Asus W3V Notebook Review (pics, specs)

by joshuang Reads (36,405)

Joshua Huang, California USA

Overview and Introduction

Open view of Asus W3V (view larger image)

My current notebook is an ASUS W3V.  Asus lists this notebook as a “Thin and Light” on their website, and this 14″ 5.5 lb machine certainly fits the description.  The W3V is part of Asus’ ensemble line and thus most W3Vs have the same specifications, with a little variation from country to country.  My W3V came from Taiwan, and has the following specs:

  • Intel Pentium M Processor 750 (1.86 GHz, 533 MHz FSB, 2MB L2 cache)
  • Microsoft Windows XP Home Chinese Edition (which I promptly swapped out for Windows XP Pro)
  • 14.1″ WXGA (1280×768) LCD, Color Shine (glare-type), Crystal Shine (high brightness)
  • Intel 915PM Chipset
  • 80 GB Hard Drive, 4200 RPM
  • Built-in 8x DVD RW Dual Layer drive
  • ATI Mobility Radeon X600 64MB Memory (plus Hypermemory), PCI Express
  • 512 MB DDR2 400MHz RAM (upgraded to 1GB RAM)
  • Built-in Bluetooth and 802.11a/b/g wireless
  • 3 x USB 2.0 Ports, 1 x TV-Out, 1 x Card Reader
  • 5.5 lbs, 13″x9.7″x1.18″~1.29″

Reasons for Buying

I was only in the laptop market because my dad needed a notebook and offered to take my old one.  I used a Compal CL56 notebook last year and was quite happy with the performance, but the battery life was so-so, and it was a tad bigger and heavier than I would have liked it to be.  Additionally, I was getting tired of the way the CL56 looked and was looking for a sleeker looking laptop.  Yes, function over form, but a good design can’t hurt, can it?  I am an engineering student in college who games casually, so I was looking for a laptop that could perform well and travel with me to class and the library.  Unfortunately, I had a budget of around $1300 US, and I couldn’t find much.  Most laptops with those specs were too expensive.  The Asus Z70V fit my needs except for the size.  It looked gorgeous and relatively light on paper, but a friend who owns an M6 chassis said it was pretty big and a bit cumbersome to carry around.  The screen and design upgrade from the CL56 to Z70V would have been nice, but I was hesitant about the size and weight.  I figured I would be better off keeping my old machine and buying my dad an Asus Z63a or an IBM.  I was lucky enough to find the W3V in Taiwan on sale, so I picked up this gorgeous notebook and have been happy with my purchase ever since. 

Where and How Purchased

I bought the laptop in Taiwan and got a great deal in a computer expo, so my buying experience is quite a bit different than most others.  Great thing about my purchase, though, is that Asus ensembles get global warranty, so I could get warranty coverage back in the states.  More on that later.

Build & Design

This is what sets the W3V apart from other notebooks.  It’s sleek, sturdy, and doesn’t look messy or cluttered.  Words can barely describe it, and pictures hardly do it justice.  The materials Asus used are top-notch: some carbon fiber for the chassis, and a brushed aluminum cover on the lid.  The whole thing is quite sturdy; I can pick it up by the two front corners without it flexing or creaking.

Holding the W3V (view larger image)

The lid is very strong as well.  Pushing on it had no effect on the display at all.  When I pushed the screen to make it wobble, there was only a slight ripple in the bottom right corner less than a centimeter in diameter. 

Right side view of W3V (view larger image)

Left side view of W3V (view larger image)

Front side view of W3V (view larger image)

Back side view of W3V (view larger image)

The battery design and power button placement is a cool design implementation, but it unfortunately makes wire management a little messier since everything is plainly visible from the sides.  Kind of looks like Keanu Reeves plugged with wires in The Matrix.  Fortunately, very few people utilize all the ports included, so in reality it isn’t all that bad.  One complaint I do have is the location of the lock.

Asus W3V Kensington lock (view larger image)

It’s right next to two USB ports, and using a cable lock prevents you from using the bottom USB port.  Not a make or break point for the laptop since you can just remove the lock, but it is an unnecessary hassle that shouldn’t be there.

Some people worried about the notebook turning on in their bag since the power button is on the outside.  However, Asus designers have that covered, and the power button only works if the lid is open.  It’s these small design implementations that set Asus notebooks apart from other mainstream ones. 

Despite the few small quirks, the design of this notebook overwhelms me.  It’s hard to pack so many features into something so small and so good-looking, but the W3V is proof that it can be done.

Screen

The screen is a 14.1″ widescreen glare-type.  Some people prefer glossy, some prefer matte; personally, I like both.  The glossy screen really is beautiful — colors and contrast is great.  I have no dead pixels to distract my viewing pleasure, and there are no light leakage issues.  The horizontal viewing angles are pretty decent, but the vertical viewing angles leave a little to be desired.  It’s fine for most purposes, but when using Photoshop or watching a movie with lots of darks, the color changes visibly when you move your head up and down. 

Straight on view of screen

Top down view of screen

Left angle view of screen

Right angle view of screen

Some people complain about glossy screens being distracting because they look like a mirror, but I haven’t had that problem.  I realized that almost all lights are overhead, and when you use the notebook it only reflects what’s behind you, not the bright lights above.  During most applications, I don’t notice the reflections at all, especially against lighter backgrounds, which applies to the majority of office applications and web browsing.  The reflections are only apparent when the screen displays dark colors.  Generally, the screen is only dark during some scenes in movies, and when I watch movies I turn off the lights anyways, so reflection is a non-issue.

Screen comparison of W3v next to  Dell 1905fp LCD monitor (view larger image)

Just for comparison, above is the W3V lcd next to a Dell 1905fp UltraSharp monitor.

Speakers

The speakers are positioned in the front of the notebook and angled downwards, so they are just as effective with the lid closed as it is open.  They sound exactly like I expected them to sound: weak and tinny.  I actually have no quibbles with this since better speakers would have equaled more room for bigger and better drivers.  This way, the footprint of the notebook stays small.  I figure anyone who cares about their sound quality would have a decent set of speakers or headphones to use instead of these built-in speakers.

Processor and Performance

This laptop may not be the fastest notebook on the market, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a 14″ notebook that outperforms the W3V.  The bottleneck of my system is definitely my hard drive, since it is 4200 rpm.  Luckily for most people reading this, the W3V sold in North America should have a 5400 rpm drive, so others will have an even faster system.  Other than a slow startup (almost 2 minutes, due to the 4200 rpm hard drive), the system is very responsive.  The memory is easily upgradeable, and the 1.86 GHz processor and 1GB of RAM handles almost everything I throw at it.  I usually have many applications running, anywhere from 6 to 12 windows open and music playing, and it almost never skips or hiccups. 

The X600 video card is only mid-range, but it’ll handle most recent games at medium settings or better.  It probably won’t play F.E.A.R, but it’ll play almost everything else smoothly.  I’m only a casual gamer, so it suits the user who wants to play the occasional game perfectly.

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 W3V (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 43s
 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

Below are benchmark results from the application HDTune when run on the the Asus W3V 4200RPM 80GB Hard Drive:

HDTune Benchmark results

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard and touchpad on this notebook are great and easy to use.  To be honest, my original Chinese keyboard seemed to have firmer keys, but the standard English keyboard I replaced it with is still great.  The keys are a good size, not too small, and there’s an audible click that’s not too loud when you press a key.  There is zero flex when I push on the keyboard. 

My only complaint about the keyboard is that the Ctrl key is not in the bottom-left corner.  This has been talked about before in other reviews, and as most others have said, you get used to it quickly. 

Asus thoughtfully included lots of shortcut buttons that are integrated into the notebook border, although dedicated volume buttons would be nice.  They’re convenient and I use them all the time, but their placement does mean that you have to be careful when you pick up the notebook to avoid pressing the buttons inadvertently.  After a few days, though, you get used to it and it’s no problem at all.

Left side shortcut buttons (view larger image)

Right side shortcut buttons (view larger image)

The touchpad is great, and touchpad buttons are integrated into the palmrest, so there’s no gap for dust and other crumbs to hide in.  The buttons are a bit stiffer than other notebooks, but they’re by no means hard to press.  I’ve never liked using trackpoints, but those who are die-hard fans may miss not having one on this notebook.  

Asus W3V Touchpad

Input and Output Ports

The W3V has most of the standard I/O ports to keep most people happy.  It has:

  • 3 x USB 2.0 ports
  • 1 x VGA port/Mini D-sub 15pin for external monitor
  • 1 x IEEE 1394 port
  • 1 x Card Reader
  • 2 x Audio Jack: Audio out (SPIDIF) x Mic in
  • 1 x Type II PCMCIA Slot
  • 1 x RJ11 connector for modem
  • 1 x RJ45 connector for ethernet
  • 1 x TV Out (S-Video) 

As mentioned previously, using a laptop lock effectively knocks out one of the USB ports, but the paltry number of USB ports is easily remedied by using a USB hub.  It is nice that there is a USB port on the right and two on the left, for easy access to a mouse cable and so other cables don’t get in the way of the mouse on the right (I suppose that makes it bad for left-handed users though).  The card reader takes SD, MMC, and Sony MemoryStick cards, so chances are good that you’ll be able to use the built-in card reader.  I’ve used the S-Video out to play movies on the TV many times, and it works flawlessly.  The only port that’s missing is a DVI out for people who wish to use a higher quality external monitor.

Wireless

The W3V comes with a built-in wireless card, and I’m able to connect b and g networks with ease.  No complaints here.  The included Bluetooth is nice too.  I can send images and ringtones to and from my phone without any problems, and I’ve been using a Bluetooth headset to talk on Skype.  The connection for both the 802.11 b & g and Bluetooth is good, and it’s easy to turn either of them on or off with the dedicated buttons on the side of the notebook.

Battery

The battery life of the W3V is good, but I wouldn’t quite call it stellar.  Asus provides Power4Gear software for managing power profiles for the laptop, but I uninstalled it so I could undervolt the laptop with CHC (Centrino Hardware Control).  After undervolting, the W3V gets about 3:30 at full brightness with the CPU on Dynamic Stepping (usually clocked back to 800MHz).  If I lower the brightness of the LCD screen to about 70%, I can get almost 4 hours of battery life.  If I further lower the brightness to about 45%, I can get over 4 hours of usage.  Wireless was always turned on, Bluetooth always off, and the computer usage consisted of light office work and listening to music, not heavy gaming or watching DVDs.  All in all, the battery life isn’t too shabby.

Included Software and Accessories

The W3V came with Windows XP Home installed and included some other software on CDs.  The most refreshing part of turning on the computer the first time was that Asus hadn’t installed all sorts of bloatware on the machine.  All that was on the computer was the OS, the necessary drivers, and Norton anti-virus.  It was such a nice change from uninstalling all the unnecessary software on my friends’ Dell laptops.  Of course, the lack of bloatware, other than Norton, was a moot point for me since I upgraded to XP Pro anyways.

Although Asus didn’t include the XP Home CD, they did provide recovery CDs, as well as a driver CD, media software for playing and editing movies, and the Nero OEM suite for burning CDs and DVDs. 

Extras you’ll get with the W3V (view larger image)

Another nice touch was Asus’ bundling of lots of little accessories.  The W3V comes with a nice tweed bag, a traveler’s tray for when you want to swap out the optical drive, headphones, and a Logitech wireless mouse.  The headphones are pretty useless, but the bag is actually quite nice, and the mouse gets liberal use on my desk. 

Customer Support

Unfortunately, I’ve already had to use Asus’ customer support.  The Optical drive died on me after two weeks of usage, and I gave Asus’ notebook service line a call.  They’re reasonably friendly, but they don’t quite have the depth of customer service other big name companies.  In other words, they won’t come to your house to fix the laptop if there’s a problem.  I sent them the broken Optical drive, and they sent a new one back to me.  The whole RMA process was relatively painless, but they didn’t send me the RMA number until the day after I called.  24 hours isn’t a very good turnaround time, and I had to pay the shipping to their service center myself.  Once they received the broken drive though, they were very fast and sent a new one back to me with overnight shipping.  They only have one service center in the US, which is located in Fremont, CA, so if you live elsewhere there’s no place you can walk into and get a new part under warranty.  In short, they don’t go above and beyond, but if your laptop is broken, they’ll get it fixed relatively painlessly.

In Short

The W3V is an amazing combination of power, portability, and design.  It is small and light enough to slip into my bag without it being a nuisance, and it never chokes on anything I throw at it.  Its main attraction is its design and build quality, and performance is amazing for its size.  Battery life is average, and the only caveat to this notebook is its price.  For $1699, it’s not the cheapest option out there, but it’s certainly worth the money.


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