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.