by Galina Sudareva
12/27/2004 | 12:41 PM
There are numerous criteria a potential user may come up with when shopping for a notebook. Besides price, a notebook is wanted to be fast, light, ergonomic and functional, with a sufficient set of connectors and ports, and with a nice-looking exterior
Unfortunately, the best qualities are usually met in expensive models only. But if you are rather limited in money, do you have to choose among ugly-looking and low-performance boxes? No! This review is about an inexpensive, but cute-looking computer from ASUS – the A3500L model.
The ASUS A3500L is a stylish machine. Having a screen diagonal of 15”, the notebook doesn’t look big or cumbersome. On the contrary, the slightly slanted corners and the difference in the heights of the rear and front panels create an impression of smallness and thinness. The case color is dark silver, and this color scheme goes on to the top panel – only the screen bezel is black. So, the ASUS A3500L looks good – I have no complaints whatsoever.
On the top panel, above the keyboard, there is a power-on button and a group of instant-launch buttons):
The system status indicators of the ASUS A3500L are divided into two groups, one of which is placed under the instant-launch buttons and the other on the notebook’s front panel (by the way, these indicators are visible irrespective of the lid position). The first group of LED indicators includes: a hard disk drive activity LED, Num Lock, Caps Lock and Scroll Lock indicators. The second group consists of a power indicator (alight when power is attached), a battery charge indicator, an incoming mail indicator (alight when you’ve received new e-mail messages), and a WLAN connection indicator (it lights up when the integrated adapter is sending or receiving data packets). The A3500L model comes without an integrated WLAN adapter, but you can have it installed at an authorized service center.
On the front panel there’s also a block of buttons for playing Audio CDs (you can do that without even booting the OS up):
An indicator of the audio player goes alight when you insert a CD without booting the OS.
The ASUS A3500L’s full-size keyboard (but the functional keys are smaller than usual) is quite comfortable to use. The block of arrow keys are separate from the main keyboard; the Page Up, Page Down, Home and End keys are placed in a vertical column on the right; there is a numeric pad as well as two Windows keys here. The keys of the mainland keyboard are labeled white; the functional keys are labeled blue – their commands are available as you press and hold [Fn]. The touchpad is accompanied with two rather stiff buttons that replace the mouse’s left and right buttons, but regrettably it doesn’t have an additional scroll button.
The 15” screen of the A3500L has a maximum resolution of 1024x768; it displays saturated colors and provides enough of brightness which is controlled with special functional keys (an onscreen 15-step scale shows the current setting during the setup process). At the minimal brightness it is possible to see something on the screen, but you’d better turn on external light or use a higher brightness setting for comfortable work. A quite sensitive microphone is built into the top of the screen bezel – it looks like a small oval-shaped window under a grid (like on a speaker) rather than a small hole as with many notebooks.
On the front panel of the notebook there are a display latch, two stereo speakers (on the sides, closer to the bottom), and system status indicators (when the lid is closed, you can only see the LEDs without their respective icons).
On the left panel there is only an optical DVD/CD-RW drive.
The following is found on the right side of the ASUS A3500L:
That’s what you can see at the notebook’s rear panel:
It’s not very handy to have all USB ports on the rear panel – they should have placed one on a side panel, I think.
On the bottom of the notebook there are hard disk drive, CPU, memory, miniPCI, and battery bays, a pocket for the owner’s personal card, a system reset hole, two stereo speakers, and vent holes.
The following table lists the communicational capabilities of the notebook as well as its physical characteristics.
Notebooks from ASUS usually come with numerous and useful accessories. Here, besides the notebook, you get an external power adapter, a phone cable, an optical mouse designed to match the notebook, a few installation CDs, a user manual and other documentation. Regrettably, you don’t receive a bag to carry the computer with you.
The installation CDs contain the necessary drivers and utilities, system restore data, programs for playing DVDs, editing videos, creating slideshows. Plus a CD with Nero.
The ASUS A3500L is based on Intel’s Montara-GML 852GM chipset and features the Intel Celeron M processor clocked at 1.4GHz frequency (Banias core, 0.13-micron technology, 512KB L2 cache and 400MHz FSB). An IC25N040A04-0 hard disk drive from Hitachi (4200rpm, 40GB) is used here.
The notebook’s integrated graphics subsystem supports dynamic video memory technology that allows for a dynamic allotment of the necessary memory amount (from 8MB to 32MB) for the needs of the graphics processor. Unfortunately, the system was prone to make a kind of slideshow out of DVD movies when working on its own battery, so you won’t be able to watch movies on trips comfortably.
The integrated audio subsystem and the built-in stereo speakers give voice to the OS and its applications, to games and multimedia programs. The voice is loud enough for DVD or CD playback.
The ASUS A3500L has two DIMM slots one of which is occupied by a 256MB PC2700 module (the maximum possible amount of memory is 1GB). The slots are both located in a special cell at the bottom of the case – you can access them by unscrewing the cover. The notebook also has a slot for a miniPCI card, but it’s not recommended to install it manually since you are likely to null your warranty after this intervention. The A3500L is equipped with an antenna for connecting to a WLAN controller if need arises.
The DVD/CD-RW drive employed in the A3500L has the following speed characteristics: 8x DVD read, 24x CD read, 24x CD rewrite, 24x CD write. A floppy drive is not included into the configuration.
It’s sad the support of wireless interfaces – Wi-Fi and Bluetooth – isn’t included. They might be of some help in our wireless age.
The notebook’s cooling system isn’t loud and keeps the computer cool (except the touchpad surface). We measured the temperature of the computer as it was crunching through Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004:
The following table contains a detailed list of the technical characteristics of the ASUS A3500L:
I checked the performance of the ASUS A3500L notebook out in Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition with DirectX 9.0a. Before the tests I disabled power-saving and network services, the audio subsystem, antivirus software, and screensavers. The notebook was tested at the maximum and minimal screen brightness settings and at the maximum resolution of the LCD matrix (1024x768).
I used two power modes in my tests. First, I selected the Always On power mode for the maximum performance and the shortest battery run-down time. Then, I switched to the Max Battery mode for the maximum battery run-down time.
The ASUS A3500L did well in synthetic SiSoftware Sandra 2004 and PCMark04 tests that are intended for benchmarking the performance of the entire system as well as of its subsystems. You may note that the results in the two power modes don’t differ much: the Mobile Celeron M doesn’t have Intel’s SpeedStep technology for dynamical optimization of the performance and power consumption of the processor.
The detailed results of this test follow below:
To check out the performance of the notebook in office and multimedia applications I used Business Winstone 2004 and Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 tests that run scripts of the following real applications: Internet Explorer, Outlook, Word, Excel, Access, Project, Power Point, Front Page, WinZip, Norton AntiVirus Professional Edition (these are tested by Business Winstone 2004) and Windows Media Encoder, Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, NewTek LightWave 3D, Steinberg WaveLab, Dreamweaver MX, Director MX (tested by Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004).
The results follow:
So, the performance of the notebook in this test can be considered acceptable. When powered by its own battery, the notebook suffers a performance hit of about 10 percent. I constructed a diagram based on the numbers from these two tests:
We can’t hope the ASUS A3500L to be fast in games as it uses an integrated graphics subsystem. You can see that in the tests of 3DMark 2001 SE Pro at different graphics quality settings:
Modern DirectX 9.0 games were invented not for this notebook. You can play them at the worst graphics quality settings, but higher settings would only make a slideshow out of the game. Moreover, this graphics subsystem doesn’t support Game 4 test, Environment Bump Mapping, Pixel Shader 2.0, Advanced Pixel Shader at all.
It’s the same in Unreal Tournament 2003 – the integrated graphics subsystem of the A3500L cannot be considered a proper replacement of a discrete graphics processor.
The diagram follows:
Next, I tested the notebook in Quake 3 with two graphics quality presets:
The results are presented in the following table:
The fps rates in Quake 3 are expectedly low – note also the almost fivefold difference in speeds at different graphics quality settings. The notebook doesn’t practically reduce its speed when powered by its own battery due to the above-explained reasons. The following diagram is based on the numbers from the table above:
I measured the battery run-down time of the ASUS A3500L with the help of Battery Eater Pro 2.30 at the maximum and minimal screen brightness settings in three test modes:
The results are tabled below:
You can get a nice battery life bonus by reducing the brightness of the notebook’s screen. At the minimal brightness it is even possible to read text, for example. So, by dropping the brightness to the minimum, you gain the following time bonus:
The results of the Battery Eater Pro 2.30 test are presented in the following diagram:
You should agree that such a long battery life is a hefty bonus in the overall picture of advantages and shortcomings of this notebook.
So, the ASUS A3500L notebook is a budget model with good performance and excellent battery run-down time. It features an eye-pleasing exterior, good connectivity, ergonomics and functionality. On the downside, the system is rather slow in games and its four USB ports are all located on the rear panel – I think at least one of them should have been placed on a side panel.
Overall, the ASUS A3500L is a good notebook with an appealing price/performance ratio; its price at the time of my writing this was $1045.
I hope this review have shown you that “inexpensive notebook” is not a synonym of “ugly-looking and sluggish computer”.