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ASUS A8Js 14inch Widescreen Notebook

Date: March 26, 2007
Author(s): Rob Williams

ASUS has a new notebook offering that is sure to please most. It includes a fast T7200 processor, NVIDIA 7700 Go graphics card and 1GB of ram. It’s also very competitively priced at just under $1,500. Is it worth your consideration?



Introduction


For years, the laptop market has been dominated by the likes of Dell, HP, Lenovo and others, but things are now changing. ASUS has a large selection of products from a variety of markets, but they are really starting to make an impact with their notebook selection. We posted an evaluation of their Lamborghini VX1 last November, which we were quite pleased with. As far as notebooks go, it was gorgeous. However, it’s expensive, which puts it out of reach for most people. It also offered a weak video card, so it wasn’t designed for gaming.

The model we are looking at today is the A8Js, which is designed for performance, gaming and affordability. Unlike Dell, ASUS only sells their laptops as is, without the possibility of customization prior to shipment. Because of this, it’s hard to run out and pick up one of their laptops and be content with everything included. There may have been a few tradeoffs you wish were not there. However, after using this model for over three weeks, I am confident to say that it should suit most anyone who is looking for a "do-all" notebook.

ASUS is often known as a company to sell products at a premium price. I attest this to the fact that they sell very high quality products. However, after perusing competitors websites, I found the A8Js to be quite a good value in comparison. Similar notebooks I found often cost more but had certain crucial components downgraded. I will touch on this a lot more in the conclusion. Before I drag out the intro too far, let’s jump right into things.

ASUS sent the notebook in a large box, but not the one you see in the photo. No, this box was inside a larger box alongside the included notebook bag that ASUS graciously gives you for free. Seeing as how the bag is a feature of the notebook, you should receive yours in a similar fashion.

After opening this box, you’ll find yet another smaller one that features the software, mouse and other extras.

I admit it. I am not a fan of the color of the A8Js. Gray doesn’t normally portray a "happy" or modern looking product. If it had a glossy finish, it may be a little different, but it’s matte. It might be right up your alley, but it wasn’t up mine.

Here’s a view from the other side so you can see what it would look like closed and in front of you.

The only thing on the hood is a small chrome ASUS logo.

To help protect the notebook during shipping and storage, there is a thin plastic film over the screen which can be removed easily, as is the cloth-like material on the keyboard.

Now that we are warmed up, let’s take a look at the A8Js piece by piece.



Closer Look

I’m pleased with the overall look, but there are a few things I would have changed. First is the unattractive product stickers affixed beside the touchpad. To be blunt, I would not personally want to shell out a load of money for a laptop that plasters product information all over. The NVIDIA and Windows badges I can understand. They don’t actually look too bad.

The Splendid sticker is totally unnecessary and should be discussed on a sheet of paper that comes with the laptop, not sitting there for you to look at all the time. The parts and information sticker I can understand being affixed to the laptop, but it should definitely not be in this spot, rather underneath where nobody looks. To me, these stickers take away a lot in the overall look of what really is a well designed laptop.

Once you’ve seen a touchpad, you’ve virtually seen them all. As is becoming the norm, this touchpad doesn’t include two separate buttons, but instead you can just press on the relative area to perform the left or right mouse click. This is a good thing, since it helps keep dirt out of the grooves. There is also a "scrollwheel" here, which you just tap and slide your finger up and down.

The A8Js is designed for multi-purpose, and this includes communication and conferencing. You will find a microphone to the left of the keyboard. Strange spot in my opinion, but it works.

Above the keyboard, you’ll find a selection of buttons used for the usual slew of actions such as disabling bluetooth, wifi, changing performance modes, et cetera.

Nothing unusual about the keys themselves. You can see the blue icons on the top row, which correspond with the Fn key.

Remember those ridiculous stickers I mentioned? Here’s the Splendid one in addition to the NVIDIA, Windows and Intel badges.

The specs sticker to me, is pretty much useless. It gives people who don’t know much about computers a simple look at what’s inside, but for those who want to know what exactly is inside and who manufacturers each component, you are out of luck without running ID programs on the computer.

I mentioned earlier about the communications/conferencing capabilities of the A8Js, so it’s no surprise that there is a webcam integrated into the screen. Don’t expect huge things though, as it’s only rated at 0.35 megapixels (640×480).

You can see the laptop is well ventilated when looking at the back. Serial number and windows key can also be found here.

On the back, you can find a NIC and modem port, two USB 2.0 ports, DVI, VGA and video-out in addition to the power jack.

On the left side of the machine you will find the DVD-Rom, audio ports, Express card slot, USB 2.0 port, firewire and a card reader capable of handling SD/MMC cards.

Finally, two more USB ports (for a total of five on the entire notebook) and the bluetooth sensor can be found on the right side.

If you wish to look deeper into the system specs, you can go to the next page which list everything. If you are happy with what you know so far, you can skip that page.



Official Specs

Here are the official specs for the ASUS A8Js.

Processor & Cache MemoryIntel(R) Core(TM)2 Duo Processors T7200 2 GHz, 4 MB L2 Cache, 667 MHz FSB
Operating SystemGenuine Microsoft(R) Windows(R) XP Professional

Genuine Microsoft(R) Windows(R) Vista Home Premium

(Varies between retailers)
ChipsetMobile Intel(R) 945PM Express Chipset
Main Memory1024 MB DDR2 667 (1Gx1)
Display14″ WXGA+ (1440×900) LCD

Color Shine(glare-type) LCD
Video Graphics & MemoryNVidia GeForce Go7700 512 MB
Hard Drive100/120 GB 5400 RPM (Seagate)
Optical Drive8x Super Multi
Card ReaderSD/MMC/MS/MS PRO
Built-in Camera0.35 Megapixel
Fax/Modem/LAN/WLANIntel(R) High Definition Audio MDC Fax/Modem

10/100/1000 LAN

Pass and support worldwide regulation

Integrated 802.11a/b/g
LED Status IndicatorPower-on/Suspend

Battery Charging/full/low

Storage device access

Capital / Scroll / Number Lock

Bluetooth Indicator

Wireless indicator
Interface1 x VGA port/Mini D-sub 15-pin for external monitor

1 x Headphone-out jack (SPDIF)

1 x Microphone-in jack

1 x RJ11 Modem jack for phone line

1 x RJ45 LAN Jack for LAN insert

5 x USB 2.0 ports, 1x IEEE 1394 port

1 x TV Out (S-Video composite)

1 x Express Card

1 x Infrared Port (SIR-115.2Kbps supported)

1 x DVI Port
Hot KeysInstant launch Keys:

5 buttons: Power4 Gear +, Bluetooth(TM), Wireless, Splendid, Instant Fun Plus

Function Keys:

Fn+F1 Suspend switch

Fn+F2 BT/ Wireless switch

Fn+F3 Outlook

Fn+F4 IE

Fn+F5 Brightness down

Fn+F6 Brightness up

Fn+F7 LCD on/off

Fn+F8 LCD/CRT switch display

Fn+F9 Touchpad lock

Fn+F10 Volume on/mute

Fn+F11 Volume down

Fn+F12 Volume up

AudioBuilt-in Intel(R) High Definition Audio compliant audio chip,

Built-in speaker and microphone
KeyBoardStandard keyboard with 88/89 Keys
Battery Pack & Life6 cell, 3200mAh/4800mAh, 35/53Whrs
AC AdapterOutput: 19 V DC, 4.74A, 90W,

Input: 100— 240V AC, 50/60Hz universal
Dimension & Weight5.25 lbs

1.37"~1.46"
SecurityBIOS Booting / HDD User Password Protection and security lock

Kensington lock hole
Supplied AccessoriesWireless Mouse (optional)

Carrying bag (optional)
Multimedia SoftwareASUSDVD XP 6.0

Power Director V3.0 DE

[email protected] V2.0 SE
Virus & Tool SoftwareSymantec Norton(TM) Internet Security 2005

Adobe Acrobat Reader 7.0

NERO Express V6.0
ASUS UtilityASUS Live Update

ASUS ChkMail

ASUS Hotkey

ASUS Power4 Gear+
Warranty & e-support2-year Global with 30 day ZBD

1-year battery pack warranty

On-line problem resolution through web interface (BIOS, Driver update)

OS (Microsoft Windows XP) install/uninstall consultation

Bundled software install/uninstall consultation

ASUS software supporting (Liveupdate,Power4 Gear+, ASUS Probe)


Under the Hood

To get a good look at the installed components, you can remove a few portions from the back. In order to swap any of the components out though, you will need to remove a lot more than this. First, the hard drive is located in the bottom right hand corner of the back, which corresponds with your left hand in normal use. You can see a metal guard here, which prevents you from even simply viewing product information. You cannot easily remove this, as each side of it has two small screws that are impossible to get at without disassembling the notebook.

The CPU has a simple heatsink setup. Attached to the CPU is a thin heatpipe that runs to a fan which acts as an exhaust. This piece is also difficult to remove, despite it not looking so. There are four screws to remove the heatsink off the CPU, but there are multiple other screws on the other end which prevent complete removal.

Here is the GPU, which has a fan beneath it to exhaust the warm air. The memory chips used are from Infineon, although this doesn’t matter as much in notebooks as it would on a desktop card thanks to lack of overclocking.

Finally, we have one stick of Elpida DDR2, rated for DDR2-667 speeds. There are two points to bring up here. First, there is only one stick of ram, so it will not function as dual channel. What this means essentially is that latencies will be slightly higher and bandwidth lower. However, I consider it to be more of a benefit than anything, because when the time comes for you to upgrade to 2GB, you won’t have to waste the memory you already have.

Many notebooks include two sticks of 512MB densities, but that means if you want 2GB down the road, they are technically wasted, since you need to buy two sticks of 1GB. So, it depends how you look at it. If you never plan on upgrading the ram, then 512MB x 2 would prove a better choice for slightly improved performance.

Now that we have taken a thorough look at the innards, we can finally turn it on!



Setting Up

The battery was a cinch to install and is kept securely in place by a small push button. To remove, you just push the button and lift up on one side. Once done, I plugged the AC adapter in and turned the notebook on. On the first boot, I was surprised to receive an error.

Normally, a "CMOS Checksum Bad" error is the result of a bad overclock that caused the settings to be wiped out. In this case, I have no explanation what would cause it. The thought crossed my mind that this was deliberate to force people to go into the BIOS to set up things correctly, but that doesn’t make much sense. Either way, I went into the BIOS to look around and then exited. After that point, things went well.

After Windows loads, you have the initial setup screen where you must type in your name, set the timezone… the usual. Once done, you will be at the Windows desktop. At first, it’s a little laggy because it’s still initializing certain apps, including the WiFi. The first thing you will see is a Synaptics touchpad configuration window, which you may want to pay attention to if you want to configure it to your liking. There is also a prompt asking you to reboot your machine, to complete the initial setup.

For an idea of everything that ASUS pre-installs on the A8Js, you can view the Add/Remove menu below, ripped straight after the initial boot.

If you have a wireless network, the Intel Wireless configuration utility will nag you to death until you give it attention. Within half a minute, I was connected to my network and ready to use the internet.

The installation is a fresh SP2 install, but there are still numerous Windows updates to pay attention to.

The first thing I wanted to do was un-install some applications that would get in the way of benchmarking, such as Skype and the anti-virus. Once those were removed, the processes menu shows 39 processes. It was closer to 50 prior to the removal of the other menial applications.

Setting up was a breeze. It required some user intervention to set it up properly, but it took no more than 10 minutes.



Initial Thoughts, Windows Vista, Linux


I mentioned earlier that after spending time at some e-tailers, I found the A8Js to be a good value. Part of this may be thanks to the fact that they do not pre-install security applications with large subscription durations. Norton Internet Security for example only had a 3 month subscription attached to it. Besides ASUS’ own utilities, a few free applications are here as well, such as Skype and Adobe Acrobat.

As for commercial software, ASUS includes a scaled down version of Nero 6. This might be another reason why the laptops portray a good value… Nero 7 has been out for well over a year. This doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, as Nero 6 can do any basic task you will need to do. However, if you want to experience the full blown features of the application such as recoding and DVD authoring, you will need to purchase the retail version.

One thing that really grinds my gears is that Norton Internet Security 2005 is installed as the Firewall of choice. I’m not going to sugarcoat this… I hate that application. It’s horrible. If you’ve ever used NIS, then you likely share the same sentiments. I tried to leave it installed on the notebook for a while, but it caused two problems right off the bat. I could not connect to my wireless network or use Windows Updates. Even with the program disabled, it causes the computer to lack certain functionality, and the only way to fix this is by uninstalling.

I have personal spite against that application, but the fact is, I am far from being the only one who has had issues with it. Many people might purchase a laptop and run into similar problems and not know how to immediately fix them. Why NIS is "industry standard", I’ll never know.

That was the only piece of software to cause any issue though, the rest was fine. ASUS includes a variety of their own utilities, some of which integrate well with the notebook and utilize their special buttons. MultiFrame is an application that puts a small 3×3 grid icon on each window, and clicking it, you can choose where you want to locate it. For example, you could click this icon and then the top right corner of the popup menu and it would push the entire window to that corner of the screen. I don’t personally see how this is beneficial on a single screen, but on a multi-screen setup it may be of value.

Splendid is another application used to change the color scheme on the dime. You can do this the software way, or by using the quick-key on the notebook itself. There are different schemes for movie viewing, normal use, game playing and so on. The other utilities are not too important to touch on, but have to do with the webcam and WiFi. There is nothing they do that another free software product can’t.

Windows Vista

Depending on who you buy the laptop from, the A8Js will include either Windows XP Professional or Windows Vista Home Premium. The particular notebook I had included Windows XP, so I installed Windows Vista to make sure everything fared well there. After installation, everything worked fine including the WiFi and bluetooth. Windows Updates had a few laptop specific ones available.

The only real issue I ran into was the video, as no Vista drivers were included. However, a quick trip to LaptopVideo2Go fixed that problem. I downloaded the 100.65 driver and used their modded INF and it installed just fine. I tested a few apps including Half-Life 2 and they all worked great. The Aero interface was smooth as silk. If you want Vista, the ideal thing to do would be to find a store that sells the A8Js with it pre-installed. But if for some crazy reason you can’t, you can upgrade to it yourself without much issue.

Linux

To quickly give Linux a test, I booted up with the SabayonLinux 3.3 Live DVD. I choose this distro because it’s hardware detection is the best I’ve seen compared to other offerings. This way, I know if the hardware works well, or if there will be a slew of configuration changes that will need to be made. Now, I cannot speak of the ease of installation if you used another distro, but my goal is to see if they work, plain and simple.

Luckily, everything worked perfectly. The sound, graphics, WiFi, Bluetooth and touchpad all functioned well. I booted into a Beryl environment and it was very smooth, no flickering or glitches at all. It helps that there is a very nice GPU here. I browsed the internet for a few minutes over the WiFi connection and it was rock stable. The power saving functionality also worked as it should. If Linux is your goal, you will be mighty pleased.



Testing Methodology, Testing Results

In our two year run, we haven’t reviewed that many laptops. This is the third, actually. Therefore, we haven’t yet finalized our testing scheme, but as we write more notebook articles, we will refine our processes. To test today, I will be comparing a few things to the recently reviewed Lamborghini VX1, also from ASUS.

Before testing, the computer is cleaned up of junk applications. The two most notable applications to be removed before testing was Norton Internet Security 2005 and also Skype. Other non-essential applications were closed. The only applications that remained running were laptop specific, including the power schemes and other various ASUS utilities.

First we have a slew of popular benchmarks, including Futuremark and Sandra. When it came to anything that involved graphics, the A8Js clobbered the VX1. The VX1 strikes back in all CPU related tests though, thanks to it’s ~10% faster clock speed.

Benchmark
ASUS Lamborghini VX1
ASUS A8JS
3D Mark 01 1566022467
3D Mark 06 Overall 8302675
3D Mark 06 CPU 18401737
PC Mark 05 42744699
HD Tune 66.3MB/s Burst
34.7MB/s Average
17ms Latency *
67.4MB/s Burst
33.0MB/s Average
17.8ms Latency *
HD Tach 84.5MB/s Burst
36.8MB/s Average

16.2ms Latency *
116.7MB/s Burst
35.1MB/s Average
16.9ms Latency *
Super Pi 1 M – 24.156s *
8 M – 306.15s *
1 M – 25.938s *
8 M – 330.70s *
Sandra Arithmetic 19813 / 13607 18410 / 12665
Sandra Multi-Media 117174 / 63395 109386 / 59096
Sandra Memory 3942 / 3949 3574 / 3596

* denotes that a lower score is better.

For our real world tests, simple scenarios were executed. The DVD playback and book reading tests were done using SysMark 2004 SE. The VX1 proved better in all battery related tests. Not surprising since it has a larger capacity.

Real World Benchmark
ASUS Lamborghini VX1
ASUS A8JS
Depleted Battery to Fully Charged *2h 30m 1h 50m
DVD Playback On Battery 2h 36m 2h 14m
Book Reading on Battery 2h 59m 2h 25m
DVD Ripping *31m 33s 30m 01s
CD Rip to FLAC *18m 58s 19m 23s

* denotes that a lower score is better.

Since this laptop has a rather nice GPU, I chose to use five games for testing. I had a manual run through each game at both 1024×768 and the LCDs native resolution of 1440×900. The only game that was not run in native was NFS: Carbon, because EA refuses to support widescreen. Results are average FPS which were recorded with FRAPS 2.8.2 over the course of 3 – 5 minutes, depending on the game and level.

Game
1024×768
1440×900
Half-Life 2: Episode 2 85.98353.800
Oblivion45.81737.800
Call of Duty 2 28.95820.008
Ghost Recon: AW 34.36722.483
NFS: Carbon 20.933N/A

Every single one of the games ran great at 1024×768, which the exception of Half-Life 2 which has a habit of stuttering. Even Oblivion ran fantastic, I was impressed. At native resolution however, both CoD and Ghost Recon were not really playable. You -could- play CoD2 if you really wanted the sharper image, but GRAW was actually laggy at certain points.

I was pleased overall with the performance, especially at 1024×768. Oblivion ran at an average of 45FPS though at native resolution.. hard to complain about this.



Final Thoughts


I have been using the A8Js for a couple weeks now and don’t have any major complaints. For all that is offered, the retail price of $1450 – $1500 is quite reasonable. On this page, I will touch on things that I like and also dislike about the notebook overall.

What I Like

As I mentioned, I don’t have any real complaints, so I have not had anything stand out to me that would prevent me from personally making a purchase. It’s a clean design and the bright widescreen LCD is a welcomed advantage. I like the fact that it’s a complete offering… everything you will likely need is here. Although I never use a webcam, it might come in handy for some people and saves the hassle of bringing an external one along with you.

ASUS claims this to be a notebook for everything, and they are right on the money. It’s great for watching movies, working on projects or playing games. That’s helped by it’s GeForce 7700 Go graphics card. It certainly beats the 7300 VX that we saw in the Lamborghini VX1. The only thing that might hold it back from hardcore multi-media editing is the 1GB of ram, but that’s easily upgradable thanks to the fact there is a single stick in there.

What I Dislike

This section will be longer than the "What I Like" section simply because it’s my goal to note any minor thing I didn’t care for. As a whole, I enjoy the laptop and would easily use it day to day, but not everyone may share my sentiments. So let’s get to it.

First and foremost, I cannot stand the stickers plastered on the front of the laptop, beside the touchpad. Now, I cannot say for certain that retail models include this, but I have shot off an e-mail to ASUS to inquire about it. Some stickers are reasonable, but these are not. You shouldn’t have to be reminded of certain features for the entire duration you own your notebook.

I own a 3 year old Dell Inspiron, so I have become quite in tune with it’s keyboard layout. The A8Js has a keyboard layout I am not entirely sure of, but I can’t compare to other notebooks on the market since I rarely use them. However, two things stick out to me as a little odd. The Fn key is in the bottom left corner, where the CTRL normally is. I found myself pushing that often, instead of the CTRL. If you are used to a full sized desktop keyboard, you will probably suffer the same annoyance.

Another oddity I found was the fact that the DEL key is on the absolute top right hand corner. This could be to prevent people from accidentally hitting it, but many laptops I’ve used have had it near the right CTRL and ALT keys and I have never found that to be a problem.

I already touched on some software "issues" earlier, but I will point out another that really confuses me. Many notebooks allow you quick access to mute and unmute your volume by pushing the Fn key in addition to one of the F keys. Well, this is not a problem with the A8Js, unless you close the control software. Now, this software cannot be closed that easily… you need to go into task manager and guess the process name. However, if you were to install your own version of Windows, or somehow mistakenly close that software, you’d be unable to use that shortcut.

The reason this is ridiculous, is that any media keyboard you purchase on the market has the ability to mute the volume without the software being installed. Even my old Dell laptop had that capability when I installed my own personal copy of Windows. Why this is not possible on this particular notebook, I’m unsure. It’s a needless issue.

Final Thoughts

All of the gripes aside, I’m still very pleased overall. There are some strange issues, but many may not be problematic for most. One thing however, is that the battery doesn’t last as long as it does in other models on the market. This was proved in our testing section where the DVD movie viewing lasted only 2 hours and 14m. So, it is not a notebook for long sessions on the road, unless you have the ability to plug it in.

After comparing other notebooks on the market, I found the ASUS A8Js to be a solid value. For the sake of keeping things simple, I focused primarily on Dells online site and tried to build up a similar system to see how the value compares. I was unable to get a system with the exact same specs, but the closest I could find was their E1501 with a few upgrades. That system had a slightly larger monitor and also a faster GPU. The warranty and innards remained essentially the same to the A8Js. When said and done, the Dell cost around $310 more. For a laptop of the same price, you could revert to integrated video, but would have the benefit of a larger screen and an additional 1GB of ram.

When purchasing a notebook, the choices are virtually endless. It’s a huge mix and match game in order to find the best value. It’s not easy. After playing around on the Dell and other e-tailers, the A8Js seems to be well worth the price.

If you are in the market for a notebook that has the power to get work done or your game on, this would be a great choice for the money.

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