Asus A8Js review
A fast and well-designed notebook, but let down by an average screen and poor battery life
Notebook GPUs don't get the same amount of attention as their bigger, more powerful desktop cousins. But while Nvidia is making plenty of fuss about its latest desktop range, the GeForce 8800, there's plenty of movement on the mobile side too. As well as the introduction of the all-powerful GeForce Go 7950 GTX, there's the more modest 7700 card, seen here for the first time in the Asus A8Js.
The chip is a slight variation of the existing GeForce Go 7600, the technical difference being the reduction from a 90nm to 80nm manufacturing process. Plus, there are 12 pixel pipelines compared to the 7600's eight. In practice, the chip proved more than capable in our 3D benchmarks: at our lowest benchmark settings, Far Cry ran at an average of 43fps, while Call of Duty 2 managed 33fps. Upping the resolution of the screen to its native 1,440 x 900 resolution and running the games at their medium settings resulted in averages of 27fps and 18fps in Far Cry and Call of Duty 2 respectively.
Based around a T7200 2GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, there's plenty of processing power. In combination with 2GB of RAM, running at 667MHz, the overall benchmark score of 1.20 makes the A8Js fast enough for almost anything. The Hitachi hard disk also pushes the boat out with its 100GB capacity. It comes split into two partitions - one 56GB and another 37GB, presumably intended as a separate repository for documents and media libraries.
The optical drive will prove useful for offloading smaller amounts of data, as it caters for all formats of writable DVD including DVD-RAM. The A8Js complies with Intel's Centrino Duo branding, and as such has 802.11a/b/g WLAN, backed by wired Gigabit Ethernet. The back left-hand side of the chassis is home to a memory card reader, providing compatibility with SD card, MMC cards and Memory Sticks. A TPM chip from Infineon is a useful tool that will prove itself if you intend to adopt the A8Js as a laptop for business use, although the bundled software isn't as user-friendly as we'd like. The webcam in the top of the bezel is a more useful inclusion, despite its low 0.3-megapixel resolution.
Unfortunately, the A8Js has a couple of notable faults. One of these is the 14in 1,440 x 900 resolution screen, which suffers from being particularly reflective. We found that even in rooms lit by normal household incandescent bulbs reflections were distracting. There's also a noticeable amount of grain on the screen - another distraction while typing documents, as the page doesn't appear white but more a mottled grey. The screen isn't quite bright enough either. The "Splendid" video button, supposedly to improve "image contrast, brightness, skin tone and colour saturation" only proved a qualified success, boosting brightness minimally at the expense of colour accuracy.
We aren't big fans of the trackpad either, which has a distinctly sticky feel to it, while the mouse buttons are too soft. The keyboard is more of a plus, offering a good level of feedback and making typing comfortable. The only drawback is the slightly odd layout, transposing the Ctrl and Fn keys, and making the Enter key single height.
Battery life isn't a strong point - with minimal activity, the notebook lasted for 2hrs 50mins, which dropped to 1hr 1min when we pushed the machine to its limits. That's disappointing, as the 2.5kg weight makes the A8Js an otherwise practical choice for travellers - large enough to work comfortably at wireless hotspots, but light enough to be reasonably unobtrusive in a bag.