Asus A6Va Notebook Review (pics, specs)

by Budding Reads (76,046)

by Buddy Sun, England

Asus A6Va–Q043H (view larger image)


Specifications:

  • Intel Pentium M processor 750 1.86GHz
  • HD 100 GB
  • 15.4″ (WXGA) Colour Shine
  • 128Mb ATI Mobility Radeon X700
  • Optical Drive 8x DVD-RW Dual
  • 1024Mb DDR2 533MHz (512×2)
  • Wireless IEEE 802.11b/g
  • 4x USB 2.0, 1xIEEE 1394
  • Video Camera built-in (1.3 million pixels) and Microphone
  • Built in Bluetooth
  • Microsoft Windows XP Home
  • Weight: 2.85kg

Introduction:

I recently started as a university Computer Science student, and as a reward, my parents decided to purchase for me a laptop of my choice (for school work of course).

Although Asus has only recently entered the notebook market (recent relative to some other manufacturers at least), their reputation for being the top motherboard manufacturer for the past decade gave me enough confidence to purchase an Asus laptop.

I chose the A6Va model because I am an occasional gamer who wanted a machine that could easily handle the latest games (and future ones, although not as easily) as well as not being overweight and have an acceptable battery life of 3 hours or more (I do not want to hibernate in my room by a power outlet at school - if I did, then why even consider getting a laptop?) and did not cost a fortune (not an overpiced Sony Vaio in other words).

I will be stating the pros and cons and my personal experience with the A6Va and the retailer in this review. I will try my best not to boast about how amazing this notebook is, but instead take a conservative point of view (not very easy to achieve), and compare it with other popular notebooks currently in the market.

Why purchased:

One major question you might be asking is why I did not go for an Acer, Fujitsu, or a Built on Asus’ notebook like the Evesham C510 (which I very nearly did buy). The reasons are (Acer lovers beware!):

  • I did not go for the Acer because I have two friends that own Acer TravelMate notebooks (the TravelMate 4000 series), and both of their systems started falling apart.  After a month or two of usage things happened such as the display panel coming loose, the screen cracked and DVD drive started to jiggle around more loosely. To make things even worse, when they contacted Acer, and after a courier sent by Acer picked up the machine, it took them a month of angry and frustrating phone calls to Acer before Acer finally sent another courier over to theirs delivering a brand new TravelMate (apparently Acer LOST the ones my friends had, BOTH of them) to each of them. However, now, a month later, the brand new Travelmate machines are also starting to fall apart.

    Both friends have told me time and time again to avoid Acer like the plague, and I can confidently tell them that in this case, I have, and I do not regret having done so.
  • I did not go for the Fujitsu because the only model that fit my bare bone specifications was the Amilo M 1437G, and that system had a 2 hour max battery life, no built in Bluetooth, no built in camera and mic, no 2 year global warranty, an 80 GB HDD, and weighed more than 3kg. I decided to spend 150-pounds ($250) extra to get the Asus.
  • I did not purchase a “Built on Asus” system first because of the lack of warranty. By purchasing a “Built on Asus” system I would be covered by a retailers warranty, which happened to be expensive and not global (Evesham Voyager series for example). Second, the system would not be checked before shipping, which is what my retailer guaranteed on all their systems. Third, because there would not be a built in camera and mic. The fourth reason would probably be the fact that a “Built on Asus” system in the UK would cost much more than the Asus A6Va (Evesham Voyager C510 for example), and the fifth reason would be the unsure delivery time, as the retailers state that they might need up to two weeks’ to build the machine.

Where Purchased:

Asus laptops are very rare in the UK, and the only trusted UK online retailer I could find with a sufficiently wide range of Asus laptops was Asus Laptop (KL Computers Ltd)

Prior to ordering, I phoned them up to check some details about the A6Va, and the sales assistant was polite and helpful, although not very efficient over the phone (took some time finding details and erred quite often).

They offered the A6Va at 1,085-pounds ($1,870) (overpriced by American standards, but then everything is overpriced in the UK) with free delivery (UK only), carry case, optical mouse and USB pen drive or USB Bluetooth. I placed my order around 3:00 p.m. on a Monday, and expected the machine to turn up on Wednesday. However, Asus Laptop (KL Computers Ltd) utterly shattered my expectation by delivering the machine at 11:40 the very next day!

I would definitely purchase from them again not only because of their service, but also because of reasons regarding the impressive A6Va listed further in this review.

Looks:

The A6Va has CD control buttons which allows you to play CDs without starting the machine (view larger image)

The Asus A6Va is nowhere near the best looking machine on the planet, but if you’re a student studying in London, the last thing you want is to attract the attention of others by displaying a flashy looking thousand pound investment (thieves love laptops here, can’t get enough of them). I would say this machine looks somewhere between an Acer Aspire 1690 series, and a HP Business Notebook PC Essential series (nx8220 for example).


 
Looks pretty normal doesn’t it? (view larger image)

The only part in my opinion that looks special are the mouse buttons (view larger image)

Despite (or maybe because of) its normal standard boring design, the A6Va is very easy to use. The keyboard is positioned where you expect it to be, in the expected rectangular shape with all the keys at their expected correct location (with the exception of the Fn key, which is placed at a rather strange position).

The mouse is located conveniently within thumbs reach of the keyboard, which allows me to effortlessly switch to mouse mode (and place the cursor wherever I want while writing this review) without moving the rest of my fingers from the keyboard. This also has further benefits, for example I can now play games using not only the left side keys of the keyboard, but also the right, because I can control the mouse with my left hand thumb, leaving the other four left hand fingers open to control additional keys! I might even be able to play an FPS (First Person Shooter) game using just one hand!

The mouse pad is also bigger than usual in my opinion (about the width of the space bar), which is useful as it enables me to scroll longer without having to replace my thumb. I have read in other reviews (Evesham Quest Roma) that people with big hands tend to accidentally tap the mouse pad (especially big mouse pads located within thumbs reach of the keyboard) while typing. The A6Va solves that problem by having a convenient disable mouse pad button located next to the power button.

Feel:

No doubt about it, the Asus A6Va is a very solid-built notebook. The display panel feels very strong and only bends the slightest when pressure is exerted without affecting the display (yes, I did it with my screen turned on – call me reckless).

The joint between the display panel and the base unit feels and looks very strong and stable, so stable in fact, that if I were to try and close the display panel by pushing anywhere below the lower half of the panel, I would move the whole unit instead of closing the panel.

However, there are a few negative issues with the solid feel of this machine that I need to mention, namely that absolutely everything feels very solid and firm.

Keyboard – Very solid. I am a very light typist, especially when it comes to laptops. And sometimes when I type, the solid keys on this solid keyboard don’t get pushed in! Maybe it’s just me typing too light; maybe it’s the keyboard being too solid. One thing is for sure, I’m going to have to start training the muscles in my typing fingers – again.

Mouse — Very solid. The touchpad is fine, but the buttons are definitely too solid. It actually takes some effort to push them in.

DVD drive — Very solid. Yes, even the eject button the DVD drive is firm. On the desktops I have used, a gentle brush of the eject button with my finger is usually enough to make the CD tray fly out. On this laptop, I actually have to push the button in about 3 millimetres before the drive ejects.

Maybe my schooling is turning me into a bit of a weakling; maybe Asus over-solidified their A6Va; or maybe a bit of both. Nevertheless the A6Va is a very solid feeling notebook and won’t break down into bits after a month’s usage like the Acer Travelmate machines discussed earlier.

Ports:

 
Left side: Optical Drive 8xDVD Dual Layer, left side speaker (view larger image)

 
Right side: PC Card slot, Flash memory slot, Infrared port, 1394 port / Firewire, Headphone output, Mic input (not the built in one), Audio output, TV Out port, LAN port, Modem port, right side speaker (view larger image)

Front: CD control buttons, Status indicators (view larger image)

Back: 4xUSB 2.0 ports (not enough ports? Buy a Belkin USB hub today!), Parallel port (LPT!!), Display output, power input, Air vents, Lock port (view larger image)

Recovery software:

I have to mention the Asus recovery software, as it is a bit of a disappointment. It is very easy to use and can be accessed the second you turn on your machine (and it makes it possible to fix the viruses that damage your bios), but it does not offer any safe’ restore option. The options are either Reformat the whole, or a partition of the HDD, or boot up Windows in safe mode / system recovery mode / normal mode, or boot up DOS with CD drive support.

This causes a problem, because if I for example accidentally install a Windows update which messes up Windows and prevents it from loading up correctly, I would have no way to simply reinstall a new copy of windows and keep all my installed software. I suppose that’s most likely why the HDD comes in two partitions, one for you to format in case the OS messes up, the other for you to install the stuff that messes the OS up.

Noise & heat:

The machine makes barely a whisper while typing in Microsoft Word. When gaming or running other demanding applications, the underside and the top left part (below the display panel) of the base get hot (although not uncomfortably hot), and the fan turns on.

The volume of the fan is quiet enough not to wake my sleeping parents next door at midnight (while at home), and the heat is very well controlled as the working surface of the notebook (areas you place your hands and wrist) remains cool at all times, which makes the machine comfortable to work with even after six hours of Counter Strike Source.

Display:

This is the first time I have used anything better than a 15 inch TFT running at 1024×768 resolution, and I am impressed.

The size of the screen (15.4″ widescreen running at 1280×800) is ideal for gaming, writing large documents, and watching widescreen movies. It enables me to view more windows at a time, and scroll less when reading long text documents.

The Color Shine coating is stunning. Although not as reflective as the Sony X-Black screens, it still gives everything on screen a brilliant shine — especially dark backgrounds.

Not surprisingly, there are no dead pixels on this beautiful screen. I say not surprisingly as KL Computers Ltd has a Quality policy which states that all their ensemble systems are individually tested and checked before being shipped.

Kudos to KL Computers Ltd!

Sound:

The speakers are located at rather strange positions in my opinion:


 
The speakers are located at the front of the underside of the machine (view larger image)

Although the speakers are strangely placed, the sound quality and volume of this machine is great in my opinion. I am a novice when it comes to sound, but I am definitely impressed by the volume of the built in speakers — I can watch a DVD with the whole family in the sitting room with these integrated speakers.

The machine comes with a program called Realtek HD Audio Manager (I’m not into sound stuff, so I have never heard of programs like this) which enables me to change the echo, pitch and various other sound output and mic input options. I quite like this, especially the echo, as I can turn it on and make my friends who talk to me sound like they’re trapped in a well.

Performance & Benchmarks:

To get a readout of overall processor performance we use the program Super Pi to force the processor to calculate Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy. Below are the timed results of running this program for the Asus W3V and some comparison times from other laptops.

Notebook  Time
 Asus V6Va (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 38s
 Dell Inspiron 9300 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 39s
 Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 53s
 IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s
 Asus Z70A (1.6GHz Pentium M)  1m 53s
 Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)  1m 48s
 Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  1m 52s
 Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  2m 10s
 Sony VAIO S360 (1.7 GHz Pentium M)  1m 57s
 HP DV4170us (Pentium M 1.73 GHz)  1m 53s
 Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s

Other Benchmark Scores:

3DMark05:  2,413
PCMark05:  2,588

This computer can easily handle the latest games at pretty high settings. It managed to achieve a CS:S Stress Test result of 64FPS with all settings on High, 1280×800 resolution and 4xAA. I am now playing Guild Wars with max settings and getting 50-60 fps in the busiest cities and outposts. The screen also helps with gaming, as the Color Shine coating just makes everything look more vibrant and alive.

Camera and mic:

The microphone is very useful. It has a built in noise suppression function, which stops the noise from the fan from being sent.

The 1.3 mega pixel camera does not impress me however (it’s rubbish compared to my Logitec webcam). It is good for video calls and conferences, but the resolution is just not high enough for it to be used to take pictures of important notes, documents, blackboards in lecture halls etc. Furthermore, the Asus webcam software is a bit difficult to figure out how to operate (either that or I’m just too lazy to spend more than 5 minutes on it).


 
The camera and mic are located above the display (view larger image)

Battery life:

A down point in my opinion. In power saving mode I managed to achieve around 2 hours and 50 minutes of continuous Microsoft Word typing, casual web browsing and installing the occasionally downloaded program before the battery died on me. This battery life seems to be shorter than the estimated battery life of the Acer 1690 series (3.5 hours), but longer than the Fujitsu M1437G (2 hours).

I can now only hope that my campus won’t suffer from a power black of more than three hours.

Customer support:

Haven’t had the need to contact support yet as nothing has gone wrong with this machine. It does seem that the A6Va is not a very popular model, and there aren’t many forums discussing it (including the Asus Technical Support forum). So, if something does go wrong, I fear that I would have no choice but to contact Asus customer support whose UK base is in Hemel Hempstead, a thirty minute drive from where I live.

However, I shouldn’t need to visit the Asus centre as long as the problem occurs within the two year Global warranty period, as they should send a courier service to pick up and return my unit no matter where I am in the world (not literally. A list of Asus centres can be found at: http://support.asus.com/service/service.aspx?no=113&SLanguage=en-us ).

Summary:

Pros:

  • Very powerful machine that can calculate pi to 2 million digits of accuracy in 98 seconds
  • Can easily handle the latest games at high settings
  • It’s an Asus — this has to mean something good
  • Handy webcam and mic built in
  • Very strong and solid build
  • Doesn’t look too interesting — attracts less attention from thieves
  • Very good screen

Cons:

  • Too strong and solid build
  • Doesn’t look too interesting — attracts less attention from your mates
  • Low resolution webcam
  • Poor software made by Asus (they ARE motherboard manufacturers)
  • 3 hours max battery life

Conclusion:

I definitely do not regret purchasing this notebook. It is a high quality notebook that meets my specifications and has a number of extra features which are useful to have in university life. It is easy and comfortable to use with a pleasant screen to look at and is light enough to carry around the house and campus.

I personally don’t mind the three hour battery life, as I’m not yet foolish enough to play demanding games with my laptop running on battery life, and I doubt I’ll be spending more than three hours away from a power socket in a city like London.

I just need to do some more finger exercise, and the various buttons and keys on this notebook would become friendly to me as well.


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