Computer

Avita Liber

The Liber is colorful and compact, but otherwise largely a smaller-screen retread of upstart Avita’s first laptop we reviewed last year, the 14-inch Avita Clarus. At first blush, the Liber’s MacBook-like aluminum styling impresses. But it loses its luster in daily use, revealing itself to be underpowered, and packing a display that’s distractingly glossy and a super-wide touchpad that’s frustrating to use. Those were our chief complaints with the Clarus last year, and alas, they recur on the 12.5-inch Liber. The poky performance doesn’t come as a surprise, though, because the Liber employs the same component lineup as the Clarus: a low-power Core i5 Y-series chip, 8GB of memory, integrated graphics, and a 128GB SSD. Perhaps the third time will be the charm for Avita, but its second effort amounts to only a so-so laptop.

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Our Tester: Pretty in Purple

The Avita Liber comes in a rainbow of colors: Angel Blue, Blossom Pink, Fragrant Lilac, Himalayan Blue, Peacock Green, and Silver. The review unit I received is the lilac variety, which I thought was a fresh, spiffy look when I first took it out of the box. My wife and teenage daughter, however, felt otherwise. My daughter said it looked like something a grandma would use; my wife thought this particular shade of purple was reserved for the packaging of feminine hygiene products. Well, then!

Whatever you might think of this shade, there’s no denying that the Liber is well put together. It boasts an aluminum chassis and a lid that make the laptop both sleek and rigid. Along with the single, long display hinge, it looks and feels like a mini-MacBook. The 12.5-inch Liber weighs a svelte 2.5 pounds and is only 0.6 inch thick.

For such a small laptop, the Liber offers a welcoming, roomy keyboard. The keys are widely spaced, and no keys are shortened. I was immediately comfortable typing on the Liber. The keys are quiet when pressed and offer a springy feel. And with the aluminum keyboard deck, there is no flex when you type. I loved the firm, snappy feel of the keyboard.

I grew to dislike the huge touchpad, however. When I first saw the extra-wide (5.8-by-2.6-inch) pad, I thought it looked cool, stretched across the palm rest. And I figured its luxurious dimensions would help make it easier to navigate Windows.

I figured wrong. I quickly realized that I never swipe sideways to the degree that I need a touchpad this wide. And no single gesture I employ requires such a swipe-width, either. The gargantuan size succeeds, though, in making it an exercise in frustration to perform a right-click; that functionality is moved way over to the right, nowhere near where I’m used to it being. The touchpad also frequently reacted to my palm resting on it, which created erratic and unwanted mousing behavior. Given it’s so big, it’s hard to avoid.

Below the keyboard, along the right edge of the laptop, is a fingerprint reader, an appreciated bonus not normally found on a consumer-focused budget laptop. It saves you from needing to enter your password all the time. Avita deserves props for that.


Ports, by Way of Adapter

The 12.5-inch display features a 1,920-by-1,080-pixel native resolution and proved to be crisp and bright. It’s an in-plane switching (IPS) panel, which delivers wide viewing angles. I have no complaints about the display itself, but unfortunately it is topped by a glossy screen coating that is an utter electromagnet for glare and reflections. I had trouble seeing the display with a sunlit window behind me or a bright light above me.

The system’s audio output suffices for a laptop of this size. The two stereo speakers fire downward from the bottom panel. On a desk or table, the laptop produces passable sound for videos, reflected off the hard surface, but the sound is muffled when the laptop is placed on your lap. Music playback is marred by the predictable lack of a bass response, but I don’t expect much better from budget ultraportables.

The port selection is limited, but Avita includes a multi-use dongle to get you where you need to go. On the right side of the Liber is the power connector and a USB Type-C port…

On the left side is a headphone jack. And that’s it for the ports.

Your connection options are expanded slightly with the included USB-C-to-HDMI adapter. It’s annoying sometimes to need to rely on an adapter to connect to your devices, but it’s a bit more forgivable on such a compact laptop like the Liber. Still, an extra USB would have been appreciated. Plug the Liber into an external monitor via the dongle, and your USB ports are all taken.


Performance Testing: Y, Oh Y Series

The Avita Liber is a fixed configuration based on the Intel Core i5-7Y54, a 7th Generation Core CPU that debuted more than two years ago. It is a dual-core chip with a base frequency of 1.2GHz and a max turbo frequency of 3.2GHz. Other core components include 8GB of memory, the integrated Intel HD Graphics 615 from the CPU, and a 128GB SSD.

I compared the Liber to other budget laptops, two of which feature the 8th Generation, quad-core Core i5-8250U (a “Kaby Lake-R” mobile CPU very common in late-model ultraportables), another that features the 8th Gen, quad-core Core i7-8565U (of the newer “Whiskey Lake” line), and a fourth with a Core i5 Whiskey Lake step-down. The Core i5-7Y54 can’t match the processing power of 8th Generation chips, but it is more efficient. It has a thermal design power (TDP) rating of 4.5 watts, compared with 15 watts for the others.

Avita Liber (Comparison Systems chart)

In general, the Liber felt poky when multitasking and performing media editing. I was able to run Chrome effectively and even do so with another app or two running alongside it, but once I opened a dozen or more tabs in Chrome and had a handful of apps running at once, performance began to lag. I found myself waiting for windows to open and tasks to complete. If the laptop had above-average battery life, that might help compensate for its lack of power, but the Liber also failed to deliver on that front as well. Let’s look at its performance in the labs.

Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests

PCMark 10 (Productivity Test) and PCMark 8 (Storage Test)

PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.

PCMark 8, meanwhile has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the storage subsystem. This score is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.

Avita Liber (PCMark chart)

Thanks to its small but speedy SSD, the Liber stayed out of last place on our PCMark 8 Storage test. It was in the same ballpark as the other SSD-based systems and well ahead of the Lenovo V330 and its traditional hard drive. On PCMark 10, however, it finished dead last, and that by a significant margin.

Cinebench R15

Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.

Avita Liber (Cinebench chart)

Things got worse for the Liber with our Cinebench test. Its score was not competitive with the other budget systems.

Photoshop CC

We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.

Avita Liber (Photoshop chart)

Another test, another dead-last finish for the Liber. Its low-voltage, dual-core CPU simply won’t allow it to compete with the other systems with more recent, more powerful, quad-core processors, some supporting thread-doubling Hyper-Threading. The Liber is not a good bet for any media-editing or -creation chores.

Graphics Tests

3DMark Sky Diver and Fire Strike

3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.

Avita Liber (3Dmark chart)

That the Liber trailed the Huawei MateBook 13 and its GeForce MX150 graphics on our 3DMark tests did not come as a shock, but we were surprised to see it trail the other systems with integrated Intel graphics by as much as it did, even given the fact that its Intel graphics are a generation behind.

Unigine Superposition

Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.

Avita Liber (Superposition chart)

The GeForce-based Huawei MateBook 13 was able to surpass the minimum-acceptable 30fps on the low-end 720p test, but that’s it. The Liber, along with the other systems with integrated graphics, fell well short of that mark. In addition to media editing, you can cross off demanding gaming as something you’ll pursue with the Liber.

Video Playback Battery Rundown Test

After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in Airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the open source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.

Avita Liber (Video Rundown chart)

You might be able to tolerate the Liber’s poor performance if the tradeoff for its low-voltage CPU were outstanding battery life. Unfortunately, the Liber delivered middling runtime at best. It lasted only 7 hours and 14 minutes on our battery rundown test, the shortest time among the competing budget systems here.


Wanted: More Oomph

It’s disappointing to see the Avita Liber show up with the same specs and similarly wide touchpad as the previous Clarus model. If Avita had outfitted the Liber with a more capable CPU and reined in the dimensions of the touchpad, it might have had a budget winner here. As it stands, however, the Liber offers subpar performance and middling-at-best battery life. And its extra-wide touchpad is an impediment where it should be a convenience. The Liber has its charms in spots, but on the whole, Avita swings and misses for strike two with this model.

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