November 2 2006 Update:
- Added temperature observations in the Heat and Noise section after updating to BIOS 211
- Added some notes about possibility of graphics card upgrade in the Build and Design section
October 31 2006 Update:
- Added major differences between A8Jm and A8Js in the Build and Design section
- Added Links section at the end of the review
- Added link to A8J Disassembly Guide in the Links section
- Added link to ASUS NBProbe in the Links section
August 9 2006 Update:
- Added CPU undervolting observations in the Processor and Performance section
July 13 2006 Update:
- Added major differences between A8Jm and W3J in the Build Quality section
July 5 2006 Update:
- Added images of glare and underneath the notebook in the A8Jm Picture Gallery.
July 1 2006 Update:
- Added graphics card overclocking benchmark scores.
June 20 2006 Update:
- Added temperature observation while using LapCool3.
June 15 2006 Update:
- Added screenshots of wallpaper and sample webcam images in the A8Jm Picture Gallery.
- Added section on built in webcam and microphone.
- Images now available at the A8Jm Picture Gallery.
Hi everyone, I’ll be doing a review of my ASUS A8Jm notebook for NotebookReviews.com. In addition to that, I’ll also post updates on this page. I’m not going to be able to finish the review in one day, so please keep checking back to see if there’s anything new.
1. Overview and Introduction:
The notebook as mentioned above is an ASUS Ensemble A8Jm, and could be considered a thin and light system. It’s not really ultraportable, but it’s a nice size to carry around with a bag. The important specs for mine:
CPU: T2400 Core Duo (1.83 GHz)
RAM: 2GB DDR2 667MHz (Originally came with 1GB, did an upgrade)
HD: 100 GB 5400 RPM
GPU: NVidia Go 7600 512Mb dedicated memory
Screen: 14.1″ WXGA (1280 x 800)
OS: Windows XP Home
In addition, this machine included all the bells and whistles including DVI, VGA, 5 USB 2.0 ports, Firewire port, Infrared port, DVD RW, 0.3MP built in camera, Intel 3945 a/b/g wireless, Mic In, SPDIF out, memory card reader and express card reader.
The only glaring exception is that for some reason ASUS decided to not include the internal Bluetooth module in the North American versions of this machine. Asian and European models of the A8J series all come with Bluetooth installed internally. No idea why ASUS did this, as it seems only a trivial thing to put it in all the machines.
2. Reasons for Buying:
I bought this notebook because I’ll be moving from Canada to Indonesia within a couple of months, and I wanted something I could use for business purposes, since I’ll be starting my own. Didn’t want to be PC less while we’re settling down, since I’ll be quite uneffective that way.
I’ve actually been looking for a notebook for almost 2 years, and haven’t really been forced to get one until now. I’ve checked out the Z70 and Z71 series last year, and this year when I started looking seriously, the only ones I considered were the Z96J, S96J, A8Jm and the ACER Aspire 5672.
Finally decided on the ASUS model because of it’s great reputation and build, but all in all those final 4 machines really had me in limbo for awhile. The A8Jm is the most expensive of them because it’s an Ensemble, but I felt it was worth the extra cash since I’ll probably be using it as my main machine for the next few years.
I got a Core Duo model because it’s supposed to be pin for pin compatible with Intel’s next generation processor Merom, hence increasing the chance of upgrading the CPU in the future and prolonging the life of this notebook. The GPU also played a great deal of influence in my decision, as it’s one of the most powerful available for notebooks at the moment, and will future-proof me when Windows Vista comes out.
3. Where and How Purchased:
Bought this from Danny at MilestonePC (previously CanadaSys) for CAD $1729 + Upgraded RAM $110 + Vantec LapCool3 $23 + 15% tax $279.30 = CAD $2141.30. The original price when I pre-ordered it was $1649 with a T2300 processor and Bluetooth included. When the final specs came out, it turned out to be a T2400, but less the Bluetooth. I got an extra Targus carry bag and sleeve, as well as a 512 MB USB Flash drive from MilestonePC for pre-ordering, so it was a pretty good bonus.
The A8Jm is not really the cheapest of notebooks (I spent an ornate amount of time comparing this to a similarly spec’d Z96J / S96J / AS5672, which would cost a few hundred bucks less), but I think it’s a worthy investment and also easier to move around than the others which were 15.4″ notebooks. I went to pick this up there because I just couldn’t be bothered to pay the extra shipping fees and anxiously twiddling my thumbs waiting for the courier to arrive :).
[eminimall products="asus a8jm"]
4. Build and Design (Pictures ready, at the A8Jm Picture Gallery):
People have said it’s not as good looking as its higher end counterpart W3J, but to me it looks quite nice. It’s silver in colour, and I believe the casing is made of hard plastic. The A8Jm isn’t really an ultraportable and feels a bit weighty, but carrying it around didn’t seem like a big problem to me. Although I probably couldn’t do it for a lengthy amount of time, I managed to move it about, lid open, with one hand.
The screen is very well built, pushing the lid doesn’t give me any ripples whatsoever, and the hinges really hold the LCD nicely, not much wobbling at all when I try playing around with it.
I’ve never owned a notebook before, but from testing out others at Best Buy, Future Shop and other stores, I feel that this one is more sturdy than most models. It’s kinda hard to explain, just feels more compact and better built when I touch the parts such as the screen and keyboard. The only concern I have is probably the optical drive, which it’s a bit awkward to close.
Update: People have been asking in forums about the difference between W3J and A8Jm, so I thought I’d post the major differences here to help simplify things for those trying to make a decision.
- ATI x1600 with 256 MB dedicated RAM and 256 HyperThreading
- Better quality materials and looks
- Extra modular bay for extra battery, HD or travel tray
- Has 3 USB ports
- 1280 x 768
- NVidia Go7600 with 512 MB dedicated RAM
- DVI port
- Has 5 USB ports
- 1280 x 800
Update: The newer versions of A8Jm are now out in certain countries, with the A8Js being most notable here in North America. Here are the differences/upgrades from A8Jm to A8Js:
- CPU: T7200 Core 2 Duo
- Graphics card: NVidia Go7700
- Screen resolution: WXGA+ (1440 x 900)
- Hard Drive Interface: SATA
[eminimall products="asus laptop"]
Update: There has been much debate about whether or not the graphics card in the A8Jm can be replaced. What I’ve seen on certain Chinese websites (can’t find it anymore now) is that the A8Jm and A8Js uses certain proprietary form of MXM (not necessarily MXM itself) graphics card, which is removable from both machines. I don’t know if that means the Go7600 in the A8Jm can be replaced with the Go7700 or even if these cards will be available separately, but since they both use the same ASUS proprietary form of MXM, there is a hint of possibility there (notice I said possibility, nobody so far has been able to verify this at all).
The screen is a widescreen 14.1″ WXGA @ 1280 x 800 pixels, with ASUS Colour Shine technology. I was really expecting them to come out with a WXGA+ (1440 x 900) screen, but when I saw what things looked like in WXGA, realized that it was quite enough for most people.
Since it’s a glossy type screen, there is quite a bit of glare when working in really bright areas. Mine doesn’t have any dead pixels and is just perfect (I haven’t taken the protective screen off until now :). ). I see some extra brightness near the bottom part of the screen when looking at it in a certain angle, but not really very often at all. Viewing angles are also very good, I can still see the items on the screen through some weird angles.
Update: Some people have contacted me with concerns about the glare on the screen, whether it’s too much for working lengthy periods of time. My answer personally is no, it’s quite bareable and manageable for me, but I understand how some people might find it distracting for long periods of time.
In an typical room with average lighting conditions, I think most people will be fine looking at this screen. The glare I found was probably because I live in a condo with full 9′ glass windows and is quite bright on most days. When I use it in the den, which more resembles lighting conditions for a working area, there is really no glare to be concerned about.
The speakers are at the lower front of the notebook, one on each side. I tried playing a couple of CD and DVD’s, and the sound is ok, feels very different from a desktop or CD player sounds, very crispy. Maybe I’ll get used to it after awhile. I’m not one very picky about sound, so it’s quite ok for me. Comparing the sound to my friend’s ACER AS5672, the speakers on the A8Jm definitely sound better. Maybe someone can suggest how I should test this better?
7. Processor and Performance:
As mentioned above, the processor is a Core Duo T2400, rated at 1.83 GHz. I also added in an extra 1 GB worth of memory to max it out, so I won’t need to upgrade in the future. I put in the 667MHz DDR2 memory, although I’ve read lately that it shouldn’t be too much different than the current versions with 553MHz, due to the latency. The current 667 MHz memory sticks have a CAS latency of 5, while the 553 MHz ones have a latency of 4, hence making not much difference in speed. The only possible upgrade I can do in the future is get memory sticks with a lower latency.
Update: Heard that if indeed Merom can be fitted to this machine, then the memory max will be 4 GB instead of just 2.
The hard drive that came with this machine is a Hitachi Travelstar 100 GB at 5400 RPM. I decided against upgrading to a 7200 RPM hard drive, because I really didn’t need that much faster access times for the things I do, plus some people have warned me that increasing the RPM might also reduce battery life and cause some more heat to be generated. I reformatted the drive and partitioned it using GParted Live CD into 2 partitions, a 20 GB partition for my Windows and programs, and the rest for everything else. As well, I left the Recovery partition that came with the notebook alone.
Performance seems excellent to me (having being used to a P3 at home and P4 – 2.0 GHz at work). From the press of the On button to the login screen of Windows XP, it takes about 30 – 40 seconds. All the applications I launch take little time and the computer always seems responsive no matter what I’m doing. I haven’t had time to really test out running development / graphics environments together at the same time, but running normal office / web applications seem to be a breeze to me. There is some delay in loading applications at times, but I have a gut feeling that it’s more due to the hard drive than the processor.
I’m not that much of a gamer anymore now with 2 kids taking most of my time :), but I’ll try get some games and test them out later on.
Update: I decided to try undervolting the CPU to see if I could gain some battery life improvement, even though I know Core Duo CPU’s are limited to a minimum voltage of 0.95v by Intel. The results at the highest multiplier is quite good, I managed to get the 11x multiplier down to 1.025v from it’s original setting of 1.263v. The crash voltage was at 0.988v, and at 1.000v, Prime95 crashed after about 2 hours of torture testing. At 1.013v, Prime95 running on both cores with 100% CPU usage, it ran for 6 hours and 15 minutes without any problems, so I just set mine at another stepping up 1.025v just to be safe.
Using RMClock, I just let it auto adjust the intermediate P-States because I couldn’t be bothered to test every single multiplier for hours at a time. There seems to be little or almost no battery improvement (expected, since I don’t use my PC at 100% too often ), but CPU temperatures seem lower by a few degrees when doing normal work.
3dMark06 – 2288 / 2365. SM2.0: 938, HDR/SM3.0: 833, CPU: 1545.
I know of some other A8Jm user who somehow managed to get a 2360 something mark.
(Update: Change Image Setting in nVidia Performance & Quality to Performance instead of the default Quality. This produces a higher 3dMark – 2365 for mine.)
Update: I had some time to play around with overclocking the graphics card. I managed to reach 510 for core clock and 405 for memory, the 3dMark06 I got was 2548. At this point, there was no artifacts or errors on the machine, so there is probably still room for improvement. Another A8Jm user managed to overclock his card to about 519/425, and got almost 2650 in 3dMark06. I’ll try overclocking more once I have some spare time.
Update: Another A8Jm user in NBR forums managed to hit 2700 with 521/461 settings.
Super Pi â€“ 1m 19s for 2 million digits.
PCMark05 – 4134 (similar to 3dMark06 above, using High Performance for nVidia Quality & Performance Image Setting).
HD Tune â€“ Minimum transfer rate: 17.6 MBps, Maximum transfer rate: 39.9 MBps, Average transfer rate: 31.2 MBps, Access time: 17.7 ms, Burst rate: 71.9 MBps.
9. Heat and Noise:
The vent for this notebook is on the right side, at the back. Blows out warm air from there, which is quite ok for a machine this powerful. I’ve never had it blow hot air at all, most of the time it’s just a warm breeze coming out. If you’re from Asia, it’s just like the breeze of wind on any given hot humid day :). At times there is also some slight breeze rising up, seemingly from under the keyboard area.
Some areas I noticed get warm during extensive use are the palm rests and bottom of the notebook. I wouldn’t recommend having this baby on your lap for too long, as it got quite warm after just using it for awhile. The ASUS user guide states “DO NOT PUT THE NOTEBOOK PC ON YOUR LAP OR OTHER PARTS OF THE BODY TO AVOID INJURY FROM THE HEAT”, so I guess this wasn’t meant to be a lap-top. I did get a USB powered notebook cooler, so that might be the solution if I need to use this on my lap for extended periods of time.
Temperatures range from 48 – 51 C during idling and office use, went up to a max of 63 C when I ran PCMark05 and was running at 100% CPU load. HD CPU was at 35 – 40 C most of the time.
As for noise, I think ASUS did a great job on this machine. I hardly hear it making any noise while working normally on it, fan is rarely audible. The only sound I hear is from the optical drive when reading files (my optical drive sometimes makes a clicking sound that disappears after a bit, looks like a problem with the optical drive, not the machine itself.)
Update: Using LapCool3, the temperature drops by about 2 to 3 degrees C. Using AC, it idled at 46 – 48C, and normal work at 49 – 50C. I tried using battery saving mode (no AC), and the normal working temp (wireless, surfing web, email) seemed to hover at 40-41C.
Update: I held off from upgrading the BIOS for so long, because I liked the 207 BIOS where the fans only came on after about 50C or so, but in the end I considered the fact that using an updated BIOS would keep my CPU temps lower and be better off with it. So I updated to 211, and lo and behold, even though the fans were on all the time, my temps using AC doing regular work hover around 40-42C.
Note: In my case and another user who updated to 211, when the machine starts, somehow the Microphone Boost in Volume Control – Microphone – Advanced gets checked and produces a loud annoying, whining, screaming noise. Simply turning that checkmark off worked for me, and haven’t had that problem anymore. Just be warned that you might want to update to 211 in a quiet and secluded place where something like this won’t bother people should it happen :).
10. Keyboard and Touchpad:
The keyboard is excellent, no flex at all when I’m typing. One problem with the keyboard is the location of the FN and left CTRL keys. Most people are used to having the CTRL key on the left most lower part of the keyboard, and lots of other notebook manufacturers actually put CTRL first, then FN. In ASUS’ case, FN is there, which might cause users to mis-press the buttons every now and then. As far as I know, there’s no way to swtich them around. I like the fact that I can function lock the keyboard so that part of it acts as a keypad, as it’s very useful when inputting numbers.
The touchpad is silver in color, the same as the palmrests and cover. I’ve read that some people don’t like it because of the texture, but I didn’t really have any trouble using it the first week when I didn’t have an external mouse. Seemed to work like just any regular touchpad to me. The Synaptics Device Settings allows customization of the 4 corners of the touchpad to act as command buttons. It can be set to double click, right click, etc. and is quite useful.
There is also a scroll area on the right side of the touchpad, which simulates a mouse wheel. I don’t really use this too much, but have found it quite difficult to use. It requires quite a lot of pressure at the right place to get it working correctly. What’s interesting is that the left click and right click parts of the touchpad are seemingly joined together as one strip, but they function correctly when you press the left and right sides of it. For some reason, my right click makes a louder clicking sound than the left one.
Now here’s where I’m a bit disappointed in ASUS. There are 5 control buttons above the keyboard that should perform in order: Power4Gear, Bluetooth, Wireless, Splendid and InstantON. Out of those 5, only 3 work on mine (Bluetooth not included and InstantON is basically another power button that launches Windows and default media player). I would really have appreciated the option to re-assign functions to these buttons. As it stands right now, there’s no way to do it and I’m stuck with 2 useless buttons up there.
11. Input and Output Ports:
On the left side of the machine: USB 2.0, FireWire, 5 in 1 Memory Card Reader, Express Card slot, Mic In, SPDIF Out.
On the right side of the machine: 2 x USB 2.0, InfraRed.
On the rear/back side of the machine: 2 x USB 2.0, DVI-D, VGA, S-Video, Ethernet, Modem.
All in all, 5 x USB 2.0 ports, 1 x IEEE 1394 Firewire port, 5 in 1 Memory Card Reader, Express Card slot, Mic In, SPDIF, InfraRed, DVI-D, VGA, S-Video, Ethernet and Modem.
It comes with the Intel 3945 a/b/g wireless as well as an infrared port. The A8Jm is definitely Bluetooth capable (there is a Bluetooth button and indicator present), but ASUS for some reason omitted the internal Bluetooth module from all North American models (why ASUS, why?). All other versions should have Bluetooth installed.
The battery supplied is a 6 cell, 4800 mAh, and with brightness on a lower setting, battery saving mode, wireless on, external USB mouse, regular office work, internet surfing and application installation, I could get about 3 hours on this machine. I think it’s not too bad considering the power of this baby. I know some other user managed to get 3 hrs 40 minutes with the lowest brightness and wi-fi off.
14. Built in Webcam & Mic:
Built in to this machine is the 0.3 MP webcam, as well as a microphone on the left most side of the keyboard. I’m not sure why ASUS put the microphone there, seems like a very odd place to do it, but it does serve its purpose. The microphone seems to pick up my voice quite clearly, although I had to speak up a bit when talking to the person on the other end of the conversation. I was told that my voice came out very clear on his end.
I tried taking a couple of pictures with the camera, and the image quality is quite ok. I wasn’t really expecting high quality images like ones taken from a 3 or 4 MP digital camera, so the 640 x 480 images were fine by me, and is more than enough for having a video conversation on any IM software.
15. Operating System and Software:
Windows XP Home came pre-installed on this machine. I was provided with the Recovery CD’s, Driver & Utilities CD, ASUS DVD, Microsoft Works and Nero Express. I think ASUS doesn’t install too many useless programs on the machine like some other manufacturers. The installed programs such as Power4Gear for power management and ASUS DVD are quite useful, so it’s not a waste of space and resources. Even so, I wanted to install my own copy of XP Pro, partition and set it up according to my likes, so I wiped everything out except for the Recovery Partition (only 1.8 GB of space, no big deal for me) and re-installed the things I wanted.
16. Customer Support:
Here’s my first and only experience with ASUS support:
I called in to customer support to ask about the InstantON button that is provided on the keyboard. Here’s what the manual had to say about the InstantON button: “When the notebook PC is off: Pressing this button will launch a multimedia player application (without entering Windows) to view DVDs, VCDs, videos, photos, or television programs; or listen to music CDs or files”. In addition, there is a light indicator with an InstantON symbol to indicate if it’s in that InstantON mode.
What I found is that by pressing the InstantON button, my notebook just boots windows and loads the default media player. So I emailed tech support through the ASUS website, and got a reply from the tech, to call a 1-888 number and speak to a rep. I did call in, and talked to a support person. When I told him about the button, the guy seemed lost and insisted on calling it Audio DJ. He said he’d call back later on to confirm.
He called back after, saying there’s no Audio DJ on my model. (At this point, I was just cursing in my breath. I told him at the beginning it’s InstantON, not Audio DJ). So I explained the location of the button and he put me on hold. After about 20 minutes or so, I got disconnected and the guy never called back. I proceeded to email tech support again explaining the situation, and got another reply asking me to call the 1-888 number and to talk to a specific person.
Within hours, I got 2 calls. First one was the person I was recommended to talk to; he said it’s a known problem and that HQ was investigating, hoping to get a solution soon. Second one was the guy I was talking to and got disconnected, saying that it’s an error with documentation, that it’s supposed to load Windows, not an external media player.
It seemed ridiculous to me that they’re blaming it on documentation. I mean, there’s an InstantON light indicator on my machine for goodness sakes, what’s the purpose of it then? And the answers I got from both guys seemed to contradict each other. Furthermore, I found out that on A8 models with an integrated graphics card, the InstantON button works, it goes to an external media player.
So, I’m not sure what’s going on, but can’t really be too positive about their support. Just seems they’re trying to cover up the problem instead of acknowledging it. Oh, and the support forum on their site is a joke, no admin or support that can quickly answer questions or concerns.
Thankfully, the A8Jm is so well built, you probably won’t have to use their technical support often if at all :). And even if you had a problem with the machine, good resellers like MilestonePC would probably be able to handle it for you.
I’d recommend this machine to anybody; with almost every feature you could ask for in a thin and light configuration, it’s really a dream machine. The price is a bit high, but considering most of what’s in it is bleeding edge technology and is most likely future proof (maybe Merom compatible, Vista compatible), I think it’s a worthy investment.
- Very quiet and cool for such a powerful machine
- Dual Core technology
- Graphics card: nVidia Go 7600 with 512 MB dedicated memory
- DVI-D output
- Memory supports 667 MHz DDR2 RAM
- 5 USB 2.0 ports, 1 Firewire port, Infrared port, Expresscard port, Memorycard reader
- Built in camera
- Well built, nice LCD
- For the performance it brings, it’s a great value for the money spent
- ASUS support is so-so if you ever need to use it
- The North American version has no Bluetooth built in
- InstantON feature not working properly on A8Jm
These are some links that would be useful for ASUS notebook users.
- - ASUS NBProbe – Utility to monitor CPU and HD temperature, as well as disk usage.
- - A8J Disassembly Guide (courtesy of MilestonePC.com) – As the name says, shows how to disassemble A8J model notebooks. Very useful to know where and how to get to all the components within the notebook.