With its 13.3-inch wide-screen display, Core 2 Duo processor, built-in Web cam, and matte-black finish, the Asus W7J is surprisingly reminiscent of Apple's popular MacBook. Unlike the MacBook, the W7J features discrete graphics, which is a nice plus, but it's hurt by poor battery life. At $1,499, the fixed-configuration Asus W7J isn't any cheaper than the MacBook or the similarly configured yet slightly larger HP Compaq Presario V6000T. While its size, weight, and specs are appealing, the Asus W7J's battery life will be a deal breaker for most.
Despite some of their physical similarities, you're not likely to confuse this thin-and-light laptop with the MacBook upon closer inspection. The system's silhouette would be much improved if the built-in Web cam didn't extend slightly from the top edge of the lid, marring the back of the lid with what could be best described as an inelegant silver bump. Measuring 12.5 inches wide, 9.1 inches deep, and 1.3 inches high, the system is small enough to carry around every day, but big enough to work on comfortably for long stretches. The W7J weighs 4.4 pounds (5.6 pounds with the AC adapter), which is light enough for a daily commute or extensive airport traveling. Compared to the MacBook, the Asus is slightly thicker, but a little lighter. While not flimsy, it doesn't feel as solid as the Apple laptop.
The 13.3-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is the same as the MacBook. The screen includes an antiglare coating, which made for easy viewing under different lighting situations. We had to turn the default brightness up a few notches to get the best image quality.
The Asus W7J features a standard set of connections, including three USB 2.0 jacks, a mini FireWire jack, an Express Card slot (but no PC Card), a media card reader, and VGA and S-Video outputs for hooking up an external monitor. Networking connections include modem and 10/100/1000 Ethernet jacks, Bluetooth, and integrated 802.11a/b/g wireless. For a laptop in the thin-and-light category, that's a pretty complete set of connections. The Express Card slot is useful for adding mobile broadband down the road.
The full-size keyboard feels good, but the touchpad doesn't include a scroll bar, a feature that's always sorely missed. A Wi-Fi on/off switch sits above the keyboard, and Asus includes some proprietary software apps that work with the Webcam to ape the functions of Apple's Photo Booth and iSight software, although they're not nearly as user friendly. There were no multimedia control buttons, an increasingly common extra on laptops of all sizes.
The Asus W7J includes a decent assortment of midrange components, including a 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 CPU, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, a DVD burner, a GeForce Go 7400 GPU with 512MB of dedicated memory, and a 100GB 5,400rpm hard drive. You'd better like everything on the list, because the W7J is a fixed-configuration system, meaning no customization prior to purchase. Even the limited configuration options Apple provides for the MacBook let you tailor the system to your specific needs.
Compared to other similarly configured systems, the Asus W7J did well on CNET Labs' multitasking test, matching the performance of the HP Compaq Presario V6000T and beating out the Lenovo 3000 C200. The HP takes the CPU up one notch to a 1.8GHz T5600, while the Lenovo shares the W7J's T5500. The Apple MacBook beat the W7J in both the Apple iTunes encoding and Photoshop CS2 tests--surprising, as the W7J technically has a better graphics subsystem. In addition to bumps in CPU power (2GHz vs. 1.6GHz) and memory speed (667MHz vs. 533MHz), the MacBook's dominance in iTunes is in good part attributable to the home-court advantage Apple has always had with that program.
Unlike the MacBook, the Asus W7J includes a discrete graphics chip--always a plus a laptop this size or larger. Unfortunately, the Nvidia GeForce Go 7400 is at the lower end of laptop GPUs and pumped out a measly 13.5 frames per second in Quake 4 at 1,024x768. Turning off anti-aliasing and high-end graphics options will help get the frame rates closer to a playable 30fps.
The Asus W7J's biggest downfall was battery life. The system ran for 2 hours and 29 minutes on our MobileMark battery life test, using the included six-cell battery. The Lenovo 3000 C200 ran for 4 hours and 29 minutes, while the Apple MacBook (using our DVD battery-drain test) ran for 3 hours and 30 minutes. Anything under 3 hours is too short for a highly portable system like the Asus W7J. You can buy a nine-cell battery aftermarket, for about $200, which should improve battery life. Just be aware that larger batteries often stick out from the back of a laptop.