ECS I-Buddie 4 - IntroductionIntroduction
ECS have been known for quite some time as the top leader of the OEM sector. ECS have produced boards in the past that have been the best of the OEM line. The ECS K7S5A, based on the SiS 745 chipset was ultimately the best SiS 735 motherboard around, and stable as a rock.ECS have branched out now to include overclockers, which we will be looking at in our future reviews of the ECS line of motherboards for Intel and AMD platforms. Today though, we are here to look at another of their OEM solutions, the I-Buddie 4 Desknote.ECS have been pushing into the portable/desktop replacement with there I-Buddie range of Desknote units which we are excited to tell you about today.
ECS I-Buddie 4 - Specifications and InformationSpecifications
Supports Northwood/Willamette CPUs from 1.4 - 2.8Ghz (Socket 478) 400Mhz FSBSiS 650 & SiS 961, 4X AGP bus interface, supports host bus at 400MHzSupports PC2100/2700 128/256/512/1024MB DDR-SDRAMAMI Mobile PC Bios; PnP, ACPI, DMI15.0" XGA+ TFT LCDBuilt-in SiS 315 graphic core and AGP 4X supported256bit 3D graphics engine up to 143MHz 3D engine clock speedVideo bridge supported by SiS 301LV, TV-out function providedDual full-duplex Direct Sound ChannelsBuilt-in two high quality stereo speakers with chamber and mic8 x DVD-ROM, 24 x CD-ROM, CD-RW and combo drive options availableOnboard full duplex 10/100 Base-T Ethernet56K / V.90 Conexant PCI software data/fax modemBuilt-in SIR transceiver module, IrDA 1.3 standard compliant up to 4.0MbpsIncorporated with one 1394 port supporting power, transfer rate up to 400MbpsIncorporates with four USB 2.0 ports, transfer rate up to 480MbpsThe Desknote gets its name because it is a cross between a Desktop PC and a Notebook. While having the look of a Notebook PC it has some rather odd differences between a normal notebook, these being;- No Built-in Battery- Uses Desktop CPU- Uses Desktop Memory
The lack of built-in battery direct from the factory means that you aren't able to take it out of the shop and onto the road like you would a normal laptop. However, ECS does sell accessories for this unit, which includes a 19v Li-Ion external battery, so portability isn't totally out of the question.The major differences between a normal notebook and a laptop is the use of desktop components. Laptop designed mobile CPU's and SO-DIMM memory is very expensive, almost twice the cost of desktop components. ECS decided to eliminate as much cost as possible and add in a desktop CPU and memory capabilities. With using standard CPU and memory types, the Desknote can be customised to a multitude of performance/price levels - and often for a cost comparable to a similar specification desktop. This particular model, the I-Buddie 4 can handle any socket 478 400Mhz FSB Pentium 4 and Celeron chips.The Hardware built into the system is designed around everything you would need for a laptop and desktop PC, so there is no need for add-ons that will cost you a fortune. Designed with a 15" TFT XGA monitor, you can get up to 1024x768 resolutions with excellent quality, while the graphics chip isn't the best in the world, it does beat the Intel I845G graphics controller and is just above VIA's ProSavage DDR offerings, so the choice of chipset was well chosen in my opinion.The Hard Drive supplied with the unit is a standard 2.5" laptop 20GB hard drive running 4200 RPM @ ATA-100 specifications (adding a 3.5" one would have made the unit even more bulky).
ECS I-Buddie 4 - FeaturesFeaturesPorts
The I-Buddie is no slouch when it comes to connectivity. The unit has just about every port you will need for connecting your devices to it.The included ports are as follows.- 1 x Parallel port- 1 x external VGA port- 1 x S-Video TV-out port- 1 x RJ-11 jack for Modem- 1 x RJ-45 for Ethernet- 1 x SIR port- 1 x 1394 port- 4 x USB 2.0 ports- 1 x MIC-in jack- 1 x headphone jack- 1 x 3-pin DC-in jack for AC adapter / external battery pack / Car Adapter(ed. Note - What, no cigarette lighter?!)As you can see from the above specs and photo, there is just about all you need. While PS2 ports and COM ports are missing, you hardly need them in this day and age with laptops - everything you need is Firewire or USB, and both are provided onboard.The Screen
One of the best parts of the I-Buddie 4 is its screen. While today, it costs you a near fortune to get a good laptop with a 15" screen, ECS have added such a monster to the I-Buddie 4 without raising the price too much. Since the size of the unit is rather large for a portable unit, a 15" screen is not such a tall order to fill. The quality of the graphics places out is outstanding and fully what you would expect from a laptop style display.Keyboard, Trackpad and Speakers
The keyboard on the I-Buddie 4 is a rather large and spacious keyboard for a portable solution since the Desknote is slightly larger than most notebooks sold today. The keys were light and very responsive, so it only requires a feather touch. While being very responsive, they do tend to make a loud "clicking" sound, so when using it, you tend to draw attention to yourself.The key layout is a standard 108 key US style layout. Windows access keys are included (like a normal desktop keyboard) as well as laptop specific keys that control the onboard speakers sound level, screen brightness and which video source the image is displayed to (TV or LCD or both).
The I-Buddie 4 uses a two button Trackpad with scroll clicker that does the work of the normal mouse wheel. This unit plugs into the PS/2 port connection inside the Desknote. You can use a mouse with this unit but you need to have a USB version as there are no PS/2 ports, or at least a PS/2 to USB converter.
The speakers on the Desknote are pretty much what you would expect from a portable solution. The speakers that are used are commonly found on 99% of laptops available today. The system uses a SiS 7012 Audio codec for sound decoding, so you get entry level sound. While not being up to full desktop standards, you are able to listen to your music with reasonable clarity. As for DVD's, no worries, the onboard codec handles them easily.
ECS I-Buddie 4 - More FeaturesMore FeaturesCPU and Heatsink
Since the I-Buddie 4 uses desktop class CPU's it is a painless process for upgrading the CPU. The unit itself ships with a 2Ghz Willamette P4 CPU as standard, but being mPGA socket connection you can place any 478 400Mhz CPU into the unit with very little fuss at all.Located on the bottom of the Desknote is a CPU flap (which is documented in the installation manual), you simply unscrew the small screw to reveal the CPU and heat transfer unit. Removing the heatpipe is very simple, four screws holds the unit onto the CPU for effective cooling. Once removed you are faced with the CPU and a 50mm thermally controlled fan.The design of the unit is a heatpipe technology. 90% of laptops today use heatpipes for their cooling as they are low profile designs. Shuttle was the first to implement heatpipe coolers in mainstream PC's with their barebone PC's for Athlon and Pentium 4. Using a similar design, the unit has two pipes that contain liquid. This liquid is also located under the metal plate over the CPU. This allows the liquid to be heated, the heated liquid then flows to the copper fin area where the fan removed the heat, allowing the liquid to remove more heat from the CPU.DRAM Installation
The installation of the memory is just as simple (if not more-so) as the CPU installation. Located at the bottom of the unit is a large, thin flap held down with a single screw. When removed you are faced with a metal shield, this prevents external EMI interference from corrupting the memory at speeds over 133Mhz (so don't loose this). After the EMI shield is removed you are faced with the memory module slot, a standard 184 pin DDR SDRAM slot. ECS ships the unit with a 256MB PC2100 module installed, but like the CPU, this can be upgraded to a 1GB module for a total of 1GB of system memory. DDR-333 modules are not officially supported (since the SiS 650 chipset onboard doesn't officially support DDR-333) but when testing our Geil DDR-433 @ 333Mhz, all was 100% stable.Hard Disk and Optical Drive
The ECS I-Buddie might use some desktop components, but its hard disk unit is laptop based. Using a 2.5" IBM Travelstar 4200RPM 20GB drive as stock standard, you do experience some slowdowns due to the low RPM's of the Hard Disk, but like the CPU and memory, you can replace it with any 2.5: IDE laptop HDD, which includes the new 5400 and 6200RPM units.The CD unit that is shipped with the I-Buddie 4 as standard is a Matshita 16x DVD/40x CD ROM drive. This unit is head in with two screws and can be replaced with a CD-RW or a DVD/CD-RW combo drive, which are sold from ECS and their distributors. Though interchangeable, they aren't hot swappable like most laptops.
ECS I-Buddie 4 - More Features ContinuedMore Features ContinuedVents
Being based on notebook and desktop components, the system tends to generate more heat since they have less room for cooling in their usual spacious ATX cases - a laptop based on these components is asking for trouble without proper cooling. ECS have done a fantastic job though. Over the CPU heatpipe is a thermally controlled fan, this means the hotter the CPU gets, the faster this fan runs to compensate for the extra processor usage. The reason behind using the thermal controlled fan here is to reduce noise levels. When the CPU is idle, the heat generated by the CPU is next to nothing, this means that it is almost pointless for the fan to be running full pelt and as a result, doing very little for the CPU.A single 50MM fan that is at a constant 2200RPM is placed over the chipset and other vital components. This fan intake vents are located on the bottom of the unit and the exhaust vents for this fan are located on the left hand side, just under the power on and suspend LED lights.Battery and Battery Life
While the battery unit isn't standard with the I-Buddie series, ECS sent us one along to test the unit under battery mode. The battery is a 9 cell Lithium Ion Rechargeable battery unit. Encased in a quite stylish casing, this unit gives the I-Buddie 4 the option of portability. The unit simply plugs into where the mains power connects in and the mains power then daisy-chains into the back of the battery for constant power.When running off the battery unit, the system has a life of 8 hours of continuous use. This is a remarkable time frame as this is just about the average day for most people, so you can take you I-Buddie 4 to work or school on the battery unit and get enough power for your days work or play, come home and recharge it for one hour and you are back to full power to face the next day. It's that simple.Graphics
Powered by the SiS 650 desktop chipset, the graphics are controlled by the integrated SiS 315 GPU on the northbridge. This graphics solution uses Shared Memory Architecture (SMA), this means that it uses system memory for the video controller. While this is something that really we prefer to see avoided in desktop and high end systems, it is more than acceptable for a small, low budget laptop/ Desktop replacement for the office and student.The Graphics system is able to use up to 64MB of system memory for its frame buffer, and can aperture up to 256MB of extra system memory for texture storage (which does help a lot with integrated solutions). The graphics quality and speed of the 650 controller is far ahead of VIA's P4M266 chipset or Intel's I845G and I845GE, so the choice of chipset was well thought of. When running the system memory @ 166 MHz (DDR-333) the video controller runs its frame buffer memory synchronous to the system memory clock, so the higher the memory clock, the better the graphics quality and the more FPS you can pump out.
ECS I-Buddie 4 - Benchmarks - Test Setup and SandraBenchmarksDesktop Test SystemProcessor
: Intel Pentium 4 2.0A GHz (Northwood) (Supplied by Spectrum Communications)Memory
: 1x 512MB DDR-433 Geil (512MB) (Supplied by Geil)Video Card
: SiS 315 Graphics Card (64MB) (Supplied by SiS)Hard Disk
: Western Digital WD1200 (Supplied by Achieva)Software Used
: Sisoft Sandra 2002, 3Dmark2001, PCMark 2002 Pro, Sysmark 2002, Vulpine GLmark, Quake 3 Arena, Aquanox, DroneZmark, Max Payne, Star Trek Voyager Elite Force, Jedi Knight II.SiSoft Sandra 2002 SP1
SiSoft Sandra (the S
iagnostic and R
ssistant) 2002 is a synthetic Windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems. We used this to test CPU Raw Performance, Multimedia Instruction Set and Memory Bandwidth Performance. While they are all synthetic results, they do give us a general idea of what is happening and where a component's strengths and weaknesses are.
When running DDR-266 memory, you can see the performance hit that the system takes due to the video card using system memory for its frame buffer. When DDR-333 is used, the performance gap is closed, since the GPU is given more power to work with.
ECS I-Buddie 4 - Benchmarks - System ProductivityReal-World System ProductivitySysMark 2002
Sysmark2002 incorporates the following Internet Content Creation and Office Productivity applications:Office Productivity
: Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Microsoft Access 2002, Netscape Communicator 6.0, Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred v.5, WinZip 8.0, and McAfee Virus Scan 5.13.Internet Content Creation
: Adobe Photoshop 6.01, Adobe Premiere 6.0, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 7.1, Macromedia Dreamweaver 4, and Macromedia Flash 5.
We see that the slower RPM's of the ECS I-Buddie 4's hard disk play an important part in its slower performance. Since the Desktop PC is using the same memory CPU and video card we can assume that the hard disk limits the I-Buddie 4 from its full potential.
ECS I-Buddie 4 - Benchmarks - SyntheticSynthetic 3D and PC Benchmarks3DMark2001 SE
3DMark2001 SE is the latest installment in the popular 3DMark series. By combining DirectX 8.1 support with completely new graphics (including the GeForce4), it continues to provide benchmark results that empower you to make informed hardware assessments. Build 330 adds support for video cards that have Vertex Shaders but no Pixel Shaders, such as the SiS Xabre Video card.
While being slower then the desktop PC, we were surprised to see just how well the I-Buddie scored in this demanding 3D Application.PCMark2002 Pro
PCMark2002 is a completely new, multipurpose benchmark, suited for testing all kinds of PCs, from laptops to workstations, as well as across multiple Windows operating systems. This easy-to-use benchmark makes professional strength benchmarking software available even to novice users. PCMark2002 consists of a series of tests that represent common tasks in home and office programs. PCMark2002 also covers many additional areas outside the scope of other MadOnion.com benchmarks.
PC Mark shows that the onboard video does suck some power out of the system memory when running DDR-266. When pushed to DDR-333, the performance hit is in an acceptable limit.Vulpine GLMark
Vulpine GLMark is a Windows based OpenGL benchmark designed to test out the 3D Rendering performance of GeForce video cards
Running the memory @ DDR-266 levels, the performance can only be described as disappointing. But pushing DDR-333, we see a marked improvement in the results; the 2.7GB/s transfers really pay off.
ECS I-Buddie 4 - Benchmarks - OpenGLReal-World OpenGL BenchmarksQuake III Arena
Quake III Arena is a real-world OpenGL benchmark that we have been using here at TweakTown for quite a while now because it has proven itself to be one of the best gaming benchmarks around to compare a wide range of different products. Quake III is getting very old, but is still the best way of testing video and PC systems for any instabilities and best performance.
Quake 3 is where we start to see the real world affects of the SMA design of the I-Buddie. DDR-266 performance was less than playable even @ 640x480. Running 333 MHz memory increased performance greatly to a comfortable 30+FPS.Star Trek Voyager
Star Trek Voyager is another real-world OpenGL benchmark. Based on the Quake III Arena engine, this game is an OpenGL master utilizing DirectX 8. We also apply the new Opt3D patch to allow for the use of Hardware T&L as well as new optimizations for AMD Athlon XP and Pentium 4 SSE2.
Star Trek Voyager, being more reliant on DX8 technologies, shows that the performance of the Desknote not to be the most agreeable with high demanding games.Jedi Knight II
Jedi Knight II, Jedi Outcast is a newly released OpenGL game that many have been waiting for. It has greatly improved graphics over its predecessor and it fully supports advanced shaders, as well as very high texture resolutions and effects. There is one demo included in the multi-player section that is good for benchmarking use. In order to enable the benchmarking mode, you have to make a shortcut to the jk2mp.exe program located in the GameData folder of Jedi Knight 2. You have to put the switch "+set sv_cheats1" (no quotes) at the end of the line in the Target Area so that it looks like this: C:\Star Wars JK II Jedi Outcast\GameData\jk2mp.exe" +set sv_cheats 1
. The demo file used is jk2ffa.
Jedi Knight II is even heavier on the system than Star Trek Voyager. Even @ 333 MHz, the quality at times was sluggish, while playable, it does get a bit annoying to be killed due to system lag.
ECS I-Buddie 4 - Benchmarks - D3DReal-World Direct3D BenchmarksMax Payne
Max Payne is a new generation DirectX 7/8 game. This game is based on Hardware T&L advancements as well as many other features of the Intel Pentium 4 and Athlon XP.
Max Payne was a definite to avoid on the I-Buddie, it was unplayable even @ DDR-333. This was of no surprise to us.Aquanox
Aquanox is the latest installment of our benchmark software. This game is based heavily on DirectX 8 and 8.1 advancements and is designed to stress video cards to their ultimate limit, in all the best D3D benchmark to date.Aquanox did not want to run on our desktop or I-Buddie, clearly the 315 drivers have an issue here that needs addressing.DroneZmark
DroneZmark is based on the popular DroneZ game engine. DroneZmark incorporates a looping demo and execution engine to test your system performance.
In the last of the tests, DroneZmark was able to score a pretty good rate for such a configuration layout.
ECS I-Buddie 4 - ConclusionConclusion - Desknote's for all
Well from what we have seen, the ECS I-Buddie 4 looks to have the goods in order to take on the big name laptops as a desktop replacement and light portable system. If however, you are looking for a serious gaming laptop, you would do better to look around, but it will cost you.ECS pushes the I-Buddie 4 out at around $700 US (roughly $1400 AU) for each unit - When you consider what you get and what you can do, it is the ultimate in price for a portable solution. While having to purchase an external battery to take it on the road, ECS prices the accessories at a very reasonable rate.The Desknote P4 battery life surpasses that of standard laptop units, with an average full use time of over 8 hours (what you would expect from a normal working day) as apposed to most laptops of lasting only three hours of full use. When considering that the I-Buddie 4 does not have any Speed Step technology to save power, this is a rather good effort for constant working environments. Recharge times for the battery depend on use, when running the battery in daisy-chain with the Desknote running, recharge time takes around 2 hours, when set as stand alone, 1.5 hours is all it takes to get 8 hours worth of power out of the battery.Compatibility wise, the I-Buddie worked without a problem in all games and applications we used for testing, minus Aquanox and the SiS driver issues. Stability was 100% - There was no crashes or reduction in performance due to thermal throttling, as it simply never got that hot.Pros
- Fast- Cheap- Upgradeable CPU and Memory- Uses Desktop CPU and Memory- Firewire, LAN, USB2 all onboard- High Quality 15" Screen- DVD ROM as standardCons
- Video can be sluggish.- Battery is externalRating
: 9.5 out of 10 and TweakTown Editors Choice