by Jeffrey S. Tucker
Overview and Introduction:
The Asus W3j represents Asus’ latest foray into the crowded waters of the high-performance thin-and -light market. Built as a highly upgraded refresh of the immensely popular Asus W3v, the W3j maintains the sleek mobility of a 14″ widescreen and adds the mid-high graphics capabilities of the ATI X1600 video card. The notebook sector has seen a recent influx of such designs, and while this review won’t serve as an adequate comparison between these systems, it should illustrate why the Asus W3j stands deservedly among the upper-tier of these products.
Asus W3J being reviewed (view large image)
Asus has recently up-dated the hardware configuration for the W3j (H026P). The reviewed computer represents the stock specifications of the W3j at the time of its release in May 2006 (H017P). These specifications are as follows:
- Intel Core Duo T2400 1.86 GHz Processor
- 14″ WXGA (1280 x 768) LCD Panel
- 1 GB (2 x 512 MB) DDR2 667 MHz RAM
- ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 w/ 256 MB VRAM GPU (512 MB Hypermemory)
- 100 GB 5400 RPM P-ATA Hard Drive
- Built-In Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 A/B/G miniPCI
- 8x Super Multi DVD Burner
- 8 Cell Li-Ion Battery
- 54mm PCI-Express Card Slot
- Built-in Bluetooth
- 3x USB 2.0 Ports
- 4 in 1 memory card reader (SD/MMC/MS/MS PRO)
- S-Video Out
- IEEE 1394 (Firewire) Port
- Windows XP Professional
- 13″ (length) x 9.7″ (width) x 1.18″-1.28″ (height) ~5.0 LBS w/ US standard 8 cell and travelers drawer ~5.4 LBS w/ US standard 8 cell and optical drive
The prime differences between the original H017P and H026P W3J configurations are the inclusion of an Intel Core Duo T2500 2.0 GHz processor, 1 x 1056 MB memory, and a $100 price hike.
Reasons for Buying:
Given the commercially-competitive nature of our society, the decision to jump for a big-ticket item can be a mind-numbingly painful one. While this pain might have been absent in my case, the decision to purchase the W3j was the result of 6 months of research. Being indecisive has its drawbacks, but a lack of patience is not one of them. My principle needs in a computer were portability, graphics-capability, longevity, and quality. Given my itinerant (occasionally consuming) gaming habit, a mid-high range GPU was a strong factor in my choice to buy. Combined with my needs for portability this originally caused me to look at 15.4″ widescreen media notebooks. Among these were the MSI-1039, HP dv4000 (when it had the ATI x700), the Sager 5320, and the Asus V6va. All of these were appealing options, but a combination of release delays (in the case of the MSI-1039) and the up-coming inclusion of higher-end GPUs (such as the x1600) caused me to postpone my purchase. Whilst in the throes of the waiting game I heard about the Asus W3j, and decided that a 14″ widescreen might actually better serve my needs than its larger counterparts.
This computer is intended to last me through medical school, all the while satisfying my note taking and graphics needs. As such, versatility in function and ease of mobility needed to be combined with a high build quality. I’m of the mind set that a few extra dollars are worth it, if the added attention to detail will prolong the aesthetic and functional life of the product. This was the primary factor which caused me to shift my attention from mass-market distributors such as Dell and HP, towards the designer models like Asus and Sager. While this meant my price range jumped from $1400 to $1800 I believe the end-result is worth it. The Asus W3j will undoubtedly serve me for 4 years in all manners necessary. While this time-frame will see such innovations as the introduction of Windows Vista and the release of 64-bit processors, I believe these issues will be addressed adequate to my needs.
Where and How Purchased:
I purchased the notebook from PROPortable.com. It’s owner, Justin, is a frequent participant here in the NotebookReview.com Asus forums, and I consistently find his advice to be exclusive, accurate, and timely.
The purchase price was the same as that of other retailers, namely $1,799. Combined with shipping costs and a $50 discount for NotebookReview.com forum members the final price came to $1821.32. Although I had seen promotional sales for slightly less, I found the shopping experience through PROPortable to be phenomenal. I believe the extra $50 I could have saved is more than made up for in the comfort I feel working with Justin’s company.
Build & Design:
This is one area which I can talk about without equivocation. The W3j is a masterpiece. The diligent student will realize that in specifications the Asus W3j is nearly identical to the Asus A8j and S96j. The difference you ask? Build quality.
Design has always been Asus’ forte, and this fact is attested to in the construction of the W3. First impressions on opening the box were somewhat akin to Homer Simpson, being a combination of euphoric moaning and drool. The brushed aluminum lid is poetically elegant, and the seamless touchpad is gorgeous. The bamboo-style hinge maintains the curvaceous nature of the design, as do the fonts of the keyboard which are decidedly less angular than is typical. The colorations of the computer itself lend a great deal to the aesthetics of the machine. I particularly enjoy the charcoal black of interior, the chrome trim of the touchpad, and the gun-metal gray of the lid.
The metallic and textured lid suggests the overall ruggedness of this machine (view large image)
The durability of the computer is also excellent. At no point in the three weeks that I’ve used it have I felt or heard creaks, rattles, or loosening joints. There is no flex on the screen or within the chassis itself. The magnetic latch of the lid is fantastic, and the hinge itself is so sturdy as to sometimes require two hands for proper positioning. (This in itself might be a negative for some people, but I find it a redeeming quality). The computer is also light weight enough (5.4 lbs.) to allow easy portability.
As to design there are only a few minor complaints. The only aspect of the computer which I find less than perfectly sturdy is the battery. If pressure is applied it exhibits a slight wobble. This is only a minor concern, it does not affect my opinion of the computer being totally sound, and it is completely unnoticeable unless sought after. I also would have been happier should Asus have used Carbon-alloy for the interior palm rest. As it stands the palm-rest is made of a high-grade plastic. This is particularly noticeable around the gray trim of the LCD/keyboard, and the seam of the battery. I also dislike how the heat vent was placed on the right side of the computer. Given the heat the GPU is capable of generating, this can be uncomfortable after prolonged use.
Asus W3J screen straight on (view large image)
Asus W3J screen taken from the right side, notice the reflection from the glossy screen (view large image)
The Asus W3j is a 14″ widescreen with WXGA resolution (1280 x 768). It has a Color Shine’ glossy LCD with Crystal Bright’ (extra bright) technology. When the W3 was first released there was no small debate about the rationale of using a WXGA resolution instead of something higher. I’ll admit that I was slightly anxious concerning this fact, but I’m happy to report that I’ve since found a WXGA resolution to be entirely adequate. The viewing angles of the screen are relatively narrow, a fact definitively noticeable on black images such as the Asus start-up screen. In these instances the upper and lower portions of the screen can take on a gray haze. If three or four people where crowded around the screen I would expect those persons on the outside to have difficulty seeing. Nevertheless, I’ve found the screen performance to be more than sufficient for my personal use. There is no light-leakage (meaning bleeding of the backlight through the seams) that I can perceive, nor are there any dead-pixels. The gloss of the screen might seem extreme from some of the included pictures, but I have not found this to be the case.
Using the Asus W3J with two windows open on the screen (view large image)
On a personal note, I’ve also confirmed my suspicions that a 14″ widescreen is an exceptional substitute for a 15.4″ screen. Not once have I been disappointed with the size of the LCD. It shows video well, and it offers reasonable space to display two screens side by side.
Most importantly, a look at how the Simpsons plays on the W3j (view large image)
Except in exceptional cases speakers are usually less than superb on notebooks. The W3j is not such an exception. Of all things concerning this notebook, this is that which I have found to be the most blatantly average. The design of the computer itself causes the speakers to angle down. Whether watching videos or playing games I typically find myself wishing I could push the sound just a little louder and richer. In the confines of my room the sound is adequate, but in public you will find yourself straining a little. On a positive note, the headphone/speaker jack is excellent, and the ability to use such eliminates this difficulty.
Processor and Performance:
The W3j emerges at an interesting time in computer evolution, in that it stands on the verge of the introduction of 64-bit technology. Even absent such however, it still represents an exceptionally powerful processing unit. The Yonah T2400 is a 1.86 GHz Dual Core. This means that the processor is capable of isolating different functions to one of its two cores, thus decreasing interference between programs (or even within the same program) and speeding up the process.
The general impression during use is speed. At no time have I felt that the computer lags beyond reason, and even then only when 4 or 5 process hungry programs are open simultaneously. CPU usage hovers around 15% when watching a DVD which enables comfortable multi-tasking.
Included in the design of the notebook are several hot buttons which enable easy hardware management. Along the left side are media keys which play CDs even when the computer is off. When the computer is turned on, these buttons access Windows Media Player. Along the right side are buttons which enable/disable Power4Gear, Bluetooth, Screen Contrast, Wireless Internet, and the Touchpad. I find all these functions to be extremely useful.
The following benchmarks reflect stock speeds and stock drivers. As you can see the Asus W3j more than holds its own in performance.
Below is the Super Pi calculation to 2-million digits of acuracy score and comparison to other notebooks:
|Asus W3J (1.83GHz Core Duo)||1m 23s|
|Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 12s|
|Lenovo Z61m (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 16s|
|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|
3DMark 05 Results:
Below is the overall 3DMark05 score and comparison to other notebooks:
|Notebook||3DMark 05 Results|
|Asus W3J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)||3,925 3D Marks|
|Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB)||2866 3D Marks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60 Nvidia GeForce Go7800 GTX)||7,078 3DMarks|
|Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Intel T2500, ATI X1400)||1,791 3D Marks|
|Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI Radeon Mobility x700 128 MB)||2,530 3D Marks|
|Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||2,273 3DMarks|
|Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 256MB)||2,090 3D Marks|
|Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)||4,157 3DMarks|
PCMark 05 Results:
Below is the overall PCMark05 score and comparison to other notebooks:
|Asus W3J (1.83GHz Core Duo)||3,978 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|
|Dell Inspiron e1405 (1.66 GHz Intel T2300)||2,879 PCMarks|
|Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400)||3,646 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Satellite M70 (Pentium M 1.86GHz)||1,877 PCMarks|
Heat & Noise:
Heat is naturally going to be an issue when such a powerful graphics card is packed into such a small unit. Although I won’t go so far as to state it is a problem, it is definitely noticeable. As stated before, this fact is aggravated by the situation of the heat vent on the right side. If you are using graphics intensive programs you will feel heat out of this vent. Nevertheless, I do not find the heat level to prohibitory to computer usage, nor do I find that I can’t bear to keep it on my lap. Overall, I find the balance between performance and heat capacity to be in accord. I purchased this computer knowing it was a performance machine, and I’m not disappointed in the consequences thereof.
The W3j is exceptionally quiet. On several occasions I’ve taken it to meetings and did not find it distracting in any regard. I say this with one caveat. Once the optical drive kicks in, it will be noticeable in a quiet room. If the optical drive is not used the noise level is minimal.
Keyboard & Touchpad:
Keyboard and touchpad view of the Asus W3j (view large image)
I enjoy both these aspects of the W3j. The keyboard is very well executed in most respects. The keys are individually mounted and the pressure required to press them is homogeneous across the board. I find the stroke distance to be slightly more than that of typical notebook keyboards, which I also enjoy. The keys themselves are a little noisier than I’ve come to expect on a notebook, but I don’t perceive this to be enough of a phenomenon to be bothered by it. The font on the keys is noticeably different from that of the standard keyboard. Principally, in that the font is more curved. It’s a subtle effect taken as a whole, but an entirely pleasing one. In fact I’ve had several people spontaneously comment that they like the font design. In my opinion, the one drawback of the keyboard is the situation of the Left Control and Function keys. The function key occupies the bottom-left corner of the keyboard as opposed to the control key. This becomes slightly annoying when performing functions such as cutting and pasting. I would have preferred to see these key positions switched, but in the end it serves as only a minor irritation
Closeup of touchpad (view large image)
The touchpad is a pleasant surprise. Experience has blessed me with a healthy bias against touchpads, but I find this one to be more reliable that those I’ve used in the past. Tracking seems to be consistent and accurate and the button sweet-spot’ is large enough to maintain ease of use. The design of the touchpad itself is a pleasure. I find the single button style appealing and the patterned face to be aesthetic.
Input and Output Ports:
A principle disadvantage of the Bamboo’ hinge design is the loss of the rear face for ports. Nevertheless, the W3 manages to pack sufficient connectivity on the left and right sides of the computer to satisfy most users. Included are:
- 3x USB 2.0 ports
- Audio Line-out (headphones/speakers)
- PCI 54 mm Express Card Slot
- 4 in 1 memory card reader (SD/MMC/MS/MS PRO)
- S-Video Out
- IEEE 1394 (Firewire) Port
- VGA 15-pin Video-Out (external monitor)
- 10/100 Ethernet LAN
- 56k Modem
Left side view of ports on the W3j (view large image)
Right side view of W3j ports (view large image)
I would have liked to have seen at least one more USB port, but thus far having 3 has proven sufficient.
Included in the W3j is the Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 A/B/G miniPCI wireless card. I have used the local wireless connection multiple times in my home and office and have yet to find a problem. Connection is quick and reliable, and the card identifies networks rapidly as they become available.
Battery life is one area in which the nature of this performance machine is readily noticeable. I have found battery life to range between 2h 45m and 3h 15m. The difference between the ranges is determined by CPU usage, screen brightness, and optical drive activity. 3 hours is a responsible estimate. While this is short I’ve found it sufficient for my needs. Also, keep in mind that the Asus W3j features a Hot-Swappable’ optical bay which can be filled with a hard drive or a 2nd optional battery. This second battery is a 6 cell Li-Ion as opposed to the main 8 cell, and should extend battery life by as much as 50%.
Operating System and Software:
The W3j shipped with Windows XP Professional. Additional software was minimal and easy to remove. Included was a trial version of Norton AntiVirus, Asus DVD software, and Nero (for burning CDs and DVDs). Norton, I have since replaced, but I find the other software to be useful, although not critical. Also provided was a CD containing all necessary utilities and drivers, and a system restore disk. The drive was initially partitioned FAT 32, but a simple program on the start-up desktop allowed quick conversion to NTFS.
I have as yet not had occasion to deal with Asus Technical Support. I hope this remains the case for some time. I have heard that the quality of their service is excellent (this too was a factor in purchasing from Asus), but I have no first hand experience and so will remain silent on the subject for the time being.
Simply stated, I love this computer. Between the superb performance of the T2400 Dual Core processor and the ATI X1600 GPU all my computational needs have be met. Combine this with an absolutely stunning design and portable dimensions and the result is spectacular. Complaints with the system are vastly over-shadowed by the over-all experience. For those with budget concerns I would first look at the Asus A8j or S96j, but if you’re willing to spend a little extra for a top-quality product then I wholeheartedly recommend the Asus W3j. I am confident in stating that you will enjoy the experience.
- Elegant/sturdy design
- Excellent performance (CPU & GPU)
- Light-weight & portable dimensions
- Relatively short battery life
- Average speakers
- Heat vent on right-hand side