Asus embraces overclocking on newest notebooks

Woos technically savvy users who don't mind trading battery life for performance

Asustek Computer Inc.'s latest netbook and notebook PCs let users easily tune them to run up to 33% faster -- while staying within warranty.

The $400 Eee 1101HA netbook, introduced in August, includes an application called the Super Hybrid Engine that lets users push its 1.33-GHz Intel Atom Z520 CPU all the way to 1.73 GHz.

Similarly, Asus' new UL line of thin, lightweight notebooks, announced last month, includes software called Turbo33 that lets users overclock Intel's CULV (Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage) processor, the 1.3-GHz Core 2 Duo SU7300, by up to 33%, to about 1.73 GHz.

Users of the higher-end $1,100 UL50 and UL80 models can also switch on the Nvidia GeForce discrete graphics card for better multimedia performance or use the power-sipping Intel integrated graphics chip set.

Overclocking involves turning up the voltage or frequency of a CPU to make it run faster. It is generally done on desktop PCs by gamers and other performance hounds, who do it using third-party tools that will void owners' warranties.

But users of inexpensive, lightweight netbooks and CULV-based laptops are starting to clamor for vendors to provide them the ability to boost performance on demand -- for example, when they are running multiple applications or watching high-definition video.

Jack Gold, an independent IT industry analyst, likens Asus' overclocking-friendly laptops to cars with a manual transmissions.

"There is a segment that will say, 'Cool, I'm in control,'" he said. "Basically, this allows [Asus] to go and sell these devices to geeks."

Long known for its overclockable motherboards, Asus shipped overclocking apps on some of its earlier notebooks and netbooks, though speed increases were capped at about 10%, according to Josh Norem, a senior technical marketing specialist at Asus.

The biggest reason these models can be overclocked more, he said, is because their CPUs run slower and cooler out of the box.

Most netbooks use the Atom N270 CPU, which natively runs at 1.6 GHz, 20% faster than the Asus 1101HA's Z520. Similarly, the Core 2 Duo SU7300 in Asus notebooks is on the low end speedwise in Intel's mobile CPU lineup.

On the other hand, Asus claimed that both the 1101HA and its UL-series notebooks can get up to 12 hours of battery life when their CPUs are run at normal speed.

That can soften the biggest complaint about overclocking -- that it quickly drains the battery life. One review site, AnandTech, found that the UL50V still ran for almost seven hours even when overclocked to the maximum.

There are other downsides to overclocking. For example, users who do it have to put up with hot latops, noisy fans and crash-prone systems.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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