Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement | How we test computers
Hardly a month goes by without Asus releasing a 15.4-inch laptop. We've seen the V1 series, the Lamborghini VX series, the G series, the F5 series, the wooden Ecobook and probably a few others we've forgotten about.
The newest addition to the 15.4-inch family is the F3 series. The Asus Web site claims these laptops have abundant graphics power and are highly portable, which is something of an oxymoron in our experience. Unlike the majority of Asus laptops we've tested, the F3Ke model uses an AMD processor, which makes it a frighteningly good value. It can be bought for about £500 on the Web.
There's nothing particularly amazing about the F3Ke's design. It's big, it's predominantly matte silver and some would say it's laptop-shaped. We think it's portable, but only in the same way that we think small children are portable. Let's be clear: the F3Ke is a brute of a laptop that will spend most of its time on your desk.
The upshot of being so large is that the F3Ke can incorporate a 15.4-inch widescreen display plus a very comfortable keyboard. This review was typed on the laptop itself and we're happy to report it felt extremely responsive with just the right amount of travel in the keys and good spacing so as to minimise typos.
Unfortunately, though, the mouse trackpad is slightly too wide. It's prone to being accidentally touched by the ball of your right hand as you type, causing the laptop to think you're clicking the mouse button. This causes the cursor to jump 'randomly' around the page as you type, inserting characters where you least expect them. There is a button to disable the trackpad temporarily as you type, but remembering to switch it on and off is a pain. The easiest solution we could think of was to disable the mouse entirely and use an external USB mouse.
There's plenty of scope for expansion on the F3Ke. It has two USB ports at the rear, one on the right and another at the front, which is ideally positioned for inserting a USB key. To right side is also home to DVI, D-Sub and S-video output ports, four-pin Firewire and a Express Card slot. The left side of the laptop plays host to a tray-loading DVD re-writer drive. The overall layout of the various ports makes good sense unless you're left-handed and wish to use an external mouse -- a left-sided USB port would have solved this issue.
The F3Ke is available with a range of processors and memory configurations. It can use a variety of AMD Turion 64 X2 dual-core processors with clock speeds ranging from 1.6GHz-2GHz. Our review sample shipped with the 1.8GHz Turion 64 X2 TL-56 CPU and 2GB of DDR 667MHz memory. These sat atop an ATI M690G chipset, which allows the laptop to accept up to 4GB of RAM in total.
If you believe all Asus' F3Ke spiel, you'll believe it provides 'true-to-life gaming enjoyment'. In non-marketing-speak that means it uses an ATI Mobility Radeon X2300 with its own dedicated 128MB of video memory. This solution is one rung below ATI's flagship X2600 card, but it'll certainly hold its own, running games at a modest pace, playing HD video, handling Vista's advanced graphics features and generally not being a cause of frustration.
The graphics card works well in conjunction with the 15.4-inch widescreen display. Predictably, it is coated in a reflective gloss, but this improves the perceived brightness and contrast when used indoors. The high reflectivity reduces visibility outdoors or when in direct light. But even so, it's not as bad as on some glossy screens we've seen.
Asus goes out of its way to highlight the F3Ke's use of 'Splendid video intelligence technology', by plastering stickers all over the laptop. This system, using a button above the keyboard, lets you cycle through a range of video presets for gamma corrected, vivid, soft and theatre modes, but you'll be hard-pressed to tell the difference between them. Whichever you choose, movies, games and just about everything looks lovely on the F3Ke.
Storage was average. Our test sample uses a 160GB Hitachi hard drive spinning at 5,400RPM although some vendors will include up to a 200GB drive. Either way, anyone that spends serious time using Bit Torrent is advised to purchase an external USB hard drive for backing up, or simply stashing space-intensive multimedia files. Notably, the laptop's DVD re-writer drive supports HP's LightScribe technology, so it can laser-etch labels onto the back of compatible discs.
The F3Ke isn't a Centrino laptop -- it doesn't use any Intel parts -- but it still has full Wi-Fi capability. The onboard wireless chip supports 802.11b/g networks and there's an optional built-in Bluetooth module you can use to connect wireless headsets or mobile phones. Some versions of the laptop also come with a fingerprint reader with the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) V1.2, for added security.
Software includes AsusDVD 7.0, Power Director 5.0, Medi@Show 3.0, Norton Internet Security 2006, Nero 7 Essentials and Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium Edition. The laptop has a two-year limited global hardware warranty and a one-year battery pack warranty.
The F3's performance is in the middle of the road. The AMD CPU at the heart of the system huffed and puffed until it scored 2,801 in PCMark 2005. This is in no way as impressive as the 4,815 the 1.8GHz Intel CPU in the Dell Inspiron 1520 achieved. Fret not -- the Asus score is indicative of a laptop that will serve the needs of most users without noticeable slowdown.
The 3DMark 2006 graphics score of 1,077 is impressive for a laptop at this price point, and while it may not be Asus' vision of 'true-to-life gaming enjoyment', it will run many a game at a decent pace. Battery life wasn't too impressive, though -- it lasted 48 minutes in our Battery Eater test.
The F3Ke is a great all-round laptop -- there's very little to fault with it. The screen is great, the performance is strong and while the styling isn't much to write home about, it's exceptional value for money.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday