June 29, 2006
So my much-anticipated Asus W3J laptop arrived a few days ago. To recap, my requirements for a laptop were:
- Core Duo
- 5 pounds maximum weight
- Dedicated video hardware
- Removable optical drive
Laptops have outsold desktops since 2003, depending on whose data you believe. And today's laptops are definitely converging with desktops (and vice-versa, in terms of noise and size). Laptops involve far fewer compromises than in years past. But I still consider laptops a necessary evil when I'm travelling. All other things being equal, I'd rather be sitting in front of a less expensive and more flexible desktop machine.
So, in no particular order, some thoughts about the W3J.
- I love the glossy LCD display. I was a little apprehensive about glare, but after using a glossy LCD for a few days, I am a total believer. I wish all of my LCDs, including the ones I use on my desktops, were glossy. The increase in contrast and brightness is truly remarkable. Matte LCD screens? They're dead to me.
- The Radeon Mobility X1600 is a great video card. After installing the latest ATI mobility drivers-- you can only do this if you download the full package and skip the tedious validation executable-- I get a 3dMark05 score of ~4200. That's in the same ballpark as a desktop GeForce 6800GT, which is mightily impressive for a laptop.
I was able to play Battlefield 2 on relatively high settings at 1280x768 (use the -szx, and -szy startup params to get widescreen resolutions) and my framerate never dipped below 40 frames per second through an entire botmatch. After that, Vista's hardware accelerated Aero Glass interface should be a walk in the park.
The usual ATI caveat applies, of course. Avoid installing the Catalyst Center software at all costs. It's bloated and slow. Stick with the core driver and use ATI Tray Tools if you need to tweak advanced settings.
- The metal cover is a nice touch. The rest of the laptop is plastic, of course, but I'm hoping the metal cover is more functional than cosmetic. Every laptop I've owned, the LCD screen eventually gets scratched by the keyboard. Maybe the stiffer metal cover will prevent this from happening with the W3J. Until I know for sure, I'm not taking any chances-- I'll be putting a small piece of fabric on the keyboard before closing the laptop.
I also like the way there's no latch on the screen. Simply flip down to close; flip up to open. The hinge is a little overly resistant right now, so it takes a bit more force than I'd like, but I assume it will loosen up over time as it's used.
- Unfortunately, the touchpad has a dedicated vertical scroll area. This is nearly a deal breaker for me. There's no tactile feedback of any kind when you move your finger from the normal touchpad area into the dedicated scroll area. I'm suffering through it for now, because it's the only substantive complaint I have about the W3J. But how I wish there was a way to turn off that damn dedicated vertical scrolling area. You can scroll just fine without a dedicated area; the driver detects when your finger is near the edge and it switches dynamically.
- It's very easy to upgrade. There's a large panel on the bottom which, when removed, allows easy access to the hard drive, memory, CPU, and (what I think is) the video card. The CPU appears to be socketed, so it's theoretically replaceable. The hard drive and memory are obvious and easy upgrade candidates. In fact, I have another 1 gigabyte SO-DIMM on the way.
- The two gigabyte laptop memory limit is alive and well. Although you can get laptops that theoretically allow you to use 4 gigabytes of memory, I doubt any of them have more than two SO-DIMM slots. So that means 2x2gb-- but have you priced a 2 gigabyte SO-DIMM? Consider Dell's XPS M1710; the 4gb memory upgrade option is currently $1,800 for DDR-533. That's as much as I paid for the entire laptop! And it's a whopping $3,000 if you want DDR-667.
I can get a 1 gigabyte SO-DIMM for under $90. Given current (and forseeable future) prices, I'm more than OK with a 2 gigabyte memory limit on this laptop. 2 gigabytes of memory should be workable for the next 3 years. Or at least until 4 gigabytes of laptop memory costs less than an entire laptop.
- Without optical drive, the machine is right at 5 pounds. After unpacking the laptop, I snapped the DVD-R drive out and snapped in the lightweight plastic "traveller's bay" to reduce the overall weight. It's a bit back-heavy due to the weight of the battery, and it's no match for the flyweight three pound Dell 300M I used to cary, but it's quite portable considering the massive, uncompromising leap in performance.
I use a small Timbuk2 messenger bag to carry my laptop and other stuff. It's a little tight, but I'd rather pack light when possible. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a dedicated laptop compartment, so I use a waterfield SleeveCase to cushion the laptop before storing it in the bag. If you're into laptop sleeves, I can recommend the SleeveCase highly. It comes in sizes to fit any laptop perfectly (the W3J uses a 26-19), and they're made in nearby San Francisco.
- The integrated intel "HD" audio is impressive. I may not think integrated video makes sense, but I definitely think integrated audio does. Intel's improved "HD" audio standard is a welcome improvement to the creaky, ancient AC97 audio standard. It's a standard feature on the W3J's Intel 945PM chipset. When I slapped my headphones on and plugged them into the W3J, I was pleasantly surprised how much crisper this sounded than the generic AC97 in my old Dell 300m. It far exceeded my modest expectations for integrated audio.
One other minor niggle with the W3J is the extremely bright blue LEDs on the bottom left. I don't mind a blue LED on the power switch, since it's on the right side of the hinge, and not directly in my line of sight. But we really need to disabuse manufacturers of the idea that consumers want super-bright blue LEDs directly in our faces.
But aside from the minor touchpad and LED issues, the W3J is a fine machine, and very enjoyable to use.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
You can disable the vert scroll area. Control Panel Mouse Function.
Well, I don't want to disable vertical scrolling ENTIRELY. I just want the *dedicated* vertical scroll area to go away (because it's nearly impossible to "feel" when you've moved your finger into this no-man's-scrolling-only-land), and treat the panel like a single large touchpad. I don't think this is possible. Here's the relevant page from the Synaptics driver
I have version 8.2.0 of the Synaptics driver installed; the latest download version on their website is 8.1.2, so the driver hasn't been updated much in the last year, from what I can tell..
You've possibly persuaded me to get one of my own. I won't be buying for another half a year probably though, so something better will probably come out before then.
Sounds like a good laptop. It does occur to me that you could fix the scrolling and led niggles with 2 small peices of masking tape - although this wouldn't look so great, it might be a simple solution?
Love teh blog, btw - Thanks!
If it's synaptics you should be able to set the scroll area or disable it entirely in its tab on the mouse pane of the control panel. I'd hope other brands would offer the same functionality. The manual vaguely hints at such (mostly by spotting the icon on a photo of the mouse panel) but I can't find the brand mentioned in any spec sheet or review. Sigh.
If you ever feel the need to mod, you could replace the bright blue leds with, say, violet or forest green. ;)
Thanks for the comments on the screen. I've always had the same (glare) reservations, maybe I'll give it a try. I'd also be interested on any comments on the dual core. What I've heard so far is that it is an under performer.
I've heard of people using a color wheel and the fingernail polish counter at the local drug store to change the color of the LEDs to a nice purple color, but don't try this at home.
Our HP has the highway wake-up bumps in the vertical scroll area of our trackpad. I'm still not a big fan of trackpads. But replacing the nubs every so often was a pain.
I'm also going to suggest tape, but not for the LEDs, use it for the trackpad! Just put a very small sliver of tape across that boundary to make your own "highway bumps". Make that tape match with the tape you're going to use for the blue LEDs, stylin'!
I've never actually tried this, so YMMV.
I have to disagree on the glossy screens. I personally hate them. You can't use them outside at all... they look totally black. I work at home and love to go out on my back porch to program. But not anymore. :( The glossy screen on my new Dell laptop is completely unusable even in the shade. My old matte finish laptop was harder to see but at least I could use it.
You can disable the vert scroll area. Control Panel Mouse Function.
Also, don't use the usual screen cleaners on that display. You'll destroy it. Use distilled water and a shammy cloth.
You can buy these at Staples, under the brand "Clean Doctor". It looks like a hairbrush, but it cleans these new anti-glare screens where traditional cleaners won't (they streak).
I also recently upgraded my laptop - from a very small Sony Vaio PCG-TR3p to a new Macbook. I wanted an Intel Duo laptop and after pricing between the Macbook and the Lenovo Thinkpad X60, the Macbook was notably cheaper.
I have to say that although I am mostly a Windows guy, the transition has been fairly easy and I'm very happy with my new machine. The stories about excessive heat, etc, are a bit overblown (its no worse than any other laptop I've had).
I bought it thinking I'd use Bootcamp to let me use Windows when I really needed to, but instead I bought Parallels (VM) and setup XP in that and it worked really well. And it also turns out I haven't really needed to run Windows much - I can get my Exchange mail on Entourage, I can VPN into work with the standard Internect Connect app in OS X and I downloaded the Windows Remote Desktop Client for the Mac when I need to get into work and do something.
For those of you on the edge - and a little curious about the Mac - you should give some real thought to a Macbook.
I just had to share: I have a laptop, a BenQ notebook that I got as a warranty replacement for a very flakey earlier model. All the computers in my house are named for animals, and since this replacement machine was supposedly going to be flawless and error-free, it clearly needed a mythical animal name. So I called it Bonacon - a heraldic beast like a large cow, with some unusual features (look it up!). This then suggested the ideal name for the surprisingly sturdy soft zip-up case that came with it: the Bonacondom!
Just thought you'd like to know.
How is the fan noise and the heat? Especially after the Macbook incident, this would be interesting.
Like a few others, I say tape the dedicated vertical scroll area. Duct tape comes in lots of colors now...
I've been searching for months, trying to find the most suitable laptop for work. I believe the search ends here.
Where'd you purchase your asus?
Very interesting review. I've been looking for a laptop for a while and after stumbling across your earlier post, I've been watching the W3J very closely. Glad to see you are happy with it.
I'm very close to pulling the trigger on it. Just need final budget approval from the boss (aka the wife).
I was very close to going for the A8JM, but the refresh specs on the W3J seem too good to be true.
Hows the heat on it while holding it in your lap? Is it truly a "lap" top or does it feel like a scorching hot dinner plate within 5 minutes?
Where'd you purchase your asus?
I got mine from 1toppc.com ; they called me to verify the order and handled everything perfectly. I've never done business with them before, but I had no problems at all with the W3J order.
the refresh specs on the W3J
Yeah, the free upgrade to the 2.0 GHz Core Duo is a nice perk, and the single internal 1GB SO-DIMM makes upgrading a breeze. Just snap in another $90 1GB SO-DIMM via the panel on the back and you're done. Mine should arrive today.
How is the fan noise?
You can hear it, but it's never obnoxiously loud or buzzy. It's very smooth. I spent a lot of time building quiet PCs, so I'd tell you if it was noisy. For example, my work provided Thinkpad T43 had a MUCH noiser and far more obnoxious cooling fan.
Hows the heat on it while holding it in your lap?
The vent on the right expels some extremely warm air, particularly if you're gaming (loading both the CPU and video card). But the bottom doesn't get particularly hot. There's also an extra, passive vent on the bottom.
WRT to ATI drivers, you may want to look in to the third-party Omega drivers -- I'm generally an nVidia fanboy and try and avoid ATI purely because their drivers suck ass, but on the one ATI card I *do* have I've found the Omega drivers to be faster, more stable, and with a much bigger feature set than the stock ones.
I have an Asus A8Ja after a disaster with two Macbooks. Very impressive and at 100% CPU it never gets hotter than 58 degrees C. When idle it runs at around 33 degrees so runs very cool. Unlike the Macbook Pro it stays completely cold up top and just gets warm underneath (granted its a 1.6 GHz not 1.8GHz).
Unfortunately after about a month the fan started whining when at low speed, very annoying and can be heard over videos etc. I tried to get their support to send me another fan but they insist I send the laptop back - unfortunately I can't because I use it every day !
Anyone have any idea on how to quiet a fan - oil perhaps ?
Based on your comments and review, I have decided to purchase an Asus - the order went in today and I will be getting it by Thursday or Friday of this week (in Canada).
Q. Did you purchase their extended warranty? Is it worth it? Thanking your for your reply in advance.
Stu in Ottawa, Canada
Everything except HardDisk is looks impressive. ASUS W3J does not come with SATA disk. It is disappointing.
Q. Did you purchase their extended warranty? Is it worth it?
I didn't. Usually extended warranties are a waste of money, but laptops tend to lead a hard life-- so it might be a reasonable choice in this case, if it's not too expensive.
Is anyone able to comment on the relative keyboard noise? I would like to be able to take notes in class, but hate bothering everyone else. Thanks in advance.
I was wondering what you think of the 14" screen for dev work. I'm thinking about the W3J and will mainly be using it with DevStudio and Eclipse.
Does the smaller screen size and res hurt?
I think I might get the W3J too. I was recently in China and a friend's office had standardized on the W7J, which was quite cool (and a bit lighter). However, it uses the Nvidia Go7400 which is not as attractive as the Radeon 1600 in terms of performance. Lugging around my Compaq athlon 64 notebook (probably weighing in around 8lbs) is becoming untenable.
Anyway, thanks for the concise review.
can it run passive at low loads?
The fan doesn't ever turn all the way off. The fan is always on, but at a very low level. It's not noisy. I am very sensitive to noise.
hard drive noise?
14" screen for dev work.
I like the widescreen for Visual Studio. It's much better than the plain 1024x768 of my old laptop.
Is anyone able to comment on the relative keyboard noise
It's no noisier than any other laptop keyboard that I can tell.
This laptop seems to be ideal specwise, my only two concerns would be my subjective approval of the screen and noise.
How does the fan work? If your running on idle, or have forced the system to downclock itself to ~1Ghz does the fan turn on at all, e.g. can it run passive at low loads?
Also, has anyone tested if the software speedfan works with this thing?
What about hard drive noise?
Sorry for all the questions... I'm just trying to find out as much info as possible from people who have hands-on experiance with this.
I went looking for a new notebook computer over the summer and purchased the ASUS S96J "whitebook" from GentechPC (1toppc). It's part of the Verified by Intel program and allows you to have more choices when selecting components and assembling them. Specs:
CPU: Intel Yonah Core-Duo T2400 1.83GHz 2M 667 FSB
RAM: Kingston 2GB DDR-2 667 SODIMM (2X1024)
HD: Hitachi 7K100 100GB 7200rpm S-ATA
Wireless: Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 Tri-mode 802.11a/b/g
Display: 15.4" WXGA 1280 x 800 Color Shine (Glare)
VGA: ATI Mobility X1600 256MB PCI Express
Optical: 8 x DVD-RW Dual Layer Super Multi
Camera: Built-in Camera
Additional Primary Battery Additional AC Adapter
I also purchased the extended warranty. Total was under $2K. I'm very satisfied with this notebook, but it probably would not meet your needs. It is larger (15.4" screen) and the optical drive is not removable. I haven't checked the weight, but it feels more than five pounds.
I've installed the Omega drivers primarily to fix artifact (flickering textures) problems with the stock ATI drivers. The Omega drivers do NOT install the Catalyst Control Center (CCC), and include the ATI Tray Tools (ATT); all good!
As far as laptop fan noise (and battery life)goes, you can download a small app called "Notebook Hardware Control" (available for free @ http://www.pbus-167.com).
Not only it bypasses the system's fan/processor speed, but it also lets you personalyse it and create profiles.
I have been using the W3J for a month now. And I enjoy almost everything about this computer. Like play a game while you are downloading music and games from 2 application and running winamp. And not just a game, a big game like “Need for Speed Most Wanted” with full graphics. This is what goes for the performance of the notebook. Lets not forget the looks it. The nice and sleek black(looks dark gray) metal top is noticed by people at a coffeshop as more attractive then the Mac (4 people and counting). These things make me proud of my well spent money. So the point of me writing here is just to recommend the Asus and say that I’m not happy the way Dell makes it’s way through the US market. Why pay for a Dell when you can get a Asus that is many times better in many ways.
I added a T2600 processor, 100Gb 7,200rpm HD, 2Gb of Ram, 1 year extended warranty, 120Gb External HD http://stores.ebay.com/OYEN-DIGITAL and a waterfield SleeveCase with piggyback, flap and strap http://www.sfbags.com/products/sleevecases/sleevecases.htm . At www.allasus.com They were very patient with me, I waited a month to get it.
I know it's a bit of a lame question but how do you "download the full package and skip the tedious validation executable" with the catalyst drivers exactly, just for future reference if you don't mind?
P.S. I have had this notebook for a while now and it's awesom I'm thinking of putting a core 2 duo in to it now though, I've already put in an extra gig of ram.
SwitfOne, Have you researched on how your swap of the processor is going to look? If you can leave me some info on that. Thx.
I have had the W4J for about 6 months and love it except for two things. The touchpad scroll which is very anoying and hard to get use to. I placed a thin strip of black electrical tape on the boarder giving my finger a positive stop. Works great and is barely noticable. The other is the Intel wireless card. Lousy performance and software. Ordered a Atheros replacement. It uses the new mini express card so options are limited. I'm sure the Antheros will be a much better choice.
Like Gene, I have nothing to complain about on my W3J except the horrible dedicated trackpad scroll area, which I still can't get used to. It's working great and runs Vista like a champ.
I do plan to upgrade the hard drive to a larger, 7200 RPM model at some point.
Thanks for your review! Are you still pleased with your asus W3J laptop after 6 months of use?
For example;how is the build quality and are the components reliable?
I cant find one in Australia, so where else can I purchase one of these ?
How's the batteries holding out ? are they still holding charge ?
Thanks for the nice review. I am looking to get a new laptop and the W3J is near the top of the list. Now that ram prices have come down and 2g sticks are more reasonable (~$220) I would like to put 3g total in it. However, it appears there is a bios limit of 2g even though the chipset could theoretically support up to 4g. Since you seem like a much more computer savy guy than myself, I was wondering if you had any comment on this. Is there a bios update that raises the 2g limit or was that an Asus error? Also, if you have your finger on the pulse of the industry should I wait a couple of months if a new batch products are released maybe with DX10 graphics cards in them? Thanks a ton.
I have problem playing Halflife 2 even with the latest ATI driver, do anybody know how to solve this. It tends to crash or freeze during the game.
What's your driver version? 7.5?