by Galina Sudareva
11/01/2004 | 01:26 PM
Home desktop PCs have long becomes all-purpose machines for a wide range of applications. They are employed as an entertainment multimedia center for reproducing DVD and CD discs, playing new 3D games and watching TV channels after installation of an additional device like a TV-tuner.
As yet, portable computers are lagging behind their full-size mates in performance and functionality, although this gap is ever dwindling. The notebook model from ASUS, the hero of my today’s review, is an example of the rapid development of computer technologies and – yes, it is equipped with an integrated TV-tuner! It represents the W1B00Na notebook family (W1 series).
Let’s find out what it is worth now.
The elegant and exquisite design of the computer adds it an air of solidity: metallic (aluminum-alloy) silvery-colored case with side insertions of black plastic – all straight lines and right angles. This design can’t be called typical for ASUS’ notebooks, but it’s new and hence interesting.
You don’t need to fumble with a string latch to open the W1B00Na up – there is simply no such thing here. You just lift the cover and set the screen at a comfortable angle. A magnet is integrated into the top of the screen’s bezel and it sticks to the metal of the case when the lid is closed.
The widescreen display (15.4” diagonal, 1280x800 maximum resolution) has a non-typical aspect ratio of 16:10. The matrix with matte coating is manufactured with TN+Film technology. At the maximum screen brightness, the level of black is 0.97 candelas per sq. m, and the level of white is 154 candelas per sq. m, so the contrast ratio is calculated to be about 160:1. The viewing angles of the matrix are rather average: the W1B00Na is between junior TN+Film matrixes (in ASUS’ A2 series notebooks, for example) and more expensive IPS matrixes (installed into ASUS’ L5 series under the “AceView” brand) in this respect. The contrast ratio is closely approaching that of IPS matrixes, being much better than with inexpensive TN+Film’s which usually have a contrast ratio of 50:1 or 70:1 at the very best. The full response time of the W1B00Na’s display is 22 milliseconds (16msec pixel rise time + 6msec pixel fall time). Thus, the speed of this matrix is higher than that of more inexpensive TN+Film as well as of expensive but slow 35-millisecond IPS matrixes. Overall, the screen of the W1B00Na notebook features a relatively high contrast ratio, fast response time, and good viewing angles, allowing you to enjoy watching movies or playing dynamic games. The screen brightness is controlled with special functional keys (the current setting is then displayed onscreen). There are fifteen levels of brightness available; the minimal setting allows for a comfortable reading in a well-lit room.
The round turn on/off button is located near the display hinges – it is beautifully highlighted in bright orange. Next to it, on the right panel of the computer, there are instant launch buttons (you should press their sides, rather than their tops, as usual):
Instant launch buttons and system status indicators
There are two groups of indicators of the system’s status. One group is placed on the right, next to the instant launch buttons, and consists of a hard disk drive activity LED, and Num Lock, Caps Lock and Scroll Lock indicators. They are highlighted with orange like the power-on button. The second group is located on the left of the front panel, and this is very handy since the LEDs can be seen both when the notebook’s lid is opened or closed. This 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 sends or receives data packets).
The second group of system status indicators
Also on the left of the notebook’s top, there appear status messages related to CD playback and TV watching (showing the number of the reproduced track and the number of the TV channel), but only if you’ve installed ASUS Mobile Theater v.1.0 (see below).
The ASUS W1B00Na’s full-size keyboard is made of opaque black plastic; the functional keys are labeled in bright orange (press and hold [Fn] to use them). The keyboard layout is traditional: the block of arrow keys are separate from the main keyboard; the Page Up, Page Down, Home and End keys form a vertical column on the right; there is a numeric pad as well as two Windows keys available. The Insert, Delete, Print Screen and Pause keys are in the top row, next to the functional keys, and have a reduced size. The keyboard is overall handy and comfortable.
The touchpad with a rather slippery surface is accompanied with two buttons (with a fast response) that replace the mouse’s left and right buttons, but regrettably it doesn’t have an additional scroll button.
On the front panel, besides the two stereo-speakers, there are:
You may find the placement of the audio/video ports inconvenient at first, but you’ll soon realize that they are quite easy to use.
The left side of the ASUS W1B00Na contains the following, covered under a special magnet-held plastic gag:
At the right panel, you can find the following:
At the rear panel, there’s only a battery cell.
At the bottom of the notebook, there is a hard disk drive bay, memory and miniPCI slots, an integrated subwoofer as well as vent holes.
There’s also hardware reset hole that you use in case you fail to shut down the computer with the traditional Ctrl-Alt-Del key combination.
All the communicational capabilities of the ASUS W1B00Na are listed in the following table:
The package of the ASUS W1B00Na looks very alluring and inviting – what’s inside?
The notebook comes accompanied with the following stuff: a rather small-size external power adapter, a phone cable, an S-Video-to-RCA adapter, high-frequency adapters for different antenna types (NTSC and PAL), a combo adapter Mini-jack-to-RCA (one video and two stereo channels), a portable optical mouse Logitech Traveler, exclusive headphones, a remote control, a bundle of installation CDs, a user manual on ASUS Mobile Theater v.1.0, cards with web-addresses of tech support and service centers around the world, and a transportation bag.
The installation CDs include two system restore discs, a disc with Nero Burning ROM utility, a Mobile Theater disc, discs with applications for editing video, creating slideshows and playing DVDs, discs with necessary drivers and utilities, three discs with games (Battle Engine Aquila, Gunmetal: War Transformed, and a collection of games called Games Power).
The black-fabric bag has two big compartments where you can stick the notebook as well as the power adapter, necessary documentation and discs. The small pockets on the front side of the bag can also take in various small things.
The Mobile Theater 1.0 utility is supplied with the ASUS W1B00Na notebook. This multimedia application is the most interesting title among the software bundle. It has a user-friendly and intuitive interface that gives you access to options for watching TV channels, playing DVDs or CDs, video clips, and listening to audio-files.
The Theater allows quickly switching between its uses and modes. The main window of the program contains the following controls:
Of course, I was eager to check out the integrated TV tuner in practice. Having installed the Mobile Theater, I plugged the antenna in and started scanning for available TV channels. After a while, the tuner shows me almost all the channels that were available when the antenna was attached to a regular TV-set. The quality of the image is satisfactory; minor noise and some fuzziness only appear when the image is starched to the whole screen as this is not the native resolution of the TV signal. The software allows recording TV channels and capturing a single frame. The enclosed remote control is easy to use and its functions are intuitively understood.
As an additional feature, the number of the selected TV channel and the reproduced CD track are shown on the notebook’s indicators (if ASUS Mobile Theater 1.0 is installed).
So, the integrated TV-tuner has a well-designed interface and good functionality; the quality of receiving and outputting TV-channels is acceptable.
The ASUS W1B00Na notebook is based on the Intel 855PM chipset and features the Intel Pentium M 715 processor (1.5GHz frequency, 0.09-micron Dothan core, 2MB L2 cache, 400MHz FSB). It uses a Hitachi HTS548060M9AT00 hard disk drive (60GB, 5400rpm spindle speed).
There are two memory slots available (the maximum memory amount is 2GB); one is occupied with a 512MB module of PC2700 DDR SDRAM. The free slot is found at the bottom of the case, under a special gag fastened with screws. We couldn’t find the other slot – it’s probably under the keyboard.
Instead of an integrated graphics subsystem, the W1B00Na offers you a full-featured ATI RADEON Mobility 9600 GPU with 64 megabytes of dedicated graphics memory. This is going to be good for playing some 3D games as well as watching DVD or VCD discs.
The integrated audio subsystem of the notebook outputs sound through the two stereo speakers and a subwoofer. I can’t call the sound acceptable just because it’s too quiet for watching DVD movies (although this may be a defect of our particular sample).
The integrated optical DVD drive can read CDs and DVDs at 24x and 8x, respectively. It burns and rewrites CDs at 24x. There’s no floppy drive in the configuration, but I don’t think this is a serious shortcoming.
The W1B00Na is equipped with a Wi-Fi unit of the IEEE 802.11b/g standard and a Yukon network adapter from Marvell. The WLAN antennas are integrated into the sides of the top panel.
The cooling system is rather silent. I used an infrared thermometer to measure the temperature of the surface of the ASUS W1B00Na when it was crunching through Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004:
A thorough list of the technical characteristics of the ASUS W1B00Na notebook follows below:
I checked the performance of the ASUS W1B00Na out in Microsoft Windows XP Professional with DirectX 9.0a installed. 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.
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 W1B00Na 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. The results are tabled below:
As you see, the ASUS W1B00Na drops its performance down by 50-60% when powered by the accumulator battery as the system starts saving on power resources.
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:
The performance of the ASUS W1B00Na is expectedly good in these tests. Here’re the same numbers in a diagrams, for those who think visually:
The W1B00Na is also good in game benchmarks thanks to its discrete ATI Mobility RADEON 9600 processor with 64MB of dedicated graphics memory. The table below suggests that the results are different in two power modes – the notebook is 10% slower in 3DMark 2003 3.40 when powered by its battery. The results in the Fill Rate, Vertex Shader and Pixel Shader remain practically the same irrespective of the power mode, though.
Next, I tested the notebook in Quake 3 with two graphics quality presets:
The results are presented in the following diagram:
So, the fps rates are high enough. As you see, the system is 55% slower with the first preset and 24% slower with the second preset when it is powered by its accumulator battery. I have only one explanation to that: the two graphics quality presets present a different load on the system. In the first case, the whole system bears the main load; in the second, it is the graphics subsystem that feels the biggest strain.
The W1B00Na also did well in Unreal Tournament 2004.
The same numbers, as a diagram:
Having tested the W1B00Na in games I can say that its positioning as of a “multimedia entertainment center” is justifiable, as you can play modern DirectX 9.0 games on this machine with some comfort.
Although the ASUS W1B00Na isn’t intended for extensive work in field conditions, I measured its battery run-down time with the help of Battery Eater Pro 2.30 at the maximum and minimal screen brightness settings in several 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. However, this mode doesn’t suit for watching DVD movies since the colors and the contrast worsen too much.
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:
The ASUS W1B00Na notebook I’ve been testing today features good performance, functionality and ergonomics as well as excellent design. Minor drawbacks include the plastic magnetic gag that covers the connectors at the left panel (it’s inconvenient when you use the card-reader), and too low volume level during DVD playback (although this may be a defect of our particular sample).
This model surely deserves your attention, and its integrated TV-tuner makes it an all-purpose digital center for work and entertainment. However, the W1B00Na is somewhat worse than the competing models without a tuner as concerns the price/performance ratio.