Miniature Computational Center: ASUS W5F Notebook Review

The W5 series has been rejuvenated after the arrival of the new dual-core platform. A stylish design and a very advanced hardware platform that provides highest performance in office applications are the key features of the ASUS W5F laptop that we are going to introduce to you today. Read more about an excellent business solution from ASUS in our new review!

by Alexander Britvin
10/03/2006 | 09:24 AM

In our hectic fast-paced era of megabytes of data and long to-do lists, a businessman have to spend a lot of his time on the road, far from his home and work place. Certain professions don’t even imply your having a permanent work place at all.

 

Time is money as never before, and wasting your time when you’re on a train or in a hotel is almost a crime, but you can avoid committing it if you take a portable computer with you. Not all notebooks are good companions on travels, though. A large or heavy one won’t be handy to have with you. Fortunately, the times when “small and light” meant “deficient” in the notebook world are long gone.

As an illustration to that, I am going to introduce to you the ASUS W5F notebook series that has taken in all the recent advances in notebook making and become a worthy continuation of ASUS’ W5 series. The ASUS W5F was designed for outdoor use. This two-spindle notebook is rather light at 1.75kg with its default 6-cell 4800mAh battery. It is smaller than a letter-format sheet at 305x230x31mm and performs very fast in business applications. Combined with all the necessary wired and wireless capabilities, this portable computer seems to be a traveler’s dream.

Let’s check it out closely. For our tests we will take ASUS W5G00F model, and after describing the design peculiarities I will test it in comparison with the Sony VAIO VGN-SZ1XRP/C (for details on this Sony model check out our article called Two Sony VAIO SZ Notebooks with Intel Core Duo Inside). These two notebooks share one common trait – they both come with Intel’s Graphics Media Accelerator 950 on board.

Package and Accessories

The package with the notebook is traditionally large and bears the manufacturer’s logo and the name of the series. This package, along with a pouch and bag to carry the notebook in, are packed into a larger and not very pretty-looking box:

You will be given a rich set of accessories along with your W5G00F. The box contains: a 4800mAh battery, power adapter, phone cable, TV cable, documentation, a small Bluetooth-interfaced mouse from Logitech, a bag and a pouch to carry the notebook around, 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

Now let's take a closer look at the laptop itself.

It is the integrated 1.3-megapixel web-camera that distinguishes the W5F from the rest of ASUS notebooks. The camera unit can be turned around by 180 degrees; it differs in color from the notebook’s case and protrudes a little beyond the lid.

The notebook itself is almost pure black. The top and bottom have silver moldings that stop a little short of the screen hinges. The camera unit is painted silver and has an ASUS logo on the back side of the lens. The edges of the lid are rounded towards the sides, making that miniature notebook look even smaller.

The W5G00F comes in two color schemes. Besides black, as the reviewed sample, the manufacturer offers a white version of the notebook (this version will only suit for very tidy users because any traces of dust become immediately visible on the snow-white surface). There are also silvery tones in that color scheme, besides pure white. The solution produces a feeling of visual lightness and weightlessness. The silvery keyboard blends into the case, winning more points for style. This design was distinguished with numerous awards.

Like in the ASUS W6F, the rear part of the lid differs from the rest of it in color and texture. In the center of that junction there are two copies of status indicators that remain visible when the lid is closed:

Typically of ASUS’ recent notebook models, there is no lid latch here. The lid is pressed down to the notebook’s bottom by means of spring-loaded locks in the hinges.

The hinges crop up out of the bottom part of the case, allowing you to unfold the notebook by a full 180 degrees. This may be convenient at times.

The color scheme continues within. The dark-silver touchpad and its bezel are the only elements that are not black. The screen bezel is black, too, and bears an ASUS logo in its top left.

Besides the web-camera in the top middle of the screen bezel, there are three silver buttons for controlling it. There’s also a microphone a little below the buttons. In other words, you’ve got everything you need for teleconferencing (from top to bottom):

Two stereo speakers under the display are directed at the user. Their sound quality is acceptable considering the size of the notebook.

The notebook’s battery is located under the display and between the display hinges. It is a six-cell 4800mAh battery. It has two rubber feet the notebook’s rear part stands upon. The manufacturer also offers an optional nine-cell 7800mAh battery for a longer battery life, but that battery would make the notebook look like the VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S, i.e. it would stick out of the dimensions of the case.

Like a number of other recent notebooks from ASUS, the W5 series lacks the Audio DJ feature. This time it is rather a drawback. Considering the small size of the computer, it would be a nice thing to listen to music without booting the OS up.

The W5G00F is equipped with a 12.1” LCD matrix that has a native resolution of 1280x768 pixels (it may be 1280x800, so you should check it out with the seller before purchase). The viewing angles are wide enough for comfortable work. The matrix has a “glassy” coating that reflects everything you’ve got behind your back, so you should take care about proper lighting when you sit down to work with this notebook.

The notebook uses a number of exclusive technologies from ASUS (which in fact lead to that glassiness of the display):

 

The W5G00F offers you sixteen grades of display brightness. 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 when the notebook switched to its battery and automatically enabled the power-saving mode. The contrast ratio isn’t very high, perhaps due to the “glassy” coating of the matrix:

AC power source:

DC power source:

Just below the right display hinge, there is a Turn On button with an engraved address of the ASUS website: http://www.asus.com. When the notebook is turned on, the button is highlighted with blue.

Under the left hinge, there is a slider to turn the wireless connection on/off and a button to launch ASUS’ exclusive Power4 Gear+ utility which offers several power modes that vary in such parameters as CPU frequency, screen brightness, Windows’ power management scheme, etc.

Three Power4 Gear+ modes are available when the notebook is connected to the wall socket and seven when it works on its battery.

Power4 Gear+

The W5G00F’s touchpad is the same as you can see on other relatively inexpensive notebooks from ASUS. The touch-sensitive panel is speckled with light dots. There is no scrolling zone or scroll joystick here. When the touchpad is turned on, you can see blue highlighting between its buttons. The buttons and the bezel around the touchpad are painted dark silver.

You can turn the touchpad off by pressing Fn+F9. The screen will show the picture that you can see below and the blue highlighting between the touchpad buttons will go out.

In the front left corner of the notebook there are indicators (some of them have copies on the lid). The indicators are all blue except for the battery indicator which is orange. This group includes:

Caps Lock and Scroll Lock indicators are missing because the notebook has only one group of indicators instead of the usual two.

The W5G00F has an 87-key black keyboard. The Enter button is shaped classically like the letter L. The movement keys are on the same level with the keyboard’s baseline, so there’s a higher 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).

The keyboard isn’t very handy. There are a lot of reduced-size keys and their placement is questionable, but we should make allowances for the dimensions of the notebook itself.

The W5G00F has everything necessary for normal mobile work in terms of connectors and interfaces. The left side of the computer offers the following (from left to right):

On the right panel the notebook has the following (from right to left):

The back panel of the W5G00F offers:

It’s indeed good to have USB ports on all the sides of the notebook because you can connect USB-interfaced devices where it is convenient.

On the bottom panel there are CPU, memory and hard drive compartments; a battery module with two locks; a Reset hole (in case the Ctrl+Alt+Del combination doesn’t work); stickers with information about the notebook model and the OS serial number.

There’s only one slot in the memory compartment. It is occupied by a 512MB module. The second slot is on the mainboard and is occupied with a 512MB module, too. The maximum amount of system memory the notebook supports is 1536MB. So, you can replace the accessible module with a 1GB one and that would be the best you could do to upgrade the notebook’s memory subsystem.

Configuration

The W5G00F 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 to reduce the CPU clock rate at low loads by diminishing its multiplier), the processor supports Dynamic Power Coordination (the power consumption of the cores can be varied separately depending on the current load; one core can even enter the Deep Sleep mode with the lowest power consumption) 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 Mobile Platform Review.

Being an implementation of the Napa platform, the notebook is equipped with an Intel Calistoga 945GM chipset and a wireless adapter Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG. 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.

The i945GM chipset incorporates Intel’s Graphics Media Accelerator 950. As opposed to GMA 900, this integrated graphics core supports higher core frequencies (up to 400MHz) and a larger amount of dynamically allotted memory (up to 224MB). GMA 950 has four pixel pipelines and can map four textures per clock cycle. Like GMA 900, it supports DirectX 9 and Pixel Shader 2.0 on the GPU and Vertex Shader 3.0 and T&L on the CPU. GMA 950 is a fully DirectX 9-compliant, though. The detailed specification of the i945GM can be found at the manufacturer’s website. For details about GMA 950, follow this link.

The W5G00F comes with a 2.5” had disk drive Hitachi HTS421212H9AT00 (a spindle rotation speed of 4200rpm and a storage capacity of 120GB) and a DVD-burner Matshita UJ-832S.

The notebook is equipped with two 512MB modules of DDR2-533 SDRAM which work in dual-channel mode. The only accessible slot is located on the bottom panel. So, you can replace one module with a 1GB one to have a larger amount of system memory.

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 24°C during this test) and got the following numbers:

The temperature is rather high. Moreover, it was as high as 47°C near the exhaust vent hole on the right. This may be somewhat uncomfortable if you use an external mouse, but you shouldn’t block it because the notebook may overheat.

The table below lists the technical specs of the ASUS W5G00F and compares them with those of the Sony VAIO VGN-SZ1XRP/C:

Test 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 2001 SE Pro, 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:

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 ASUS W5G00F has a CPU clock rate of 2GHz as opposed to the VAIO’s 1.83GHz. The results of the notebooks in the CPU tests are high (when they are connected to an AC source) and proportional to their CPU frequencies. When the notebooks switch to their batteries, their CPU clock rates are lowered to 1GHz to save power. The results of the tests become lower, too. The ASUS wins the memory performance tests because it is equipped with a dual-channel memory subsystem. This also becomes the crucial factor for the graphics subsystem tests.

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.

This test produces expectable results. It depends largely on the CPU performance, so the ASUS W5G00F with its faster CPU clocked at 2.0GHz wins here. When working on their batteries, each of the two notebooks lowers its CPU clock rate to 1.00GHz and they deliver roughly the same performance in the test.

The notebooks are each equipped with an integrated graphics core from Intel, so I benchmarked them in 3DMark 2001 SE Pro as well as 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.

The ASUS W5G00F uses dual-channel memory access, so its results are better in both versions of 3DMark. When powered by the batteries, the notebooks have similar speeds because they lower their CPU frequencies to 1.00GHz. The ASUS looks preferable anyway.

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

This test agrees with the previous benchmarks.

Unreal Tournament 2003 doesn’t have anything new to tell us. GMA 950 is obviously too weak for today’s games, although it can run certain games at an acceptable speed. On the other hand, the designers of the W5G00F were making a “mobile intellectual” rather than a portable gaming station.

The notebook’s battery life was measured with Battery Eater Pro 2.60. This program shows how long a notebook can last on its battery. It is important information since the W5 series is meant for frequent and long travels.

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

Well, the advanced hardware stuffing played a bad trick with the W5G00F. If you put a high load on the notebook, it will last for only a little over two hours. This is not much by today’s standards. It will surely be fine to travel with that notebook, but it won’t be able to work long at its full speed. It’s strange that a notebook of that class isn’t equipped with a more economical processor of the Low Voltage or Ultra Low Voltage variety. The Napa platform offers such processors, even though with lower clock rates.

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

Conclusion

The W5 series has been rejuvenated after the arrival of the new dual-core platform. A stylish design and a very advanced hardware platform that provides highest performance in office applications are the key features of the ASUS W5F. Thanks to its small size, this notebook will make a good traveling companion that won’t be a burden to its owner. This “mobile intellectual” as the manufacturer calls it will please men and women alike with its two color schemes: black and white. The only drawbacks of this machine are its rather high price, typical of notebooks of this form-factor, and a certain weakness in gaming 3D applications. This won’t be a problem for businessmen, though.

Highs:

Lows: