ASUS W2Jc Notebook: Mobile Digital Home Solution

Today we are going to introduce to you a portable computer that offers the most recent and best advances in the world of mobile computing alongside with excellent multimedia experience. It’s hard to tell what this powerful multimedia station cannot do because it can do almost everything. Read more about a laptop that will not only perform its direct functions of a high-performance portable computer system but will also easily replace a lot of electronics like a TV-set or audio system in your home or office.

by Alexander Britvin
07/17/2006 | 10:14 AM

It’s been a good trend on the manufacturers’ part to try to pack as much functionality as possible into electronic devices. Sometimes you couldn’t have all the equipment you might need in your home or office just because it took so much space – it was hard or even impossible to put a printer, a scanner, a fax and a copier all on your desk. Consumers were eventually offered multifunctional devices that combined various functions and cost less than the total of the respective single-function devices. You can see the same trend in the mobile sector where cell phones now combine a lot of extras like MP3-player, photo camera, radio, etc. When it comes to computers, desktop PCs can already become a replacement of a lot of home and office equipment. Notebooks used to lag behind desktop PCs in terms of functionality, but the recent years have witnessed a tremendous growth of performance and capabilities of portable computers. Combined with numerous other advantages, this gives notebooks a competitive edge and makes them look even more appealing than their bulky desktop counterparts.

 

This article is about a multifunctional computer, too. The updated ASUS W2Jc incorporates a number of various devices you don’t usually see in a portable computer. What do you expect to get from a notebook anyway? Good performance in office applications; good enough speed in games and graphics applications if it’s got a discrete graphics core; an opportunity to watch movies, but on a small display and with poor sound (if you don’t have headphones); and Internet-related functionality.

That’s about all. The W2Jc series from ASUS is meant to break the established tradition in the world of portable computing. The first thing you can’t but notice is the high-quality widescreen display with a diagonal of 17 inches. Next, the ASUS W2Jc family boasts an integrated TV-tuner from FlyVideo, the letter “c” in the model name meaning that this is a hybrid tuner (analog and digital together). The notebook also boasts an advanced audio subsystem with four rather powerful speakers and a small but vociferous subwoofer. As a bonus to all these things, the manufacturer includes a remote control to navigate in multimedia applications from a distance.

Today we are going to review the peculiarities and performance of the ASUS W2Jc notebook family using W2U00Jc02 model. In the following sections I’ll give you a more detailed description of the notebook and its configuration and will test it and compare its performance with that of the ASUS V6X00J model which has a more or less similar configuration (for details see our review called ASUS V6J Notebook on Intel Dual-Core Processor).

Package and Accessories

The package of the W2U00Jc02 is an original creation of ASUS’ designers. It’s mostly black, with a picture of a speaker in the middle of the front side with kind of audio waves spreading out towards the sides. The front edge is cut off as if the box is meant for carrying an accordion. The manufacturer’s name is at the bottom; a description of the contents – “Mobile Digital Home” – is at the top. The name of the series, W2, is placed right in the middle. This box was enclosed into a bigger package along with a special bag to carry the notebook.

The set of accessories you are given along with your W2U00Jc02 is simply gorgeous. The manufacturer took care just about everything you may ever want when using this notebook. So, the box contains: a 5200mAh battery, power adapter, RJ-45 phone cable, audio/video adapter (AV/S-Video), documentation, a small Bluetooth-interfaced mouse from Logitech with an ASUS logo in the middle, a bag to carry the notebook around, an NTSC/PAL adapter, an antenna for digital TV/FM radio, an adapter to connect the coaxial connector to a thin notebook (this is how it is referred to by ASUS), a remote control on two batteries, a mini-DVI → DVI adapter, an S-Video cable, stereo headphones with the manufacturer’s logo, and a set of CDs:

The mouse feeds upon standard AA batteries; to put them in or replace them, just pull at the mouse’s top panel away from the buttons:

Design and Ergonomics

The ASUS W2U00Jc02 looks like an exquisite photo album. Its case is made of an anodized aluminum alloy (although some web sources claim the W2 series is made of a magnesium alloy). The notebook’s internal panels are made of the same material, too, rather than of plastic. The color of the case is almost black with visible metallic streaks. There is a light-silver edging running along the perimeter of the lid and separating it visually from the notebook’s bottom half. The manufacturer’s name is placed in the middle of the lid. The left and right panels that carry most of the notebook’s interface ports are painted the same color.

One thing that’s certain to draw your attention at first sight is that the notebook’s got front feet that are typical rather of hi-fi equipment. That’s a curious solution, but quite explainable considering the product’s “digital home” positioning.

New models of notebooks from ASUS don’t have a lid lock. Instead, the display is held by means of built-in magnets. The middle part of the notebook’s bottom is a little sunken down, so the screen can be lifted up very easily. You can see the same colors inside: the silvery bezel around the touchpad is the single light spot in the totally black top panel. The screen bezel is black, too, with an ASUS logo under the screen and two out of the notebook’s five speakers on both sides of it. This pair of speakers is directed right at the user.

The hinges are shifted a little backwards, and the display is moving a little away from you as you are lifting it up. The notebook cannot be unfolded fully (the lid is fastened to the bottom through jutting parts of the screen bezel) as the next snapshot shows:

Like the entire W2 series, the ASUS W2U00Jc02 is equipped with a 17” matrix that has a huge max resolution of 1680x1050 and an aspect ratio of 16:10 (WSXGA+). The viewing angles seem big enough visually. The “glassy” display may prove inconvenient at work since you can see any well-lit object reflected in it as in a mirror. So you have to take care about proper lighting before you get to work. This glassiness has a good side, though, because it makes the image much more saturated. The W2U00Jc02 also uses a number of exclusive technologies from ASUS (which in fact lead to that glassiness of the display):

 

Like in other ASUS notebooks, there are sixteen grades of display brightness in the W2U00Jc02. The lowest grades are of little interest, however, as it’s almost impossible to see anything in the screen at such settings.

I measured the brightness and contrast of the notebook’s display using a Pantone ColorVision Spyder with OptiCAL version 3.7.8 software. I selected the highest brightness setting before this test, but it was considerably lowered, even visually, when the notebook switched to its battery and automatically enabled the power-saving mode. The brightness parameter isn’t very good (yet I wouldn’t say I felt any lack of brightness in practice), but the contrast ratio is high irrespective of the power source:

AC power source:

DC power source:

The W2U00Jc02 doesn’t have the Audio DJ functionality and the appropriate buttons. Instead, the manufacturer offers an alternative set of buttons placed above the keyboard, to the left of the integrated microphone. These so-called Multimedia buttons are (from left to right):

Of course, you only use these Multimedia buttons if the notebook’s within your reach. For other cases the manufacturer supplies a remote control.

The ASUS W2U00Jc02 notebook has an 87-key black keyboard. The Enter button is shaped classically like the letter L. The movement keys are a little below the keyboard’s baseline, so there’s a smaller risk of your pressing them accidentally. The Fn button is located in the bottom left corner, not quite conveniently for people who are used to shortcuts like Ctrl+C or Ctrl+V because Fn may be unintentionally pressed instead of Ctrl. Numeric buttons and two special Windows keys are available: the Context Menu key is in the bottom row on the right of the spacebar; the Windows key is in the same row, but on the left of the spacebar. The functional keys are smaller; Home, PgUp, PgDn and End make up a vertical column on the right. Pause, Print Screen, Insert and Delete are placed in the same line with the functional keys (press them in combination with Fn to access their additional functions). I’m only a little disappointed that ASUS’ engineers didn’t use the available space to the full and didn’t equip the W2 series with a full-size keyboard.

To the right of the keyboard, near the edge of the front panel, there is a silver Turn-On button with cute blue highlighting and a few instant-launch buttons (from top to bottom):

On the other side of the keyboard there are status indicators. They are designed as notches in the case and have that cute blue highlighting:

The touchpad has a silvery bezel and is almost flush with the notebook’s top surface. It’s rather large as you can see. The two buttons that replace the mouse’s right and left ones are emphasized with slits in the case but are the same color as the panel. There is no scrolling zone or scrolling joystick, but you can use the right and bottom parts of the sensitive area to browse pages.

Touted as a “digital home” device, the W2U00Jc02 has more ports and connectors than you usually find in a notebook. I don’t think they are all placed properly, but that’s largely a matter of taste.

The notebook’s front panel is densely packed with remaining indicators (which are visible irrespective of the position of the lid, by the way) and a handful of connectors (from left to right):

If you connect an external speaker system, the S/PDIF, microphone and line-in connectors are used for front, central/subwoofer and rear channels, respectively. I don’t think these connectors should be on the front panel – the cables will get in your way if you attach external speakers, and the mess of cables will have a rather untidy look on the whole.

The following components can be found on the computer’s left panel (from left to right):

The LAN port, modem port, TV-Out port, and antenna input are covered with a magnet-held panel painted the silver color of the notebook’s sides for aesthetic reasons:

The following is located on the notebook’s right panel:

At the notebook’s back there is only a 5200mAh battery that occupies all the space between the screen hinges. There are two rubber feet under this battery the notebook rests upon.

At the notebook’s bottom there are CPU, memory, HDD and TV-tuner compartments; a battery module with two locks (manual and spring-loaded); an emergency shutdown button and a reset hole (if the Ctrl+Alt+Del combination doesn’t work); stickers with information about the model and the OS serial number.

 

Two speakers and a subwoofer are also here:

There are two slots in the memory compartment, each occupied with a 1024MB module. So it’s impossible to add more memory to the W2U00Jc02 since 2048MB is actually the maximum amount of memory it supports.

ASUS Mobile Theater v.4.0

Traditionally for the W2 series, the W2U00Jc02 model comes with the ASUS Mobile Theater program that gives you access to the notebook’s multimedia capabilities through a single easy-to-use interface. With Mobile Theater you can view photographs, watch movies and TV, listen to radio stations and CDs, without launching different programs for each of these tasks. To cut it short, Mobile Theater transforms the notebook into a complete entertainment center.

The program offers you the following sections: Movies, Videos, Pictures, Music, TV, Radio, Extras, Help and Settings.

I guess the TV and Radio sections of Mobile Theater are going to be the most interesting to you since the other tasks can be done with other software you’ve long got used to.

Using the enclosed antenna you can find and set up radio stations. Besides simply browsing through the stations and adjusting the sound volume, you’ve got an option of recording them.

TV channels are received in a similar way. You can capture what is shown on the display, turn on TV text, and record TV programs into video files.

Here are a few captured frames for you to check out the quality of the TV picture:

The manufacturer also put a remote control into the package to make it easier for the laziest of us to control the notebook’s multimedia features.

Configuration

The ASUS W2U00Jc02 is rigged up in the latest mobile fashion. It has an Intel Core Duo T2500 processor with a clock rate of 2.00GHz (65nm Yonah core, 2MB shared L2 cache). Besides the time-tested Enhanced Intel SpeedStep technology (it allows lowering the CPU clock rate at low loads by reducing its multiplier), the processor supports Dynamic Power Coordination (the power consumption of the cores can be varied separately depending on the current load) and Dynamic Cache Sizing (unused cache segments are turned off to save power). For more information about the new processor refer to our Centrino Duo platform review.

 

Being an implementation of the Napa platform, the notebook is equipped with an Intel Calistoga 945PM chipset. This chipset supports DDR2 SO-DIMMs, thus offering more memory bandwidth at lower power consumption, and a PCI Express x16 interface for an external graphics card. The ICH7-M chip is used as the chipset’s South Bridge and is connected to the North Bridge via a special-purpose Direct Media Interface. The South Bridge supports one Parallel ATA port, two Serial ATA ports, eight USB 2.0 ports and Intel High Definition Audio. It also offers six PCI Express x1 lanes to connect external devices. For more information about this platform, refer to this article on our site or visit the website of its developer.

Like previous models in the W2 series, the W2U00Jc02 is equipped with a new discrete graphics core from ATI, Mobility Radeon X1600, with 256MB of dedicated graphics memory.

This 90nm graphics chip consumes little power and is thus an optimal choice for mobile computers.

This is an advanced 3D architecture with powerful capabilities and a new memory controller. It works with GDDR3 memory and provides full support for DirectX 9 Shader Model 3.0 to enable amazing special effects in 3D games and applications. ATI’s Avivo display engine delivers high-quality video and, quoting the manufacturer, can transform the notebook into a cinema-quality entertainment system. The graphics core supports the power-saving ATI’s Powerplay 6.0 technology, too. Running a little ahead, I want to say that the performance of the notebook’s graphics subsystem suffers a rather big hit on disconnect from the mains, which is not very agreeable. A detailed specification of the graphics core can be found here.

The W2U00Jc02 is equipped with a 2.5 hard disk drive Fujitsu MHV2120BH with a spindle rotation speed of 5400rpm and an impressive 120GB capacity. Not a usual thing for notebooks, this hard drive has a SATA interface. The notebook also has a slot-loaded DVD drive Matsushita UJ-846S. The single drawback of slot-loaded drives is that you can’t use mini-discs in them, but their mechanism lasts longer and is also dustproof. The speed characteristics of the Matsushita UJ-846S are as follows:

The notebook has two 667MHz DDR2 memory modules. The slots are easily accessible, but this is not important here since the W2U00Jc02 already comes with as much of memory as it can support.

I measured the temperature of the hottest spots on the notebook’s surfaces with an infrared thermometer after it had worked for half an hour in the Classic test mode of Battery Eater Pro 2.60 (the ambient temperature remained constant at 22°C during this test) and got the following numbers (which are rather low for such a high-performance machine):

The table below lists the technical specs of the ASUS W2U00Jc02 and compares them with those of the ASUS V6X00J011:

Testbed and Methods

The notebook’s hard drive was formatted in NTFS before the tests. Then I installed Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2 with DirectX 9.0c, system drivers (from the included disc), and Windows Media Encoder 9.0 with Windows Media Player 9.0.

The following settings were used for the tests:

Two power modes were used. First, I selected the Always On power mode for the maximum performance and the shortest battery life. Then I switched to the Max Battery mode for the maximum battery run-down time.

Our tests:

  1. Performance benchmarks: synthetic (SiSoftware Sandra 2005, PCMark 2004), office and multimedia (Business Winstone 2004, Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004), and games (3DMark 2003 3.60, Quake 3, Unreal Tournament 2003)
  2. Battery life tests (Battery Eater Pro 2.60)

There are three test modes in Battery Eater 2.60:

I used the first two modes as they are in Battery Eater, but in the Idle mode (when the test utility doesn’t put any load of its own on the notebook) I played a DVD movie.

Performance

As usual, I will first run synthetic benchmarks.

SiSoftware Sandra 2004 measures the overall performance of the system as well as that of each of its subsystems, while PCMark 2004 benchmarks the computer performance in office and multimedia applications and also produces performance scores for the main subsystems (CPU, memory, graphical, and disk subsystem).

The results of the notebooks in the CPU tests are logical since the CPU frequency of the W2U00Jc02 is higher at 2.00GHz against the V6X00J011’s 1.83GHz. When the notebook is powered by its own battery and the Max Battery mode is enabled, the frequency of the T2500 processor is reduced by half to 1.00GHz, so its performance lowers to the level of the opponent. The graphics subsystem doesn’t behave too well here. It delivers superb performance when powered from the mains, just as you could have expected from an ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 with 256MB of dedicated graphics memory, but as soon as you disconnect the notebook’s power cord, there is an almost threefold performance hit. I suppose this rather fast graphics core just has to drop its performance by that much to save power in autonomous mode.

The Business Winstone 2004 test runs scripts of the following real-life office applications, several scripts at a time to simulate multi-tasking: Internet Explorer, Outlook, Word, Excel, Access, Project, PowerPoint, FrontPage, WinZip, and Norton AntiVirus Professional Edition.

The Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 test determines the performance of a computer in the following multimedia applications: Windows Media Encoder, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premiere, NewTek LightWave 3D, Steinberg WaveLab, Micromedia Dreamweaver MX, and Micromedia Director MX.

The latest program versions were used, adapted specifically for dual-core processors. The results are presented in the following table and diagrams:

It is the CPU that largely determines the outcome of the Winstone tests. The ASUS W2U00Jc02 has 0.17GHz more of CPU frequency than the ASUS V6X00J011 and their results differ accordingly. The reviewed notebook is a top-of-the-line product for today, and it boasts the highest result in this test among all notebooks we’ve tested so far in our labs. When powered by its battery, the ASUS W2U00Jc02 delivers half its normal performance because of the twofold reduction of its CPU clock rate.

Next I tested the notebook’s graphics subsystem (ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 graphics core with 256MB of dedicated memory) in 3DMark 2003 3.60.

3DMark uses a set of 3D scenes rendered by its own graphics engine to check the capabilities of a computer’s graphics subsystem.

When connected to the wall outlet, the notebook with an ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 shows its very best. The Nvidia GeForce Go 7400 with TurboCache and 128MB of dedicated memory installed in the ASUS V6X00J011 is no competitor. Everything changes as soon as I disconnect the notebooks from the mains: the leader becomes an outsider due to the severe measures taken to save power.

Next, I tested the notebooks in two modes in Quake 3:

We’ve got the same picture in Quake 3: the results are high when the notebook is powered from the mains and very low when it is powered by its battery.

The last graphics benchmark agrees that the ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 is indeed better than the simpler solution from Nvidia, but only when powered from the mains. So, if you want to use your W2U00Jc02 as a gaming notebook, you have to connect it to an external power source. Otherwise the notebook’s graphics performance is going to be too low for comfortable play.

The notebook’s battery life was measured with Battery Eater Pro 2.60. The test refused to launch in the Classic mode until I chose High Performance instead of High Quality in the graphics driver settings – this is not the first time this thing happens with ATI-based notebooks from ASUS.

The test was performed at the maximum screen brightness in the following modes:

The notebooks performed impressively well in this test, considering its advanced hardware configuration. You can watch a movie for over 2 hours at the max display brightness!

Here are the battery discharge diagrams for the different operation modes:

Conclusion

The W2Jc is meant to be as close to the Digital Home concept as possible and ASUS’ engineers did really get there nearly. Having done some tuning-up, they came up with a portable computer that offers you the most recent and best advances in the world of mobile computing. It’s hard to tell what this powerful multimedia station cannot do because it can do almost everything. The ASUS W2Jc will easily replace a lot of electronics like a TV-set or audio system in your home or office. The included remote control makes it easy to navigate in multimedia applications, giving you more comfort. There are only two factors that may set you aback – its price and dimensions – but I don’t think these will stop you if you really want to own a portable movie box with performance and functionality superior to those of many desktop machines!

Highs:

Lows