by David Nguyen
Overview and Introduction
While Asus notebooks remain relatively unknown to most consumers in North America, there is a large fan base that continues to grow due to the quality of Asus' notebooks. Outside of the continent, Asus is relatively well known in both Asia and Europe where they maintain a strong presence. Asus has two types of notebooks, AsMobile (aka Built-On Asus) and Ensembles. The former are configurable whitebooks that often come with a reseller's warranty while the latter are non-configurable, generally built better and better looking, and come with Asus' warranty.
The model I'm reviewing is an Asus Ensemble notebook, the W7J-3P076P, aka the W7 "refresh". This particular model is black, and as of the time of writing, the only color available in the United States. There does exist however, a pearl white version. The specifications are as follows
Reasons for Buying:
I am a graduate student who needed a computer to carry to school everyday but needed something with a little more power as I am using it to replace the desktop in my room due to space restrictions. While I do not do much hardcore gaming, often either playing my Nintendo DS or online games that do not require high end video cards, I still desired some gaming abilities.
My candidates were the Asus W7j, the Dell XPS M1210, and the Sony VAIO SZ. The Dell was quite nice. My coworker owns one and the build quality is easily superior to Dell's lower Inspiron line. It was also quite affordable as the price could easily be lowered by haggling with Dell's phone operators. Unfortunately I ruled out the XPS due to the screen being a little too small for use as a main computer, and the rather dim screen. The Sony SZ is a very attractive notebook, lighter and slimmer than both the W7j and the XPS with a nice brushed aluminum palm rest. The screen was also sharp and bright. In addition, the lower models such as the SZ340 were attractively priced. However the SZ did have an Achilles heel, being its keyboard. Being mushy and very flexy, I found it near impossible to adjust to, especially after using an IBM (now Lenovo) ThinkPad for so long. As a result, I opted for the W7j which recently re-released with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor.
Where and How Purchased:
I purchased my W7j through BTOtech.com formerly known as Geared2play.com. Its owner, Eddie, is a well known member in the NotebookReview forum often assisting Asus owners with their tech problems. For me personally, the fact that I will be able to remain in contact with the reseller who will be able to provide support long after I have made my purchase, is another reason why I opted purchasing from BTOtech over large online resellers such as NewEgg. In addition, BTOtech also offers the cheapest pricing on the W7j as of current.
Targus carrying bag, sleeve, and the box containing the actual W7j (view large image)
Opening the box, I found another large white box, which contains the notebook itself, and the sleeve and Targus carrying bag separately sealed. Prior to this purchase, I often wondered if there would be a good sleeve to carry my W7j in as I generally prefer backpacks over carrying bags. To my surprise Asus included a nice sleeve that fits snugly over the W7. There's a nice Asus logo the front of the sleeve and a magnetic button that seals it together. The Targus bag features two compartments inside, and one outside. However I found it to be too small to carry anything other than the notebook. It was already a bit of a stretch putting in the associated power supply and mouse.
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Inside the Targus carrying bag and W7j sleeve
Opening the white box produced a smaller box with software and accessories and the actual notebook being placed on top of it being held in air by two cardboard holders (don't worry its safe and something most manufacturers are switching to nowadays).
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The software includes CDs of various software including Nero, recovery discs, etc. While the picture does show a Windows XP Professional packet, inside was actually a recovery CD that includes Windows (and all the other pre-installed programs). Also included was a nice micro-fiber cleaning cloth that has been very useful in screen cleaning, and a business card featuring the numbers of international Asus centers should you need to contact them when traveling abroad.
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Hardware includes a nice Asus branded Logitech Bluetooth mouse with two sealed Fujitsu AA batteries, a three pronged power cord and the associated power brick as well as some Ethernet cables and an S-video cable. The "brick" measures 5in x 2.3in x 1in.
Build & Design:
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A 13.3" W7j placed on top of a 14.1" Dell D620. The Dell is raised higher due to it being mounted on a docking station to which I was not allowed to remove.
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13.3" Asus W7J placed on top of a 15.4" Apple G4 Powerbook. Interestingly the G4 has a similar profile to the D620 as well as the same height as the W7j when the lid is opened to the same angles. This is due to the way the G4's screen hinges behind the notebook, while the W7 hinges on top of the chassis. In addition, the W7 is also slightly thicker than the G4.
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W7j on top of an Apple Macbook, both being 13.3" notebooks. The Macbook is slightly wider, but is significantly thinner and has a lower profile when the lids are opened at the same angle. Again this is due to the screen hinging behind the chassis. The W7 however, has a significantly brighter screen.
The W7j next to a Dell XPS M1210. Despite being a 12" laptop, both the W7j and XPS have similar dimensions, particularly in their height and thickness. The screen of the W7 however, is significantly brighter, while the XPS is dimmer than both the Asus and the Macbook.
The W7j is very solid. Upon pulling it out of the box, the feel instantly reminded me of the Dell Latitude D620 which is Dell's higher-end line, featuring a magnesium lid. Indeed, the W7j features a mixture of Carbon Fiber and plastic, ensuring a very sturdy lid and chassis. There is very little flex anywhere. If you press hard enough, there are some ripples near the middle of the lid, as well as a small amount of flex on the right palm rest, however the pressure required to create this flex is not natural.
The texture of the lid and palm rest is the same as the D620 we have at work, the only difference being that the W7j is black not dark grey. The camera on top is plastic and the hinges are quite sturdy. There is no creaking anywhere on this notebook. In the long run, it would probably be best to remove the two large stickers on the palm rest as they easily attract the dirt from your palms although I do admit, the left sticker has been useful as I have received numerous inquiries on the specs of my notebook, which is easily solved by pointing to the sticker which displays all the vital specs.
It should be noted that this design (as well as many Ensemble designs) do not feature a lid latch. Regardless the lid is very secure when closed and requires two hands to open. Grabbing the lid will result in some smudges left behind from your fingers which I find to be a minor problem, especially compared to the smudges left behind on a black Nintendo DS which are much more obvious.
While the W7's black lid attracts fingerprints, it is nowhere near as bad as those found on a black Nintendo DS (view large image)
The W7j's screen is a glossy (or as Asus call's it, Colorshine) screen with a native resolution of 1280x800. While glossy screens tend to generate reflection under certain lighting conditions, I found the W7's screen to be less reflective than some of its contemporaries. As shown in the previous pictures, the W7 is significantly brighter than the Macbook and the Dell XPS M1210. There are 16 brightness settings, with the highest being a bit too bright! I often use it on the 13th or 14th notch.
The screen is very sharp and crisp easily rivaling the Sony SZ's screen. Horizontal angles are good while vertical angles are just okay. Unlike many 14.1" widescreens, finding the "sweet spot" on the W7's 13.3" screen is relatively easy. Unfortunately my model has two stuck pixels which can be replaced as Asus offers a zero bright dot policy in which consumers can have their panels replaced free of charge, provided it is within 30 days.
The screen in my particular unit is an AUO B133EW01, with a response time of 25ms, 16:10 aspect ratio, 400:1 contrast ratio, and brightness of 250cd/m^2. Detailed specifications of this notebook lcd can be found via this link.
The W7j includes software such as the "Asus Splendid Technology Utility" which adjusts the tone and brightness in order to optimize the presentation of different types of media.
The bottom is noticeably brighter than the top as with most notebooks (view large image)
The speakers are located the lid right under the screen. As expected they are your typical notebook speakers where bass is lacking and sound isn't too great. However compared to my last two laptops, an IBM T series and a Fujitsu E series, the speakers on the W7j are superior. For those demanding a better sound experience, investing in a good headphone or external speakers should be considered.
What I like best about the sound of this laptop isn't the speaker itself, but the fact that there is an external sound dial on the right side, allowing me to change the volume with out resorting reaching out to the keyboard and pressing FN + F11/F12. While it may seem like a relatively minor feature, it is something that I use on a daily basis.
Processor and Performance:
The W7j has been refreshed to use Intel's latest Core 2 Duo processor, being 64-bit rather than 32-bit as on the Core Duo. However, unlike its bigger brother the A8jm, the W7j has been "reduced" to using a 1.66Ghz processor instead of a 1.83Ghz or a 2.0Ghz. This decision by Asus was made in order to keep W7j refresh prices the same as previous models. The Core 2 Duo will certainly appease those Windows Vista fanatics who demand a 64-bit processor in order to properly experience the new operating system. Indeed, there is a "Windows Vista Capable" sticker located on right palm rest.
Benchmarks and Gaming:
These benchmarks are based off stock drivers, no overclocking was done.
SuperPi: a program that calculates Pi to millions of digits, in this case we are using 2 million as the benchmark
|Asus W7J (1.66Ghz Core 2 Duo)||1m 19s|
|Asus W7J (1.83GHz Core Duo)||1m 15s|
|Asus W3H760DD (2.0 GHz Pentium M)||1m 33s|
|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|
3D Mark 05
|Notebook||3D Mark 05 Results|
|Asus W7J (Core 2 Duo, 1.66Ghz, NVIDIA 7400)||1,980 3D Marks|
|Asus W7J (Core Duo 1.83GHz, NVIDIA 7400)||1,974 3D Marks|
|Asus W3J (1.83Ghz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)||3,925 3D Marks|
|Sony VAIO SZ2 (2.16GHz Core Duo, NVIDIA GeForce 7400)||1,851 3D Marks|
|Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)||4,236 3DMarks|
|Alienware Aurora M-7700(AMD Dual Core FX-60, ATI X1600 256MB)||7,078 3D Marks|
|Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, NVIDIA Go 7400 256MB)||2,090 3D Marks|
|W7j Core Duo||W7j Core 2 Duo|
|Memory Read:||3394 MB/s||4396 MB/s|
|Memory Write:||1364 MB/s||1577 MB/s|
|Memory Latency:||98.6 ns||99.6 ns|
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I installed the game Hitman: Blood Money, which was released in mid-2006, in order to test the capabilities of the NVIDIA Go 7400 video card. As expected, this card can be considered as one of the lower end card in NVIDIA's 2006 line up. Those demanding to play the latest games at full settings should look elsewhere. With settings set at max resolution, texture, AA, and shadows, the game was still able to run but at the expense of very poor frame rates. Should one prefer to play the game with at least 40fps, most of the settings will have to be turned low with some features such as AA, off. Older games such as Battlefield 1942, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Warcraft III will be able to run at full settings. In order to enhance game play, there is an interesting feature on the W7j called Power4Gear, which optimizes CPU and GPU performance depending on what mode you set it on, which includes: Super performance, gaming, presentation, etc. The W7j in particular, has a button to the right of the Bluetooth/wifi switch that toggles through the different Power4Gear modes. Personally, I would not do any gaming on the W7j unless it was plugged into an outlet somewhere as gaming would drain much of its battery life.
In game snapshot of Hitman: Blood Money. This stage in particular contains hundreds of moving characters, pushing the NVIDIA Go 7400 card's ability (view large image)
Heat and Noise:
The W7j is pretty silent and so far, have yet to hear the fans. When there is noise, it is usually coming from the DVD drive which can get quite noisy when reading discs, but is of course, quiet when inactive.
Heat was one of the primary concerns I had for this notebook during my consideration of the W7j, XPS and SZ. Most importantly, I was concerned with the right side vent which was placed in the middle of the side, thus potential blowing hot air as I use my external mouse. Fortunately, the right vent was not much of a concern, largely due to the Bluetooth mouse that was included with this notebook. As shown in the picture below, I use my mouse right below the exhaust, rarely ever going up into the areas where warm air is blown. In addition, should I use my mouse directly in front of the vent, the warm air could hardly be felt if you used it about 6 inches away.
The heat on both palm rests is certainly noticeable. The left palm rest is above the optical drive while the right palm rest is above the hard drive. Between the two the right palm rest is significantly warmer. While the heat certainly is noticeable, it is certainly tolerable and nowhere being near what people would consider as "hot".
When using it on my lap, the W7j is perfectly useable as its belly is mildly warm but definitely not hot.
Keyboard and Touchpad:
W7j Keyboard features full size keys, but backspace and a few others are slightly smaller in order to include the Page/Home/End keys (view large image)
Along with the screen, the keyboard is another feature of the W7j that really stood out. As stated previously, I rejected the Sony SZ due to its mushy keyboards, especially coming off from a ThinkPad which is widely considered as having one of the best notebook keyboards. In my opinion, the W7j's keyboard is very close to the ThinkPad's. It has the right amount of bounce, travel, and virtually no flex. It has been a pleasure typing on this keyboard.
While the keyboard does feature full sized keys, not all of its keys are full sized. The Enter and Backspace keys are shorter than usual and the home, page up, page down, and end keys are smaller. However other rivals of similar size, such as the Macbook, do not even have the last four keys, instead, having them coupled with the arrow keys requiring the use of the FN button to activate. However I do admit that I have accidentally pressed the Home key instead of backspace a number of times. It is something I will have to adjust to.
Unlike most Asus notebooks, the Control key and the FN key are not switched around, something most users will be pleased with. However I am a bit abnormal in preferring to have the FN key placed at the end of the keyboard rather than between Control and the Windows key.
The touchpad is made out of the same material as the rest of the palm rest. If it wasn't for the small indented outline surrounding the palm rest, it could easily be mistaken as being part of the palm rest. While the scroll keys are unmarked, they are there on the right side of the touch pad. The left and right keys are placed below the touchpad and a blue light beneath the buttons illuminates the divide between these two buttons.
I personally prefer using a track button, something you rarely see on recent notebooks except on Lenovo ThinkPad's and HP's NC/NX series, thus generally not liking touch pads all together. Indeed, I am always using the external mouse that came with the W7j, whether at home or at school. The touchpad itself isn't bad, but I do find myself accidentally gliding into the scroll areas. I also found that it easily accumulates dirt from your fingers as compared to other touchpads I've used. The buttons are normal, they are not clunky and hard to press like those on some of the older Vaios or my previous Fujitsu, but they are not as easy to press as those on the ThinkPad T series either.
Input and Output Ports:
I am quite happy with the placement of the ports. The USB ports are scattered on the left, right and rear, unlike some other notebooks that cram them all on one side.
Front side view (view large image)
Like most notebooks, the W7j has an Intel Pro/Wireless 3945 a/b/g card built in as well as a Bluetooth 2.0+EDR. While there are some who aren't too fond of Intel's wireless card, I have had no troubles connecting to the internet with it. The Bluetooth mouse that came with the W7j was quite convenient in testing out the W7's Bluetooth abilities as I had no other Bluetooth device at home. It was unable to instantly detect the mouse initially, but after manually installing the drivers, I have had no problems in having it detected. The mouse itself has an on, off and reset switch on the bottom.
For those interested in prolonging battery life will be interested in the Bluetooth/wifi off button located on the top left next to the performance button.
Optical Drive and Battery:
The drive used is a Matsushita UJ-850 (the company has merged with Panasonic and can often be found using the Panasonic name). DVD writing speed is at 8x (DVD-rom, +/-R and RW) while CD writing speed is at 24x (CD-RW is 16x). As expected, the drive can get noisy when reading dvds, but is other wise quiet.
The battery used is a 6-cell battery rated at 4800mAh. Doing absolutely nothing, presentation mode set on, Bluetooth and wifi off, and the screen set at the lowest brightness, I was able to achieve a battery life of 3 hours and 4 minutes. This is what I would consider as the absolute, and impractical minimum. The screen is barely readable at the lowest brightness setting, and a majority of us would at least have the left wifi on. With the screen set at a medium brightness setting and wifi on, you can expect about 2-2.5 hours doing minimal tasks such as typing reports or surfing the web. When installing Warcraft III, I forgotten to hook up the W7j to an electrical outlet and left it on High performance mode with the screen at its brightness setting. Within an hour I was already getting battery low messages. Those seeking more battery life should consider a 9-cell battery which will stick out, rather than bulge downwards like other notebook extended batteries. Unfortunately there is no modular bay as in other Asus model's such as the W3j, so you are unable to swap out the optical drive for a 2nd battery.
Operating System and Software:
The W7j, like its Core Duo counterpart, comes with Windows XP pro. At the time of writing, customers are qualified for a free upgrade to Windows Vista when it becomes available. Indeed the W7j comes with some bloatware, the most resource consuming being Norton's trial Anti-Virus/Firewall. Most of the other icons that you see on the task manager are important (wireless, Bluetooth, etc). Other programs include a useful NTFS converter that's already placed on the desktop (you're hard drive is on FAT32 by default), WinFlash, Asus Splendid Technology Utility center, Nero, and Lifeframe which is used with your webcam.
The standard desktop you are greeted to, note the amount if icons in the task tray (view large image)
Recently Asus has upgraded the warranty package that comes with their Ensemble notebooks. Instead of a single year global warranty, the W7jp comes with a 2 year global warranty. The notebook included a business card listing contact numbers for over 40 different countries! Of course there are a number of things you can do that would result in the voiding of this generous warranty, which include modifying the CPU yourself and breaking any Asus seal inside the laptop. It is something to consider before changing the internal content.
In addition to Asus, reseller support is also just as important and BTOtech has been both patient and supportive of my needs. Eddie has been quick to offer an RMA after hearing that my W7j had two stuck pixels. The support forum on their site also offers updated information on issues affecting different Asus laptops and when possible, solutions to them.
Asus is certainly becoming a major brand in North American markets. Their notebooks combine build quality, looks, and performance at a reasonable price. The W7j is no exception, the screen is one of the brightest and sharpest I've ever seen on a notebook and the build is solid. While the NVIDIA Go7400 is not the best video card out there, you will not find a better video card on any notebook that is 13.3" and smaller, in fact as of the time of this review, there is only the Sony SZ and Dell XPS M1210 who can be considered as direct competitors. In addition, the W7j is affordably priced.
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