Asus A6 Notebook Review

by MindBlank Reads (170,100)

by Cosmin Zavoianu, Romania


(view large image)

The A6KT is touted by Asus as a mainstream portable entertainment laptop. What first struck me looking at this laptop was its sweet price to performance ratio. Hovering at just under $1,100 this laptop is a great starting point if you’re looking for something to enjoy not only office work and movies, but even gaming, be it casual or more frequent.

Tehnically, the A6000 is part of the Asus’ business series. However, everything about this particular notebook, starting from its design and configuration and ending with the way it’s presented, seems to indicate it would better be situated in either the Multimedia or the Personal Entertainment Center series.


Top view of Asus A6K (view large image)

ASUS A6KT Q086 specs as reviewed:

  • Processor: AMD Turion MT-34 (1,8 Ghz/1MB L2 Cache)
  • Hard Drive: 80 GB PATA 4200RPM
  • Screen: 15.4" WXGA Color shine glossy Widescreen with native 1280 x 800
  • Graphics: Ati Mobility Radeon X1600 with 128 MB Dedicated + 384 MB Shared
  • RAM: 1GB DDR400 (2×512 MB)
  • Optical Drive: DVD+/-RW SuperMulti Double Layer
  • Battery: 8-cell lithium-ion
  • Wireless: 10/100/1000 LAN 802.11 b/g
  • Weight: 2.85 kg (5,8 lbs.)
  • Ports and Slots:
    • 1 x PCMCIA (Type II) – right side
    • 1 x Microphone – right side
    • 1 x RJ-11 Modem – right side
    • 1 x S-Video TV-out – right side
    • 1 x Headphones – right side
    • 1 x RJ-45 LAN – right side
    • 4 x USB 2.0 – back
    • 1,3 Megapixels built-in webcam
    • 5-in-1 Universal card reader – right side
  • Dimensions: 35,4 cm (14,12”) (W) – 28.4 cm (11.4”) (D) x 2,52 cm-3,52 (1”-1,4”) (H) 
  • Security : Kensington lock

Above are the basic specs for this notebook, though it must be said that Asus does equip their A6KT laptops according to the region they ship it in. That’s why some can find this notebook sporting a faster  and bigger 5400 rpm HDD or get a version without the handy 1,3MP webcam.  The suffix differentiates the configs of this notebook (Q086 could be Q056 or Q001 etc.)


Asus A6 packaging (view large image)


Contents of the Asus A6K box (view large image)

First Impressions

I have to say right off the bat that I didn’t expect any miracles for this kind of money. And I didn’t get any. What I did get was a well built, stylish notebook with a good configuration and decent battery time. More on that later.


Top view of Asus A6 closed (view large image)


The belly of the laptop (view large image)

Build and Design

You can usually get a pretty good impresion of a laptop’s build quality when you first touch it. If it doesn’t crackle under its own weight (like when held from one side) or if doesn’t just feels flimsy, chances are the build quality is decent. The first thing I checked was the quality of the plastics, which turned out to be pretty good. They’re rigid and there’s no noticeable wobble in areas where the plastic covers gaps inside the notebook, which are prone to more stress when handling the notebook. Also, the palm rests, at each side of the touchpad are firm enough to sustain even a heavy hand such as mine without bending a milimeter.


The right side of the laptop where most connectivity ports are located (view large image)


The left side just has the DVD drive (view large image)


Back view of laptop that has a D-sub connector and old LPT port! (view large image)

The LCD hinges are firm and hold the pannel in place no matter how much it’s shaken. A nice touch is the frame surrounding the touchpad inlcuding the buttons, which are all made out of aluminium with a slight striation along their surface. This is a smart choice as sweat from the fingers will reduce the aging of these buttons. On the other hand, the notebook’s LCD cover is made of plastic and this is probably the first thing that will get scratched and show signs of wear. Besides these aspects, the laptop is solidly built and should bare every day use and exploitation just fine.


A shot from "Valley of Wolves" with screen brightness at 25% and camera ISO high (view large image)


Things get ugly when viewing from a side angle (view large image)

The design is pretty sleek in my opinion and I think it’s a pretty notebook without being too sober. It all comes down to each one’s taste on this matter, but I think the A6KT is a stylish laptop.

Screen

The notebok has a glare type LCD, dubbed by Asus as “Color shine”. Let’s sart with the brightness which I  found to be impressive. It has 15 different settings of illumination and office work is perfectly enjoyable even at 6% brightness. Personally, when gaming, I found a setting of around 25% is just enough for a nice experience and hasn’t seemed to bother other people either. The LCD continues to remain bright, even when sitting side by side with a 19 inch Samsung 940B TFT which has impressive contrast and shine.


Here the screen is set at 25% brightness and camera at high ISO (view large image)


You can see that outdoors the screen acts like a mirror due to it being a glossy screen (view large image)

Unfortunately, there is a downside to this nice LCD panel, and here I’m refering to the maximum viewing angles.  There are no numbers specified by Asus on the website nor in the manual. As far as I can work out, the horizontal viewing angles are around 140 degrees which is uncommon for a modern LCD.  Movies are viewable as long as the group huddles togheter to fit inside that 140-degree range, otherwise depending on how far outside this zone they are it can become difficult to view or even impossible.


Closeup of the right side: Infrared, IEEE 1394, Audio jacks and TV-Out} (view large image)

Battery Life

There isn’t much to say here. The battery is an 8-cell Li-Ion acumulator. The first few charges, the battery didn’t last much more than 2 hours and 5-10 minutes. A battery calibration did make a significant change, now having a total lifetime of 2h 30-45 minutes depending on how the notebook is used. The maximum I’ve achieved was 2h 45’ when typing and having no other programs or unnecessary processes running. Screen brightness was set to 6% which allowed me to work confortably even in a day-lit room.


Options buttons: Change Power4Gear presets, start mail app, start Internet browser, disable touchpad, Power on/off the notebook (view large image)


Multimedia buttons – You can use the notebook as a CD-player while it’s off, by pressing the button from the left (view large image)

Heat and Noise

The laptop is very quiet when running on the battery and when used for light tasks. It can go as long as 15-20 minutes without starting the fan and when that does happen it is very quiet and doesn’t disturb. However, when set to High Performance, Super Performance or Game and when running a resource heavy application, such as a game, it will rev up pretty high and become annoying after a while. The DVD drive is fairly noisy as well, but it revs down as soon as it is not needed. If operation of an application does require continuous seek of the DVD that can get annoying after some time. The HDD on the other hand is quiet.


1.3MP webcam (view large image)


DVD drive popped out (view large image)

Heat is not an issue so far. The hard drive does become hot, around 51 degrees when operating for some time, which makes the upper right side of the keyboard hotter than the one just above the CPU. The laptop can become quite hot (around 45 degrees) in specific points on it’s underside, but I can’t see it becoming a real issue unless it is used on a hot summer’s day and held on the lap the entire session.

Graphics

The Radeon Mobility X1600 is currently consdered as being part of ATi’s performance segment, and should be enough for anyone who plans on using this laptop for everything less than a full time gaming system. The card can run anything you can currently throw at it including games that require Shader Model 3.0 as a minimum, because the RV530 mobility is a fully compliant DX 9.0c graphics card.


3DMark05 (view large image)

 

Notebook 3D Mark 05 Results
ASUS A6KT Q086 (1,8GHz Turion64 MT-34, ATI X1600 128MB) 3,274 3D Marks
Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 1,791 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
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB) 2,092 3D Marks
Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI x700 128 MB) 2,530 3D Marks
Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB) 2,273 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB) 2,536 3D Marks
Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 256MB) 2,090 3D Marks

It is clocked at 450Mhz core /900Mhz memory when running in 3D mode and equipped with 128MB RAM though it can share through ATi’s Hypermemory tehnology another 384 MB of memory out of the systems total RAM, to a total of a 512MB VRAM. Even when set in the Low Battery mode, running at only 135Mhz core clock, it should run the upcoming Vista’s Aero without a hitch and save battery at the same time. Every game that I’ve tested thus far is fluid at the native resolution with at least medium-high settings applied. A real bang for the buck choice! It has to be mentioned that the card has an S-Video TV-out and an D-SUB connector, but no DVI sadly.

Processor

The Turion64 is AMD’s reply to Intel’s Centrino chips. The Turion64 can only be compared in terms of performance to the Core Solo. Even though some may not consider it as fast as the former, it generally gets ahead of the Solo depending on the application it’s running and should see a significant performance boost over its rival once Vista 64 rolls out and drivers and applications that take advantage of the 64-bit feature will come around. The MT-34 that comes equipped in this notebook is built on the 90nm fab process and is packaged in AMD’s Socket 754. The 1 MB L2 cache that comes with this processor is quite helpful and so the CPU does manage to gain, clock for clock, a considerable lead ahead of its desktop counterpart, the last generation 939-pin Athlon64 single core chips. The “T” in the MT-34 tag stands for lower power consumption, AMD sports a 25W THD (total heat dissipation) for this chip.

Notebook Time to calculate PI to digit number 2 million
Asus A6KT Q086 (1,8GHz Turion64 MT-34) 1m 52s
Acer 5102WLMi(1.6GHz Turion64 X2 TL-50 2m 22s
HP dv6000z (1.8GHz Turion64 X2 TL-56) 1m 54s
Dell Inspiron 6400 (1.83GHz Core Duo) 1m 22s
Toshiba A100(2.0GHz Core Duo) 1m 18s
Dell XPS M140 (1.86 GHz Pentium M) 1m 41s
HP dv2000z (1.6GHz Turion64 X2) 1m 59s
Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)  1m 48s
Toshiba Satellite A100 (2.0GHz Core Duo) 1m 18s
Sony VAIO SZ2 (2.16GHz Core Duo) 1m 14s


Super Pi results (view large image)

Even when set to “Battery saving” and running at around 25% of total power, the CPU keeps the system responsive and manages not to feel slugish.  When fully reved up, at 1,8 Ghz, everything is fast starting from the SO and ending with power hungry applications, like games, some of which can even be comfortably run with the CPU at 50% status (800Mhz) without noticeable slowdowns. Some more recent games (2006+) however have to be run in one of the 3 power managament schemes that Asus provides (High Performance, Super Performance or Game) otherwise they tend to run in slow motion or just feel awkward.


HDTune shows the hard drive to have poor numbers, it only spins at 4200RPM (view large image)

The hard drive is the major let down for the A6KT. This version of the notebook came with only a 4200rpm drive that takes it’s toll on the total system’s performance. With only around 23MB/s average write rate, it is modest and can make some tasks seem long. I found getting used to it wasn’t such a great ordeal even when coming off of a considerably faster HDD from my desktop, though a faster drive would never have hurt. That being said, it doesn’t change the fact that it can be swapped out for a bigger, faster drive in the future. Performing such an operation however, will void the warranty if not done by qualified personnel.

Notebook PCMark05
Asus A6KT Q086 (1,8GHz Turion64 MT-34) 2,539 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook A6010 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA 950) 2,994 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks
Toshiba Tecra M6 (1.66GHz Intel T2300E, Intel GMA 950) 2,732 PCMarks
Sony VAIO FE590 (1.83GHz Core Duo) 3,427 PCMarks


PCMark05 — a reasonable score for a single core processor with a 4200 RPM drive (view large image)

The speakers

The speakers are pretty common, and lack power. They are quite “screamy”, showing a tendency to exaggerate higher frequencies (8kHz +) but they are laptop speakers though.

Built-in Webcam

This version of the A6KT came with a built-in webcam and microphone, for easy communication on the go. The camera’s quality is decent, and the voice recorder is also clear and efficient. It does make talking over the internet so much faster and more enjoyable as it removes the need for an extra USB slot for the webcam and the need to connect an annyoing microphone. Besides, it stands out pretty nice and gives the notebook a “multimedia-look”.

The Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard is really nicely built. The plastic used for the buttons feels comfortable, though I reckon it will show signs of wear and tear eventualy, with several keys becoming shiny. The color is a very dark grey and it makes the keyboard look somehow less sober than a black one would. The keys are firm enough not to press accidentally, but don’t become tiresome for the fingers. The symbols on them are clear and white, and positioned in the upper and lower left corner of the keys for primary and seconday functions and upper right for tertiary functions. The Function keys allow a multitude of things, like jumping to either STR or STD (suspend to RAM or suspen to disk), turning on the WLAN, controlling the brightness of the LCD, the system volume and so on.


The touchpad 16:9 format is really nice (view large image)


Keyboard view (view large image)

The touchpad is pressure sensitive, it respnds quickly and accurately and most important of all it’s the same aspect ratio as the screen so you don’t have to move your fingers 2 times to reach the end of the screen. It also has horizontal and vertical scrolling.

Ports

The notebook features a Wireless Lan card that works great and picks up even fairly weak signals, a normal RJ-45 network conncetion, a modem, several audio plugs, a card reader, a PCMCIA slot, firewire and infrared conncetions, so you can plug in anything, be it a camcorder or digital camera, or a simple SD MMC card.

Conclusion

The ASUS A6KT is a great budget multimedia notebook. It doesn’t matter if you want to just browse the net or watch a DVD or play a favorite video game, you can do it all on this versatile notebook. As long as you know what you want from your laptop and set your configuration priorities straight, this notebook could easily become what you’ve been looking for. The 15,4’’ screen is bright and clear enough to enjoy multimedia content on the laptop in every lighting situation, and even more so thanks to the Mobility Radeon X1600 the laptop comes with. The A6KT is a good, quality buy, a strong, stylish laptop, with decent portability and battery time.

Pros:

  • Good build quality and materials
  • Stylish, semi-sober look
  • Bright and clear widescreen LCD
  • Nice keyboard and touchpad
  • Cool and quiet when used normally
  • Good gaming performance

Cons:

  • Small horizontal viewing angles make movies difficult to view when in large numbers
  • Slow HDD takes its toll on performance
  • Battery life could have beena little higher though i might just be nitpicking
  • A little noisy when using it at full power
  • It could get a little too warm in the summer, so it may be uncomfortable for lap use
  • Not a dual-core and only DDR400


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