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Hypersonic Avenger AG2 12″ Notebook

Date: May 13, 2008
Author(s): Rob Williams

Hypersonic’s known for building performance PCs, so where did this sub-notebook come from? Don’t worry, it packs a punch, with its 2.5GHz Intel CPU, 4GB of RAM and 200GB 7200RPM hard drive. After taking pricing and feature set into consideration, we have good reason to be impressed.



Introduction


The choices are endless when looking to purchase a new notebook. Do you want something with fantastic battery-life or something powerful? Gaudy or modest? Something everyone else has, or something unique?

If you chose the latter, then a boutique is what you are looking for. But then another problem arises… the price. Most often, it would be less expensive to start up your own company to build a notebook for you, rather than pay the highly inflated prices.

Hypersonic seems to be different, however. I’ll admit that I didn’t know of the company until our friends at OCZ Technology Group took them under their wings last fall, but after taking a look at their upcoming sub-notebook, the Avenger AG2, it’s easy to see that both companies compliment each other well.

Some boutiques choose to focus on either notebooks or desktops, but Hypersonic chooses both. Right now, they offer two different series for each, but the Avenger will be the third for their notebook line-up. The Aero notebook series focuses on general computing, while the Aviator is for performance gluttons and gamers. Their Avenger series will feature high-performing sub-notebooks, for those who value performance and a smaller build more than battery-life and a larger build.

That’s no understatement. While other sub-notebooks, such as the Lenovo X300 or the Apple MacBook AIR build for better battery life, Hypersonic packs a powerful Penryn processor along with lots of RAM and a large hard drive. That’s the trade off, though. Better battery life or a faster machine? There’s no such thing as both unless you have a battery the size of the notebook itself.

Closer Look at the Avenger AG2 Notebook

Since the Avenger AG2 is not yet released, I am unsure of the exact configuration options that will be available at launch, but I was given a general idea. All sub-models of the Avenger will be 12″ units, but will feature varying CPUs, hard drives, RAM configurations, et cetera. The base model will retail for $999 and include a 1.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5550 (65nm, Merom), a 120GB hard drive and Windows Vista Home Premium.

The notebook we received is upgraded in many regards. It includes a brand-new Penryn-based Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 at 2.5GHz, which includes 6MB of L2 cache and an 800MHz FSB. This upgraded unit also includes a generous 4GB of DDR2-667 memory, direct from OCZ of course, and also a Hitachi Travelstar 7K200 (7200RPM) 200GB hard drive. “High performance” is right. The only thing lacking is a robust GPU, but that’s no surprise given the lack of room in a 12″ notebook.

All Avenger models will feature a 12″ display capable of displaying 1280×800. Nothing astounding, but common of the price range, which is why the ASUS M51S 15.4″ notebook I took a look at a few weeks ago featured the exact same resolution, despite having a much larger screen.

As for graphics, a powerhouse cannot be pushed underneath this small frame, so Intel’s integrated Mobile 965 is used. Don’t expect to game much with it, but regular 3D applications should run fine. I mostly used Google Earth during testing and it ran incredibly well.

The notebook will be offered in white, black, blue, pink or yellow. Precisely the same colors of your eye after being sucker-punched. We can only assume that the AG2 will pack a similarly powerful punch.

One thing you’ll immediately notice is the extremely clean look. There are no product stickers at all, as opposed to other notebooks we’ve used in the past that have applied them as if they were being discontinued. I queried Hypersonic about this, and it turns out that this is common of all their notebooks.

This is the first sub-notebook I’ve used, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It took no time at all for me to appreciate the size, though. While I love a full-blown notebook for regular use, I have found out the hard way many times in the past that 15″ notebooks are not that ideal to do business with on the plane. Having a 12″ notebook means the person pleading blissful ignorance in front of you can push their seat back and not inconvenience you as much as it would with a larger notebook.

The CD in the picture can help give an idea of how large the notebook is. Moving from a full-sized offering to a 12″ one is quite the shift, although it wouldn’t seem to be. The biggest issue right off the bat for me was the keyboard, but like most things, it became a lot easier to deal with as time wore on.

On the next page we’ll take a tour and see all that the Avenger AG2 has to offer.



Closer Look Cont.

The notebook lid is kept securely shut with two clips in the front. Pushing both of these at the same time, in their respective opposite positions, will allow you to lift the cover. Seen also in this picture is a memory card reader, activity lights and also three audio outputs, including SPDIF and microphone, and of course, headphones (or speakers).

On the right side, a DVD-RW drive can be found along with a single USB port, modem port and Kensington security lock.

The opposite side includes a LAN port, VGA output, Firewire and two more USB ports. The power adapter also plugs in on this side. The lone system fan is in the middle.

In the picture below, you can see that the overall build quality is quite good. The AG2 might come in a small package, but it’s rather sturdy.

The touchpad here impressed me, because it’s rare that I find one I like. This one, I do. It’s lightly textured and easy on the finger, unlike a few others I used recently that actually hurt to use after a while. The last touchpad I’ve used that I didn’t mind was my Dell which I purchased four years ago. So that’s saying something.

The right-side of the pad can be double-tapped to invoke a scrolling functionality.

In the top-right corner, the power buttons and three quick-access buttons can be found. The first launches mail, the second the Internet browser and the third controls the fan speed, which switches between Silent and Normal.

The functionality of these cannot be changed, but the Mail and Web buttons utilize whatever applications are default in Windows. If you use a different mail client and web browser than what Windows ships with, those will launch with these buttons.

To the left of the buttons are five activity lights for battery, caps lock, num lock, scroll lock and finally, a light to let you know whether the Silent Mode is activated or not.

On either side of the display is a small speaker, and as you’d expect, it’s tinny. Headphones or external speakers are definitely the method of choice if you can help it.

There is not too much going on underneath, as expected. The battery is located at the top while the hard drive and other replaceable components can be accessed by removing a few screws. The only exhaust in the notebook is on the right-side in this picture, which is on the left-side during normal use. As you’d expect, this can get warm, so it’s imperative to allow it breathing room.

The web cam can be found up top, offering a full 2 megapixel resolution. I should note that thumbprints are not included, though. Drats!

As mentioned in the introduction, Hypersonic is not like every other computer boutique. Their goal is to deliver a robust system without a lot of bloat, and to help keep prices down, a restore disc is not included. Instead, a full OEM copy of Vista Home Premium is included, alongside two driver CDs, one for XP and the other for Vista. Included also is Nero 7 Essentials and Power DVD 7.

It struck me at first that a restore disc was not given, but then it hit me… this is better. The fact of the matter is, this notebook lacks all of the bloatware that is included on most other notebooks on the market, so installing Vista and the drivers manually proves to be a far faster process than what you’d see from a restore CD.

For those who do prefer a real restore disc, it’s offered as an optional add-on for $39.

Finally, other included components are a power adapter, soft cloth, thermal paste (no idea why that’s necessary) and a phone cord.

Please note that what you see here might differ from what the final retail unit will include. I received this notebook almost a month prior to it’s actual launch, so not all materials were ready.

On the next page we’ll tackle setup and installation.



Software and Installation, Hands-On

In most other notebook reviews, I’d be able to dedicate a lot of the article to look at the included software and also perform some light gaming benchmarks, but both of those are impossible to do here. The notebook is not designed for gaming (a given), nor does it include a lot of software. That is a great thing, however. One common complaint from people who purchase a new notebook is the pre-installed bloatware. You will not find that here.

When I first booted up and saw an empty desktop, I contacted Hypersonic again to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. I had assumed that I received a bloatware-free notebook due to it being a sample, but that wasn’t the case at all. I was told that they have no agreements with anyone to include bloatware (or shovelware), nor do they have plans in the future.

So how am I to fill up half a page about software when there is none?! What I will talk about instead is the installation process in general, which was simple. Once Vista is installed (which takes around 30 minutes), it takes 10 minutes more to install the drivers off of the CD. I liked the fact that both XP and Vista drivers were included, instead of making people go to the website for the XP versions, like other companies do.

I received somewhat of an odd sample, since I received it with 4GB of RAM on a 32-bit OS. This means that only 3.0GB can be accessed at any time due to technical restrictions. This is a problem that no one else will face though, as you will be able to choose either a 32-bit or 64-bit OS and also the correct amount of memory.

If you do happen to go the 32-bit route initially, but decide you want more memory in the future, you will be able to use a Vista 64-bit installation disc (not included) to reinstall a fresh copy, using the serial key included with the notebook. This is a scenario I tested out, as I used the 64-bit version for testing.

Unlike most other notebook manufacturers, Hypersonic allows you the choice to receive the notebook sans an OS, which will decrease the system price overall.

The latest version of Ubuntu and Kubuntu came out around the time I received the notebook, so I had to give it a good test and see how the notebook performed there. Well, I have to say that I was actually blown away by how well Linux worked here. I’ve been quick to discredit Ubuntu in the past, but it’s come a long way and you’d swear it was built for this notebook.

Everything worked after installation. You can see the Bluetooth and WiFi in the dock, both working just fine. But it didn’t end there. The memory card reader worked, something I’ve had problems configuring manually in Linux in the past. The web cam, audio, video and everything else worked fine also. I was impressed. I also have to mention that the font rendering is the best I’ve seen, and it looks great on this small display. So if Linux happens to be your preferred OS, you won’t be disappointed.

Hands on with the AG2

As I mentioned on the first page, this is the first sub-notebook I’ve used, and with it came a definite learning curve. The only real difficult thing, however, was using the keyboard. It has to be smaller to fit, and as a result, each key is smaller than what my fingers were used to. After a few weeks of use, I can say I’ve gotten a lot better at typing on it, but I am still not perfect.

If you were forced with the notebook for a weekend, you’d likely come out a pro. Posture has a lot to do with it I find. If I’m slouching, I tend to hit the wrong keys constantly, but if I sit up straight (like I should be), then typing is far easier. The main key I had problem with was the period, which is smaller than most of the other keys available. Due to space constraints, I can understand why it’s smaller, but it doesn’t stop me from wishing it was a wee bit bigger.

The more I used the notebook though, the more I came to love it. It handles all tasks well (thanks in part to it’s huge processor and copious amounts of ram) and it’s reliable in the process. One area of note is the WiFi, which I found to be rock stable. To test this, I run a script that automatically refreshes a web page each minute, and if I come back to the machine to find out that it failed one time, it means the network kicked out. I run the test alongside the same test on a wired computer to make sure it wasn’t the actual network.

Most notebooks I’ve used recently do tend to kick off rather frequently, but not here though. It kicked out once in a 24-hour period, which impressed me greatly, primarily because I have an unreliable network to begin with. Somehow it managed to keep a very strong signal. This could have been by chance (as in, the network was pristine for that duration), but in all the testing, I never had it kick off once while using it.

What I don’t like is hard to figure out. The notebook itself doesn’t have the style and charm of something that the likes of Dell would offer, but the AG2 focuses on performance and functionality, not looks and design. Because most of the surface is barren, you are able to add a design if it suits you, whether it be some sort of engraving (not sure about that on plastic though) or a collection of stickers to show the world just how punk you are.

I personally would have liked to have seen a DVI port instead of the VGA, but I know I’m in the minority. Most prefer VGA as they only have one monitor, or a monitor with only one DVI port, which is being used by their desktop. So this is understandable, and depending on the monitor, a VGA connection will look just fine.

As you’d expect, the speakers are some of the weakest I’ve ever heard, and I’m pretty sure I could build something more advanced with a hanger wire and Styrofoam cups, but then again, that would be much larger than what can fit inside this display.

The web cam also wasn’t highly impressive, but I have yet to find one on a notebook that is. Unless you have a bulky external offering, like Logitech’s QuickCam Pro 9000, you are either going to have a very low resolution output, or one that’s jerky. The latter describes this one, but it will certainly manage in a bind, or for quick shots of yourself in very inappropriate poses.

Overall, I don’t have serious complaints about the AG2. There are a few things I wish were improved, but I’ll tackle those in the final thoughts on the next page. It’s a notebook clean of bloatware with an emphasis on performance. Hard to not like that.



Testing, Final Thoughts

Our testing methodology for notebooks is rather simple. Depending on whether it’s a high or low-end offering, we choose our benchmarks and tests accordingly. If a notebook is designed for business, for example, we don’t run games on it (unless it has a capable GPU that hints that gaming should be done). Most of our benchmarks are real-world, but we do use SYSmark 2007 Preview and PCMark Vantage for synthetic system-wide performance analysis.

We currently have no real basis for comparison performance-wise, since we haven’t published many notebook reviews in a little while (that will change), so I apologize for delivering results that might not mean too much right now. If you have a notebook and are thinking of upgrading, you could use these for comparison that way.

Because the Avenger AG2 has a medicre graphics chip, no gaming tests were performed. Given the power available, there is not going to be much gaming going on, except for very simple 3D games. Regular 3D applications with simple needs (like Google Earth) will perform fast, however.

Benchmark
Results
SYSmark 2007 Preview
   E-Learning
   VideoCreation
   Productivity
   3D
   Overall

156
134
120
144
138
PCMark Vantage
   PCMark Suite
   Memories
   TV and Movies
    Music
   Communications
   Productivity

3519
N/A
2627
3899
3945
3542
VirtualDub + DivX 6.7
   Encode 720p Video w/o EFS
   Encode 720p Video w/ EFS (SSE2)

188 s
218 s
Adobe Lightroom
   Convert 100 RAW to JPEG

271 s
Autodesk 3DS Max 9
   1080p Single-Frame Render

80 s
HD Tach RW/3
   Burst MB/s
   Average MB/s
   Latency

116.5MB/s
51.9MB/s
14.9ms

For some reason, the Memories test in the PCMark Vantage application failed to complete, which was due to the video driver. I am unsure what part in that test caused complications, but even a full re-install of Windows didn’t get rid of it. So while the 3D capabilities will be fine for most simple needs, it might cause problems with more intense tests.

As for battery-life, the results are not exactly stellar, but combined with the efficient Penryn processor and smaller frame, the results are quite similar to our recently reviewed ASUS M51S 15.4″ notebook. Running Bapco’s MobileMark Productivity test, the notebook kept alive for 99 minutes. For DVD playback, a rather sizable drop to 79 minutes occurred.

Final Thoughts

When I first received the Avenger AG2, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but any doubts are long gone after having spent a few solid weeks with it. It might not be the best-looking notebook out there, but it’s built well, packs a serious punch and is affordable.

Taking a look at the competition, the AG2 is far less expensive than anything I could find with the same goals. Lenovo offers some keen sub-notebooks, such as the IdeaPad U110, but it’s much more expensive. It has similar specs to the stock model AG2, and while it is a bit smaller, it costs $899 more. That’s substantial.

The most comparable model I could find was the ASUS U6E, which also includes similar specs to the stock AG2, but costs $599 more. That notebook does have a few benefits, but only with the design, such as a leather finish and arguably better keyboard layout.

Taking a look at the competition, the AG2 proves to be a fantastic value. For $999, you can purchase a 12.1″ notebook with a 1.66GHz processor, 120GB of HDD space and 2GB of RAM. Bumping up to the “as-tested” $1,599 model would upgrade you to a far better 2.5GHz Penryn processor, 4GB of RAM and a very fast 200GB hard drive.

How I see it is that for the same price as the other guys, you get a notebook that, while not the best-looking offering out there, is almost twice as fast and includes much more hard drive space. For the mobile performance hound, it’s hard to go wrong. Even the stock model is worth attention, because at $999, it’s still a great sub-notebook.

Most of the “issues” I came up with during testing turned out to be things that were not completed on this particular notebook due to it being an early sample, so I’m left without a lot to dislike. I still don’t find the speakers impressive, but again, it’s hard to fault that given the size of the notebook. The keyboard layout could be improved in some way as well. The ASUS U6E I mentioned a moment ago seems to have perfected one.

The battery-life is another thing that could have been better, but where performance is the preferred, it’s an unavoidable trade-off. You will have the option to purchase an additional battery, however. Since they rather small, they can be carried pretty much anywhere. You might hear the occasional, “Hey! Is that a Hypersonic AG2 battery in your pocket, or are you…”

After taking everything into consideration, I am awarding the Avenger AG2 a well-deserved Editor’s Choice award. This is the first time I’ve ever touched a Hypersonic notebook, and I’m left impressed. The AG2 is affordable, powerful and compact. There’s not much to dislike.

The Avenger series should become available within the next two weeks.

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