Asus W2Vc 17in widescreen notebook
A stylish aluminium clad 17in notebook from Asus...
Review With the notebooks taking a huge share of the home market, Sony has been one of the most popular brands, partly due to its stylish designs, but mostly thanks to its well-know brand name. Asus seems to be very keen on taking some of Sony’s share in the home laptop market, and the W2Vc is one in a range of new ultra-stylish notebooks it hopes will do just that...
Asus hasn’t simply strapped a few bits of aluminium to an existing mode - the W2Vc represents a whole new design approach from Asus. With the new Reduction of Hazardous Substance (RoHS) programme in Europe, many companies have had to think again about which materials they use to make electronics kit. Asus has taken this one step further - its thinking behind the new laptop is to use renewable materials or at least materials that are easily recyclable. Time will tell how well Asus implements this philosophy across its laptop range.
But on to the subject at hand. The W2Vc is a Centrino-branded machine, although a Core Duo-based model is in the pipeline and should be available shortly. The model I tested features a Pentium M 770 which is clocked at 2.13GHz and paired with 1GB of dual-channel PC4200 DDR 2 memory. The chipset of choice is Intel's 915PM as Asus has gone for a discreet graphics solution in the shape of an ATI Radeon Mobility X700 with 128MB of memory. This isn’t the fastest mobile graphics solution, but it’s a fair compromise between power consumption and 3D horsepower.
On the storage side of things you get a 100GB 5,400rpm hard drive and a slot-loading DVD writer. The Matsushita drive writes to DVD-RAM at 5x, as well as DVD±R at 8x, DVD±RW at 4x and DVD+R DL at 2.4x. So nothing out of the ordinary here, then, but at least the specs are reasonably up to date.
Wireless connectivity comes in the form of an Intel Pro/Wireless 2915ABG Wi-Fi card that works with all three standards, though it's not Intel's latest-generation product. Asus has also squeezed in Bluetooth as part of the package.
Taking a look around the edges of the machine starting on the left-hand side we have a single USB 2.0 port towards the front of the chassis. Just behind that is the optical drive and next to that is a small flap that hides the Gigabit Ethernet port, the 56Kbps modem port, an S-Video out and finally a TV antenna connector, which hooks up to a dongle for analogue or DVB-T – Freeview in the UK – digital television . However, the reception was fairly lousy with the included antenna, so you would have to be quite close to a TV transmitter to use it on the move.
The rear of the W2Vc is home to the battery and there are no ports located here. On the right-hand side, starting at the back end this time, we have a D-sub connector; another USB 2.0 port; an IrDA window; a three-in-one memory card slot which accepts MMC, SD and MemoryStick; a PC Card slot; a four-pin Firewire port; and finally two more USB 2.0 ports. The PC Card slot is also the home to a small remote control that is used in conjunction with the TV tuner.
Finally, around the front, are four 3.5mm jacks, although only three of them are for audio. The left-most jack is for AV input, and Asus supplies a suitable dongle which adds a composite video input as well as a set of RCA connectors for stereo audio input. The first of the three audio jacks triples up as headphone socket, front speaker connection and optical S/PDIF out. The next one doubles up as microphone input as well as centre and bass output. The third and final 3.5mm jack works either as a line in or as the rear surround output. There’s also an infrared receiver here for the remote controllers as well as several blue status lights.
The onboard Realtek HD audio controller supports 7.1-channel sound, although Asus has limited it to 5.1-channel sound due to the three audio outputs. There are several speakers built in to the W2Vc, although they didn’t seem to produce any sound in a 5.1-channel setup on the review sample.
The screen is of course an important part of any notebook and Asus has fitted a massive 17in widescreen display to the W2Vc. The display is of the reflective type, so games and video looks very good on it, although it’s not ideal for use in bright sunlight. The resolution is is 1,680 x 1,050, so not quite 1080 HD resolution, but 720p content will fit the screen without a problem.
Having such a massive screen adds to the size – 39.5 x 28.7 x3.3cm and weight – 3.4kg – of a laptop and the W2Vc is not for you if you intend to carry it around with you frequently. At least Asus hasn’t made the fatal mistake of adding a numerical keypad, just because there’s more space. Instead Asus has fitted a good keyboard which is quite comfortable to type on for longer periods of time. My only gripe would be that the Fn key has ended up in the corner of the keyboard instead of the Ctrl key, but this is something you’ll find on a lot of notebooks.
The touchpad is very slick looking and the buttons are cut out of the single sheet of aluminium that has been fitted to the top of the laptop. There are also a set of buttons just below the power button on the right hand side of the keyboard that have been cut out in the same way. The top button gives you quick access to your internet browser, the next one to your email client, then there’s a hard switch to enable/disable Bluetooth, the fourth one enables/disables the touchpad and last one is used to set the power profiles.
You don’t get a lot of software with the W2Vc, but a copy of Asus mobile theatre is supplied so you can take advantage of the integrated TV tuner. A second, larger remote control is also supplied, which is much easier to use than the tiny one that fits in the PC Card slot. You also get a copy of Asus DVD, Nero Express, Power Director 3DE and Medi@Show 2SE. Asus does however supply a couple of extra accessories, which consists of an optical laptop mouse, a pair of Asus branded behind the neck headphones and a carry case.
I had some slight problems benchmarking the W2Vc, as it wasn’t happy to run SYSMark 2004SE, nor would it give a score in the hard drive test in PCMark 2005. The MobileMark 2005 scores are not outstanding by any means as the W2Vc only managed 138 minutes in the DVD playback test, which means that you couldn’t really watch a movie much longer than two hours on it. However, the standard battery test of 201 minutes means that you can get over three hours of unplugged usage out of the W2Vc. Due to the hard drive part of PCMark 2005 failing to run, the overall score is lower than it should be. As I mentioned, this is not a gaming laptop, but for comparison, I did run 3DMark05 to give you an indication of how good the onboard graphics is. It will run most games at 1,024x768, although don’t expect to be able to play titles like Battlefield 2 or F.E.A.R. on it, as the graphics power just isn’t there.
The Asus W2Vc is an amazing step forward for Asus and its notebook products. Not only does it look stunning, but it also has a wealth of functionality. And it's backed by a two-year warranty. At £1468, it isn't cheap,. but you do get a lot for your money. However, here’s one reason why I wouldn’t buy the W2Vc just yet, and that's because there's a Core Duo version with better graphics just around the corner.
The W2Vc really shows what Asus notebook division can do and having recently seen some of the upcoming models from Asus, this is not a one off model either. There are plenty of features on board as well, so the looks aren’t just skin deep. It is a large desktop replacement machine, but if this is the kind of thing you’re looking for, then the W2Vc should be right up your street. ®