AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 Review

Wesstron - 2013-04-12 18:10:00 in Mobile
Category: Mobile
Reviewed by: Wesstron   
Reviewed on: April 30, 2013
Price: $729.99

AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 Introduction:

AVATAR is not a known player in the portable computer world. I personally never heard about the company before receiving the fairly large and suspiciously light box with the review unit inside it. Avatar Technology, Inc. is a California-based computer manufacturer with over 14 years of experience under its belt. It seems that the company was highly successful at dominating parts of the Latin America market, notably Mexico. Now turning towards the ever demanding North American market, AVATAR’s offering in terms of Ultrabooks is pretty limited with just three different SKUs available at the time of this review. Nonetheless, by partnering with some of the major players in the PC arena, the products are very well rounded and boast pretty impressive specifications.

Today I will be reviewing the AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2. This aluminium clad, thin, and pretty light weight portable computer falls under Intel’s Ultrabook banner. It’s not a surprise to find an Intel Core i5-3317U Processor paired with an Intel IC4I motherboard under the hood. The unit also packs 8GB DDR3 1333MHz RAM, a 500GB 5400RPM WD Scorpio Blue HDD, a 32GB mSATA SSD made by Phison, and a 6000mAh Li-ion battery. Running the latest - and pretty controversial - creation from Microsoft, namely Windows 8 - the AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 is a sleek unit with a vibrant 1366 x 768, 14” display. 

Let’s see if the AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 really has “Brains, Brawn, and Beauty all in one package”!

 

AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 Closer Look:

The box protecting the AVATAR Mercury UltraBook AVIU-145A2 is sturdy in construction with a very clean layout. The top shows the company's name and the product's name on each side of the carrying handle. The front is mostly covered by a picture of the product and again the company's name and the product's name to the left side. The picture doesn't really give justice to the actual beauty of the aluminium body of the AVATAR Mercury UltraBook AVIU-145A2. The back shows the AVATAR logo with the website of the company towards the bottom. On the left side of the box is located a label listing the model and some of the specifications of the system. Nowhere to be seen on the box is the famous "MADE IN ?????". As per AVATAR's website, it says "We pride ourselves in our products being sold and manufactured in USA". So we will take its word for it I guess!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the box, the AVATAR Mercury UltraBook AVIU-145A2 is protected by a clear plastic bag and a couple pieces of soft foam. A small cardboard box containing the accessories bundle is located on the side.

 

 

The AVATAR Mercury UltraBook AVIU-145A2 comes bundled with a user’s manual, a CD, a power cord, a power brick, and a proprietary adapter for VGA and Ethernet connectivity. The CD only shows the AVATAR logo and website without providing much detail about the content. When I popped it into my main system’s DVD drive, the contents appeared to be various drivers and a user’s manual in PDF format. The proprietary adapter expands the connectivity of the AVATAR Mercury UltraBook AVIU-145A2 and provides a 15-pin D-Sub port and a Gigabit Ethernet port. The power plug is 2mm thin but feels as sturdy as it can be; it links the ultrabook to a fairly small power brick that could be easily tucked in a side pocket of a laptop bag. 

 

 

 

 

The accessories bundle is pretty lean and it seems counter intuitive to provide a CD with a system that has no DVD drive. A branded USB key could serve the users that have no access to a second system during setup and also be a subtle way to advertise for a company coming after such a competitive market.

AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 Closer Look:

The AVATAR Mercury UltraBook AVIU-145A2 sports a beautiful full aluminium body that is roughly 2mm thick. All the logos and connectivity ports symbols are actually engraved, which is a nice touch. The metallic look and feel may not appeal to everyone, but for those who have an artistic touch, I am pretty sure that some well done dremel work will transform this Ultrabook into a piece of art! The AVATAR Mercury UltraBook AVIU-145A2 has a very nice finish to it. All the edges are even, smooth, and well-machined. The multiple pieces of aluminium that form the body fit nicely together and no gaps are to be seen. 

The top of the unit shows the AVATAR logo, which seems engraved in the metal with a slight infill. Compared to the top, the bottom of the unit and its sides are full of action! The bottom consists of one full piece attached to the body by twelve screws. Here we find drilled holes for two speakers, four rubber feet for stability, and a Windows 8 key sticker. This section is very easy to remove if the access to the insides of the UltraBook is needed. Users should make sure not to overtighten the screws so the very fine threading does not strip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the right side of the unit are a USB 3.0 port, a Mini-HDMI port, and the proprietary port for the VGA/Ethernet adapter. Here we also find a very small reset hole, in case nothing else goes and we need to get close and personal! The left side connectivity consists of the power port, a USB 2.0 port, an audio jack (headphone/microphone combo), and an SD card reader. The front and the back of the unit look very sleek with no connectivity options and seamless transition between the different materials. Underneath the hinged area is located a fairly large ventilation grill to ensure heat dissipation and provide some passive airflow inside the unit. The hinge cover and the ventilation grill are the only plastic parts that can be seen from the outside.

 

 

 

Flipping the lid open uncovers a glossy, 14" LED screen that has a maximum resolution of 1366x768 in a 16:9 aspect ratio. Centered on top of the screen is a 1.0 MP camera. Between the outer edge of the bezel and the top piece is a rubber bumper that provides protection to the screen when the Ultrabook is in a folded position.

 

 

 

The keyboard area is well laid out and spacious with fairly large chiclet style keys. Just on top of the red power button are located the white LED indicators for power, wireless, and Caps Lock. Centered underneath the keyboard is a fairly large sized touchpad with the left and right click buttons situated on the bottom part. The touchpad on the AVATAR Mercury UltraBook AVIU-145A2 supports two-finger gesture control; a very useful feature considering the operating system installed by default is Windows 8! On the left side of the keyboard is a tiny hole for the built-in microphone.

 

 

 

The AVATAR Mercury UltraBook AVIU-145A2 is built around a third generation Intel Core i5 -3317U Ivy Bridge processor. This dual core, four threads chip is clocked at 1.70GHz with a Max Turbo Frequency of 2.60GHz. It also integrates the Intel HD 4000 Graphics providing some cool features, including the Intel Quick Sync Video technology. The 8GB DDR3 1333MHz memory installed occupies the one available slot on the Intel IC4I motherboard, so future upgrades are impossible since the maximum memory size supported is 8GB (which is already maxed out). Storage wise, the AVATAR Mercury UltraBook AVIU-145A2 comes with a Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB drive and a 32GB Phison mSATA SSD drive. All these goodies are tucked in neately in the pretty restricted space in the Ultrabook's body alongside the 6000mAh battery, an Intel Centrino Wireless-N 130 module, the two speakers, and the left side connectivity mini-board. All visible cables are routed properly and held in place with black electrical tape. Under the hood, the AVATAR Mercury UltraBook AVIU-145A2 demonstrates that a good deal of attention to detail was involved during the manufacturing and assembly processes.

 

 

The AVATAR Mercury UltraBook AVIU-145A2 does come packed with solid components delivered in an attractive and well built package. Will its brain live to its beauty? Keep reading...

AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 Closer Look:

The BIOS of the AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 doesn't provide much in terms of options. Hitting the F2 key during boot redirects to the "Phoenix SecureCore Tiano Setup" BIOS, which is devided into five tabs; Main, Advanced, Security, Boot, and Exit. The Main tab provides options to setup the system date, system time, BIOS Level USB, and USB Legacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Advanced tab provides control over some of the Intel technologies and setting up the SATA mode. This is where the ground work is done so a RAID 0 array is created between the mSATA SSD and the SATA HDD to take advantage of the Intel Smart Response Technology Acceleration feature. The Security tab offers the option to create admin and user passwords. The Boot tab provides control over the boot priority order. The Exit tab is where all changes are either saved or discarded before exiting to the OS.

 

 

 

The AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 comes pre-loaded with a copy of Windows 8 Single Language Edition. This iteration of the OS restricts the Interface language to whatever comes installed by default, which is English as far as this test unit is concerned. A Windows 8 Pro upgrade will fix this in a few clicks while setting you back close to $200.The test unit I received did not take me through the whole first time boot ceremony one usually has to live through when buying a new laptop. The AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 is fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on personal preference – free of bloatware. I mean 100% free and to me it’s a great idea not to impose mostly useless branded junk on the users.

I will not go through the Windows 8 OS but will refer you to the great  How To Install Windows 8 Guide made by our dear Guest_Jim_*. I will however show you the few steps that need to be performed OS side to enable the acceleration feature through Intel Smart Response Technology. This feature will accelerate the storage system by using part of the available SSD drive as a cache device. A noticeable overall performance boost is thus gained and the system should feel snappier. This is achieved by starting the Intel Rapid Storage Technology application then selecting the Accelerate tab. Then, by clicking on the “Enable acceleration” link, the user will be presented to a pop-up window to select the proper settings depending on the available drives. Last step is to hit the OK button and Voilà!

 

 

 

Considering that the AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 does not come with a DVD drive, I would suggest to whoever decides to buy one to backup a little folder called "Avatar" situated on the C: drive. It has all the needed drivers and would come in handy in case the provided CD is misplaced or damaged.

AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 Specifications

Model Number:
AVIU-145A2
Processor:
Intel Core i5-3317U 1.7GHz
CPU Support:
3MB L3 Cache, Max Turbo Frequency 2.6 GHz
Chipset:
Intel HM77
Dimensions (mm):
W230 x L340 x H21
Weight (kg):
1.8Kg
LCD:
14" - 1366 x 768, Slim 3.6mm, 16:9
Video Card:
Intel HD Graphics 4000
Memory:
LAP - 8GB DDR3 SO-DIMM slot x 1, Support up to 8GB DDR3 (1333MHz)
Hard Drive / SSD 1:
500GB SATA 5400RPM + 32GB Sold State Drive
Storage:
HDD 2.5", 7mm SATA interface; SSD One Mini-PCIE port for SSD
Wireless LAN / Bluetooth:
Intel Centrino Wireless-N 130
LAN Wired Connectivity:
10/100/1000Mbps
Expansions:
N/A
I/O Ports:
Mic-in x1, Headphone-out x1, RJ-45 x1, DC-in x1 , HDMI port x1, VGA x1,
USB 2.0 Ports x1, 1 USB 2.0&USB 3.0 x1, Card Reader (SD) x1
Audio Codec & Speakers:
Onboard Soundcard
Operating System:
Windows 8 SL 64bit
Camera:
1.0MP HD Camera
Battery & AC Adapter:
Polymer Li-ion Battery Pack, 6000mAh
Warranty:
Standard One Year Warranty
(3 Years Labor, 1 Year Parts and Life-Time Technical Support)
Card Reader:
SD Card Reader
External Card Reader:
Optional

 

AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2  Features:

Loaded with the latest operating system from Microsoft - Windows 8 SL, and powered by a 3rd Gen Intel® Core™ i5 Processor, the Mercury Ultrabook was born to be quick and smart. But that’s not all. We also equipped the Mercury UltraBook with 8GB of DDR3 memory, a 32GB Solid State Drive that is armed with Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology 10. As a result, the Mercury UltraBook boots and shuts down faster, runs applications faster, and load your photos, videos, and other data files faster as well. Then, we packaged the whole thing in a sleek, low profile aluminum body.

 

 

All information courtesy of AVATAR Technology, INC. @ http://avatargamingpc.com/index.php/laptops-and-tablets/ultrabooks/aviu-145a2.html

AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 Testing:

Now for the fun part! The testing will be done by running several benchmarks, including both synthetic and real world applications on the review unit and the comparison system. I will also provide my personal impressions about the overall experience provided by the AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 in the Conclusion section. We all agree that there is no universal benchmark that will tell how comfortable is to work on a certain system for example, so feel free to comment if a specific aspect of the review unit was not already covered and I will do my best to shed some light on the matter.

Both systems will be tested while keeping all default settings and turning off all power savings options to ensure that no interference will occur. An updated, fresh install of Windows 8 with all the latest drivers was applied on the comparison system.  

Review system: AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2

Comparison System: Acer Aspire V3-571-6884

 

Benchmarks:

Scientific & Data:

Video:

AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 Testing:

PCMark 7: The latest iteration of Futuremark's popular PCMark system performance tool is now Windows 8 compatible. Higher is better in this test.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winrar: In this test a 500MB file is compressed to .rar and .zip formats respectively. Performance measured in seconds so lower scores are better.

 

Higher is better.

 

Geekbench: Geekbench 2.4 is an easy-to-use benchmark that tests CPU and memory performance. The total suite average score is displayed below.

Higher is better.

 

AIDA64 Extreme Edition: is a Windows diagnostic and benchmarking software. Two tests will be used today, the "CPU Queen" and "FPU Mandel".

 

 

Higher is better.

 

HD Tune: is a software used to measure storage device performance. Today we will be looking at four key results: Burst Rate, Average Read, Access Time, and CPU Usage.

 

Higher is better.

 

Lower is better.

 

The higher base-clock of the Intel Core i5 2450M gives it an edge over the 3317U. Keep in mind that the Ivy Bridge chip is made with mobile computing in mind, i.e. lower power consumption at the expense of some efficiency. In terms of storage performance, the RAID 0 array used by the Intel Smart Response Technology provides an advantage across the board.

AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 Testing:

Sisoft Sandra: is a diagnostic and benchmarking suite that also allows for hardware and software monitoring. 

Processor Arithmetic:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Multi-Core Efficiency:

 

 

Graphics Processor Video Shader Compute:

 

 

Memory Bandwith:

 

 

Again we notice that the Sandy Bridge processor berforms quite better than its successor. However, the overall specs list of the AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 compensates for the lack on processing power by providing a better overall performance.

AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 Testing:

3DMark: is the newest edition of Futuremark’s 3DMark benchmarking software. Released in 2013, it provides three types of tests that are relevant to differerent system configurations. For the purpose of this review I will be showcasing the Cloud Gate test results at default settings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intel Quick Sync Video: is a technology implemented in the 3rd generation Intel Core processors, it uses dedicated media processing to make video creation and conversion faster and easier. In this test I will be using MediaConverter 8 to convert a 500MB .MKV file using the deafault settings of the software for iPhone 4S compatible media. The results are in seconds, with and without the use of Intel Quick Sync Video. In both cases the file was reduces to roughly half it's size, the quality difference is not noticeable if any. 

 

 

Lower is better.

 

Torchlight II: is the successor of the single-player Action RPG, Torchlight. This Runic Games title is considered by some to be a better and more affordable alternative to Diablo III. 

 

Settings:

 

Higher is better.

 

The AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 is not made to be a gaming monster. It will hold its ground as far as non-graphically demanding titles are concerned, with a bit of tweaking in the settings.

AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 Conclusion:

Build quality & Design: The AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 has a simple yet very elegant design. Minimal branding and uniform color theme give the unit lots of appeal. When folded away on the desk it never ceased to amaze me how small its foot print is compared to a regular laptop. The full aluminium body and the great overall finish are a plus. The unit does not feel flimsy and I did not experience any flexing or bending while handling it. The screen hinge feels tough enough to survive your average abuse and trying to lift the top with one hand will pretty much lift the whole unit once it reaches a 45 degree angle, roughly. I would advise against all kind of one handed operations while manipulating this kind of hardware. The bottom of the unit is protected from sliding or surface scratches by four discreet rubber feet that are non-removable. The two onboard speakers are also located on the bottom of the unit, which could cause muffled playback for those who like having their Ultrabook on their lap. The sound quality is very good and I was pretty surprised how loud this little unit could get.

Noise & Heat generation: The AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 always felt cool to the touch, I would even say cold if you are really sensitive. The bottom of the unit will get warm to the touch under heavy load but is in no way uncomfortable; I did not notice any excessive heat coming from the back ventilation area either. To a certain extent, the full aluminium body serves also as a gigantic passive heat sink for the system and helps with the cooling. During the benchmarking phase of the review I paid close attention to the cooling solution behaviour. The fan cooling the i5-3317U is very quiet under normal load, so quiet that the noisiest component in this system seems to be the mechanical hard drive. Under high load the fan will ramp up and it becomes noticeable, but still fairly quiet; it will not distract from the task at hand. The hard drive on the other hand will let you know every time the platters spin. It also tends to make some alarming scratchy noises now and then. Maybe the review unit drive is failing on me... time will tell.

Keyboard & Touchpad: I really had my doubts about the Chiclet-style keyboard at first glance. Coming from mechanical Cherry switches I had to readjust for a while. Overall the quality of the AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2's keyboard is very good. The keys do not feel sticky or mushy and applying normal pressure on the keyboard area will not bend it in an alarming way. My only problem here is with the layout and precisely the RED power button. It’s simply in the way and I hit it accidentally a few times when going for the Backspace, Home, or Delete keys. A perfect position for it would be next to the white LED notification lights in the form of a button that could have the same texture and look as the aluminium body with a subtle white LED. The palm rest areas on each side of the touchpad offer a smooth and pretty comfortable surface. The touchpad is well positioned and provides a fairly large interaction surface. It's easy to get used to and I did use it to navigate through Windows 8 while on the train in my way to work for a few days. I had to adjust some of my old habits while using a touchpad because of the Windows 8 touch control schemes. For example, having your right hand brush the right side of the touchpad inadvertently will bring out the Charms Menu in most cases and cause an interruption in whatever was being done. 

Screen & Webcam: The 14” LED-backlit screen of the AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 sports a standard resolution of 1366 x 768, which seems to be the norm for similar sized laptops and Ultrabooks. It has decent viewing angles and adjusting one’s posture to be comfortable while working or watching a video is effortless. I used the unit to stream some 720p Black Lagoon episodes over WiFi with great success. The picture was crisp and the color rendering is actually great and just needed some tweaks on the Intel Graphics and Media Control Panel to find a sweet spot that fits my media content. The colors, however, seem to get a little washed out at very high brightness settings. I also took the unit outside to see how it fares under the sunlight; the glare on the glossy display was very uncomfortable even after cranking the brightness to 100%. The webcam on the AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 is not something to write home about. The grainy 1MP camera will get the job done but I wouldn't expect miracles.

Battery life and Portability: To get an idea about the available battery life I put the AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 in High Performance mode after a full charge and played back a 720p video in a loop. It lasted roughly four hours, which is a great performance and would yield a longer on-screen time under normal use. In terms of portability the AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 weights about 3.9 pounds; not the lightest ultrabook out there but I still find it very comfortable to carry around. The aluminium body offers a good grip and is overall very nice to the touch. I actually managed to fit it in the ECBC Poseidon Messenger Bag K7202 that I reviewed a while back. The thin build of the Ultrabook made it possible to also fit the charger and some other stuff in the various pockets; not bad knowing that the bag is for 13" laptops!

Conclusion:

No bloatware, beautiful aluminium body, fairly thin form factor, and more than enough power under the hood for the average user's needs make the AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 a great system. The build quality and attention to detail are amazing, both on the outside and the inside of the Ultrabook. The feature set is on par with the great looks of it. The third generation Intel Core i5 -3317U Ivy Bridge processor with Intel HD 4000 Graphics, 8GB DDR3 RAM, and 32GB mSATA SSD for caching provide great performance in the Ultrabook category while running on lower power consumption and less heat generation. Interacting with the system is a pretty comfortable experience. The Chiclet-style keyboard and the touchpad are on par with what the industry offers in the sub-$800 price point. The AVATAR Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2 was reported to be accessible for way less than that when on sale and it would make perfect sense to grab one for what could be pretty much the price of a tablet.

Avatar Technology Inc. is coming after a competitive market with a limited lineup of Ultrabooks. Only three systems, including our review unit, are available at the time of this article redaction. All three have the same processor and the differences are touchscreen capability and full SSD storage option. AVATAR is offering a very solid product with the Mercury Ultrabook AVIU-145A2. The unknown brand and the minimal online presence will certainly scare some of the less adventurous away, but the California-based manufacturer seems to be on the right path to change that for a better tomorrow. 

 

Pros:

 

Cons: