Overview and Introduction:
The notebook under review is the ASUS Ensemble A8Jm, this notebook could be considered a thin and light system. It’s not really ultraportable, but it’s a nice size to carry around with a bag. The important specs for my A8Jm as configured:
- CPU: T2400 Core Duo (1.83 GHz)
- RAM: 2GB DDR2 667MHz (Originally came with 1GB, did an upgrade)
- HD: 100 GB 5400 RPM
- GPU: NVidia Go 7600 512Mb dedicated memory
- Screen: 14.1 WXGA (1280 x 800)
- OS: Windows XP Home
Specs as seen on the A8Jm label (view large image)
In addition, this machine included all the bells and whistles including DVI, VGA, 5 USB 2.0 ports, FireWire port, Infrared port, DVD-RW, 0.3MP built-in camera, Intel 3945 a/b/g wireless, Mic In, S/PDIF, memory card reader and ExpressCard reader.
Asus A8Jm fresh out of the box, screen protection cover still in place! (view large image)
The only glaring exception is that for some reason ASUS decided to not include the internal Bluetooth module in the North American versions of this machine. Asian and European models of the A8J series all come with Bluetooth installed internally. I have no idea why ASUS did this, as it seems only a trivial thing to put it in all the machines.
Reasons for Buying:
I bought this notebook because I’ll be moving from Canada to Indonesia within a couple of months, and I wanted something I could use for business purposes, since I’ll be starting my own business. I didn’t want to be PC-less while settling down overseas, since I’ll be quite ineffective in work and life that way.
I’ve actually been looking for a notebook for almost 2 years, and haven’t really been forced to get one until now. I checked out the Asus Z70 and Z71 series last year, and this year when I started looking seriously, the only notebook models I considered were the Asus Z96J, S96J, A8Jm and the ACER Aspire 5672.
I finally decided on the ASUS A8Jm model because of it’s great reputation and build, but all in all those final 4 machines really had me in limbo for awhile. The A8Jm is the most expensive of them because it’s an Ensemble (pre-configured), but I felt it was worth the extra cash since I’ll probably be using it as my main machine for the next few years.
I got a Core Duo model because it’s supposed to be pin for pin compatible with Intel’s next generation processor, Merom, hence increasing the chance of upgrading the CPU in the future and prolonging the life of this notebook. The graphics card also played a great deal of influence in my decision, as it’s one of the most powerful available for notebooks at the moment, and will future-proof me when Windows Vista comes out.
Where and How Purchased:
I bought this notebook from MilestonePC.com (previously CanadaSys) for CAD $1,729 + Upgraded RAM $110 + Vantec LapCool3 $23 + 15% tax $279.30 = CAD $2,141.30. The original price when I pre-ordered it was $1,649 with an Intel T2300 processor and Bluetooth included. When the final specs came out, it turned out to be a T2400, but less the Bluetooth. I got an extra Targus carry bag and sleeve, as well as a 512 MB USB Flash drive from MilestonePC for pre-ordering, so those pre-order incentives were a pretty good bonus.
The A8Jm is not really the cheapest of notebooks (I spent an inordinate amount of time comparing this to a similarly configured Z96J / S96J / AS5672, which would all cost a few hundred bucks less), but I think it’s a worthy investment and also easier to move around than the others which were 15.4 screen notebooks. I went to pick this up at MilestonePC because I just couldn’t be bothered to pay the extra shipping fees — or to anxiously wait twiddling my thumbs looking for the courier to arrive!
Build and Design
Asus A8Jm lid view (view large image)
People have said the A8Jm is not as good looking as its higher end counterpart the W3J, but to me it looks quite nice. It’s silver in colour, and I believe the casing is made of hard plastic. The A8Jm isn’t really an ultraportable and feels a bit weighty, but carrying it around isn’t a big problem for me. I can manage to move it about while the lid is open and holding it with one hand, although I probably couldn’t do it for a lengthy amount of time.
The screen is very well built, pushing the lid doesn’t give me any ripples whatsoever, and the hinges really hold the LCD nicely, not much wobbling at all when I try playing around with it.
I’ve never owned a notebook before, but from testing out others at Best Buy, Future Shop and other stores, I feel that this one is sturdier than most models. It’s kind of hard to explain and quantify that observation, all I can say is that it just feels more compact and better built when I touch the parts such as the screen and keyboard. The only concern I have is probably the optical drive, which seems a bit awkward to close.
The screen is a widescreen 14.1 WXGA (1280 x 800 pixels resolution), with ASUS Colour Shine technology. I was really expecting them to come out with a WXGA+ (1440 x 900) screen, but when I saw what things looked like in WXGA, I realized that it was quite enough for most people.
Notice the almost perfect mirror reflection from the glossy type screen when it is black or off (which is somewhat exaggerated further due to cover still being on and bright light in the room) (view large image)
Since it has a glossy type screen, there is quite a bit of glare when working in really bright areas. Mine doesn’t have any dead pixels and is just perfect in terms of manufacturing quality. Wanting to keep the screen in perfect shape, I haven’t taken the protective screen off until now! I see some extra brightness near the bottom part of the screen when looking at it in a certain angle, but it’s hard to detect and so easy to say light leakage is minimal for this screen. Viewing angles are also very good; I can still see the items on the screen even when viewing from some pretty weird angles.
In a typical room with average lighting conditions I think most people will be fine looking at this glossy type of screen. I get a lot of glare on the screen when working in areas close to 9′ glass windows I have in my home. However, when I use it in my home’s den, which better resembles lighting conditions for a place most people would work, the glare is much reduced and not a concern.
The speakers are at the lower front of the notebook, one on each side. I tried playing a couple of CDs and DVDs and the found the sound to be ok, but not as good as that from typical external PC speakers I’m used to. Maybe I’ll get used to this sound after awhile, I’m not very picky about sound, so for my needs the speakers are fine.
Processor and Performance:
As mentioned above, the processor in this A8Jm is a Core Duo T2400, clocked at 1.83 GHz. I also added in an extra 1GB of memory so I won’t need to upgrade in the near future. The exception is if Merom indeed can be put into this machine, then I probably will upgrade.
I put in 667MHz DDR2 speed memory, although I’ve read lately that it shouldn’t be too much different than the 553MHz speed RAM due to the latency. The current 667 MHz memory sticks have a CAS latency of 5, while the 553 MHz ones have a latency of 4, hence making only a slight difference in speed.
The hard drive that came with this machine is a Hitachi Travelstar 100 GB 5400 RPM HD. I decided against upgrading to a 7200 RPM hard drive because I really didn’t need much faster access times for the things I do. To add to that, some people have warned me that increasing the RPM might also reduce battery life and cause some more heat to be generated. I reformatted the drive and partitioned it using GParted Live CD into 2 partitions, a 20 GB partition for the Windows OS and programs, and the rest for storage. I left the Recovery partition that came with the notebook alone.
Having used to a Pentium III at home and Pentium 4 2.0 GHz machine at work, relative performance of this Core Duo notebook seems excellent to me. From the press of the ON button to the login screen of Windows XP, it takes about 30 – 40 seconds. All the applications I launch take little time and the computer always seems responsive no matter what I’m doing. I haven’t had time to really test out running development / graphics environments together at the same time, but running normal office / web applications is a breeze. There is some delay in loading applications at times, but I have a gut feeling that it’s more due to the hard drive than the processor.
|Asus A8Jm (1.83GHz Core Duo)||1m 19s|
|Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Intel T2500)||1m 12s|
|Dell Inspiron 710m (1.7 GHz Pentium M)||2m 04s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|IBM ThinkPad Z60m (2.0 GHz Pentium M)||1m 36s|
|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|
|HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 39s|
|Asus V6Va (Pentium M 1.86 GHz)||1m 46s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
PCMark05 (using High Performance for nVidia Quality & Performance Image Setting).
|Asus A8Jm (1.83GHz Core Duo)||4,134 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo)||3,487 PCMarks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60)||5,597 PCMarks|
|Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||3,637 PCMarks|
|Panasonic ToughBook T4 (Intel 1.20GHz LV)||1,390 PCMarks|
|Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400)||3,646 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Satellite M70 (Pentium M 1.86GHz)||1,877 PCMarks|
3DMark06 (using High Performance for nVidia Quality & Performance Image Setting).
|Notebook||3DMark 06 Results|
|Asus A8Jm (1.83GHz Core Duo, Go 7600 512MB)||2,365 3D Marks|
|Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Intel T2500, ATI X1400)||926 3D Marks|
|Dell XPS M1710 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia 7900 GTX 512MB)||4,744 3D Marks|
|Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB||1,528 3D Marks|
|Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||794 3DMarks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60 Nvidia GeForce Go7800GTX)||4,085 3DMarks|
|Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB)||1,819 3D Marks|
HD Tune Benchmark Results:
- Minimum transfer rate: 17.6 MBps
- Maximum transfer rate: 39.9 MBps
- Average transfer rate: 31.2 MBps
- Access time: 17.7 ms
- Burst rate: 71.9 MBps.
Heat and Noise:
The vent for this notebook is on the back right side. You’ll find a stream of warm air blows from there, but it’s never what you would call hot air. And if you’re from Asia, rest assured it’s never warmer than that breeze you feel on any given hot humid day! At times I have also felt a slight amount of warmth rising up from under the keyboard area.
Some areas that I noticed getting warm after extensive were are the palm rests and bottom of the notebook. I wouldn’t recommend having this on your lap for too long, as it got quite warm after using it for a little while. The ASUS user guide states “DO NOT PUT THE NOTEBOOK PC ON YOUR LAP OR OTHER PARTS OF THE BODY TO AVOID INJURY FROM THE HEAT”, so I guess this wasn’t meant to be a lap-top. I did get a USB powered notebook cooler, so that might be the solution if I need to use this on my lap for extended periods of time.
Temperatures range from 48 – 51 C during idling and office use, the temperature went up to a max of 63 C when I ran PCMark05 and was running at 100% CPU load. Hard drive temperature was at 35 – 40 C most of the time.
As for noise, I think ASUS did a great job on this machine. I hardly hear it making any noise while working normally on it, fan is rarely audible. It only starts to become slightly audible at 58 C. The only other sound I hear is from the optical drive when reading files (my optical drive sometimes makes a clicking sound that disappears after a bit, looks like a problem with the optical drive, not the machine itself.)
Keyboard and Touchpad:
Keyboard and touchpad view (view large image)
The keyboard is excellent, there’s no flex at all to it when I’m typing. One problem I find in using the keyboard is the location of the left located FN and CTRL keys. Most people are used to having the CTRL key on the furthest lower left key on the keyboard, many other manufacturers take this approach. In ASUS’ case this is flipped, the Fn key is in the far left bottom corner and then the Ctrl key is next to the right of it. This may cause some users to mis-press the keys every now and then if they’re used to the buttons being reversed. As far as I know, there’s no way to swtich them around. I like the fact that I can function lock the keyboard so that part of it acts as a keypad, as it’s very useful when inputting numbers.
The Fn button is in the far left corner of the A8Jm keyboard (view large image)
Notice on this Dell e1405 machine the Fn and Ctrl are switched from what the A8Jm has
5 Quick launch buttons at the top of the keyboard, the Bluetooth and InstantOn do not function properly on this model (view large image)
The touchpad is silver in color, the same as the palmrests and cover. I’ve read that some people don’t like it because of the texture, but I didn’t really have any trouble using it the first week when I didn’t have an external mouse to use. Seemed to work like just any regular touchpad to me. The Synaptics touchpad device settings allows customization of the 4 corners of the touchpad to act as command buttons. Tapping in a programmed corner area can register as a double click, right click, etc. and is quite useful.
Touchpad, notice it looks like there’s one single mouse button, but it registers a right and left click by pushing in the appropriate area (view large image)
There is also a scroll area on the right side of the touchpad, which simulates a mouse wheel. I don’t really use this too much, but have found it quite difficult to use. It requires quite a lot of pressure in the right place to get it working correctly. What’s interesting is that the left click and right click mouse buttons below the touchpad are seemingly joined together as one button, but they function correctly when you press the left and right sides of it. For some reason, my right click makes a louder clicking sound than the left one.
Now here’s where I’m a bit disappointed in with ASUS. There are 5 control buttons above the keyboard that should perform in order: Power4Gear, Bluetooth, Wireless, Splendid and InstantON. Out of those 5, only 3 work on mine (because Bluetooth is not included and with no InstantON software included it just launches your Windows default media player). I would really have appreciated the option to re-assign functions to these buttons. As it stands right now, there’s no way to do it and I’m stuck with 2 useless buttons up there.
Input and Output Ports:
Left side view of Asus A8J (view large image)
On the left side of the machine we have: USB 2.0, FireWire, 5 in 1 Memory Card Reader, Express Card slot, Mic In, S/PDIF Out.
Right side of Asus A8J (view large image)
On the right side of the machine: 2 x USB 2.0, InfraRed.
Back side view of Asus A8J (view large image)
On the rear/back side of the machine: 2 x USB 2.0, DVI-D, VGA, S-Video, Ethernet, Modem.
All in all, there are 5 x USB 2.0 ports, 1 x IEEE 1394 Firewire port, 5 in 1 Memory Card Reader, Express Card slot, Mic In, SPDIF, InfraRed, DVI-D, VGA, S-Video, Ethernet and Modem.
The Asus A8Jm I have came with the Intel 3945 a/b/g wireless card as well as an infrared port. The A8Jm is definitely Bluetooth capable (there is a Bluetooth button and indicator present), but ASUS for some reason omitted the internal Bluetooth module from all North American models (why ASUS, why?). All other versions should have Bluetooth installed.
The battery supplied is a 6 cell, 4800 mAh battery. With brightness on a lower setting, battery saving mode on, wireless on, external USB mouse connected, and doing regular office work + internet surfing + application installation I could get about 3 hours of battery life on this machine. I don’t think that’s too bad considering the power of this laptop, and I know some people have achieved 3 hours and 40 minutes with wireless set to off.
Operating System and Software:
Windows XP Home came pre-installed on this machine. I was provided with the Recovery CD’s, Driver & Utilities CD, ASUS DVD, Microsoft Works and Nero Express. Asus doesn’t install too many useless programs on the machine like some other manufacturers. The installed programs such as Power4Gear for power management and ASUS DVD are quite useful, so it’s not a waste of space and resources. Even so, I wanted to install my own copy of XP Pro and then partition and set up the hard drive according to my likes, so I wiped everything out except for the included Recovery Partition (which only takes up 1.8 GB of space, not a big deal for me) and just re-installed the things I wanted.
Here’s my first and only experience with ASUS support:
I called in to customer support to ask about the InstantON button that is provided on the keyboard. Here’s what the manual had to say about the InstantON button: “When the notebook PC is off: Pressing this button will launch a multimedia player application (without entering Windows) to view DVDs, VCDs, videos, photos, or television programs; or listen to music CDs or files”. In addition, there is a light indicator with an InstantON symbol to indicate if it’s in the InstantON mode.
What I found is that by pressing the InstantON button, my notebook just boots windows and loads the default media player. So I emailed tech support through the ASUS website, and got a reply from the tech, to call a 1-888 number and speak to a rep. I did call in, and talked to a support person. When I told him about the button, the guy seemed lost and insisted on calling it Audio DJ. He said he’d call back later on to confirm.
He called back later, saying there’s no Audio DJ on my model. (at this point, I was just cursing under my breath. I told him at the beginning it’s InstantON, not Audio DJ). So I explained the location of the button and he put me on hold. After about 20 minutes or so, I got disconnected and the guy never called back. I proceeded to email tech support again explaining the situation, and got another reply asking me to call the 1-888 number and to talk to a specific person.
Within hours, I got 2 calls. First one was the person I was recommended to talk to; he said it’s a known problem and that HQ was investigating, hoping to get a solution soon. The second one was the original guy I was talking to and got disconnected from, saying that it’s an error with documentation, that it’s supposed to load Windows, not an external media player.
It seemed ridiculous to me that they’re blaming it on documentation. I mean, there’s an InstantON light indicator on my machine for goodness sakes, what’s the purpose of it then? And the answers I got from both guys seemed to contradict each other. Furthermore, I found out that on A8 models with an integrated graphics card, the InstantON button works to load the non-Windows based media application.
So, I’m not sure what’s going on, but can’t really be too positive about their support. It just seems they’re trying to cover up the problem instead of acknowledging it and doing something. Oh, and the support forum on their site is a joke, there’s no admin or support that can quickly answer questions or concerns.
Thankfully, the A8Jm is so well built, you probably won’t have to use their technical support often if at all. And even if you had a problem with the machine, good resellers like MilestonePC would probably be able some initial support for you.
I’d recommend this machine to anybody; with almost every feature you could ask for in a thin and light configuration, it’s really a dream machine. The price is a bit high, but considering most of what’s in it is bleeding edge technology and is most likely future proof (maybe Merom compatible, Vista compatible), I think it’s a worthy investment.
- Very quiet and cool for such a powerful machine
- Dual Core technology
- Graphics card: nVidia Go 7600 with 512 MB dedicated memory
- DVI-D output
- Memory supports 667 MHz DDR2 RAM
- 5 USB 2.0 ports, 1 Firewire port, Infrared port, Expresscard port, Memorycard reader
- Built in camera
- Well built, nice LCD
- For the performance it brings, it’s a great value for the money spent
- Most probably can support Intel’s next generation CPU, Merom
- ASUS support is so-so if you ever need to use it
- The North American version has no Bluetooth built in
- InstantON feature not working properly on A8Jm