- Review Price: £1177.00
The uptake of Intel’s Centrino mobile technology is gaining pace. You only have to look at the increasing number of Centrino-based notebooks arriving through our doors to realise that. It’s clear why too, as notebook manufacturers had been waiting for a mobile solution like this for some time.
A couple of years back I developed a small battery rundown script and remember being highly impressed when a notebook could keep that going for a couple of hours. With Centrino I have seen battery life extended up to five hours and more, so working on the go is now becoming a practical reality.
Quick to jump on the Centrino bandwagon is Rock, which here has submitted one of its latest notebooks named after the mythological winged horse. As you would expect, the CTS features a Pentium-M processor, in this case running at 1.6GHz. Of course, with Intel’s Enhanced SpeedStep technology this can vary from 600Mhz right up to the full 1.6GHz in multiple steps depending on the power scheme you have selected in Windows XP and whether or not you have the mains plugged in. This is done by dynamically switching the core voltage and bus frequency depending on CPU demand, and results in lower power consumption.
That said, in tests using MobileMark 2002 we found the CTS to be a little more power hungry than other Centrino notebooks we’ve seen. A glance at the results shows a battery life of just over three hours with the Windows power scheme set for a portable/laptop. Battery life was only 14 minutes better when I repeated the test with both the 802.11b wireless antenna and built-in webcam deactivated from within the BIOS. I’ll come to the webcam later, but considering that Rock quotes a battery life of 4.5 hours I was a little disappointed that I could not manage a similar result. You can get a 12-cell battery option for an extra £175.08 but this is not provided as standard and, unfortunately, I was unable to test this. However Rock claims up to eight hours of usage with this battery.
Moving on to the rest of the spec, inside is a board sporting Intel’s 855GM chipset. This comes complete with onboard graphics in the shape of Intel’s Extreme Graphics 2 chip, which dynamically grabs anything from 8MB to 64MB from the 512MB of DDR system memory in order to process graphical data. Although this offers a tidy and more economical setup, the offshoot is weaker 3D performance especially when compared to a dedicated graphics processor. A 3DMark 2001 score of 1,893 is a testament to this, but is nonetheless a typical result for a Centrino-based machine with integrated graphics. It’s also worth noting that the CTS is not designed for intensive gaming, but rather for working on spreadsheets and other office applications. To this effect, Rock includes a copy of Ability Office, although whether you will find this useful is debatable.
As for 2D performance, I wasn’t that amazed. The overall SYSmark 2002 score was down on the disclosed result put in by the Acer TravelMate 661LMi, and that utilised a 1.4GHz processor. However, a respectable score for SYSmarks’ Internet Content Creation test was achieved. For PCmark 2002, the results were good, but you have to bear in mind that this is based on theoretical tests rather than real world applications as in SYSmark.
The rest of the specification is rather good. For storage, you get a capacious 40GB hard drive and as mentioned earlier a webcam occupying a hole only one centimetre across is ingeniously integrated into the top part of the bezel that surrounds the bright and sharp 14.1in TFT screen. This worked rather well with smooth motion and enough definition to distinguish the whiskers in my beard. The picture was on the dark side, but for a cam with dimensions as small as this you cannot expect much better. This CTS model also comes with a Sony DVD/CD-RW combo drive housed along the right side of the chassis, next to the microphone, headphone and audio out (SPDIF) jacks. Interestingly the rest of the ports can all be found on the left side, as none exist around the back. While this does place them all within easy reach, I would personally prefer to see the D-SUB refitted to the back so that a chunky D-SUB signal cable doesn’t stick out from the side when I want to use an external monitor for a dual display setup. The remaining connections include two USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire port, and an S-video connector. One RJ45 socket for a 10/100Mbps LAN, plus an RJ11 for the Internal 56K internal modem top off the rest of the connectors.
In terms of usability, the keyboard does feature a normally shaped Return key, but it and the Backspace key are a little too narrow for my liking. There is a slight hint of keyboard bounce, but all the keys are responsive and have enough travel to make typing a positive process.
The touchpad operated very smoothly although I found the space between it and the space bar too small. In fact, it was very easy to accidentally touch the pad while typing, in effect triggering a double click, or inadvertently selecting text, and/or moving the cursor. The two shiny black buttons below the pad behave the same way as left and right mouse buttons, and are intersected by a scroll key.
The three chrome coloured buttons mounted on the front are used as shortcut keys to activate the wireless antenna, for launching your Internet browser and Email program. To be frank, I don’t think they are well placed as I managed to accidentally trigger all three functions at one stage or another during testing. Speakers are typically tinny too but that’s pretty much the norm these days.
The CTS measures 312 x 273 x 27mm (WxHxD), and tips the scales at 2.5Kg. It’s reasonably sturdy, but the styling is a bit bland. However, carrying it around is not an arduous task and Rock gets you started by providing you with a case.
The CTS is available in a number of configurations, but this version will set you back £1,197.33 and that includes £20 for carriage too. MS Windows XP Home Edition is preinstalled, and it is another £58.75 to go Pro.
Considering the specification and the price it’s impossible not to compare the Rock to the Acer TravelMate 661LMi. The Acer may have a slower processor but it performs better and also sports superior build quality and features a DVD writer and Windows XP Professional. In Rock’s favour is a three year collect and return warranty which will give some potential buyers piece of mind.
The Rock CTS does what it says on the tin, although the tin in this case is a little bland. The most notable feature is the integrated webcam, and for a notebook built on Centrino technology, I expected more battery life. The CTS isn’t a bad notebook, but you can get a better machine elsewhere for the same price.
Score in detail
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