by James Wong
ASUS has slowly and steadily gained a reputation for churning out quality yet still affordable laptops. Whilst still establishing its brand in the US market, this Taiwanese company has a bigger presence in the Asian and European regions. For this review I will be looking at the W7S model which is the Santa Rosa update for the 13.3" W7 series. The W7S is advertised in two distinct versions; the white version features an Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 processor whilst the black version has the T7500 along with a bigger hard drive and more RAM.
Asus W7S notebook (view large image)
The black version I am reviewing is not the standard version because in the place I bought mine there are many variants of the W7S series, to be specific the model number of this notebook is W7S-3P057. The only difference is that 'Wireless N' is not supported, it comes with a 6-cell battery and it comes preloaded with Vista Home Premium instead of Vista Business.
Specifications as reviewed
Reasons for Buying
The notebook arrived at the time when I would be studying at university and the fact that I travel overseas quite frequently meant that a relatively portable 13.3" laptop would succumb my needs. I like to do the occasional gaming so there was a pressing need for a dedicated graphics card; preferably one which supports DirectX 10 as this would help prepare me for future games. Performance was also important as I do quite a lot of encoding so the benefits of the Santa Rosa platform would help. This narrowed my choices to the Sony SZ, Dell XPS M1330 and the Toshiba Satellite U305. The Sony was too expensive, the Dell was not released yet (at the time of purchase) and the Toshiba didn't have global warranty, which lead me to this notebook.
Where and How Purchased
I didn't purchase via the Internet because I needed to make sure that the software and warranty would cover me as I study overseas and the fact that prices were more negotiable. I purchased this notebook from Golden Computer Centre in Hong Kong at the price of $12300 HKD which is the equivalent to $1,571.16 USD ($7.829HKD/USD) I was able to haggle the price down a few hundred dollars and was allowed to switch to the English version of Vista free of charge. The laptop was purchased and was taken home on the same day.
My notebook package includes:
The complete package (view large image)
Build & Design
Lid closed (view large image)
Lid open (view large image)
Optical drive (view large image)
Indicator lights (view large image)
At first glance the notebook may look matte black but upon closer inspection you can see little silver flakes and this covers the whole of the laptop including the keyboard and touchpad. When you open the notebook you'll immediately notice the latchless system, the hinges are firm yet induces little wobbling when you poke the screen. The minor problem that I have with the latchless system is that the more acute the angle of the lid is, the higher the tension so you could end up closing the lid with an unintentional slam. The one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb on this laptop is the 1.3M pixel webcam, it may not be discrete but it does give the design of the laptop some flavor.
The carbon fiber and plastic mixture used to make the body offers a solid design and accounts for the little flex around the laptop. The lid is made of magnesium alloy and plastic which blends well with the rest of the body; however when you twist the screen there is still some bending but not enough to worry about it. When pressing the screen there is no noticeable rippling unless you absolutely hammer it which by then it wouldn't be a laptop anymore.
In particularly hot weather the laptop can be prone to hot sweaty fingerprints (more like hand prints) which does take some buffing to get rid of, and this isn't helped by the fact that the laptop can get quite warm to the touch.
The screen can be blindingly bright in a dark room and is enough to light up the keyboard as well, however I find myself rarely using the screen at 100% brightness unless I am outdoors in the sunshine. Fortunately this laptop did not suffer from the 'dead pixel syndrome' and as my first ownership of a glossy screen, I like it. This screen reminds me of the X-Brite displays used in the Sony VAIOs and produces rich color tones but this notebook does not feature LED backlighting.
Horizontal viewing angle (view large image)
Vertical viewing angle (view large image)
Light leakage (view large image)
Light leakage from the screen seems to be biased towards the bottom and may become a problem when watching scary movies or photo editing. However, it makes up for it with relatively wide viewing angles especially on a horizontal plain so the person next to you can see what you're up to.
1.3M pixel webcam (view large image)
The webcam is fixed onto the chassis and cannot be rotated like the Asus W5F notebooks. The image quality is good enough for video messaging but lacks details when taking large photos as demonstrated below:
Sample picture taken outdoors from webcam (view large image)
Screen mounted speakers (view large image)
The speakers are located on the bottom of the screen and can be best described as generic. Don't be expecting 'thumping bass' or 'block rocking beats' as these speakers are more suited for vocals or classical music where there is less need for low bass or high trebles. Surprisingly there is little to no crackling when the volume is cranked on the highest setting which is loud enough to be on shouting terms, at least there is an S/PDIF out audio socket to stream out the sounds digitally.
One thing I love about this laptop is the jog dial as you tilt the switch up or down to change the volume, and if you push the button inwards it mutes the sound.
Processor and Performance
The T7500 is no slouch when it comes to raw performance (well at the time of writing) and topped off with the Santa Rosa platform the increased memory bandwidth linking the CPU and RAM further increases the performance which is generally reflected in gaming, encoding and benchmarks.
The 1.5GB RAM is more than enough to run Windows Vista but you may want to upgrade the RAM later in the future as games and other software become more bloated in terms of memory. However the heavily criticized 512MB of onboard RAM leaves only one upgradeable slot which reduces the ability for future upgrades. But once you have upgraded a 2GB stick of RAM to make the total 2.5GB; even then this is more than enough unless you do lots of photo/video editing, CAD work or other memory demanding tasks.
The GeForce 8400M G should be enough to cater for the 'light gamer' who does not require high graphics settings for each game, and it is also reassuring to know that your laptop can support DirectX 10 for future titles (although it might be a bit choppy) as well as the added benefit of hardware H.264 decoding.
The included hard drive is the 160GB Seagate Momentus 5400.3 which is one of the best 5400rpm hard drives in terms of performance, heat and noise. This means that boot up times are relatively fast and average transfer rates should not be far behind 7200rpm hard drives.
3DMark06 comparison results:
|Asus W7S (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce 8400M G 128MB RAM)||1,082 3DMarks|
|Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB)||1,329 3DMarks|
|Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)||532 3DMarks|
|Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB)||1,408 3DMarks|
|Samsung Q70 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and nVidia 8400M G GPU)||1,069 3DMarks|
|Asus F3sv-A1 (Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz, Nvidia 8600M GS 256MB)||2,344 3DMarks|
|Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB||2,183 3DMarks|
|Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi 1526 (1.66 Core Duo, nVidia 7600Go 256 MB)||2,144 3DMarks|
|Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI X1700 256MB)||1,831 3DMarks|
|Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB)||1,819 3DMarks|
PCMark05 comparison results:
|Asus W7S (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce 8400M G 128MB RAM)||4,759 PCMarks|
|Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS)||4,925 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)||3,377 PCMarks|
|Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS)||4,591 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)||4,153 PCMarks|
|Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)||3,987 PCMarks|
|Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB)||4,189 PCMarks|
|HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)||4,234 PCMarks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX)||5,597 PCMarks|
|Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400)||3,646 PCMarks|
Super Pi comparison results:
|Asus W7S (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500)||0m 56s|
|Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500)||0m 54s|
|Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300)||0m 59s|
|Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300)||0m 58s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300)||1m 01s|
|Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300)||0m 59s|
|HP dv2500t (1.80GHz Intel 7100)||1m 09s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T61 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7300)||0m 59s|
|Toshiba Satellite P205-S6287 (1.73 GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T5300)||1m 24s|
|Toshiba Satellite A205 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo)||1m 34s|
|HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T2400)||0m 59s|
|Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo)||1m 02s|
(view large image)
Overall the 3DMark benchmarks show that the GeForce 8400M G performs about the same as the GeForce Go 7400, however in PCMark the results are quite good compared with similar specs probably due to the 2.2GHz CPU, the Santa Rosa platform and the Seagate Momentus 5400.3 drive.
Heat and Noise
One thing that is slightly annoying about this laptop is the amount of heat it produces. What is even worse is the exhaust vent is located on the right hand side where the mouse would be, off course you can just move the mouse away from the vent but it still warms up the area. Even just typing this review on the laptop the keyboard is warm to the touch and the palm rest is getting to the point where it makes my hands sweaty. Maybe I am just being over critical but I guess cramming a 2.2GHz processor and dedicated graphics into a 13.3" laptop isn't a cool job. Either way this laptop is warm.
The software I used to record the temperatures of these components are 'Notebook Hardware Control', 'RivaTuner' and 'HD Tune' to measure the CPU, GPU and HDD respectively. Here is a table showing the different temperatures achieved:
|Idle/ degrees C||Load/ degrees C|
Just by looking at these results they are generally hotter than I am used to seeing and the one that strikes me the most is the GPU with a load temperature of 90C. Although it is still functional at this temperature, I would be more comfortable using a notebook cooler just to cool things down a bit.
Underneath showing the CPU, HDD and RAM (view large image)
By looking at the internals of the laptop there is only one cooling fan and one heat sink to cool both the CPU and GPU. Given the small chassis of a 13.3" laptop the heat would be heavily concentrated and so the little HSF may be a little overworked; this might explain the 'hotness' of this laptop.
What is remarkable about this notebook is the lack of noise it produces. When you're surfing the internet or watching a movie you won't be able to hear the fan at all unless you are in a totally isolated room but even then, all you can hear is the 'whoosh' noise as the air brushes over the heat sink. However when you start doing CPU intensive tasks like benchmarking, the fan starts to become audible which is similar to the sound of the DVD drive spinning. This might suggest that Asus wanted to sacrifice some of the noise for heat in order to make it a quietly pleasant experience to use this laptop.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Overhead view of keyboard and touchpad (view large image)
After groping the keyboard in various places, I have eventually found a little flex around the area of the 'F11' key. Though not alarmingly flex it shows that this keyboard is not perfect in that sense. However the keys themselves are not mushy but are firm and bouncy, given the full sized keys this keyboard is nice to type on. One thing that annoys me is that the 'Backspace' and 'Enter' keys are shortened to a point where I keep pressing the keys next to it instead, at least the 'Ctrl' key is on the bottom left corner of the keyboard.
The touchpad is offset to the left side of the laptop and has the same smooth texture as the body. After using the touchpad with sweaty and cold fingers it still picks up the movements. Sometimes I find myself touching the edge of the touchpad which activates the scroll feature but other than that, the buttons give a firm and loud 'click' sound when depressed.
Input and Output Ports
Front side (view large image)
Back side: DC input, S-Video out, USB 2.0 port, Kensington Lock port (view large image)
Right side: ExpressCard slot, volume dial, microphone-in, line-out, Firewire, USB2.0 port, VGA Out (view large image)
Left side: RJ-45 LAN port, RJ-11 modem port, USB2.0 port, 8-in-1 card reader (view large image)
Horizontal profile (view large image)
The location of the three USB ports is new to me. One is located on the left side, one is located on the right and the other is on the back. This allows some flexibility in connecting the laptop to certain devices but the problem with the dispersed USB ports is that wire management can become messy; especially when you have the adaptor plugged in.
One word of warning, the VGA out socket does not have screw holes for the cable to securely connect to the laptop.
As stated this variant of the W7S does not include the 'Wireless N' but instead includes the Intel PRO Wireless 3945ABG adaptor. The transfer speeds are normal and I find that I can pick up the signals of my neighbor's wireless router. The Bluetooth adaptor built in works fine with the Bluetooth mouse included with this laptop.
Wireless and profile switch (view large image)
Power button (view large image)
There is also a switch on the top left corner which allows the WiFi and Bluetooth to be switched on or off.
Size comparison between the Bluetooth mouse, power adapter and battery (view large image)
The battery included is a 6-cell lithium ion battery rated at 4800mAh and like the previous models of the W7, the battery protrudes from the body just a bit. The sales person at the shop told me that I should be expecting 3-4 hours battery life of general use; at first I had my doubts and so I decided to prove it. Whilst using the 'Battery Saving' profile from the bundled Power4Gear software, the battery lasted 2 hours 32 minutes (40% brightness, wireless on, idle laptop). I wasn't too happy with this time and I wasn't too surprised either given that the Sony FZ series lasts about the same time, though this does reduce the mobility aspect of this laptop. My second test consisted of testing the notebook under heavy gaming where I played BF2, during in which I had used 'Performance Mode' and managed to squeeze 57 minutes (100% brightness, wireless on) before the battery warning indicator came up. On the whole it should be safe to say that the battery life on this notebook is not something to brag about by current standards.
There is also a button on the top left corner that allows you to switch the profiles in concordance with the Power4Gear software which I have found to be quite useful especially when you have the sudden urge to play a game, one flick of the switch and the laptop is already in 'High Performance' mode.
Operating System and Software
Windows Experience Index score (view large image)
On this particular model of the W7S it comes with Windows Vista Home Premium and when I switched the laptop on for the first time I was greeted with the usual load of bloatware. After uninstalling the unnecessary programs I still had 61 processes in the Task Manager was not satisfied until I did a clean install of Vista. As usual the driver and recovery CDs are included with the laptop.
I have encountered no major problems yet so there is no need for me to use their customer support. Even if I do find a problem I would probably use the Asus online support forum first as it is surprisingly resourceful with its developed online community. There is one thing that is hard to match and that is the 2 year global warranty which comes with the laptop. This is reassuring and makes me a happier customer; unless I decide to modify the internals of the laptop.
(view large image)
People say that first impressions always last, and I believe that this is true with this laptop. The first few times I used it I fell in love with the screen, and then you start to notice the little details that make this notebook beautiful such as the quality build. Overall this laptop packs performance in a portable laptop and has graciously met my needs. If I were to sum up this laptop in three words it would be: solid yet sleek.
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