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My quest for a portable and professional looking gaming notebook! - Technical Specs Discussion for The Sims 2 [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Technical Specs Discussion for The Sims 2

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My quest for a portable and professional looking gaming notebook! [Jan. 7th, 2007|07:50 pm]
Technical Specs Discussion for The Sims 2


So I've mentioned a few times that I got a notebook (my first) and that picking it out was quite frustrating. This may or may not be useful to some of you -- if you are more interested in a notebook as a big honking desktop replacement that you won't be carrying around much if at all, looking for one that will play TS2 great should be much easier. However, I'm a grad student and I really needed something I could carry around with me and use for a variety of tasks. I didn't realize until I started shopping around how it difficult it is to find a laptop with 15.4" screen or smaller that also had a great graphics card. Basically: IT'S REALLY HARD.

I ended up going a slightly unconventional route -- I bought an ASUS. That name may not sound familiar to most of you, but actually, probably every single one of you are using a computer right now that has at least one part made by ASUS -- on desktops, your motherboard is probably made by them, and a great deal of notebooks by larger name brands are actually made and sometimes even designed by ASUS, and then they just have the brand slapped on them. However, they also make some really great notebooks of their own, and they seem to be really popular among computer geeks for their durability, power, and great price.

Asus A8Js
Operating System Windows XP Professional
CPU Type Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 2.00GHz
Screen 14" WXGA+
Memory Size 1GB DDR2 (expandable to 2GB) 1x1GB
Hard Disk 100GB
Optical Drive DVD Super Multi
Graphics Card NVIDIA GeForce Go 7700
Video Memory 512MB
Communication Modem, Gigabit LAN and WLAN
Card slot 1 x Express Card
Weight 5.25 lbs
Total Spent: $1549, not including extra battery and shipping. My model also had factory-installed bluetooth -- only a few places offer this, unfortunately.

Here's my little review -- the first part is more general, explaining what each part is and why it is good/bad, and the second part is more about ASUS.

Because I know a lot of people won't know what all of this means. Keep in mind I am self-educated, and mainly by Wikipedia, lol.

Intel Core 2 Duo: The newest Intel CPU. It began being released last July. One of the best improvements in the Core 2 Duo is its power consumption. This is especially important in a laptop, obviously. It won't be the newest for long though, I just read that Intel has unveiled the Centrino Pro. :)

T7200: The Core 2 Duo's line of mobile CPUs are called "Merom", and are labelled with the numbers in the T5000s and the T7000s. I guess you could say T7200 is on the lower rank of the fastest Core 2 Duo processors. It is the 7000 series' 2GHz processor, and I wanted at least 2GHz for TS2. Intel Core 2 Duo can go up to 2.33GHz with the T7600.

Memory: Most of you probably understand the amount of memory you need already. The baseline for running the TS2 with all EPs is 512MB, but 1GB is recommended (and 2GB is obviously even better). However, some of you might not understand how RAM is installed and how it can be upgraded. Basically, it comes in sticks. A lot of desktops will have as many as (or more than maybe) 4 slots for memory sticks, some have less. When I upgraded the memory on my desktop from 256MB, I bought two 256MB sticks to add 512MB to it (and some ended up with 1.25GB, don't ask me how that happened -- I think my RAM on that computer was shared channel or something). There are usually only two slots for RAM in a laptop because of space issues. So it's always important to find out not only what the RAM is expandable to on a model, but also the type of RAM in it. For example, a notebook could have 1GB of RAM and be expandable to 2GB, but if it comes with 2x512MB sticks and there are two slots, then you would have to buy 2x1GB sticks if you wanted to upgrade. The A8Js comes with 1x1GB so it will be easy and cheaper to upgrade. Another model in the A8J series, the A8Jp, comes with 2x512MB. It's also cheaper though, which still makes it a great deal. :)

WXGA+: Not really as important to the performance of TS2, but some people care about their screens a lot. W=widescreen. The rest of it refers to the screens' resolution, so it is important to pay attention to what the resolution of your screen is (to put it simply, the size objects will appear on your screen), so that you can set your options correctly in the game. Ordinary WXGA usually has a resolution of 1330x768. WXGA+ (mine) has a resolution of 1440x900, and so does WSXGA. WUXGA has a resolution of 1600x1200.

Graphics Card: Everyone's favorite part! My old graphics card was an nVIDIA GeForce FX series. For a long time I was confused by this because all of the series have numbers, but apparently FX is the 5th series. It was criticized a lot, but it served me pretty well. However, I did have problem with getting smooth edges on objects as well as detailing. I wanted to get a card good enough to eliminate that, as well as have great texturing (pretty grass!).

The 7000 series is almost the latest nVIDIA series -- there is an 8000 series, but it's only available on desktops right now, I believe. For comparison, the PS3's GPU is based on the nVIDIA 7000 series.

First thing you need to be aware of is that in the GeForce Go series (for laptops) there are series numbers which don't exist in the desktop versions. So if you look here you won't see the 7700 series (or the 7400 series, which I saw on a few models by Dell and Sony). It's just because it's a different type of mobile graphics card. The inbetween-models are generally slightly more powerful than the model lower than them.

The entry level 7000 cards are the 7300 (and 7400 in laptops). I really wanted something a little higher than a budget card, but it will serve TS2 great. My FX card is entry level (I think it's a 5200) and like I said, it worked pretty damn well.

The 7600 series (and 7700) are called low-mid end to mid end cards. They are the best you are going to get on a laptop which isn't 17" or larger. If you want a screen that big, then you can definitely find models with much better cards. :) The 7600 and 7700 supposedly are slightly more powerful/faster than ATI's parallel models, the x1600 and x1700, but I don't think it's a huge difference. I believe the A8Jp has an ATI x1600.

512MB: It has dedicated memory, so it does not draw on the laptop's memory at all. 512MB is more than I had even hoped for -- I was shooting for 256MB dedicated or 512MB TurboCache. Anyway, no more annoying messages telling me I'm running out of memory in the middle of my game. ;)

So how has TS2 looked? After I made sure the settings were as high as possible (everything was already set on high, but I had to turn up smooth edges) it looked great. The grass is textured. :) I have smooth edges on objects, though I notice that when I take in game screenshots the edges don't look as smooth, but I think that's a problem with the camera. I have noticed some ghosting -- basically, at certain times if I'm zooming around pretty quickly, I'll notice a slight blur where a Sim is moving, but it's usually gone in a second. This just has to do with the response time, and it's a problem in some LCD screens.

Some shots from my new game:

Some shots from my old game:

The difference isn't enormous, but if you look carefully you can see that the edges aren't as smooth in my old game. I also feel that the lighting is brighter, but I think it could be better (it's kind of hard to tell, since so many people shop their images of the game, but I think it is possible).

There were quite a few cons to purchasing this computer, but I decided to live with them.

1. First of all, I was nervous about buying from a company I wasn't familiar with. My reasoning being, Dell may not be great, but I know how not great they are. I didn't know anything about ASUS. I researched them until I felt satisfied with their quality.

2. You can't buy an ASUS from a Best Buy, or Circuit City, or even directly from the company's website. You have to buy from authorized resellers. There are some ASUS outlets dotted around the US and Europe, but mostly you have to buy online. Some of the main online ASUS resellers are MilestonePC.com, ProPortable.com, NewEgg.com, and BTOTech.com

3. The screen. Reading through the ASUS forum on NotebookReview.com, I read a lot about the A8Js's screen. It has several problems. The vertical viewing angles (looking down or up at it) are not the greatest. This may pose a problem if you are using the computer on say, a table which is kind of lower than you or something. The other thing is light leakage. There is a fair amount of it on the bottom of the screen. This isn't unusual on LCD monitors (my desktop's has some on the top) but it's quite excessive on this screen. However, it's really only noticeable when the screen is black. Then about an inch of the bottom of the screen is gray. If you are playing a video game which is very dark, like Doom or Half-Life 2, this can be really annoying. If you're playing TS2, not so much. To be honest, I never notice it at all, unless my screensaver comes on. The reason for these problems both has to do with the manufacture of the screen -- not the best -- as well as its brightness. It is a very beautiful, bright screen. However, that can cause unexpected problems. :)

4. FAT32. This is pretty weird. This has to do with the computer's file system. FAT32 is the old file system, used on Windows 98 and lower. NTFS has been used since Windows XP was introduced. It is very rare for new computers to be shipped out on FAT32, but for some reason ASUS does this with all of their models. I think it has to do with them wanting to cater to LINUX users. Anyway, there is a converter already installed on the computer with which you can pretty easily convert the system to NTFS (something you should do immediately upon starting up the computer. After that, the problem is pretty much solved.

The other slightly weird thing is that the Hard Drive is partitioned up into pretty large chunks, about half on the C: drive and half on the D: drive. It's kind of a pain to partition it again. It's something I keep meaning to get around to ...

ASUS models are probably a bit scary to deal with if you are inexperienced with computers. It's definitely targeted at people who are geeks and who like to fiddle around with their systems a little. But it's a great deal and a very well-built machine. The A series is their "budget"/business series. It looks mature but the price is lower than their better-built (nigh on indestructible) V and W series. They also have a gaming series, and this might be something many of you are interested in. I ruled it out because I needed something that looked more mature. These two models are the G1 and G2. The G1 has the same video card as the A8Js but more RAM and a bigger hard drive, a better screen, larger battery, a 15.4" screen, and dorky ass green lights on the side. -_- The G2 has a 17" screen and an ATI x1700 card, and dorky ass RED lights on the side. Anyway, it's actually a lot less showy than say, an Alienware or Voodoo gaming laptop. It may be right up the alley of some TS2 fans. :)