Powered by a Bay Trail Atom processor and a 5400RPM hard drive, speed isn’t one of ASUS X200MA’s strengths. It does however offer a decent value in a light and compact frame.
July 31, 2014 by Lawrence Lee
Recently I was tasked with helping my cousin choose a compact and lightweight computer with one caveat: she couldn’t afford anything more than about $350 (Canadian). It would be used for surfing the web, doing homework, chatting, listening to music (a collection of about 100GB and growing), and watching videos (both local and online). With this criteria there seemed to be four possible options: an Android tablet, a Windows 8 tablet, a Chromebook, or a full-fledged Windows 8 notebook.
Android doesn’t have much in the way of productivity software and multi-tasking is somewhat clumsy even on the larger tablets that support windowed apps. Windows 8 is much better in this regard, and some models have a home/student variant of Office thrown in. With all tablets, the lack of internal storage would be the biggest hurdle, even with the option to add a memory card on most models. A keyboard dock would be a necessity rather than an accessory, tacking on some added cost as well. Without a budget increase, the screen size would also be limited to 10 inches or less which is usable but not ideal.
Chromebooks are bigger but have similar storage limitations though they make up for this somewhat with varying amounts of free cloud storage. The downside is once you lose your internet connection, access to most of your files is cut. As ChromeOS is essentially a browser with add-ons, Windows 8 notebook can perform the same tasks, while also supporting a vast library of Windows software both new and old, and allows for a high capacity mechanical hard drive. The only problem would be finding something affordable that wasn’t a complete piece of junk. I figured a decent ultraportable notebook would run at least $400, until I came across the ASUS X200MA.
Specifications: ASUS X200MA
product web page)
|Processor||Intel® Bay Trail-M Quad Core Pentium N3520 Processor|
Intel® Bay Trail-M Quad Core Celeron N2920 Processor
Intel® Bay Trail-M Dual Core Celeron N2815 Processor
|Operating System||Windows 8.1 Pro|
|Memory||DDR3 1333 MHz SDRAM, OnBoard Memory 2 GB / 4 GB|
|Display||11.6" 16:9 HD (1366×768) LED Backlight|
|Graphic||Integrated Intel® HD Graphics|
1TB 5400 RPM
750GB 5400 RPM
500GB 5400 RPM
|Card Reader||2 -in-1 card reader ( SD/ SDHC/ SDXC/ MMC)|
|Camera||HD Web Camera|
|Networking||Integrated 802.11 b/g/n or 802.11 a/b/g/n (Optional)|
Built-in Bluetooth™ V4.0 (not included)
10/100 Base T
|Interface||1 x COMBO audio jack |
1 x VGA port/Mini D-sub 15-pin for external monitor
1 x USB 3.0 port(s)
2 x USB 2.0 port(s)
1 x RJ45 LAN Jack for LAN insert
1 x HDMI
|Audio||Built-in Speakers And Microphone|
|Battery||3Cells 3300 mAh 33 Whrs|
|Power Adapter||Output :|
19 V DC, 1.75 A, 33 W
100 -240 V AC, 50/60 Hz universal
|Dimensions||30.2 x 20.0 x 2.56 cm (WxDxH)|
|Weight||1.24 kg (with 3 cell battery)|
|Manufacturer Warranty||2-year limited International hardware warranty. *different by country|
1-year battery pack warranty
On-line problem resolution through web interface (BIOS, Driver update)
OS (Windows® 8.1 ) install/uninstall consultation
Bundled software install/uninstall consultation
ASUS software supporting
Note: Specifications specific to the ASUS X200MA-US01T in bold.
A quick look at the specifications confirmed it had everything I was looking for. The X200MA is a Windows 8 notebook with an 11.6 inch touchscreen, a thickness of 2.6 cm (a hair over an inch), and a weight of 1.24 kg (actually about 1.35 kg or just under 3 lb according to our digital scale). As per usual, it’s equipped with a card reader, a basic webcam, WiFi 802.11n, as well a good set of connectivity options. Video output is offered with both HDMI and VGA, a USB 3.0 port is included, and there’s an ethernet jack as well (though not gigabit).
The model available at the Microsoft Store is powered by a Celeron N2815 belonging to the Bay Trail-M family of Atom processors which is found in many Windows 8 tablets. The N2815 is only a dual core model but strong multi-threaded performance wasn’t a priority. Rounding out the specs is 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive, a standard configuration for a cheap notebook. Best of all is the price, just $300 (same in Canada as in the US).
A quick jaunt to the physical store provided an opportunity for some hands-on testing. The form factor was nice and the performance seemed decent enough, at least running the default software. It was an American model too, which meant the keyboard had a standard US English layout, something rare and coveted in Canada these days. A bilingual layout is the norm north of the border and hated by just about all touch typists. After five minutes of playing with it, it was purchased and stowed away in a comically large Microsoft Store bag.
The ASUS X200MA is available in four color combinations: all black, red back with black body, blue back with black body, and white back/body but with a black screen bezel. The black model was too plain, while the red/blue variants seemed to scream for attention, so the white version got the nod. I’m not crazy about the black bezel but it still seemed like the most attractive choice. Obviously at this price-point, the chassis is made of plastic, but exterior feels solid throughout. If you squeeze every inch of the machine (as I did in the store, drawing some funny glances) you won’t feel any soft spots or creaking. The back cover and area around the keyboard has a pleasant surface as well. It’s thatched, wicker-like composition gives it some texture and complete immunity to fingerprints.
According to our measurements, The X200MA’s dimensions are 30.0 x 20.0 x 2.6 cm or 11.8 x 7.9 x 1.0 inches (L x W x H). The chassis is well-constructed but it doesn’t look or feel as sleek as higher cost solutions. The contours make it seem bulky as it really only tapers near the lip.
The front facing camera is serviceable for video conferencing but like most cheap webcams, the image quality and framerate breaks down in dim lighting. The mic delivers poor audio quality and picks up noises in the background easily so it should be used in a quiet environment.
The underside can be loosened by a series of screws (including two hidden underneath the rear feet pads) but it’s difficult to remove without damage. There are small plastic tabs on the inside holding it in place. It’s tough to replace the hard drive or memory without damaging the chassis.
Relevant Notebook Specifications:
CPU Performance Test Details
GPU Performance Test Details
Misc. Measurement and Analysis Tools
Our main test procedure is a series of CPU (timed tests of real-world applications) and GPU-centric (gaming tests and synthetics) benchmarks as well a brief test of the wireless adapter. Battery life is also examined by putting it through a simulation of active web browsing and playing a HD movie on a loop until the system shuts down.
The physical portion of our testing involves putting the system through various states (idle, HD playback, and video encoding with TMPGEnc) and recording stabilized system and external temperatures as well as the noise level in our anechoic chamber.
Certain services and features like Superfetch and System Restore are disabled
to prevent them from affecting our results.
We also make note if energy saving features like Cool’n’Quiet and SpeedStep
do not function properly.
For CPU performance comparisons, we pitted the X200MA’s Celeron N2815 CPU against an older Atom N2600 processor, AMD’s A6-1450 mobile APU, and the slowest desktop-level chip we’ve tested in the past few years, the Kabini-based Athlon 5350.
As the N2815 is based on the modern Bay Trail architecture, it trounced the older Atom N2600 in all of our tests. It was also surprisingly and substantially quicker in single-threaded performance than the A6-1450, an APU featured in the much more expensive Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite. It didn’t do so well in our multi-threaded video encoding tests but this is understandable as it’s only a dual core chip.
Subjectively, my experience with the ATIV was pleasant, with only small UI hiccups here and there. With the X200MA, sometimes there were short but noticeable delays when launching apps. Larger programs like Photoshop were bogged down by long loading times, as did the more graphic-intensive Metro/Tile apps. My guess is the slow 5400 RPM hard drive is mostly to blame, as the SSD-equipped ATIV felt substantially more responsive. The X200MA would benefit greatly from a hybrid drive, at the very least.
As for gaming, these synthetic benchmarks tell you all you really need to know. The GPU of the N2815 and Pentium G2120 are both based on Ivy Bridge, but the Celeron sports only 4 EUs (execution units) instead of 6, and has lower clock speeds (313~756 MHz vs. 650~1050 MHz). As a result, even the Giada A51, an netbook using an entry level APU from three years past, provides a better (relative) gaming experience than the X200MA. This generation of Intel’s integrated graphics can do much better than this, but as the N2815 is a low-end SKU, its GPU has been stripped down.
On the plus side, video playback was impeccable. Using MPC-HC, 1080p MKV files with x264-encoded video and DTS audio rendered smoothly with about 22% CPU utilization. Using Firefox and Flash, 1080p YouTube movie trailers started off choppy but played flawlessly once buffering completed, eating up about 18% of the available CPU cycles. Keep in mind, as the screen resolution is only 1366×768, you can’t really see the difference between 720p and 1080p. However, it can be used as a fully capable media extender if you hook it up to a larger display with an HDMI cable.
For our WiFi performance test, a large file (700MB) was sent over 802.11n to and from a machine connected via gigabit ethernet and the operation was timed to calculate the average transfer rate.
As WiFi adapters go, the X200MA’s NIC is fairly average in terms of transfer speed. It averaged 45~50 mbps both upstream and downstream. The result is more symmetric than the ATIV Book 9 Lite.
Our battery life tests involve setting the screen to a reasonable brightness in an indoor environment (20% in this case) and timing how long it takes to run down the notebook’s charge from 100% to the point where Windows shuts itself down. The first test is a web browsing simulation using Chrome and the Refresh Monkey extension to reload three separate pages once a minute at staggered intervals. The second test is looped playback of a 720p x264/DTS-encoded MKV movie using MPC-HC. After exhausting the battery, the time it took to bring the notebook back to a full charge was also recorded.
Rated for 4.5 hours of operation by Microsoft, the X200MA outpaced this mark, lasting more than 5 hours in both the web browsing and video playback tests. It’s not a road warrior in any sense, but you can get a decent amount of work done or watch a couple of full-length feature films before the juice runs out. Its runtime was similar to that of the ATIV Book 9 Lite, but the X200MA had a noticeable edge in charging speed.
Thermals & Acoustics
Ambient temperature: 20°C.
Under normal conditions, the X200MA is not a particularly hot or loud machine. When idling or playing HD video, the minimum fan speed was maintained, producing an overall noise level of just 16 dBA at 0.6 meters distance (the ISO 7779 computer noise standard’s defined "Seated User Position"). Video encoding forced the fan to ramp up for an extra 4 dB, but the CPU temperature never exceeded 60°C. The underside can get rather warm but not enough to cause discomfort.
The ASUS X200MA had very smooth acoustics. Even when sped up, the fan generated a pleasantly soft and gentle sound. The hard drive was actually more annoying than the fan, with its seeks and headparking noticeable over the mostly inconspicuous exhaust fan.
All systems sold at the Microsoft Store are "Microsoft Signature PCs" which means they’re mostly bereft of pre-installed third party applications. True to form, the X200MA had the cleanest Windows install of any brand name PC I’ve ever used, with only a handful of ASUS applications, a trial version of Office, and a few items on the Metro/Tile interface waiting for me after setup. Out-of-the-box, only 20GB of the O/S partition was used. Typically I spend the first hour or two with a new PC removing junk, so this was refreshing to say the least.
The X200MA ships with Windows 8 but the 8.1 update was available upon boot up. If 8.1 is an improvement, I couldn’t tell; Everything seemed to work and interact in the same way and the urge to install Classic Shell inevitably arose. I’m not a fan of touch on laptops in general, but I found it more pleasant on the X200MA. The strong hinges help keep the display panel from wobbling too much, making for an improved experience over the average notebook. I wish there was a kickstand or something similar at the back to steady it completely.
These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR’s own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.
Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 5~10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don’t change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.
Much of what I like about the ASUS X200 isn’t under the hood. It’s a sleek machine, thin, light, and attractive, though the black frame around the display on the white model is odd. More importantly, it’s well-built, and the surface is refreshingly non-glossy and smudge-free. It also has quite a few connectivity options I didn’t expect to see at this price-point, including USB 3.0, two different display outputs, and an ethernet port. It even has a touchscreen, which is often omitted on low-cost Windows 8 notebooks.
To produce a $300 ultraportable like the X200, you have to make compromises, and there are some major ones. The screen has laughable viewing angles. The hard drive is easily bogged down. The GPU is essentially impotent for gaming. The CPU is slow by modern standards. Upgrade all these features and it would be a fantastic notebook… but it would cost twice as much or more. It may feel like a second-rate experience to those with higher standards but I’d wager it’s perfectly acceptable for an average end user.
For basic tasks, even I felt right at home, despite the lack of raw performance compared to my desktop PC with a heavily overclocked CPU, high-end graphics, and solid-state storage. I felt full confidence passing this machine off to my student cousin as I expect the most strenuous thing it will be used for is playing high definition video. This is one thing it’s perfectly suited for, especially with its respectable speakers and HDMI out support.
With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, cloud storage, apps in our televisions and appliances, there are those who proclaim that we are living in a post-PC world. It may be headed that way but in this case, where I needed an affordable, portable, and versatile computing solution, the X200MA convinced me the old standby, a quaint Windows notebook, isn’t quite dead yet.
ASUS X200MA-US01T is Recommended by SPCR
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