Asustek Computer may still be best known for its low-cost Netbooks, and occasional high-end reaches such as its Republic of Gamers desktop replacements, but the company churns out a fair number of middle-of-the-road systems as well. The Asus U41JF is a solidly built 14-inch notebook that will work fine for nearly any mainstream task, but at the same time is no bargain at $849. Worse, it's easily outclassed in the design department by its 13-inch cousin, the Asus U36JC, which costs around the same, but is thinner, lighter, and more attractive, and has similar discrete graphics and a better processor.
Neither model has Intel's new second-gen Core i-series processors (formerly code-named Sandy Bridge), but for mainstream systems such as this, that upgrade may take a while to hit store shelves, especially given Intel's recent troubles with the new platform.
At prices approaching Apple's MacBook (and topping Toshiba's 13-inch R705), unless you're wedded to the idea of the system's Nvidia GeForce 425M graphics, there are better-priced or nicer-looking laptops out there. That said, the U41JF has really good battery life, and never really let us down, which may sound like faint praise, but is praise nonetheless.
|Price as reviewed||$849|
|Processor||2.53GHz Intel Core i3-380M|
|Memory||4GB, 1,066MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce 425M + Intel GMA HD|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.3x9.9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.8/5.8 pounds|
The biggest immediate problem we had with the Asus U41JF was its overall look. The brushed metal lid and wrist rest are standard enough, and not offensive, but that's paired with a glossy black keyboard tray (with matte black keyboard) and screen bezel that extend to the four edges of the chassis. This gives the entire device a gaudy two-tone look that we've previously criticized on other systems. If you can't go monochrome, at least keep the colors in the same family.
The body itself is angular and boxy, but not overly thick for a 14-inch system. We're not aesthetic elitists by any means, but with laptops mostly being constructed from the same core set of components, the visual flair is often what sells one model over another.
The keyboard has the same flat-topped, widely spaced keys as most current laptops, which is a style we sometimes call island or Chiclet keys. The keys are a good size, with large Left Shift and Enter keys, but the Right Shift key gets unfairly shortened. We're also not a fan of the extra row of buttons some laptop makers are adding to the far right side, which are typically Page Up, Page Down, and other movement keys. They can throw off your touch typing pretty easily, making it hard to hit the Enter and Shift keys if you're used to them being on the far right side of the keyboard. Additionally, the keyboard flexed under our fingers in the middle while we were typing, which never makes for a good long-term experience.
A generous touch pad is centered under the keyboard, but its basic multitouch gestures are hit or miss (however, the same could be said of most Windows laptops right now). One nice touch is that you can scroll vertically by either swiping one finger along the right edge of the touch pad or by using the Mac-like two-finger method. Under the touch pad, a single rocker bar takes the place of separate left and right mouse buttons. We strongly prefer separate buttons, but Asus seems married to the rocker bar concept across most of its products.
The 14.1-inch display has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is typical for a midsize laptop. Off-axis viewing was good horizontally, but the image faded quickly when viewed from above or below. The built-in Altec Lansing speakers are decent for a laptop, and at least good enough for personal video viewing.
|Asus U41JF||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
There's nothing notable, or missing, from the U41JF's collection of ports and connections. But for nearly $900, it's possible to find extras such as a mobile broadband antenna or even a Blu-ray player if you shop around.
With a 2.53GHz Intel Core i3 processor, this is a good example of a mainstream laptop that will suffice for everyday use, from Web surfing to Photoshop to watching HD videos online. While that Core i3 CPU is usually found in systems that cost a little less, in our benchmark testing the U41JF matched up well against systems with the step-up Intel Core i5 processor. Our takeaway is that you shouldn't dismiss this model, even if you had a Core i5 on your must-have list of laptop specs.
There's also some very positive performance to be found in the Nvidia GeForce 425M GPU. It's controlled by Nvidia's Optimus switching system, which means the discrete GPU turns itself off and on as needed, and won't run down your battery when you're not, for example, playing a video game. Intel's new Sandy Bridge CPUs, with improved integrated graphics, may make mainstream graphics cards pointless for many casual gamers, but those systems are still some ways off from being widely available.
As an example, we ran Street Fighter IV in the default mode, which automatically turned on the Nvidia graphics. At the native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, the game ran at an excellent 68.4 frames per second. When we manually disabled the GPU, running instead on the integrated Intel HD graphics, the same test ran at only 14.9fps.
|Asus U41JF||Avg watts/hour|
|Raw kWh number||53.22|
|Annual energy cost||$6.04|
In our video playback battery drain test, the Asus U41JF ran for an impressive 3 hours and 52 minutes. For a 14-inch laptop, which is on the edge of the size we'd consider carrying around on a regular basis, battery life may be less important than in a 12- or 13-inch laptop, but we're pleased to see this good result nonetheless. It scored 30 minutes better than the HP Envy 14 and about 30 minutes behind HP's Pavilion dm4.
Asus does better than the standard one-year laptop warranty, offering instead a two-year warranty and one year of accidental damage protection. From other PC makers, these are often expensive extras. That said, Asus doesn't have the easiest-to-use set of online support tools, and its overlapping Web sites can be confusing.
|1280x768, 0x AA, 0x AF||1366x768, 4x AA, 8x AF|
Find out more about how we test laptops.
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.53GHz Intel Core i3 M380; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce 425M + 64MB (Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 500GB Western Digital 5,400rpm
HP Envy 14
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 M450; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650; 500GB Seagate 7,200rpm
Dell Inspiron 14R
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.27GHz Intel Core i3 M350; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm
HP Pavilion dm4-1003
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 M520; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated)/1,695MB (Total) Intel MHD; 320GB Toshiba 7,200rpm
Lenovo IdeaPad Y460
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 M520; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650; 500GB Seagate 5,400rpm
Acer Aspire TimelineX 4820TG-7805
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.53GHz Intel Core i5 M460; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 + 128MB Intel GMA HD; 320GB Western Digital 5,400rpm