by Silver Hannolainen
Overview and Introduction
The Asus F3Jc is a lower-budget brother of the F3Ja. It is also branded as a "portability" notebook, but lacks the higher-end graphics cards of its more powerful and higher priced brethren. It is still equipped very respectably with a Geforce Go 7300 graphics card and an Intel Core Duo T2250 processor.
This particular model lacks Bluetooth and an integrated webcam.
Reasons for Buying
The main reason for buying this notebook was to aid me in my studies at Tallinn Technical University. I also wanted to play games such as Counter-Strike Source and Wolfenstein Enemy Territory while on campus. The main principle was that the notebook had dedicated graphics, so my choices were quite limited price-wise. Before I came across a local Asus-certified reseller, I was bent on buying a used but well-kept Dell D600. Luckily, an unexpected budget boost enabled me to look for other non-used choices. With the boost, I was strictly limited to a $1,250/€990 budget and that enabled me to go ahead and buy the F3Jc reviewed here. (All $ prices in USD)
Where and How Purchased
I bought the machine through another firm, which enabled me to skip the 18% VAT (that's actually not a tax fraud here where I live, in case you were wondering), resulting in a final price of €980. The notebook came with 512MB of RAM, so I later bought an extra 512MB stick for $49/€38.
I think it was a pretty good bargain because other brand notebooks (Dell Inspiron 6400 etc.) with similar specs start around the $1,500/€1200 price point and the Compal HGL30/HEL80-based gaming machines at $1,350/€1050.
Build & Design
The lid after a months use. AC adapter and mouse shown for size comparison. ( view large image)
I have to agree with the F3Ja review here - the build quality is very nice. When twisting or applying pressure to the back of the LCD, no ripples appear on the screen. The screen hinges are quite solid so its neccessary to hold the notebook down when opening the screen. The button and latch mechanism which holds the screen shut seems a little fragile, so I wouldn't abuse that part too much. There is very little or no flex when picking the notebook up from both front corners, although I wouldn't attempt it with only one corner. The right palmrest flexes a little when pushed down but the left one is solid because of the HDD situated underneath. The weight, close to 4kg including the AC adapter, mouse and carry bag is reasonably luggable between home and university, but I wouldn't take in for longer walks. One thing I do not understand is why on earth put 2 extra feet on the battery?
The screen is a glossy widescreen 15,4" WXGA 1280x800 resolution unit. I can't say that there is anything awfully wrong with the screen - both the brightness and contrast are plentiful, black is black, white is white and it's somewhat viewable in indirect sunlight, at least in my opinion. One slight annoyance is that the screen collects dust pretty fast but Asus includes a special microfiber cloth to wipe it off. Also, the viewing angles could be better in my opinion and the following pictures should illustrate my point. Luckily there aren't any dead nor bright pixels to be found on my screen.
Asus includes a piece of pre-installed software called "ASUS Splendid Technology Utility", which can be used to adjust the settings for the screen. It has several preset modes and you can customize one on your own. Personally I tried this feature but found no real practical use for it, so uninstalled it. Also, there is a hotkey to swap between different screen presets. Below is a picture to illustrate the light leakage found when viewing a black screen. In everyday usage, one would definetly not notice it that much.
The speakers are located above the keyboard, just below the screen. I've found the speakers to be sufficient for makeshift listening at university when I have no headphones at hand. The volume is loud enough but definetly lacking bass, which is usual on notebook speakers. At home I usally plug in a 4.1 speaker system, which offers a much more satisfactory listening experience, although recently a problem concerning internal/external speakers has sprung up, but more on that later.
Processor and Performance
Although the Intel Core Duo T2250 1,73GHz is one of the lower-end models of Intel's Core Duo lineup, its performance is still pretty impressive in comparison to my desktop AMD Athlon64 3000+ overclocked to 2.25GHz. The T2250 managed to complete SuperPi 1M a whole 2 seconds faster than the aforementioned AMD-equipped Desktop PC despite its lower 533Mhz Front Side Bus (FSB), although it is left slightly behind by its 667MHz FSB Core 2 Duo bretheren.
The overall feel is snappy thanks to the 1 GB of RAM, only the 5400RPM Seagate SATA HDD was feeling a little left in the dust compared to my desktop's 250GB 7200rpm Seagate 7200.8 HDD. For some strange reason, Firefox 2.0 temporarily hangs once in while, but maybe thats the fault of the OS. After pressing the power button, startup takes 38 seconds to get to the login screen and another 30 seconds for the notebook to become fully usable.
Graphics are handled by the Geforce Go 7300, a low-end card suitable for light gaming. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas will run relatively well at 20-40 frames per second (fps) depending on draw distance. Counter-Strike 1.6 will run 100fps+ unless in a smoke cloud. With some tweaking, CS: Source and Flatout 2 will run at over 40fps. All games were run at 1280x800 native resolution, so if you choose to run your games at lower-res, you will get better performance at the cost of image sharpness, as always with TFT LCD-s.
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|Asus F3Jc (1.73GHz Intel T2250)||1m 28s|
|Asus A6Jc (1.66GHz Intel T2300)||1m 21s|
|Asus W7J (1.66Ghz Core 2 Duo)||1m 19s|
|Asus A8Js (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo)||1m 04s|
|HP dv6000z (1.8GHz Turion64 X2 TL-56)||1m 54s|
|Compaq V3000T(1.6GHz Core Duo)||1m 26s|
|Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.00 GHz Core 2 Duo)||1m 02s|
|Toshiba A100 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Acer Aspire 5102WLMi(1.6GHz Turion64 X2 TL-50||2m 22s|
|Gateway E-100M (1.2GHz Core Solo ULV)||2m 02s|
|Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|HP dv5000z (2.0GHz Sempron 3300+)||2m 02s|
3DMark05 tests the graphics processing capabilities of a system:
3DMark05 Results and Comparison:
|Notebook||3DMark 05 Results|
|Asus F3Jc (1,66 GHz Core Duo, Nvidia GeForce Go7300 128MB)||1,710|
|Asus F3Ja (1.83 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)||3,696|
|Asus W7J (Core 2 Duo, 1.66Ghz, NVIDIA 7400)||1,980|
|Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB)||2866|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60 Nvidia GeForce Go7800 GTX)||7,078|
|ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz, ATI X300 64MB graphics)||727|
|Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI Radeon Mobility x700 128 MB)||2,530|
|Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||2,273|
|HP dv4000 (1.86GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)||2,536|
|Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)||4,157|
3DMark06 is a very similiar graphics processing test to 3DMark05, but with more visual detail.
3DMark06 Results and Comparison:
|Notebook||3D Mark 06 Results|
|Asus F3Jc (1,73 GHz Core Duo, nVidia GeForce Go7300 128MB)||693|
|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
The F3Jc has cooling vents galore, sadly the smaller vents on the right are for the cooling fan. Shown without the battery.(view large image)
First off, I have to say that the notebook isn't as silent as cracked up to be. After turning the thing on, it is silent until the CPU temperature hits 38°C, after that point, the fan stays on quite audibly in a quiet room. When put under heavier load, the fan incrementally speeds up (in relation to the CPU temp.) to a rather high level of noise, although still being quieter than my Desktop PC. The highest CPU temperature I have seen is 61°C under heavy load.
The trade-off is that the notebook is relatively cool throughout. The area under the keyboard and palmrest stays pleasantly warm, but not excessively hot. The only area that significantly warms up is the upper-right corner on the underside. It is not a problem to play games with the notebook on your lap for shorter periods of time (let's say 15 minutes), whether plugged in or not. Just be sure not to cover up the little cooling fan vents under the right side.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard is something on this notebook I'm fully satisfied with. There is no perceptable flex, keys are full-sized and feel good. Also, the Fn and Ctrl keys are where they should be on a notebook - Ctrl in the lower-left corner and Fn right next to it. This makes the keyboard much more usable in First Person Shooter (FPS) games and of course when you're a frequent keyboard shortcut user. However I've found myself pressing D instead of S and F instead of R, because I usually check my finger placement with the groove in the desktop keyboard's Caps Lock key, which is absent in this notebook, and in every notebook for that matter. This should be a non-issue once one gets used to it. As you may have noticed, those green letters are Cyrillic (Russian letters). Since my particular notebook was originally meant for the Russian market, it carries these letters. I don't make use of them but they don't get in the way either.
The touchpad is also quite satisfactory, although when scrolling with the appropriate area, when you let go of the touchpad, it still keeps scrolling and the only way to stop it is to touch the scroll area again. Again, a non-issue. It is nice that one is able to disable the touchpad either with the appropriate hotkey or Fn+F9 key combination. Otherwise works fine with the pre-installed Synaptics drivers.
Correct Ctrl / Fn placement as seen on the F3 series (view large image)
Hotkeys, from left to right: ASUSDVD hotkey, Power4Gear preset key, touchpad toggler, Splendid preset key, default web browser key, power button ( view large image)
Input and Output Ports
Right side, from front to back: ExpressCard/54 slot, 2x USB 2.0 ports, Mini IEEE1394 port, S-Video out port, DVI-I and VGA ports, RJ11 telephone modem and RJ45 LAN ports( view large image)
Front: Wireless LAN card on/off switch, lid open button, microphone-in jack, headphones-out jack. ( view large image)
Back: AC adapter plug with adapter cord attached, exhaust vent, 2x USB 2.0 ports and the battery itself. ( view large image)
The included wireless card is an Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG, which supports all known 802.11 WiFi standards (a/b/g), although not the latest Draft-N. Signal strength is "Excellent" when a ZyXEL P320W WiFi router is behind a reinforced concrete wall about ~8cm thick. I really can't comment on how several of such walls affect signal strength but the net is still barely surfable on "Very Low" or "No Signal", surprisingly. Since this is a budget notebook, there is no Bluetooth or Infrared, but I can live without these. By default, the wireless management software is Intel's PROSet Wireless, which I have found to be a resource hog (runs 4 processes) and with no real tangible benefit over Windows XP's own similar utility.
Operating System and Software
The icons adorning the taskbar after the first startup.
The notebook comes pre-installed with Windows XP Home Service Pack 2. There isn't much bloatware (such as Skype), though the taskbar is filled with icons of doubtful usefulness, such as a telephone modem "helper" and touchpad indicator . For power management, Asus includes its own "Power4Gear" utility, through which preset modes can be cycled using Fn+Space key combination or a dedicated hotkey (see above). The change of screen brightness and sound volume using appropriate Fn+F1-12 combinations is illustrated by an OSD (On-Screen-Display) in the upper-left corner of the screen. After using Power4Gear for some time, I found that it didn't give me enough control over my notebook, so I unistalled it and installed Notebook Hardware Control (henceforth NHC), a universal and powerful program for hardware monitoring and power management.
Recently, I installed Windows Vista RC2, which ran fine but the Geforce Go's driver support was seriously lacking so I promptly recovered back to Windows XP using the bundled recovery disks. Complete recovery time was close to an hour, if not more.
List of included CDs:
List of pre-installed software:
Note one thing, install Laptopvideo2Go's modified 92.91 drivers at your own risk, you might get a Blue Screen of Death at the end of the installation. I did, but after the restart suprisingly LV2Go's drivers were installed, games ran fine and benchmark scores were the ones achieved above.
An Asus-branded 6-cell 4800mAh battery is used, which is by now a month old and achieves the following results (in practical situations):
With full charge, the notebook ran for two 1:30hr lectures with NHC set to "Max Battery" and in the end 15% battery remained. I never had the chance to fully drain the battery, but a guesstimate would be up to 3:30 with low load.
Where Asus doesn't have its service centers, such as here in Estonia, local resellers handle warranty issues, or at least they try to. Since I bought my notebook at a reseller, I can expect them to send it to a service center if it decides to malfunction in such a way that I can't fix it myself. Unfortunately, the nearest official one is in Moscow, Russia and the process of shipping and other related things could take as much as a month. As far as I know, all Asus Ensemble (non-barebone) notebooks sold in the EMEA region come with a standard 2-year international warranty and so does the notebook reviewed here.
In the speakers section of this review, I mentioned that I ran into a rather small but usage-limiting problem. Whenever one plugs in headphones, the notebook's own built-in speakers mute automatically. When I first got the machine, everything worked fine in this respect, but all of a sudden after turning on the machine, the built-in speakers no longer mute. It seems that a lot of F3J series users have had the same problem. The particular reseller's technician was unable to fix it in 15 minutes, can't really blame them for not trying.
If you're on a low budget and don't want to compromise on build quality or weaker components, then you may just find a sweet spot for an Asus F3 series notebook. The F3Jc has everything I want and has awesome value for the money paid, you'll even get a free carry bag and optical Asus-branded Logitech notebook mouse. It does have some weaker points, such as noise and infrequent minor technical glitches, but otherwise well worth the buy.
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