A UMPC, eh... Originally I was supposed to receive this last year, when my first plan to get a new laptop failed (shortly after August), and then my 1TB died the miserable death it did, preventing me from receiving this device until this month (February).
At its lowest cost ($49.99, seriously), it sounds like a really affordable computer considering I currently don't own one anymore (the laptop I'm using right now is borrowed). But at these specs, 800mhz Atom CPU, 512MB RAM, 2GB SSD with built-in 3G/BT/Wifi, a USB port and an Micro SD slot, is this really something I can use long term, if I eventually have to return this laptop?
That's the question I'm going to answer here. Remember that prior to using the laptop I'm borrowing now, I had a Sony Vaio that was so horrible, I had to use Windows XP on it. Well, For many years before that I have been a heavy customizer of Win XP, and it worked well on my Vaio before it eventually died on me. Can I replicate that awesomeness on the BenQ S6? 720p video playback? Opening Firefox and Chrome at the same time? Yes, it's possible! Read on to find out.
(I will break this into separate sections that pertain to the hardware in question. For example, in the section "Display", I will note everything I know about using the touchscreen, the graphics, and anything to do with viewability of the screen there. CTRL+F to the section you're interested in. You may know some of this already, but give it a read, it's arguably the best setup for the BenQ S6.)
=The outside case
---Micro SD Slot
---Where did my RAM go?
---Readyboost for XP?!?
=The 2GB SSD
=3G data modem
---The myths and lies about its simlock status
=The 4.8 Inch resistive screen
---More resolutions besides 800x480
---My left side of the screen is unresponsive!
---Graphics is glitchy
---Nobody can tap-to-hold right-click, but I can.
---The touchscreen is more finger friendly than you think
---Can it really fit into 2GB of space?
---480P video and 720p video playback
---Is gaming good on this device?
---Battery life is better than you think
---The perfect setup
THE OUTSIDE CASE
This thing is a lot smaller than I thought. It's slightly bigger than my Nintendo DS Lite, yes, the skinny 2nd revision one, and when I say slightly bigger than that, you know this BenQ S6 is small. But it's so glorious because it's practically a small, handy computer that can do almost anything I can throw at it. It has a bit of weight though, the main culprits being the battery, the screen, and the heatsink/fan unit. But, it's perfectly usable the way it is, except for that USB port that stick out the left side, which is where your hand is supposed to go. Holding this unit while having a flash drive attached isn't exactly fun, since with such a small SSD inside you'd need a flash drive to complement the MicroSD slot.
---Buttons: There's just a button on the right side that is registered as "Left-CTRL", which is a funny thing because it's on the right side, there is a CTRL-F11 and CTRL-F9 on the left side of the screen (Home or Keyboard), below a Microsoft PS2 mouse wheel. Those two CTRL-F11/F9 buttons can be remapped to anything you want (more on that later), but the Left-CTRL cannot due to it being systematically linked to the other two. And that Microsoft PS2 Mouse wheel? It really is a Microsoft mouse, although if you install the Intellipoint software, it will not be recognized, but the capacitive scrolling can be configured with the intellipoint software, increasing its effectiveness.
---MicroSD slot: Some users report a 32GB card works, since I'm so cheap I can't confirm that, but I do have a Class-4 16GB that works, albeit slow since it's a Class-4 and well, any better costs money you know :P It can't be booted from, and its maximum read speed is 15MB/s regardless of card speed (tested my Class-6 4GB with the same results). Not so good a card slot in my opinion, but this slot is very useful for portable apps and.... Readyboost!
---Speaker: It's mono. Sound is provided by Realtek, which actually is a strange thing here. The original BenQ Realtek drivers are very bad for gaming, as they have stuttering in ePSXe. Well, if you get the latest drivers from Realtek, they have a specialized sound management program that lists the manufacturer's name at the top. Well, in this case, installing the drivers from Realtek will enable the BenQ logo to appear at the top of the program. Cool, eh?
---Microphone: It's bad. Like, so bad, I only found out about the above Realtek drivers because I thought it would help the microphone. Well, in any case, it will always have a buzzing tone sound if you enable Microphone Boost, which is the only way to even pick up sound in the first place. The included Headphone's do not have this problem.
THE CPUIntel Atom Z500 800mhz, a limited front side bus of 400mhz, sounds like a huge step back from my recent involvement with Dual-core CPU's. But hey, I have used worse, and for this cheap price, what more could I ask for?
---Overclocking: This has been mentioned a few times around the web before, but this CPU can be overclocked to 1ghz, or 1060mhz to be exact. The most important part is running the Front side bus to 500mhz, which is where 720p h264 playback is possible. Depending on your power plan, it can lower itself to 800mhz when idle using the "portable/Laptop" power plan.
RAMAt only 512mb of RAM, it's a bit of a nightmare for today's users used to 4GB of ram or so. I myself am a person who uses a lot of Firefox and Chrome tabs, my personal record being 154 tabs in Firefox 2.6 on that 1GB of RAM Vaio I used to use. To be bluntly honest, such blatant use of tabs is not possible on the BenQ S6, but you can make it possible if you raise your page file size.
---Where did my RAM go? It's actually been eaten up by Intel and their ridiculous shared memory reserve. When you install XP for the first time, you will notice your RAM has as much as 480mb of RAM available (depending on the type of XP you installed). Once you install the Intel drivers, say sayonara to your RAM, as there's currently no way to limit the amount of shared ram (which is somewhere north of 256MB).
---Readyboost for XP?!? Why yes, it's possible! During my Sony Vaio days, with only 1GB of ram, photoshopping and Company of Heroes really pushes the limits of available RAM. That's when I came across a program called eBoostr, and it works similar to Readyboost. And the best part is the MicroSD slot works fabulously. I'd bet it would work extremely well with a Class 10 card, but the only downer is that 15MB/s read speed. Regardless, it works wonders for multiple browsing, where I've managed 2 tabs each for Firefox and Chrome at the same time, where before, it was only possible with only 1 browser at a time!
The 2GB SSD---The...SSD: It's an Intel SSD that has modest read speeds (30MB/s), but horrendous write speeds (7MB/s). There are guides out there to beef up the SSD with something better, but me in all my cheapness cannot take that route. Keep in mind that it's 1,7xx MB of space available, and not the full 2GB. It would have been a whole lot better if it was exactly 2GB, 200mb makes a world of a difference.
3G data modem
At 7.2mbps, it has a more faster consistent download speed than my firmware-crippled 3G USB modem, which might have to do with it being built into the unit and drawing power directly, as we all know USB 2.0 isn't the fastest thing around, and not to mention the BenQ's 3G modem is not firmware locked to any carrier, meaning it's an unadulterated 7.2mbps speed (at least I think so, I've never hit that speed due to my low signal area).---The myths and lies about its simlock status. In short: it's not locked. Some ebay sellers trying to capitalize on Dailysteals' blowout are trying to pass this device off as "locked to an italian carrier". The simple fact is it was originally a Linux unit, and was enabled as such. In order to "unlock" its use for Windows XP, one has to flash the Qualcomm downloader onto the modem, this taken from the Taiwanese/Chinese driver pack straight from BenQ. Someone at Slickdeals mentioned that, but what they failed to mention was that one has to install the HSPA modem software first, turn on the modem, open the Qualcomm downloader and flash to COM5 on Device 1. I had to figure this out on my own considering documentation online is scarce.
The 4.8 Inch resistive screen
Yep, it's a resistive screen, meaning I feel right at home considering my poor performance with capacitive screens (my fingers have low conductivity). It is connected via USB, made by the company Ideacom, and I was surprised that, of the short time I had the HTC HD2, I hadn't realized this BenQ S6 has a screen just slightly bigger than the HD2.
---More resolutions besides 800x480: Yes, it is possible to have more resolutions besides the default 640x480 and 800x480. After sampling various Intel drivers from a host of other devices, I have to settle on the drivers for the Viliv S5 (the stable drivers, not the newer one). I've read others have been able to do this already, but I can never get these resolutions with the stock BenQ drivers or the Intel ones.
---Graphics is glitchy if you are using the Viliv S5 Stable drivers. The Kohjinsha drivers, the absolute fastest drivers, does not have this problem. The Viliv drivers have a hard time letting settings stay persistent, as I have linked a part of the graphic delays to the default 16bit display setting (change it to 32bit when you can).
---Nobody can tap-to-hold right-click, but I can. Ever watched those BenQ S6 reviews on Youtube? And how they have a hard time doing a right-click with the stylus? I used to think that my many years of stylus experience (from Palm OS to Windows Mobile to Windows Mobile even today) made me very used to stylus precision. Have you ever found anyone who can type on an onscreen keyboard with a stylus? I can do it. Anyways, I won't blame anyone who owns this BenQ S6, because even I had a hard time to right-click with the stylus. The answer lies in the .ini file of the Ideacom program. Allow me to explain. First, on your BenQ navigate to Program Files\IdeaCom\TSC, and look for a "settings.ini" file. Only the following lines are of importance:
SelectiveSuspend = 0
VistaSelectiveSuspendEnable = 0
DoubleClickArea = 90
LinearCalibration = 0
MouseNoMoveRange = 60
RbtnHolding_Index_St1 = 30
RbtnHolding_Index_St2 = 90
AvoidWrongTouchType = 0
Marked in RED, using the above numbers will work wonders for complete control over the touchscreen. First let's look at "DoubleClickArea". Notice I changed it to "90". That is important because for people who aren't accustomed to resistive stylus', whenever humans double-tap, how often do you think you can tap the exact same pixel of the first tap? So the answer is no human can tap the same pixel twice in a row, so enter the Double Click Area. On your screen, this is a tiny invisible box that, if you happen to tap twice within this square area, that is registered as a double tap, in this case navigating Win XP. Raising this number will increase the usability of the OS using your finger by increasing the square area that you tap within.
Next, let's look at "RbtnHolding_Index_St1/2". As you might have guessed, these two lines are responsible for the starting timer for when you begin to tap-and-hold, and the ending timer for when the right-click action will be activated. The default numbers were too low/too high for it to be usable, so as you can see above, I lowered the amount of time between my tap and hold (St1, when the stylus is on the screen for 30 milliseconds), and I lowered the amount of time it takes for the right-click action to activate (St2, 30 to 90 = 60 milliseconds of when you continuously hold a tap on the screen to when right-click command is activated). With those settings, you will no longer have to painfully wait for the right-click icon to show up, and it is very possible to do this entirely with your finger! Remember to save the .ini file and restart the OS for settings to take effect.
---The touchscreen is more finger friendly than you think. I never understood why most people say Windows is not finger friendly, I mean seriously, did anyone even try? Or does everyone just want to jump on the Microsoft hate wagon? As you can see in the following screenshots, I've made it very finger friendly without any additional software:
This can be achieved simply by going to Display Properties, that is, right-click the desktop and go to properties->Appearance tab, go to "Effects" to enlarge the desktop icons and "Advanced" is where you enlarge only the UI elements, such as the close button, the context menu, etc. In order to enlarge the task bar, you right-click the taskbar and choose the "Start Menu" tab, and chose "customize", then "Select an icon size for programs".
Windows XPIt's an iconic OS, that's for sure. I'm still amazed at how it was able to fit into this BenQ S6. As usual, my craftiness knows no bounds.
---Can it really fit into 2GB of space? Yes, believe it or not. And I'm not talking with 200mb of space left, I'm talking a clean install with 1.1GB space available (128mb Pagefile), and that's without relocating junctions or what not. That's possible thanks to the OS I used, Windows XP Professional Performance Edition December 2009 by the great TJ. This is the perfect OS, not only full Service Pack 3 enabled, but it is the only reliable OS that supports East Asian languages, no other customized XP has this function with that much available space. If you need it, and you can find it, maybe you can hire... never mind :P
Did you know you can delete some unnecessary files in the SSD? For example, the above language files in the HSPA program folder, delete the unneeded languages and you save some, you can even save almost 100MB by deleting some of the Intel display language files in the system32 folder (they have a .lrc file extension or something like that)
---480P video and 720p video playback is possible, 480p natively and 720p requires a little overclocking. Remember my little guide here? Very helpful post, but it needs revising due to updates to FFDshow. According to several sites online, CoreAVC will give you the best results. Gives me the best results anyways, except I forgot how to make ffdshow load to play the subtitles, as vobsub is too slow.
---Is gaming good on this device? In some cases, yes. Take for example Delta Force 2, perfect with a mouse and keyboard (you can use the touchscreen as a mouse if you disable "Left Click to fire"). Crazy Taxi 1? Not so much, slight lag, though I haven't tried it with the Kohjinsha drivers and overclocking to 1Ghz. ePSXe is smoothly possible at 800mhz using the following settings:
Metal Gear Solid for PC also works splendidly, aside from one little flaw: when you die, the game over animation plays and dies to the desktop. Of course if you saved earlier, it wouldn't be a problem, so this isn't really a gameplay breaking bug.
Yup, an Eroge is fine too. I think it's time I finish these games, ever since, what, 2003, I've never completed any of these games. All I did finish was 1 route in Tokimeki Check-in, and 1 route in Sagara Family. You know, that one particular route that reeked of NTR, I remember clearly clicking as hard as I can to finish that route to see an end to those NTR vibes, that old man better keep his hands off my Sagara Family of cute girls!!! >:D It's too bad though one of my favorite games, People's General, can only be played using DXwindow, but hey, touchscreen turn bases strategy gaming on the go? I hope my work productivity doesn't drop!
---Battery life is better than you think. Don't listen to that Windows XP power status indicator. It's very inaccurate, and does not adhere to your usage pattern (ie, whether you are staying at 600mhz or if you have the H10 modem on). You can get 2 hours 30 minutes or 3 hours of continue web browsing using the 3G modem and CPU @ 600mhz, almost 4 hours on non-internet mode at 600Mhz, and while I don't use it often, 800mhz looks to give you 2 hours regardless of the task. (keep in mind I am using the lowest brightness, don't like stuff too bright for my eyeball >_>)
---Running photoshop is possible if.... you have some sort of hard drive if you are doing large images. At least, with the older photoshop's, but regardless of the photoshop, it never allowed flash drives, so yeah I'd say you'd need a hard drive just to photoshop. Sure wish the microSD can be used for a scratch disk, kind of frustrating the MicroSD can't be used much.
---The perfect setup. The following instructions are the ideal setup for Windows XP Pro Performance Edition Dec 2009 with a 400mb pagepool and 250MB free disk space (900MB+ free space).
- This guide was okay, until I got tired from all the restarting. Yeah, I'm a time strapped person, and I was in no mood to spend time doing this, and having spent time previously on my older laptops, I came up with this no frills way.
- First, I recommend a very simple USB hub, not a combo hub/card reader or whatever it might include. Just a USB hub, it blue-screened on me when using a combo usb hub/card reader.
- Follow that guide above, Rufus owns WinToFlash any day, and keep in mind the order of the above guide of what to install, except do not restart at all. I used the Kohjinsha method, which is a all hands on deck, no restarting method by installing everything one after the other.
- By this time you'd have a fresh install, and I recommend cloning the entire 2GB SSD onto another source, for example I used Acronis Disk Director to clone the drive onto a 2GB MicroSD. This is perfect for correcting any oversights.
- For the supreme XP way, you must replace the following drivers in the above guide with these: new Realtek High Definition Audio drivers, when you install the video drivers, you'll have to install the BenQ drivers first and then the "GraphicDriver_XP_188.8.131.523_Stable", and DO NOT INSTALL BENQ UTILITY, install MID Utility instead for better functionality and no need to install framework 3.5.
- Now for the meat of the ultimate setup. Remember that I said to install MID utility instead of Benq utility? That's because we want to remap the Home and Keyboard buttons to whatever we want. And the best way is to use this fabulous program called Hot Virtual Keyboard. Check it out:
You folks know about DialKeys? This brings me back. In 2007 a friend of mine in Germany had a Samsung Q1 UMPC, and he was surprised at my ability to adapt quickly and type away on this keyboard.
Hot Virtual Keyboard is a very greatly enhanced software keyboard that destroys the default BenQ keyboard. I really hated the BenQ keyboard for not having sticky keys. For example, you can't shift + whatever key you want. You can't ctrl + any other key. It's a resistive screen, remember? Even the default microsoft OSK was better than the BenQ one. So HVK is great for a host of superior abilities:
- You can remap buttons on your device. That's right, the Home and Keyboard can be used for whatever you want! I myself map the Keyboard button to, what else, HVK, and the home button is used for right-click, since I do stuff that requires tapping and holding that isn't a right-click. Unfortunately, I do not recommend remapping that lone Ctrl button on the right, since it is the worst single button config ever, pressing that right button will enact the other two buttons too.
- HVK can be configured in a number of ways, from the size of the keyboard, to the colors, to a whole lot of different keyboard types, including a gaming ready keyboard that puts a d-pad on the left side of the screen and keys on the right side. Transparency can also be configured at any depth.
- Yes, I tried gaming with ePSXe, and as long as you are in windowed mode, 640x480 is good, you can have some serious fun with the screen, no running scripts anymore!
- BatteryCare. A free, ultimately superior battery monitoring program you must install to the S6. This program is smart, and enabling the time remaining algorithm, you can have an accurate reporting of battery life remaining. You can see it in my above screenshots, which it displays the percentage and time remaining on your battery, and you can configure the color of that too. Note that you must install .Net Framework 2.0 to run BatteryCare, don't worry, .net 2.0 is not as large as 3.5.
- You've already met Hot Virtual Keyboard, seriously, try it now.
- eBoostr, the readyboost type of program for Windows XP. Worth every penny if you've got a fast microSD.
- I'm sure you know about Portable Apps, and that running them from the MicroSD is an absolute must.
- If you got the Viliv S5 driver pack above, you'll also notice it comes with Bluesoleil Bluetooth managment software. It's a shame the built-in bluetooth can't stream audio for some unknown reason, but Bluesoleil has your back if you have another Bluetooth dongle like me.