Part 1.5 | Motion Computing CL900 – The Performance

While testing various scenarios with Ink and Touch on the CL900 I am reviewing I found several significant issues with the reliability and consistency of Ink on this tablet.  I reached out to Rob Bushway to discuss his experiences with this device and the digital pen.  He told me he was not experiencing any problems with Ink whatsoever, and in fact the CL900 was turning him into an N-trig believer.  I documented the issues and discussed them with Motion.  After a few questions, they quickly agreed that there is a hardware problem with the digitizer, and are sending out a replacement unit so I may complete my review and analysis.

Because Ink is a significant part of the user experience on this device, I’m deferring the usability review until I have a couple of days with the replacement.  In short, what would have been Part 3 now becomes Part 1.5.  Let’s talk about performance.

(UPDATE: I received the replacement CL900, and am in the process of installing the tools I need to finish the usability and user experience portion of the review.  Look for that coming in the next few days.)

 

We need to keep in mind the intent of this mobile computing device.  The CL900 was created as a light weight device, with long battery life, and ample performance for appropriate tasks.  This is not a desktop replacement, but a powerful companion device that should support us through an entire day without worry.  This means email, documents, notes, but not necessarily heavy-duty analytics, graphics, or development.  With that context in mind, is the Motion Computing C-900 up to the task?BatteryEach day I’ve had the CL900 I charged it on the docking station overnight, lifted it from that dock in the morning, and never plugged in again throughout the day.  This means the CL-900 was never plugged in from about 5:00am until 6:00pm.  Additionally, I disabled sleep mode, but left the display set to turn off after 10 minutes of inactivity.  During the days my tablet goes with me to meetings, and provides a secondary view of email and other information when I’m either not near my primary desktop or it happens to be otherwise busy.  Roughly estimated the tablet is actively used three to four hours a day, and sitting idle (but notin sleep mode) the rest of the day.  In this scenario, the slate had 10 – 20% battery left at the end of the day.I then used ‘Battery Eater,’ an application that used OpenGL rendering to put load on a portable device while tracking battery discharge.  It is a reasonable representation of light to medium use of a device, similar to the anecdotal test above.  I disconnected the CL900 from A/C power in the morning, and left the test running, interacting very casually with the device throughout the day.  I terminated the test at 4:10 pm, 8 1/4 hours later.  The CL900 still had 6.1% battery charge.  The very linear drop off seen in the graph to the right is indicative of the consistent load provided by OpenGL rendering.  Once I have the replacement unit in hand, I will run and idle discharge graph, and a heavy use discharge graph.The battery life in the CL-900 matches its advertising.  This is a full day device, presuming it isn’t being used for watching eight hours of video.  If left with a typical power scheme, where 10 or 15 minutes of idle puts the slate to sleep, you will have computing power throughout the entire work or travel day with a CL900.Graphics

Graphics processing power is one of the trade-offs that is a bit frustrating in the CL900.  High end video eats battery life.  This slate’s goal is to give you full day computing while mobile, and it delivers on that promise.  How much users are impacted by the video sub-system selected depends on each use case.  The background:

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The CL900 has an Intel© Graphics Media Accelerator 600 (PS3.0, VS3.0, PCI, 400 MHz).  This card uses shared system memory (760MB as tested).  The memory bandwidth of this card is a mere 4.2 GB/s.  In my transcoding tests, the CL900 showed 43kB/s for HD profiles (1280×720/30p AAC @ 192kbps).  The Windows Experience sub-score for the graphics card is 2.9.  What do all the numbers mean?  This is a good, not great, graphics sub-system.

The end-user experience arrives at the same conclusion.  For most activities, graphic processing is fine and doesn’t interfere.  However, in a few cases such as scrolling a graphic intensive web page the CL900 will stutter a bit, and not provide a smooth experience.  It’s important to understand the impact of these power / performance trade-offs when putting mobile devices in context.

Processor / Memory

The CL900 is equipped with the Intel© Atom™ Z670 CPU (Peak Processing Performance of 3 GFLOPS).  Running at 1.5 GHz, this CPU has a single core, and supports two threads per core (hyperthreading).  It has 24kb of synchronous, write-through, 6-way integrated data cache, and 512kb of L2 on board 8 way ATC cache.  (Cache memory is shared between the two threads.)  This is a 32 bit processor supporting one channel of DDR2-800 RAM (maximum of 2 GB).  It does not support any Intel® virtualization technologies.

Since processors are all about metrics, I ran a series of benchmarks:

Benchmark Results Performance/Speed
Processor Windows Experience Index 2.1
Aggregate Arithmetic Performance 3.38 GOPS 2.25 MOPS / MHz
Dhrystone 3.62 GIPS 2.41 MIPS / MHz
Whetstone iSSE3 3.15 GFLOPS 2.10 MFLOPS / MHz
Multi-Media Integer x8 8 MPix / s 5.33 kPix / MHz
Multi-Media Float x4 6.2 MPix / s 4.41 kPix / MHz
Multi-Media Double x2 1.16 MPix / s 0.78 kPix / MHz

In the real world what all these numbers mean is this isn’t a lightening fast, done before you finish clicking piece of hardware.  However, in practice the processor performance is perfectly acceptable.  Running Outlook, OneNote, and Word I seldom saw utilization numbers peaking over 45%.  Occasionally the UI would feel a bit sluggish, but those events tended to be short-lived.  Through four days of using this as my primary portable device I never felt constrained by the processing power.

The experience of performance is never a single factor, but a combination of all the sub-systems.  Making the correct decisions when designing a system can mean selecting for power in once case, and performance in another.  Some of the lack of performance within the video and CPU is made up for by:

Storage

Choosing an SSD for storage in tablets is a necessity.  From power, performance, and size standpoints the SSD is dramatically superior to hard disks.  The trade-off today is cost and storage space, as SSDs are still more expensive per GB by a significant amount.  The payoff is clear.  The Toshiba THNSNB062GMCJ in the CL-900 is a 62GB drive with a SATA 300 interface.  Average benchmark tests put it at 138 MB/s, with 638µs random seek times.  This give the drive a 5.9 Windows Experience Index.  Various other read / write benchmarks show similar performance (tests run with a 424 MB file):

Test Performance
Buffered Read 171.79 MB/s
Sequential Read 169.45 MB/s
Random Read 153.00 MB/s
Buffered Write 197.22 MB/s
Sequential Write 46.1 MB/s
Random Write 28.14 MB/s

The non-buffered write tests show considerably lower scores because write verify is turned on by default on this interface.  Once I have the new unit in hand I will disable and re-test.

In short, the IO performance to the disk sub-system goes a long way to bring the overall performance experience up.  This will be discussed in-depth in the next post about usability, including boot and shutdown timings.

Memory

Memory performance in the CL900 is quite good.  Aggregate memory performance is 1.5 GB/s, providing a Windows Experience Index of 4.2.  The memory bus runs two channels at 400 MHz, for a maximum theoretical memory bandwidth of 4.69 GB/s.  Memory latency was tested at 280.0 ns on both threads of the CPU for random access.

Performance is somewhat limited by the chipset not allowing large memory pages, and the benchmarks show low-bandwidth efficiency.  I will investigate if this is caused by configuration / timing issues.  The real-world numbers are quite good, and contribute to the overall performance of the CL900.

Summary

I will discuss the usability side of performance in the next post.  In summary, I have no qualms with the performance of the CL900 when taken in context.  It kept up, and the brief pauses where not an irritant.  Yes, if it had a Core I5 and high-end mobile graphics it would be faster; but slates with specifications at that level run an average of 3 – 4 hours per charge.

The underlying specifications of the CL900 tell the story of a device designed to provide full-day mobile computing, which is Motion’s intent with this device.  The trade-offs made in design, specifications, and ultimately performance all focus on this goal, providing real balance to the overall unit.

The most difficult of these considerations is certainly the video, eschewing power-hungry high-performance GPUs for a perfectly adequate but a bit under-powered video sub-system.  From the WEI scores, you would expect me to be complaining about the CPU, but in practice I seldom saw utilization numbers peak over 45%.  The majority of the time a user works with the CL900 they will not notice either limitation.  Once in a while when scrolling a graphic-heavy web site or document and the screen stutters a bit, just remember you unplugged the CL900 six hours ago, and have plenty of battery left.

 

Comments

  1. Cuhulin says

    One of the problems with reading reviews is separating the reviewer’s judgment from the review itself.  In this case, the discussion of processor performance for the CL900 is very different from what Sumocat said about the Q550, despite the fact that both use the same processor and the same operating system.

    Have you spoken with, or communicated with Sumocat as to whether the machines are actually performing differently?  Is this just a difference in reviewer perceptions of speed?  I would like to buy one of these machines so that I could run Outlook rather than suffer the problems of syncing a different task manager in Android or IOS.  (This may be solved in Windows 8, but that’s a long ways off.)  Based on this review, I would.  Based on Sumocat’s review, I would not.  Please advise.

    • Chris Lucksted says

      Cuhulin – I will discuss with Sumocat, but understand my thoughts on the processor are in the context of my intended use of this machine; i.e. a very capable mobile and companion device.  I run Outlook connected to corporate Exchange servers, receive over 500 emails a day, and used the CL-900 in cached Exchange mode.  It performed this, and other general use tasks, with no issues whatsoever, (with the exception of the bad digitizer in my first unit).

      I completely agree that Android and IOS do NOT fit the bill for mobile, corporate email.  As a secondary device they are fine, but the synchronization issues are constant and annoying, at least in my experience.  In the past three months I’ve taken my J3400 into France, Romania, and several US cities using only 3G to maintain email connectivity and have had no issues (using GOBI and in-country purchased on demand SIM cards even).  I have several trips coming up and hope to be able to take the CL900 with me for the same test.

      You will see many more details about how this performs as a companion device in the next post!

      • Chris Lucksted says

        one clarification.. The above is not to say the J3400 and CL900 are comparable from a processor standpoint, just that cached Exchange mode in a mobile scenario, even with poor and slow connectivity makes the experience much better, and Outlook it my mobile tool of choice assuming hardware availability. 

    • Sumocat says

      I honestly don’t believe our assessments of the processor performance are inherently different. Chris thinks it’s fast enough for a slow tablet. I think it makes the tablet too slow. We disagree on what constitute “fast enough” but the common thread through both is the tablet is slow. I also considered its impact on other hardware features when making my judgment.

      • Chris D. Lucksted says

        I agree… It is more about context than agreeing. This is not a device that could or should be your primary technology tool. It does not have the power for that. As the companion device, the note taker, email manager, supporting tool there is enough there. In that context the length of battery life is also critical. I will address in depth as soon as I finish installing the tools I need on the replacement CL900, which is sitting here on the coffee table alongside an iPad 2, Galaxy Tab, and a Droid 3… Might have to take a couple pictures. (if anyone was wondering, this comment we written on the iPad.)

  2. Alain Chappaz says

    Darn! Both you and Sumocat have enough experience. When both of you say, Z670 tablets are too slow, I’m-a-gonna pay attention. This is very disappointing, I had hopes for this class of tablet !

    • matt says

      It’s not true that both say the tablet is “too slow”. I think it’s silly to judge processor speed on an absolute scale, which is what “Sumocat” is doing with the Fujitsu tablet. The question is about useability, and whether it’s worth to trade off speed for battery performance and weight. Chris Lucksted’s review makes this point and is actually very positive. Quote: “The majority of the time a user works with the CL-900 they will not notice either limitation.”

      So if you’re disappointed, you had unrealistic expectations. I’m actually thrilled that there is finally a decent, pen-enabled Windows tablet on the market, and that it’s as well-thought through and polished as the CL900. From what I’m reading here, it’s just the perfect device for note-taking and for always having important information at your fingertips.

  3. Rayon says

    Thank you very much for your great review. It is very precise and helps me take all points into consideration.

    I have a few questions, if I may.

    1) Can this run heavy programs, like Adobe Photoshop, or moderatey-heavy games, like the Sims 3? Based on the reviews I’m thinking it might be too slow, although it has the specs requirements.

    2) How long does the tablet take to turn on? Is it like an iPad, or more like a laptop?

    3) Is the keyboard similar to the iPad keyboard, that pops up when needed?

    4) Do you have to charge it on the docking station, or can you simply plug it in the wall while working?

    Thank you very much. Some of these questions might have been answered or seem obvious, but I’m not very good with tech details. Thank you again for te review.

  4. Rayon says

    Thank you very much for your great review. It is very precise and helps me take all points into consideration.

    I have a few questions, if I may.

    1) Can this run heavy programs, like Adobe Photoshop, or moderatey-heavy games, like the Sims 3? Based on the reviews I’m thinking it might be too slow, although it has the specs requirements.

    2) How long does the tablet take to turn on? Is it like an iPad, or more like a laptop?

    3) Is the keyboard similar to the iPad keyboard, that pops up when needed?

    4) Do you have to charge it on the docking station, or can you simply plug it in the wall while working?

    Thank you very much. Some of these questions might have been answered or seem obvious, but I’m not very good with tech details. Thank you again for te review.

  5. Chris D. Lucksted says

    Rayon – I’m in the process of finishing the usability review of the CL900, which will cover all the questions above and more.  It will also answer the question of is this enough processing power for what I need… Stay tuned!

  6. univ teacher says

    The most important questions for academic types like me are:

    1) how long does it take to turn on?  Is is Ipad-like?

    2) how well does the inking work in Onenote?

    I feel the killer application for tablets like these is notetaking.  If notetaking works well, every college student is going to want one.

  7. univ teacher says

    The most important questions for academic types like me are:

    1) how long does it take to turn on?  Is is Ipad-like?

    2) how well does the inking work in Onenote?

    I feel the killer application for tablets like these is notetaking.  If notetaking works well, every college student is going to want one.

  8. Chris D. Lucksted says

    Teacher – I couldn’t agree more regarding inking; I feel it’s the major feature missing from many of the current slates out there.  Boot timings and the like will be posted soon, but understand this is running Windows 7, so it’s not an instant on type device.

    • Sllovette says

      Hi, Chris
      I am a writer who uses a Motion M1600 with the Tablet PC 2005 operating system; I like the handwriting-to-text feature in Tablet PC 2005. I can see from reviews that the user can use handwriting with applications and notes on the CL900, but do you know if the Motion CL900 with Windows Pro 7 offers similar handwriting-to-text features as Tablet PC 2005?
      Thanks!

  9. Chris D. Lucksted says

    Sllovette – Windows 7 certainly does include the latest digital ink to text features, presuming you’re using software the supports it.  I’m a huge fan of Microsoft OneNote.  I will be talking quite a bit about the ink experience on the CL900 in just a couple days; that part of the review has been delayed by a problem with the PR unit I’m using.

  10. Sackersj says

    I am having problems with the SD Card on the CL900. When the tablet is held from the left side in landscape, the cl900 is not reading the sd card. It seems to me that the weight and holding the tablet this way causes a disconnect with the sd card. Have anyone had this issue?

    • Flaneige says

      Hi Sackersj,
      I am having problems with the SD card too
      Have you progressed on this issue?
      Thanks

  11. Alan Roberts says

    I have a CL900 having bought a top-of-the-line unit last July here in the USA. I’m an architect and I bought it to use it rather than just test is and am very disappointed for the high price I paid. It worked for about 4 months then started giving trouble. It died completely and refused to boot. I returned it to Motion and they said the motherboard was defective, replaced the MB & sent it back to me. When I got it back, the unit would not recover from sleep mode & had to be rebooted every time – so I sent it back again. They said the MB was defective again, replaced it and sent it back to me. They then called me and said the wireless card in my model had problems and sent me a new replacement unit which I received about two weeks ago. This new unit has their latest BIOS & it will not remain in sleep mode and turns itself off completely every time so I’m back to dealing with Motion tech support again – which isn’t up to much. I cannot recommend the CL900 at all. It is way over-priced with very expensive accessories and it does not deliver… I reviewed it here: http://gdgt.com/motion-computing/motion-cl900/reviews/isq/

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