook S73G. The other comparison results came from searches from Google. Anyways, these tests could give you some understanding of what the S73G is when compared against a higher and lower class processors
UPDATE September 7th, 2006
A much thorough comparison with other brands and models, namely Dell and Lenovo. The tests were really done for work, where we are in the middle of a contract renewal negotiation with Dell and Lenovo, and these results help us to bargain for a better corporate pricing. Each test was performed repeatedly many times to ensure a fair and accurate score. In addition, the systems were rebuilt for each test based on the same procedure, the same drivers, the same system settings, etc. All tests were performed on a Generic Windows XP SP2.
There are also a few other Bapco tests that are not performed yet, such as MobileMark 2005 – Wireless, MobileMark 2005 – DVD Playback, and WebMark 2004 to name a few. Those however, will have to wait…
(Click for full screen)
- Not a whole lot of changes with the keyboard compared with its predecessors
- Minor changes with the light panel as the DVDROM drive light is placed here rather than on the disc drive itself. With previous models, each time you wanted to check if the disc drive is accessing, you will have to twist your head to the side to see. The S73G was really designed with ergonomics in mind. Kudos!
- The remote control is stored into the PCI Express slot but if the slot is occupied, the remote control will be homeless, which is one of my concern with previous models too
- The red SPDIF optical port, which you can hook up to your amplifier for 5:1 surround sound
- the D-SUB VGA and DVI-D ports are strategically placed on the left corner. Not a lot of notebooks offer both VGA and DVI-D ports. The Acer Travelmate 8204 is the only other model I know that offer both, but don’t expect the 8204 to sell at the same price range as the S73G
- The system exhaust outlet, right next to the S-Video and modem/LAN ports. While playing a graphics intensive game such as Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, this outlet can get extremely hot thanks to the powerful ATi X1600 GPU.
- Power button looks really nice especially in the dark
- And finally, the major players behind this system…
The Crown Jewels
These are some of the more useful features available to the Joybook S73G:
QMedia Center is an integrated multimedia environment, intuitively designed and easy-to-use interface to provide the ultimate multimedia experience. QMedia Center provides easy access to your digital entertainment, including TV, DVD/VCD movies, video clips, pictures and music collections.
- With the BenQ Media Center, you don’t need Windows XP MCE. Using the remote control you can do everything from playing DVDs, to listening to music, to channel surfing on the built-in Digital TV tuner. That’s not all, you can even do, in a way similar to Picture in Picture technology – while viewing a movie in a little screen, you can browse other media files using the BenQ Media Center and with your remote control.
- Another function, which I just recently discovered – while playing a DVD movie disc, you can access the DVD features without interrupting the movie. The transparent menu will not interfere you watching the movie while accessing the menus, a feature that you normally need to do only by pressing the “Menu” button on your DVD players remote control.
- The BenQ Media Center is indeed a pretty good tool offered free with the system.
New to S73G is a great feature that allows you backup and restore the operating system by clicking on F10 right before the system boots up to Windows. Should your system become unstable and you wish to restore it to is original state or make a backup, you can do so with QDataTrove.
QDataTrove takes advantage of Symantec’s (formerly PowerQuest) DeployCenter by placing its system files into a hidden partition. Each time you initiate a backup by pressing F10, it runs the DeployCenter executables from this hidden partition, clone your system using the PowerQuest DriveImage format and then storing the image into its default FAT32 logical partition. This is a great feature, however because I am a security paranoid person who does’t like FAT32 formats because it lacks the ability to define file and directory access permissions, I reformatted the logical partition to NTFS. Doing so causes QDataTrove to stop working. Fine with me as I have my own backup/restore CD using Ghost and storing/restoring images from a network source, such as my NAS box or a remote file server. Oh well…
[Update: April 20th, 2006]
Curiosity kicks in that led me to investigate what this QDataTrove really is.
As I originally suspected, QDataTrove was actually based on Microsoft Windows PE (Preinstallation Environment) but included user-friendly interface and background wallpaper, giving it pizzazz and better overall look and feel. Instead of running from a CD as Windows PE was originally intended, BenQ ported it to running from the hard disk instead by placing the operating system into a separate primary partition. To further enhances its usefulness, BenQ added a small command into the MBR (Master Boot Record) that gives a user the option to select F10 to boot to the QDataTrove partition instead of the default Windows XP Home partition.
All these sound really exciting and useful. Yes, to the general user really. For more advanced users, this QDataTrove feature is futile:
- If a user decides to install 2 or more operating systems onto multiple primary partitions (in addition to QDataTrove), the backup and restore function will become futile. The mechanism behind QDataTrove contains hardcoded VBScript instructions to specifically backup/restore to the D: partition. Any deviation from this could mess the backup/restore function.
- Normally if you install multiple operating systems, you would also install a user-friendly program that allows you to select which operating systems to boot to. eg. VCom System Commander. Doing so would overwrite the master boot record that holds QDataTrove’s F10 function. However, this is not the end of the world though, because System Commander could detect the QDataTrove partition and automatically add an option into its boot menu for you to choose.
Nevertheless, this QDataTrove is a great idea. It gave me a idea, to port my custom made CD version of Windows PE to the hard disk instead, to workaround and enhance QDataTroves inability to support multiple operating systems.
This is a great tool for people who do a lot of presentation at work. When you plug an overhead projector into the VGA port of your Joybook, QPresentation automatically performs the following functions:
- Detect that the projector has been connected and began linking up Joybook with it. This saves you from manually pressing the specific hotkey combinations on your Joybook to establish the link.
- Determine if the projector is capable of displaying Joybook’s current screen resolution. If it cannot, then determine the next best resolution the projector can handle and automatically reset Joybook’s screen resolution to match that. This matching of resolution prevents the screen on Joybook from being cut-off when displayed on the projector.
QPower is an advanced system power management tool specifically designed for your Joybook. In addition to the standard power management functions provided by the Windows system, Qpower incorporates several features which allow you to precisely and meanwhile easily adjust system power settings. The features includes:
- Flexible and comprehensive power setting options for maximizing system performance or minimizing power consumption
- Preset power profiles for easy selection and application
- Program-associable power profile design allows you to associate different application programs with different power profiles. The specific power profile is automatically applied when you open the corresponding application program.
…and lots more.
Nobody’s (No System’s) Perfect
Heh…you don’t expect me to only brag about this system without bitching about its issues, do you?
Before you run out and buy this model, make sure you read this carefully:
S73G’s Biggest Disappointment
DVB-Tuner is permanently disabled in BIOS
Because Hong Kong does not have digital TV broadcasting, the manufacturer permanently disabled the Digital TV function in the BIOS. No wonder their local advertisements did not mention anything about having a built-in tuner. No wonder when you buy its sister product, the Joybook S61 (that should also comes with a Digital TV tuner), it comes with an external analog TV tuner free of charge. I can understand why they disabled the DVB-T; it was probably because they didn’t want unnecessary technical support for computer illiterate customers who think the DVB-T works in HK’s environment. But still….
I was just about to take it back and ask for a full refund but thinking carefully, I decided to keep it because:
- of its cheap price. No competitions really. And the design and quality was top notch!
- it will be at least 2 years before digital TV is widely available in HK. (HK pilot testing begins end of 2007 and probably become mainstream by earliest middle of 2008. 2 years is a long time!)
- I very seldom business travel to a country such as Taiwan or North America where digital TV broadcasting is widely available. Even if I do, hotels come with TVs.
I am unsure if BenQ will release a BIOS patch for re-enabling the DVB-T once digital TV is available in HK. Don’t bet on it though.
Anyways, if the DVB-T is that important, then I would suggest buying it from Taiwan instead. The Taiwanese version comes with the DVB-T and it’s a lot cheaper…NT$42900 which works out to a little over HK$10,000 (1GB 533Mhz RAM)
- Dual Core. Up to 80% faster than the Pentium-M 1.73 GHz Sonoma
- Very bright 200nits LCD. Beautiful
- Powerful ATi X1600 with 256MB. More powerful than my desktop’s GeForce 6600GT AGP
- 4 USB Ports: 1 on each left/right side. 2 at the back
- remote control with QMedia Center
- QDataTrove for easy full system backup/restore
- Both D-Sub VGA and DVI-D ports available
- Ultra quiet, even when the CPU/GPU are stressed to the limit
- Internal 5-in-1 card reader now supports 2GB SD Cards. Previous models cannot
- Inexpensive. Price per performance and features are out of this world. No competitors!
- Comes with 3 Windows XP Home licenses: English, Chinese Simplified, and Chinese Traditional
- Digital TV Tuner is disabled in BIOS and cannot be enabled
- QSI DVD Writer lacks DVD-RAM support – S72 and 7000 supported DVD-RAM
- Very hot when playing graphics intensive games. Definitely not a “laptop”
- Very warm on the area where you rest your wrist when typing on the notebook
- Poor battery life: 2 hours for 3D games, 3 hours for DVD (with QPower enabled)
- No Infrared (its infrared port is for the remote control only. Nothing else)
- slightly overweight for a 14″ notebook
- battery cannot be used on previous models. S72 and 7000 batteries are interchangeable
- PCMCIA-based cards are not reusable on the PCI Express slot
- If PCI Express slot is occupied, the remote control will be homeless
- 1 year warranty. S72 offered 3 years warranty: 1 International, 2 local