ECS Excel G550 Mobile Pentium 4 Notebook Review

It used to be that the only way one had a chance at owning a notebook computer was to have a corporation buy it for you to use while working. The cost involved with this type of purchase was just too high for the average end user. But lately, things have been changing. Come join Cameron "Sov" Johnson as he takes you on a tour of the ECS Excel G550 Mobile Pentium4 Notebook. It is time to see what these recently affordable systems are capable of!
Published Wed, Jun 25 2003 11:00 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:25 PM CDT
Manufacturer: none

Excel G550 - Introduction

IntroductionMobile computers have been around about as long as the desktop PC. The reason we see more desktop PC's than portable is simple, the costs of producing a mobile solution is simply too high for the average user. Usually mobile solutions are constrained in speeds as the space requirements, voltage delivery and weight factors limit what can be put into a mobile solution.In 2000, Mobile PC components started to take a more end user approach with costs coming down on mobile processors, hard disks and other peripherals for the notebook market. Intel's release of the Pentium 4M allowed fast computing on the mobile market, and with the release just recently of the Pentium M CPU has pushed the costs of the Pentium 4-M CPU's down to an affordable level. While this has helped costs for other components, like mobile video cards, have still remained high. This is where SiS and VIA have come to the rescue. SiS first released the M651 chipset for the mobile sector. This chipset brings 533FSB along with the SiS 315 graphics core with up to 64MB frame buffer. The system memory provides memory for the onboard video card, requiring 512MB of RAM to use the full 64MB buffer. The M651 conforms to Intel's mobile chipset guides supporting Intel Speedstep technology for the mobile Pentium 4. It can also be used in desktop applications, however, SiS has more advanced chipsets for the mobile sector.VIA has certainly been no slouch either. The P4N266 adds to a cost effective mobile sector with a similar design. The P4N266 supports only DDR-266 memory compared to the M651's DDR-333. While lower in memory bandwidth, the SavageXP graphics core integrated into the P4N266 is far superior to that of the SiS 315 graphics core. While supporting the same 64MB frame buffer, the system memory provides the video memory. Despite the slower bandwidth on the memory compared to the M651, the VIA P4N266 makes good use of what it has and pushed it to the top of the cost effective notebook chipsets.ECS was among the first to come up with a cost effective notebook solution with the I-Buddie range. While more of a desktop replacement rather than a notebook, it was one of the most innovative ideas we have seen. Today we look at the Excel G550 cost effective notebook solution supplied by Protac in Australia.

Excel G550 - Specifications

Specifications of the G550 NotebookCPUIntel Mobile Pentium 4-M Processor With Speedstep Technology 1.8GHz ~ 2.5GHzIntel Pentium 4 1.6GHz ~ 2.6GHz mPGA 478 400MHz FSBChipsetSiS M651 AGPsetSiS M651 NorthbridgeSiS 962ul SouthbridgeSiS 302 TV Output BridgeMemoryUp to 2.0GB PC2100/PC2700 DDR SDRAM2x 200-pin SO-DIMM connectorsVideoSiS 315 AGP 4x graphics controller embedded in M651 NorthbridgeSupports 8, 16, 32, 64MB Shared System Memory Monitor14.1" or 15.1" TFT XGA LCD Monitor supporting max 1024x768 resolutionsAudioAdvance AC'97 audio controller built into 962ul SouthbridgeHDD2.5" UDMA-100/133 IDE interface supporting 20, 40, 60 or 80GB HDDOptical StorageModule Bay 12.7mm DVD/CD-RW combo drive.BatteryLithium Ion Rechargeable 8 cell 55 watts.Battery LifeApprox 120 mins on fully charged battery at 100% load.Battery Charge TimeSystem off: 3 hrsSystem on: 5 hrs CommunicationsRealtek RTL8100BL 10/100 Ethernet ControllerECS Mini PCI V.92 Fax/Data ModemKeyboard and Point Device108 keys with laptop function keysSynaptics Touchpad with 4-way scroll feature.External Expansion1x Parallel Port, 1x CRT Port, 2x USB 2.0 ports, 1x Mic Jack, 1x Speaker out Jack, 1x RJ-45 Port, 1x RJ-11 Port, 1x TV Out, 1x unpowered (4-pin) Firewire port, 1x Infrared Port, 1x Type II PCMCIA Cardbus slot. AC AdapterLite-on 19v 3.42 amp 75 watt universal power input adapter.

Excel G550 - Features

Features of the Excel G550First impressions
After unpacking the notebook when it arrived at the lab, I thought simply that this was a normal notebook with nothing special. In actual fact, this is somewhat true but somewhat false. True in that this is more of a notebook than the ECS I-Buddie is but false in that it does not cost as much as your average notebook system.Measuring 326 x 258 x 25.3mm and weighing just 2.8 kilograms, the unit is quite small and lightweight. It sure is what we would classify as a portable option.When it comes to expansion, like the I-Buddie, the Excel G550 has all the right ports, and even one extra that makes it more of a notebook option. You get the following:1 x Parallel port1 x external VGA port1 x S-Video TV-out port1 x RJ-11 jack for Modem1 x RJ-45 for Ethernet1 x SIR port1 x Unpowered 1394 port2 x USB 2.0 ports1 x MIC-in jack1 x speaker out jack1 x Type II PCMCIA SlotAs you can see the unit comes with all the ports that are common to a normal notebook. Unlike the I-Buddie, the Excel G550 supports a PCMCIA slot. This allows for the addition of PCMCIA wireless networking, additional external storage options and various other PCMCIA options.The Screen
While the G550 has two different screen sizes available on the unit, the model we were shipped was equipped with the 14.1" TFT LCD display. A 15.1" model is also available at a slightly extra cost. While a 15.1" would be nice, 14.1" is more than enough to do what this unit is made for. Keyboard, Trackpad and access buttons
The keyboard supplied on the Excel G550 is a Honeywell 108-key variety. This keyboard comes with all your standard keys including Windows 95 keys. Like many other laptops, the Fn key is supplied for access to laptop specific functions such as display selection, volume control, monitor contrast and various other functions.
The Excel comes with a Synaptics touchpad with 2-button access with a 4-way directional scroll pad. This pad has up/down/left/right direction. This allows you to scroll on both the horizontal and vertical scroll bars under Windows 9x and XP. While no PS/2 port is supplied onboard, a USB mouse can be used to control the mouse under Windows and the trackpad can be disabled to prevent accidental tapping or moving when typing on the keyboard.
The Excel comes with easy access buttons on the top of the keyboard. These buttons are for power on and off, launching Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator (whatever you prefer) and mail client launch, which also can be set to any mail program you have.Located on the bottom left of the laptop are 3 LEDs to indicate the system status. These include Power status, Battery status and Suspend Mode status. The HDD access LED is located next to the easy access buttons along with the CAPS lock LED, NUM lock LED and the Scroll lock LED. In all, everything you will need for system status.

Excel G550 - Features Continued

Speakers and CPU Upgrade Access
Located at the upper right and left of the keyboard are the two stereo speakers. These are covered by a protective plate that also covers the access to the CPU. Under the access plate we can see 2x 5watt Laptop speakers. These speakers, while being somewhat small, do put out better sound that we have seen on a lot of other notebooks. Under the speaker access you will find the CPU covered with a heatpipe. The unit we were supplied with came with a Mobile Pentium 4-M 2.0GHz supporting Speedstep technology. While most of us know what Speedstep is, there are a few of us who aren't aware of what it does. For the benefit of those out there, here is a brief rundown of what is involved.Speedstep is a power saving technology that is built into Intel's latest mobile CPU's. This technology, when equipped with a mobile chipset series, allows the CPU to throttle itself when not is use. What this means is when the CPU is idle, Speedstep identifies the reduction in load and drops the CPU speed back to 1.2GHz and drops the CPU core voltage from 1.5v down to 1.0v. This becomes useful when running a system on a battery. Since people are wanting faster notebooks for their computing needs, the only way to keep battery power is to implement a new power saving technology.The CPU sits in a standard Socket 478 connector, making it fully compatible with desktop CPU's. With the 533MHz FSB support supplied by the 651 chipset you can stick a 3.0GHz into the system with Hyper Threading. While this will give a great boost in performance, your battery will die in about 30 minutes due to the lack of Speedstep on the desktop CPU.Hard Disk Drive and Optical Storage
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 Optical Storage unit that is supplied standard with the Excel is a 16x DVD, 32x CD ROM, 24x CD-RW combination unit. Since the unit doesn't come with a floppy disk drive, it is good to see a CD-RW added to the mix to transfer data off the hard disk.V.92 Fax/Data Modem
While most of the laptops today have built in modems, it is rather odd to see a Mini PCI version modem. The unit comes with the ECS V.92 MiniPCI modem. The reason behind this is simple; the modem can be upgraded beyond V.92 standards. Another point is that MiniPCI internal xDSL modems should be available soon. The simple process of removing the existing modem and installing the ADSL modem will be a snap and plug operation. System memory
Unlike the ECS I-Buddie, the Excel G550 uses standard SO-DIMM DDR memory modules. These modules are 200-pin and range from 128MB to 1GB modules. Two sockets are located on the board. One is on the bottom under the small expansion flap and the other is under the keyboard, which requires a partial dismantle of the system to access the other SO-DIMM socket.Due to the use of the M651 Northbridge, this notebook can accommodate either DDR-266 memory or DDR-333 memory. DDR-333 on a notebook allows for a much greater memory bandwidth to complete office applications and various games.Battery and Recharge System
Another of the major difference between the G550 and the I-Buddie is the G550 comes with a built in battery system. This battery is a very large 8 cell Lithium Ion battery with a maximum rating of 75 watts. This translates in to a total system online time of 124 minutes at 100% load. When sitting in Speedstep state your system online time is 187 minutes.To recharge the battery, a Liteon 19v 3.4A universal recharger is supplied. This is simply an AC to DC converter to pump out a constant 19v for the system to run on and recharge the internal battery. The unit is designed to run in all countries with automatic voltage setting to either 110v or 230v. With interchangeable input lines, all you need is the one for your country and you can run this notebook anywhere.

Excel G550 - Benchmarks - Test Setup and Sandra 2003 SP1

Test SystemsFor this review, we have put together a simple 2.0GHz Desktop system to compare the Excel G550 against. Also, we have pulled the I-Buddie 4 out of mothballs to see how much grunt this new baby has compared to our all time favorite.Desktop SystemProcessor: Intel Pentium 4 2.0GHz (400MHz FSB) (Supplied by Spectrum Communications)Memory: 2x 256MB DDR-400 Kingmax (Supplied by Kingmax Australia)Hard Disk: Western Digital WD80 7200RPM (Supplied by Techbuy)Graphics Card: SiS 315 64MB Graphics card (Supplied by SiS)Software Used: SiSoft Sandra 2003, Lame MP3, DIVX Encoding, Sysmark 2002, 3Dmark2001SE, PCMark2002, Vulpine GLMark 1.1, Quake III Arena, Star Trek Voyager, Jedi Knight II, Comanche 4, Aquanox, UT 2003.SiSoft Sandra 2003 SP1SiSoft Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) 2003 is a synthetic windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems.
CPU wise, optimization is equal across the board. Memory wise, the new M651 has more grunt than the original 650. Though both are fundamentally the same, the improvements over time in the memory controller have shown up here.

Excel G550 - Benchmarks - System and Multimedia Productivity

Real World System and Multimedia ProductivitySysmark 2002Sysmark2002 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.
Business productivity on all three systems is equal across the board. ICC wise, the Excel looses to the desktop counterpart but is able to score higher than the ECS Desknote.Lame MP3 EncodingLame MP3 Encoder is used to convert a 120MB WAV file into a 128-bit 44Hz MP3 file. The lower the score the better.
MP3 Encoding wise, the I-Buddie and Excel G550 score equally to each other.Media Concept DIVX EncodingMedia Concept is used to convert a 1.2GB Digital Video to a MPEP-2 file using 25fps as the default rate. The Benchmark is expressed in time in seconds; of course less is better.
DIVX encoding favors the Excel G550 over the I-Buddie.

Excel G550 - Benchmarks - Synthetic 3D and PC Benchmarks

Synthetic 3D and PC3DMark2001SE Build 3303DMark2001SE is by far not the latest 3DMark installment from Futuremark. Combining DirectX 8.1 support with some of the best synthetic game systems, 3DMark2001SE gives a good indication for systems that are not able to run the latest DirectX 9 API.
It may seem strange to use 3DMark2001SE after using 3DMark03 for some time. Simply because 3DMark03 is a DirectX 9 based system SiS 315 drivers are only designed for DirectX 8.1 and are unable to run 3DMark03. Here we see the Excel G550 take the lead over the I-Buddie 4.PCMark2002 ProPCMark2002 is a completely new, multipurpose benchmark, suited for benchmarking 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 benchmarks
PCMark2002 shows CPU marks constant across the board. Memory marks shows the Excel G550 taking the lead over the I-Buddie and coming close to the Desktop system.Vulpine GLMark 1.1pVulpine GL mark is a Windows based OpenGL API designed to stress the OpenGL systems of a 3D Accelerator. Patch 1.1p adds in support for ATI Radeon 9800's fast 256-bit memory interface optimizations and early support for the nVidia GeForce FX.
Vulpine gives equal scores to both notebook platforms.

Excel G550 - Benchmarks - OpenGL

Real World OpenGLQuake III ArenaQuake 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 range of different products.
Quake III Arena gives a 13FPS advantage to the new Excel G550 over the I-Buddie.Star Trek VoyagerStar Trek Voyager is a real-world OpenGL benchmark. Based on the Quake III Arena engine, this game is a OpenGL master utilizing DirectX 8. We also apply the new Opt3D patch to allow for the use of Hardware T&L's use as well as new optimizations for AMD Athlon XP and Pentium 4 SSE2.
Voyager only gives an 8FPS advantage over the I-Buddie.Jedi Knight IIJedi 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 shows equal scores for the I-Buddie and the G550.

Excel G550 - Benchmarks - Direct3D

Real World Direct3DComanche 4Comanche 4 is a helicopter flying game using the DirectX 8.1 graphics interface. It is used to test the memory and 3D subsystems of a motherboard and video processor. Any weaknesses will show up on this baby.
Comanche 4 shows the biggest gap between the I-Buddie and the G550.AquanoxAquanox is one of the latest installments to 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 shows little difference between the two notebooks.DroneZmarkDroneZmark is based on the popular DroneZ game engine. DroneZmark incorporates a looping demo and execution engine to test your system performance.
In the final test, G550 wins the DroneZmark finale.

Excel G550 - Conclusion

ConclusionNotebook computers have come a long way from their humble beginnings. Designed mainly for the businessman on the move who has the money to spend on them, things have pretty much stayed that way up until about 6-8 months ago. Introduction of mobile components in mass quantities have helped reduce the prices of notebook computers, but big name ones like Toshiba, IBM and HP notebooks still cost quite a pretty penny.The Excel is one of the first truly budget orientated notebooks that have come through the TweakTown lab doors, with portability as standard performance with that of your average workstation systems. The Excel is definitely one to consider if you want a workhorse and not a high end gaming machine.Gaming wise, well, very light gaming is what you would only want on this unit. The integrated 3D graphics core is something that is very budget based with very little in the way of 3D performance. Even the Intel i845G and GE graphics cores hold up better than the M651's graphics.The portability performance is something that is much better than the I-Buddie series. Having an integrated battery as standard gives it a portability advantage. Using mobile CPU series gives the battery performance a boost over the I-Buddies desktop components. In all, the Excel G550 is definitely one that can replace the I-Buddie series without a look back.- ProsFastStableCheaper than most NotebooksMobile CPU reduces battery drainCD-RW/DVD Combo drive as standardFirewire, USB2.0, LAN, Modem all onboard- Cons3D Graphics very poorRating - 9.5/10 and TweakTown's Editors Choice Award

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