Asus A2 Budget Notebook Review (pics, specs)

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by S. Adam Qaisar

After years having to suffer doing coursework on both my home PC and the rather sluggish school PCs I decided it would be wise to invest my money into a Laptop as a fresh start at 6th form school. I set myself a price limit of 700 and an absolute limit of 800 if it was something really special and one heck of a good laptop for the money.

I originally started looking at AMD Athlon-M based systems being a big AMD fan, and not really liking the appeal of a Celeron based system for the amount of money I was wiling to part with. Battery life wasn t that big a problem for me when choosing a system, if the battery ever ran out there are plenty of power sockets on campus to snag some free electricity from the school, performance wasn t that big a deal either, but I wasn t going to settle for a weedy Celeron, so I set a minimum of a 2.5 GHz CPU or XP 2500+. Thinking about the money I was spending I was quite content picking a laptop with an integrated on board graphics chipset, rather than a dedicated chipset that s reserved for the big boys of laptops. Basically I was after a budget laptop.

After a long time searching for laptops it had come down to the Acer Aspire 1355LC, which appeared to be a great all rounder for the money ( 600) but didn t exactly look the part (vanity setting in here). I let the laptop idea go until the end of last month, when I stumbled across a beast of a machine from Asus, the A2538DBH. The A2 met every possible minimum specification I had set myself for a laptop and then some, sporting an Athlon XP-M 2800+, 512 MB DDR RAM, 40 GB HDD, Mobility Radeon 9600 Graphics and an array of extras that came included in the box and sounded more like a budget desktop replacement PC. It seemed too good to be true, and that Acer all of a sudden became a weak contender to this Asus offering.

The only problem was, finding someone that actually had the thing in stock, I remember looking at one supplier with 7 of them left and re-visiting the same page later in the day to be greeted by a big fat zero. I began to look at alternatives to buy, I caught a peek of the HP ZV 5213, it seemed very similar to the Asus in specification but the price tag was extremely high ( 800). After roaming the internet to find someone who had it in stock I ordered it from overclock.co.uk for 736.09 (excl. Delivery).

Right out of the Box

The Asus came with an array of things out of the box:
 Asus branded carry case
 Asus branded Optical mouse (Logitech)
 2 Games Gun Metal and Battle Engine Aquila
 Microsoft Works 7
 XP Recovery CD
 Driver and Utility disk
 CD full of game Demos
 S-Video Composite Cable
 Battery, AC Adaptor
 Quick start guide and full manual
 3 Disks of DVD Playback and Video Authoring Software


The Figure

As I made obvious before, I was a bit concerned about how the laptop actually looks as well, and the Asus doesn t disappoint. Its silver lid, combined with a black base and keyboard with a silver trim makes it look like it should have cost at least double its real price. Also, I m one of those people who likes to have some manufacturer stickers on their system, and Asus doesn t disappoint by including an ATi Sticker (which I think looks simply amazing) and an AMD Athlon Sticker that sits next to the Windows XP Sticker and above the Woofer Sticker. If you wanted to take this to a LAN the ATi 9600 sticker is going to show that you really mean business on this thing.

However, the laptop does feel rather heavy, weighing in at 3.3 kg for the 15-inch. Though in the included case it doesn t seem to be unbearably heavy and you could probably go about 10 minutes with it on your shoulder before you really notice the weight kicking in.

As for taking a beating, the plastic body feels very sturdy and doesn t bend at all.
 


The left side of the laptop plays host to a single PCMCIA Slot, audio connectors a Firewire port, the 19V DC IN and a Kensington Lock.

The right on the other hand is all business, 3 USB 2 ports, Infra-red, an SD/Memory Stick reader and the DVD/CD-RW Combo drive live here.

 

The back is home to the Ethernet and modem connections, VGA Port, LPT Port, another 2 USB 2 Ports, the composite out and a nice exhaust fan.

 

Above the keyboard are the handy hotkeys which do the following (from left to right) Power Mode selection, E-mail, Browser and a custom one which you can set to do what ever you want but is default set to open Windows Explorer.

 

Next to the power button on the far right are indicator lights for HDD activity, Num Lock, Caps Lock and Scroll Lock.

Adorning the lower-end of the laptop are the other indicator lights. These are for Power, Battery Charging, E-mail and Wireless.

Along the front edge of the laptop is the Asus DJ feature, which allows you to play music CDs without the need to boot into Windows or if Windows is running it will take control of your default Media Player instead.

 

The latch for the laptop lid is fitted with a chunky looking slide release so you aren t fiddling with it to open the laptop up and it makes a very satisfying and reassuring click when you close it giving the impression that it s locked up tighter than Fort Knox.

Image is Everything

The screen for this model is a modest 15-inches and supports a resolution of 1042×768, which isn t too bad remember this is a laptop with a budget price tag on it. The screen is nice and bright, and is useable in practically all lighting situations, though it does struggle in the outdoors but is still visible enough to do work on it sitting in the park.

 

Music to Your Ears, or Nails on a Blackboard?

Asus have given this laptop a shocker of a feature, a 2 W subwoofer built into the chassis giving the laptop a 2.1 sound system. Although the laptop does have a subwoofer, deep bass sounds don t come out as rich as they do compared to a normal set of speakers, and the sound (like with most laptops) sounds a bit tinny, but not overly tinny nothing that a good tweak in a graphic equalizer can t sort out.

 

So overall the sound on the laptop isn t unbearably bad.

Optical Drive

The laptop comes fitted with a Toshiba DVD/CD-RW combo drive which writes CDs at 24x and Re-Writes at 8-12x and reads DVDs at 3x. The drive sounds fondly like a piece of hardware that is missing here, a floppy drive, when you insert a disk and Windows starts looking for an autorun. If you have the laptop on a sturdy desk, then you ll easily be able to feel the drive spinning up and spinning down through the keyboard while you work, it s not terribly noisy, but if a room is very quiet it might get you some attention.

Keys, Keys, Keys

The keyboard is a dream to use, the keys feel just right and it is easy to make the swap from a full-size desktop keyboard to this keyboard. There are however 2 problems with it:

1. I ve often found myself, when touch-typing to end up hitting the # key instead of return.
2. The Fn key is positioned right next to Ctrl so in the likes of Photoshop and this review I have been pushing Fn rather than Ctrl to some degree of annoyance.

The touch pad is very nice to use, though I would recommend using the supplied mouse which makes life far easier. Having said that, Asus have added a tilt switch to the middle of the 2 touchpad buttons, allowing you to scroll through documents and web pages.


Waiter, Another Battery Please!

Although I have no clue about the capacity or weight of the battery that Asus gives you, I do know that this laptop does eat through it fairly rapidly.

On a full charge in Office and E-mail Mode the battery is supposed to last about 2 hours having used it in this mode I found that 5-10 minutes with Word and Windows Media Player running 10% life is about 10 minutes in real-time.

Super Performance mode is only available when you plug the laptop into an electricity outlet and is automatically selected when you plug in the laptop to an outlet.

Getting Hot in Here

One thing to tell you about this laptop, it s not lap friendly, if you have it on your lap for anything more than 10 minutes the heat will be killing your legs though peering through the exhaust at the back you can see why, there is a mass of copper heatsink sitting there having a field day. The exhaust fan doesn t turn on if you are just sitting on the desktop, though the instant you go to Game , High Performance or Super Performance modes the fan kicks in and starts whirring away, it s not terribly noisy, but it will get you some attention if you decide to fire up Doom 3 on it while in a quiet room. The fan automatically kicks to full power when you turn the laptop on and then settles down.

The normal running temperature of the CPU is about 60 C, but remembers, if this is on your lap it s going to be going to your legs as well. Having said that, the keyboard doesn t really seem to get hot at all which means you can type for some time on it with safety to your finger tips.

Soft Asus?

The bundled software isn t too bad and seems very generous considering, yet again the price tag on the machine:

 Microsoft Works 7
 PC Cillin 2002
 Battle Engine Aquila
 Gun Metal
 Some demo games
 Nero 6
 ASUS DVD
 Power Director Pro
 Medi@ Show SE 2.0

The hard drive comes setup as 2 Partitions in FAT32 format (with a FAT to NTFS converter sitting on your desktop at bootup should you want to change) a 21 GB and a 14 GB partition, along with a 2GB hidden recovery partition. As far as laptop hard drives go, this one is fairly nippy, though if you start to push it (installing something and trying to get to some large music files on the PC at the same time) it will slow down a fraction.

Is it a Ferrari or a VW?

Performance on the Asus isn t too shabby. It will happily cope with anything you can throw at it thanks to that XP 2800+ Processor. And for you gaming addicts out there this is the machine for you if you are on a budget.

I was set a challenge when I told a friend the specifications of the laptop, I bet it won t run Doom 3 , I wasn t going to leave it at that, so duly installed Doom 3 on the machine and set sail. The game automatically set it to 640×480 with low detail and no FSAA, but will happily run at 800×600 medium detail and 2x FSAA without any slowdown. So there you go a 750 laptop that will play Doom 3 with ease.

I run on an XP 2500+ and 512 MB PC3200 RAM for my desktop PC and I m fairly sure that this laptop is capable of keeping up with it in day-to-day tasks.

A Shoulder to Lean On

If you are in the UK then you get a 2 Year Global Warranty on the machine and it even comes with a card with contact numbers for service centers all over the world. It s my understanding that if you buy the laptop from a someone who is not an Asus partner in the US then you only get a 1 year warranty from the retailer and not Asus, but if purchased from an Asus partner then that 2 year Warranty is yours.

Summary & Conclusion

If you are looking for a laptop on a budget and aren t too bothered about battery consumption or having to carry the laptop too far then definitely give the Asus a look, similarly, if you are an avid gamer on a budget I would recommend this laptop to you for LAN Parties and the like, it s performance is unparalleled at this price mark and it looks like it should cost north of the 1,000 mark.

Pros
 Blisteringly fast for the money
 Tons of bundles stuff that s high quality
 Looks great
 Nice keyboard
 Good speakers considering it s a laptop
 2 Year Warranty
 Bright screen

Cons
 Heavy if you are carrying it far
 Can t really use it on your lap for more than 30 minutes with being admitted to Casualty/ER
 Sucks down battery life like a pig at times
 Screen resolution is low

Although I have listed some cons against this laptop, I would recommend it to anyone looking for a laptop, it will easily keep pace with it s counterparts beyond the 900 price mark and probably beat a few of them.



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