by Rodin Max Hai-Jew
Overview and Introduction
The Asus A8Js can best be classified as a thin-and-light notebook, although its strong graphics capabilities make it a standout in this category. The A8Js is a refresh of the Asus A8Jm, its notable improvements over the A8Jm are the Core 2 Duo “Merom” processor, the nVidia Go7700 graphics card, and an improved WXGA+ resolution (1440x900). The full specs are below:
Reasons for Buying
I bought this laptop because my old laptop, a Compaq Presario 2500 (Pentium 4 2.8Ghz, 512MB), was very unstable and could not handle two programs at once. Specifically, when I had a video chat session going with my girlfriend and a browser running at the same time the computer would slow to a crawl and almost beg to be put out of its misery. During my days at the University of Washington, I could do most of my gaming at the school computer lab, but after graduating it became obvious that my Compaq was falling woefully short. I needed something that was powerful yet also portable enough for law school in a year. I considered purchasing the Sony VAIO SZ, the Asus W3J, and the Asus A8Js. The Sony SZ seemed underpowered in terms of graphics capabilities compared to the other candidates and the W3J seemed too expensive and lacked a webcam. The A8Js was a prime candidate for me because of its integrated webcam, powerful video card, and excellent resolution for a 14” screen.
Where and How Purchased
I bought the A8Js from MilestonePC.com as a part of a group buy program the company offered. They offered a discount off of the going rate of $1,599 and threw in a bonus of an additional pocket-sized Asus router, the WL-530g, which will be covered later on in this review. This was in addition to the Asus carrying case and optical scroll-wheel mouse that is included standard. In my opinion, the benefits to cost ratio is very high for this laptop. I think the benefit derived from this purchase would have outweighed the cost even if I had paid full price.
Build & Design
Asus A8Js back view and lid (view large image)
The main competitor in the Asus lineup to the A8Js in terms of size and performance was the Asus W3J. The W3J’s main attraction was that it was made of brushed aluminum and so I was a little glum when I decided on the A8Js because I knew it would be plastic. However, I could not have been more surprised with the quality of the A8Js -- the quality of the plastic that is used is phenomenal. It feels almost metal-like and there is certainly no flex in the area surrounding the keyboard. The A8Js feels extremely sturdy and the difference when compared with my Compaq is like the difference between an S-Class Mercedes Benz and a Daewoo (although I read that Daewoo is making a turnaround -- albeit not in the United States).
Asus A8Js right side view (view large image)
There are no screen ripples when you push from behind the screen or from the side. However, if you push the border of the screen while facing it, you will see some localized rippling.
Asus A8Js left side view (view large image)
I can’t help but mention the modern, sleek touchpad that the A8Js sports. The touchpad has no separation between the left and right mouse button -- it appears to be just one big button, but in fact it still retains its left/right clicking abilities. The touchpad feels almost identical to the rest of the laptop.
The black keyboard contrasts nicely with the silver case and the Asus logo on the lid of the laptop is understated but still impressive.
The hinges are tight and there doesn’t seem to be anything loose, out of place, or poorly designed about this laptop.
I’ve seen many screens in my day and I would say that this screen is one of the best for several reasons. First, the resolution really sets it apart. It’s tough to find 14” screens with anything higher than WXGA resolution. I’m used to higher resolution laptops, so I’m biased, but it just seems that if you can turn up font settings and if you can’t tell the difference between games at native and non-native resolutions then you might as well go for the higher resolution. Second, the viewing angles are surprisingly good and there seems to be a large error margin for being within the “sweet spot”. Third, the clarity and brightness of the screen are superb and the glare-type screen (versus matte) is not as distracting as I had feared it would be.
I had read on the forums of NotebookReview.com that there was a problem with Asus laptops having low speaker sound. Now this is no doubt true, but it didn’t seem to be a problem for the A8Js. Either they fixed something or my sound expectations aren’t as high as others. The speakers have no bass and probably shouldn’t be used on an airplane in-flight (not only because your neighbors will glare at you) but they are perfect for filling a room with reasonable amounts of sound.
Processor and Performance
I have the 2GHz Core 2 Duo and it is blazing fast. Of course my reference point is my work computer and my Compaq laptop, but still, the processor is truly a work of advanced science by Intel. Hats off to them. AMD has a ways to go before it can even approach the combination of performance and power savings. As you can tell, I’m impressed with the performance of the A8Js, and this is only with 1GB of RAM. Everything is snappy and responsive with this laptop, especially in the area of gaming. I played Counter-strike 1.6 (not Source) and as expected it could run it on high settings with no problem. I also installed Warcraft III and there were no problems with that either. The strong performance coupled with the beautiful screen really enhanced the gaming experience. I wish I had more recent games so I could regale all of you with details of my frames per second, but unfortunately I haven’t been gaming much recently because I didn’t want to hurt my Compaq laptop’s feelings by giving it games it couldn’t hope to run playably.
Super Pi calculated Pi to the 2 millionth digit in 1 minute and 4 seconds. Not too shabby!
|Asus A8Js (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo)||1m 04s|
|LG S1 (2.16 GHz Core Duo)||1m 11s|
|Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 16s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Toshiba Satellite M100 (2.00GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo)||1m 29s|
|Dell XPS M140 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 41s|
|Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
3DMark06 Results and Comparison:
|Notebook||3D Mark 06 Results|
|Asus A8Js (2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo, Nvidia Go 7700 256MB)||2,665|
|Apple MacBook Pro (2.00GHz Core Duo, ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 128MB)||1,528|
|Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB)||2,183|
|ASUS A8Ja (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 512MB)||1,973|
|Dell XPS M1710 (2.16GHz Core Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7900 GTX 512MB)||4,744|
|HP Pavilion dv6000z (1.8GHz Turion X2 TL-56, nVidia GeForce Go 7200 256MB)||674|
|Sony SZ-110B in Speed Mode (1.83GHz Core Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7400 256MB)||794|
|Toshiba Satellite P100-222 (2.16GHz Core Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7900 GS 512MB)||3,534|
Heat and Noise
Now heat and noise, or lack thereof, are pretty important to me. Since the A8Js has so much power in such a small package, I worried that a tradeoff for all that power would be large amounts of noise and heat making using it on my lap a risky affair. My old Compaq Presario laptop sounded like a 747 jet, and that was just while typing. The A8Js is blessedly silent with only some hard drive access noises which I find sort of reassuring anyway. I tried gaming for a while but all I got out of the A8Js was a low whir -- definitely nothing that would turn heads in a fairly quiet lecture hall. As for heat, it’s been on for hours now doing both demanding and easy tasks and it is somewhat warm but not uncomfortably so.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard has no flex and the buttons on the laptop all seem to make sense in terms of placement. The first button resembles a running man and it toggles through modes in Power4Gear which is Asus’ included power settings program. Undoubtedly, it increases/decreases performance likely at the cost and benefit of battery life. Next is the Bluetooth button which actually doesn’t work because Bluetooth doesn’t come standard with the A8Js (you can have it installed, but it voids your Asus warranty). Then comes the Wireless On/Off button and after that a button which affects screen color modes. Finally, the last button launches some sort of Asus media center.
Input and Output Ports
The A8Js has a variety of ports. There’s not much more to say beyond the fact that I am impressed that there are DVI, VGA, and S-Video ports. With 5 USB 2.0 ports, there’s no shortage of USB capability. An ExpressCard slot is included as is a gigabit LAN and telephone modem port.
The included Intel PRO 3945 Wireless 802.11a/b/g card works as expected and gets strong reception even through multiple walls. As mentioned before, Bluetooth is NOT included although there is an infrared port.
Battery life ranges from around 2 hours 15 minutes at full brightness and while downloading large files over wireless. With battery saving mode on, that number changes to around 2 hours 40 minutes. Not too shabby, I thought it would be worse so I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not ideal for road warriors but okay for those who need some battery time between plug-ins.
Operating System and Software
The A8Js comes with Windows XP Professional and Asus is a part of the Vista Express Upgrade program so if you buy it during the promotional period, you should have a free or at least subsidized upgrade to the new Windows Vista. A lot of software comes pre-installed, but it’s not as bad as other manufacturers. Skype comes pre-installed as does Norton Antivirus but the majority of the other programs are Asus utilities which actually are pretty useful. Power4Gear has a variety of power settings and Asus’ Splendid program has varying color settings for different occasions.
I have not had occasion to utilize Asus Customer Support but the support and involvement at MilestonePC.com was phenomenal. I was very happy with their level of communication and prompt responses. Their Group Buy program just sweetened the deal in an altogether very enjoyable buying experience.
The Asus WL-530g is truly a pocket-sized router. Initially I was worried because it appeared as though I had not received the US power adapter but it was in the package and installation was simply a matter of snapping on the US power adapter, attaching the antenna, and plugging in the router. Setup was a breeze and it’s been chugging away happily ever since. It has four LAN ports and includes basic security features such as WEP and WPA. This bonus from the MilestonePC Group Buy program was a nice perk especially since I was in need of a wireless router. For most people who already have a wireless router, this will be a novelty item because of its size but not necessarily something that will be particularly useful.
Included was a carrying case which says Asus Design on it and an Asus optical scroll-wheel mouse. The case is stylishly subdued and I think I’ll use it, but the mouse is just way too small. It’s bigger than the typical notebook mouse but markedly smaller than a standard mouse. Personally, I abhor smaller mice and this fits into that category.
This is a laptop where it’s hard to go wrong. My one complaint would be the battery life, but for the price and the feature set it’s a small complaint among many praises. This laptop is exactly what I was looking for and it should last me on through law school. Hopefully its gaming prowess won’t prove to be too much of a distraction during my studies. I would recommend this to those gamers who like power but don’t want to lug around unwieldy 17” desktop replacement laptops. Asus has found the niche between thin and light and desktop replacement and I applaud the A8Js for fitting my needs so perfectly.
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