by Brenton, Australia
Overview and Introduction:
The ASUS A8Ja is a notebook which is perfect for the traveling gamer or anyone who wants a portable notebook which is powerful and future-proof. It is thin and light, but doesn’t quite fit into the ultraportable category.
Asus A8Ja (view large image)
- CPU: T2300 Core Duo (1.66 GHz)
- RAM: 1GB DDR2 533MHz
- HD: 80 GB 5400 RPM
- GPU: ATI Radeon X1600
- Screen: 14.1 WXGA (1280 x 800)
- OS: Windows XP Pro
- Battery: 6-cell lithium ion
- Weight: 2.44kg (5.37lbs)
- Wireless : Integrated Wireless 802.11a/b/g (Mini-PCI), plus integrated Bluetooth
- Dimensions: 34.8~37.3mm x 335mm x 245mm (HxWxD)
- Ports: 1 DVI Port, 5 Universal Serial Bus (USB 2.0), 1 IEEE-1394 (Firewire), TV-Out (S-video), 1 Infrared Port, 1 Headphone-out jack (SPDIF), 1 Microphone in, 1 RJ-11 (modem), 1 Expansion Port 2 Connector, 1 RJ-45 (LAN), 1 x VGA port/Mini D-sub 15-pin for external monitor, 1 Express Card, 1 SIR-115.2Kbps supported, 4-in-1 built-in card reader (SD/MMC/MS/MS PRO)
Asus A8Ja above view (view large image)
The full specs of the notebook I bought are identical to this model, even though I didn’t actually buy my notebook from this IT distributor: http://tinyurl.com/gl28f
Around three months ago, I decided I was going to buy a notebook. I began doing the necessary research on the internet and at computer shops to ensure that the notebook I ended up with, was what I wanted and was at the right price. At first I went to all the major notebook brand sites, checking out the notebooks in my price range, and comparing their specs. Eventually I found www.notebookreview.com and www.notebookforums.com. These two sites, especially the former, helped immensely with my ongoing search for my ideal notebook.
Reasons for Buying:
My main criteria for the notebook I was going to purchase were:
- Must be 15.4 screen or less, preferably 14 .
- Must definitely be under 3kg, preferably under 2.5kg.
- Must have wireless connection capabilities.
As you can see, a lot of notebooks fit my criteria. In the end, I also found myself a victim of style, and decided I wanted to get a notebook that drew looks. For these reasons, I found myself looking at the Sony Vaios. The Vaio series looked nice but nothing really seemed to be exactly what I wanted. The FJ was nice but lacked Core Duo and an integrated GPU, the FS and FE were a bit on the big side, and I just didn’t think they had good bang for their buck’. The SZ was superb but was a bit expensive for me. Than one day I stumbled upon a shop selling the ASUS A6Jc. To me it seemed an awesome deal. Never before had I seen a laptop with 1GB ram, a separate GPU (it had the 7300) and Core Duo for that price. I thought to myself, “if only it was smaller”. So I did a bit of research on the net and found myself choosing between A8Jm, A8Ja and the W3J. The W3J is unheard of here in Australia, and the A8Ja was $300 cheaper than A8Jm which had fairly similar specs anyway. So I decided upon the…A8Ja.
I use the laptop for web browsing, document editing and gaming at home and at university. Also, for use when I go overseas.
Where and How Purchased:
I shopped around for a while looking for the best price. The best price I was quoted for the A8Ja was AUD$2550 (about USD$1895). In the end I purchased the notebook from the IT shop at my university called Winthrop Australia for AUD$2600 (about USD$1933). No one in Western Australia actually had the A8Ja in stock. The shop I purchased it from ordered it via IT distributor Ingram Micro from Sydney. I ordered it on the 26th May and I received it on the 31st May (2006).
Build and Design:
To me this notebook looks beautiful. I took the stickers off almost right away. It is a lovely silvery colour, and I found a desktop background that greatly compliments its looks. The front and side edges of the notebook are angled under, which looks ok and is probably best when a notebook is of this thickness. The lid opens with a small button which is centered on the front edge. There are two latches to keep it closed while the lid is shut. The hinges look and feel very sturdy indeed. There is a bit of flex in the lid/lcd but it doesn’t seem to be a bad thing, and no distortions appear on the screen when I slightly twisted it. The body and lid of the notebook are made out of hard plastic. Sure, the notebook probably isn’t as durable as those Thinkpads, but the A8Ja is very solidly built and I have no concerns about build quality and design. (I still wouldn’t want to drop it).
I found that if you push on the back of the lcd, in the middle, about an inch down from the top, there is a small rippling region at the top of the screen. However, I’m not worried, as it doesn’t remain distorted and it does not occur anywhere else.
Some people have voiced their concerns about the position of the main air vent. This is found at the upper right hand side of the notebook. Some people have thought that it may make their mouse hand hot and/or sweaty. For whatever reason, I find my own mouse position to naturally be about 6 inches lower anyway so I have not found it a problem. For those people that do use their mouse in that vicinity, I recommend just putting something in the way, such as a curled piece of paper, to redirect the flow of hot air.
Asus A8Ja screen (view large image)
The screen is a widescreen 14.1 WXGA @ 1280 x 800 pixels, with ASUS Colour Shine technology. To me it is a really great screen. The colours are great and the brightness is perfect and easily controllable. So far I have only used it in my room, so I haven’t found any glare at all. I’m sure using it outside will change things a little but I’m still confident I will not be disappointed. My screen has no dead pixels.
The Asus A8Ja has a glossy screen with reflective qualities (view large image)
Looking at this word document right now, I can comfortably read the screen to about 50 either side. The vertical viewing angle isn’t quite as good but I don’t see the problem there. It is an easy thing to just change the screen angle. Looking straight at the screen, I can barely see any light leakage from the bottom at all. When I changed the screen to all black, it got fairly light down the bottom if I increased my vertical viewing angle, but looking straight on, it appeared fairly uniformly black.
Screen brightness is easily changeable by Fn/F5 (decrease), Fn/F6 (increase), and Fn/F7 (Turn off). There are 16 levels of brightness.
In summary, the screen is a widescreen 14.1 WXGA @ 1280 x 800 pixels. It is glossy not matte type. It has great colours, acceptable viewing angles, and I love it.
The speakers are on the left and right of the front edge of the notebook. They have little bass, so in iTunes or whatever music program you use, simply select equalizer setting as small speakers’ or bass booster’. This increases the intensity of the lower frequencies. Hopefully your movie-watching programs will have a similarly adjustable equalizer. The sound is good however. No body expects much from notebook speakers, and I wouldn’t say that these are below average for a notebook. If you’re really after loud sound with good quality I’d recommend getting decent headphones or speakers. I personally chose to get some Koss KSC75’s for use on planes etc.
There is a headphones port at the front of the left edge. It produces great sound and is an ideal location for the port in my opinion.
Processor and Performance:
The CPU in the A8Ja is an Intel Core Duo T2300 Yonah, rated at 1.66 GHz, with an L2 cache of 2MB. The pre-installed RAM is 2 x 512MB memory sticks of DDR2 PC4300 (533 MHz) featuring a CAS latency of 4. Apparently, 667MHz DDR2 memory is only fractionally better because, although it has a faster speed, it has a CAS latency of 5. Maximum RAM is 2GB.
I am not sure what type of hard drive came with this notebook, but it is apparently 80GB at 5400RPM (Ultra ATA/100). The notebook came with 3 partitions. Two of which are accessible via My Computer. The third is a recovery partition of almost 2GB which I just left alone. The other partitions are 44GB and 29GB. They were all using FAT32 file systems but I converted C: and D: to NTFS using the NTFS Converter which I found in C:WINDOWS.
The GPU is the ATI Radeon X1600 512MB Hyper-Memory (256MB dedicated + 256MB shared). This card and the nVidia Go 7600 are very similar in terms of performance. You won’t be able to find a better graphics card in a 14 notebook. See the benchmarks below.
Performance overall seems very good. Definitely better than other notebooks I have tried. The A8ja boots up Windows very quickly. The time between pushing the on button and seeing the login screen is less than 45 seconds. Most applications start up very quickly too.
Game performance is great thanks to the powerful X1600. I haven’t tried many games yet but Battlefield II works great with all settings on maximum. Age Of Empires III looks absolutely beautiful with EVERY single setting on maximum quality. I’ve also heard that all the new games such as FEAR, Oblivion and Doom III are also playable on medium-maximum settings depending on the game.
Super Pi: 1m 27s for 2 million digits.
- Minimum transfer rate: 18.0 MBps
- Maximum transfer rate: 33.3 MBps
- Average transfer rate: 27.5 MBps
- Access time: 17.5 ms
- Burst rate: 72.3 MBps
- CPU usage: 3.1%
3dMark (with pre-installed GPU drivers):
AC Power Supply:
- Power4Gear set on “Game”: 3850
- Power4Gear set on “High Performance”: 3849
- Power4Gear set on “Super Performance”: 3849
- All unnecessary programs exited: 3851
- Power4Gear set on “Battery Saving”: 866
- Power4Gear set on “High Performance”: 1013
AC Power Supply:
- Power4Gear set on “Game”: 1973
- Power4Gear set on “High Performance”: 1975
- Power4Gear set on “Super Performance”: 1976
- All unnecessary programs exited: 1975
- Power4Gear set on “Battery Saving”: “aborted”
- Power4Gear set on “High Performance”: 566
- All unnecessary programs exited: 567
3dMark (with updated Omega 3.8.252 drivers):
AC Power Supply:
- Power4Gear set on “Super Performance”: 3849
- All unnecessary programs exited: 3850
- NHC set on “Dynamic Switching”: 3661
- NHC set on “Max Performance”: 3664
- Power4Gear set on “Battery Saving”: 1015
- Power4Gear set on “High Performance”: 3850
AC Power Supply:
- Power4Gear set on “Super Performance”: 2003
- All unnecessary programs exited: 2003
- NHC set on “Dynamic Switching”: 1862
- NHC set on “Max Performance”: 1862
- Power4Gear set on “Battery Saving”: 768
- Power4Gear set on “High Performance”: 2004
- All unnecessary programs exited: 2001
- NHC set on “Dynamic Switching”: 1866
- NHC set on “Battery Optimized”: 1861
- NHC set on “Max Battery”: 1863
- NHC set on “Max Performance” (using ATI Optimal Battery Life): 562
The 3DMarks weren’t quite as high as I expected, as I have heard some people easily get over 4000 (3DMark05) with the X1600 on stock settings. I had a short go with overclocking but I had no luck with the ATI Tray Tools or ATI Tools. It doesn’t really matter, because there really is no need to overclock apart from seeing how high your 3DMark can go. For those that are interested, I believe people have got over 5200 3DMark05 with an overclocked X1600.
Heat and Noise:
As I mentioned above, some people have voiced their concerns about the position of the main air vent which is found on the right edge towards the back of the notebook. Doing web/document work seems to turn the fan on every 20 seconds or so, for about 20 seconds each time. The air it blows out is warm but not too hot, maybe 40-45 C as a rough estimate.
The bottom of the notebook gets a bit warm, but if you’re only doing web browsing or documents applications, it might still be cool enough to have on your lap. However, the ASUS user guide does say “DO NOT PUT THE NOTEBOOK PC ON YOUR LAP OR OTHER PARTS OF THE BODY TO AVOID INJURY FROM THE HEAT”, probably just to cover themselves against ridiculous law suits. The only other part that gets slightly warm is the touchpad, but it isn’t uncomfortable at all.
The fan is not too loud, but I wouldn’t want it on in my room while I was trying to sleep.
- Hard drive: 30-33 C
- CPU: 48-51 C (The fan come on when it goes above 50 C, it pushes it back down to 48 C and then it crawls back up to 51 C again)
Temperatures while running PCMark05:
- Hard drive: highest was 38 C
- CPU: highest was 51 C
Keyboard, Touchpad and Other Buttons:
Asus A8Ja keyboard (view large image)
On top of everything else, the A8Ja has a great keyboard. It does not flex in when I push hard on the middle keys. It is great for typing. Probably not as good as a proper desktop keyboard but still comfortable for typing. The space bar seems a bit low at first, and it takes a while to get used to the position of the del, home and end keys, but after a while you get used to it, and it doesn’t seem to be a flaw at all. However, on the left side, where the ctrl key normally is, is the Fn key. Very handy but I often find myself hitting it instead of ctrl when I am undoing, copying or pasting. The ctrl key is just to the right of the Fn key, and both keys are situated below the shift key.
It took me a while to get used to the touchpad, but keep in mind that this is my first notebook so touchpads are quite unfamiliar anyway. At first the touchpad seemed a bit sticky and not very smooth, but after a bit of use, the touchpad seemed to get smoother. The touchpad button is one entity without two clearly defined buttons. However, the left and right click still work as normal. I normally left click by tapping anyway. The vertical line on the right of the touchpad is meant to act as a scrolling device. It is very difficult to use, and thus far I have found is useless. After trying to find the right position, I can seem to get it working, but other times, it doesn’t seem to work at all. The scroll wheel on the mouse is much more effective and easier to use.
The Fn button at the bottom of the keyboard works in conjunction with other keys as a shortcut button (view large image)
The Fn button in the bottom left of the keyboard allow for certain hotkeys:
- F1: “Places the Notebook PC in suspend mode”
- F2: “Toggles the internal wireless LAN or Bluetooth ON or OFF” — there is a button for this already…
- F3: Opens Outlook or default mail application
- F4: “Places the Notebook PC’s hard disk drive in suspend mode” — but on my notebook it opens Firefox or your default web browser
- F5: “Decreases the display brightness” — extremely useful
- F6: “Increases the display brightness” — extremely useful
- F7: Turns the LCD light ON or OFF
- F8: “Toggles between the Notebook PC’s LCD display and an external monitor”
- F9: Toggles touchpad ON or OFF
- F10:”Toggles the speakers ON and OFF”
- F11: “Decreases the speaker volume” — very useful
- F12: “Increases the speaker volume” — very useful
- Ins: “Toggles the numeric keypad” — makes part of the keyboard into a traditional number keyboard
- Del: “Toggles the “Scroll Lock” ON and OFF”
Some of the function keys (view large image)
There are also 5 control buttons at the just above the keyboard.
- Power4Gear key — changes between power saving modes
- Toggles Bluetooth on and off — works well on my A8Ja
- Wireless LAN key — toggles wireless connectivity on or off — after turning it off and then back on again, it reconnected to my home network in 4-5 seconds
- Splendid Key — Toggles between “different display colour enhancement modes”
- InstantON key — It is meant to open a multimedia player regardless of whether the notebook/Windows is running or not — on my A8Ja it does nothing
All these hotkeys and other buttons are very useful, and I find myself using them constantly to adjust my notebook settings. It is a pity that the InstantON key is wasted.
Input and Output Ports:
On the left side of the machine: USB 2.0, FireWire, 4 in 1 Memory Card Reader, Express Card slot, Mic In, SPDIF Out (view large image)
On the right side of the machine: 2 x USB 2.0, InfraRed (view large image)
On the rear/back side of the machine: 2 x USB 2.0, DVI-D, VGA, S-Video, Ethernet, Modem (view large image)
- 5 USB 2.0 Ports! Wow! I have never seen another notebook with this many. Furthermore, they have good placement and I’ve tested them all, they all work.
- The 4 in 1 Memory Card Reader works well. I uploaded about 100 photos off of a Memory Stick Pro card in what seemed under a second.
- The SPDIF Out (headphone out port) works well.
- I haven’t tested any of the other ports yet.
- Many people find the DVI-D desirable. So that is another good thing about the A8Ja.
The A8Ja comes with the Intel 3945 a/b/g wireless as well as an infrared port and integrated Bluetooth at 2.4GHz. Apparently in North America and possibly other places, Asus has decided to leave out the integrated Bluetooth.
Every time I start up the laptop it automatically connects to my home network in less than 5 seconds. At this very moment I am connected wirelessly to my own access point at 54.0 Mbps on an 802.11g network. I also discovered an insecure network which must be from next door. 😉 So the range appears to be very good as well.
Bluetooth also turns on or off at the push of a button.
The battery supplied is a 6 cell, 4800 mAh. According to Battery Eater its design capacity is 4746 mAh and its full charge capacity is 4756 mAh. The battery weighs about 30g. I did a couple of tests:
Scenario: During a game or other intensive application
Settings: Battery Eater on “Classic” mode, screen brightness 100%, ATI 3D control panel on “Optimal Performance” mode, Bluetooth and WIFI on, Power4Gear on “High Performance” mode.
Time: 1 hour and 16 minutes
Scenario: Browsing the web or writing in a word document
Settings: Battery Eater on “Reader’s Test” mode, screen brightness 17% (3rd lowest), ATI 3D control panel on “Optimal Battery” mode, Bluetooth off, WIFI on, Power4Gear on “Battery Saving” mode (CPU 25% apparently).
Time: 3 hour and 20 minutes
Scenario: Doing nothing; Idle
Settings: Battery Eater on “Idle” mode, screen brightness lowest, ATI 3D control panel on “Optimal Battery” mode, Bluetooth off, WIFI off, Power4Gear on “Battery Saving” mode (CPU 25% apparently).
Time: 3 hour and 40 minutes
- These tests were done without manual undervolting. According to CPU-Z the CPU changes it voltage, core speed and multiplier by itself. While idle, the CPU has a voltage of 1.004V, a core speed (for each core) of ~997.5 MHz, and a multiplier of x6.0. Doing anything CPU intensive (even loading up 3DMark06) lifted the voltage to 1.404V, the core speed to 1662.5 MHz, and the multiplier to x10.0.
- The X1600 came clocked at 472.5/378. With the pre-installed GPU drivers, the GPU was automatically underclocked when using battery to 128.3/135. You could not change this setting, or allow the GPU to be clocked normally during battery use. After I installed the Omega 3.8.252 drivers, you were able to use the ATI 3D Control Panel to clock the GPU to “Optimal Performance” (472.5/378), “Balanced” (391.5/252), or “Optimal Battery Life” (128.3/135). You could also use PowerPlay to set what clock you desired for AC use and DC (battery) use.
Operating System and Software:
Windows XP Professional came pre-installed on this machine.
- Windows XP Pro
- ASUSDVD – which I haven’t used because I prefer VLC and various other media players
- ASUS Live Update — no updates were available
- ASUS Splendid Video Enhancement Technology — determines how the colours on the screen look. At the moment I am using “Normal”. Other modes are “Gamma Correction”, “Vivid Mode”, “Theatre Mode”, and “Soft Mode”.
- Net4Switch — Something to do with wireless connectivity. I disabled it from startup.
- Power4Gear — after much testing. I have decided to use this over RM Clock and Notebook Hardware Control. Power4Gear has a button which makes it easy to use and it doesn’t decrease my 3DMark like NHC and RM Clock do.
- Winflash — for updating BIOS I think
- Catalyst Conrol Panel — for tweaking the X1600 and display options
- Bluetooth Software bundle — for managing Bluetooth connectivity
- Nero OEM Suite
- Intel PROSet Wireless Software — works well
- ASUS A series screensaver — a funky screensaver that demonstrates the A8Ja, using the camera and crazy music
- ATK media — not quite sure what this is — could anyone tell me?
- HControl — not quite sure what this is, it could be to do with the buttons up top of the notebook
- Synaptics Touchpad Software
- Symantec Norton Internet Security 2005 — I uninstalled this immediately
- Adobe Acrobat Reader 7.0
Software included on CDs:
- Windows XP Professionsl
- A8 Driver & Utility Ver. 2.0 CD
- Nero OEM Suite
- ASUS Medi@Show (slide shows)
- ASUS PowerDirector (video editing)
Overall the pre-installed software is quite useful and good. I didn’t uninstall too many things and I didn’t see the need to reformat the hard drive. However, there was no Microsoft Works installed or on CD.
Weight and Dimensions:
- Weight with battery: 2.44kg (5.37lbs)
- Weight without battery: 2.14kg
- Battery weight: 30g
- Dimensions (according to ASUS): 34.8~37.3mm x 335mm x 245mm (HxWxD)
- Bag — seems sturdy and well padded. Lots of pockets and style is ok.
- Mouse — A small grey wired optical ASUS mouse. Left and right buttons. Scroll wheel which is clickable. Cord is only 80cm long so it is unlikely that you’ll be able to use with a desktop computer.
- Warranty – 2-year limited global hardware warranty, 1-year battery pack warranty. Lets hope I won’t need it.
- User Manual — Just about the features basically.
- Quick Installation Guide: In a nutshell: Inserting battery, charging, opening lid, turning on, in sixteen languages.
The supplied bag accessory with the A8Ja (view large image)
Camera and Microphone:
Built-in camera (view large image)
The 0.3 MP camera is great. Quality isn’t that super but it is sufficient to act as a webcam. I’m sure it will be very useful while traveling. The microphone seems to work fine. I’m satisfied with both and I have already used both in a web chat on MSN. They are very easy to configure.
The A8Ja comes with a DVD Super Multi Drive Dual Layer. This acts as a DVD reader/writer and CD reader/writer. It isn’t as fast as my desktop computer’s burner and it is a bit noisy but it works well.
How is the A8Ja different to the A8Jm or the W3J?
|ATI Radeon X1600 256MB dedicated + 256 shared||nVidia GeFore Go 7600 512MB dedicated|
|Intel Core Duo T2300 1.66GHz||Intel Core Duo T2400 1.83GHz|
|80GB HDD||100 GB HDD|
|Good design and construction||Even better design and construction|
|Hard plastic chassis||Aluminium and carbon fibre chassis|
|Intel Core Duo T2300 1.66GHz||Intel Core Duo T2400 1.83GHz|
|80GB HDD||100 GB HDD|
|No Swappable Optical Bay||Swappable Optical Bay|
|DDR2 533||DDR2 667|
|6 Cell Battery||8 Cell Battery|
|DVI-D port||No DVI-D port|
|5 USB ports||3 USB ports|
|Integrated camera||No integrated camera|
I have had no need to contact ASUS customer support. So far everything is working great. Thanks ASUS! This laptop came with a 2-year limited global hardware warranty, 1-year battery pack warranty. Which seems decent compared to the warranties which accompany other notebooks.
This notebook is simply awesome. I’d recommend it to anybody. It has pretty much every feature I can think of. Sure, the CPU could be more powerful, and it could have more RAM, and a bigger hard drive, but the features it has are amazing for a notebook of this size. For this price, I challenge anybody to find a better, more powerful notebook. I definitely give this notebook 10/10.
- ATI Radeon X1600 is an extremely powerful GPU. It will play all the newest games on high settings. There is no better GPU for a notebook of this size.
- Beautiful widescreen. 14.1 WXGA
- Built in camera and microphone
- Dual Core 1.66GHz – 1GB memory
- DVD burner
- Wireless connectivity of all types including Bluetooth
- DVI-D output
- 5 USB 2.0 ports!
- Very good price for the number of great features this notebook has
- InstantON feature not working properly on A8Ja
- A feature to actually turn off the X1600 and rely only on an Intel GMA950 chipset would be good for battery saving. I believe Sony have a “Hybrid Graphic System” which does this.
- Some will find the price too high, even though it is a bargain in my mind.