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Asus W2Vc review: Asus W2Vc

The Good Attractive chassis; great widescreen display; comfortable keyboard; good multimedia support.

The Bad Noisy and slow DVD rewriter drive; front-facing audio ports; no digital video output.

The Bottom Line Asus should be commended for delivering a comparatively slim and stylish desktop-replacement laptop. The W2Vc ably handles everyday productivity tasks and 3D games with ease, and its excellent 17-inch screen is great for watching movies on. The laptop is pricey in comparison to rivals in its class, however, and its DVD drive is the slowest, noisiest optical drive we've seen in some time. If money isn't an issue and you can put up with its minor idiosyncrasies it is worth looking at

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7.5 Overall

Review Sections

According to Asus, the W2Vc is designed for the 'Mobile digital home'. No, it's not intended specifically for use in broadband-ready caravans, but rather for anyone who wants to replace or supplement their existing desktop PC with a powerful, feature-rich multimedia laptop. As a result, it isn't particularly portable, but it can easily be lugged from room to room, or to meetings provided you have transport. It has most of the features you'd expect from a desktop PC, offers impressive performance and is fairly attractive. It's not the cheapest of laptops, but it's worth considering if you want a good all-rounder with a strong focus on multimedia.

Design
The W2Vc has an attractive, dark grey brushed metal finish and contrasting silver sides. It's wide at 395mm across, but Asus has equipped it with a surprisingly small keyboard. This doesn't significantly hinder its usability, but a larger keyboard would have been preferable, as this would have afforded the W2Vc a standalone numerical keypad. Instead, you'll have to toggle between keypad and standard letter modes with the Fn key, which is annoyingly positioned to the left of the Ctrl key, not to its right, as is standard on most keyboards. You'll find this layout a nuisance if you use the Ctrl button for shortcut keyboard commands such as Ctrl+S for saving documents.

The W2Vc has four USB ports -- three on the right, one on the left. These are evenly spaced, so users shouldn't find it hard to connect a number of bulky USB devices simultaneously. Three audio ports at the front of the laptop allow you to connect external speakers, and it supports everything up to (and including) 7.1 surround-sound setups. The ports are very easy to access, but we're not keen on the prospect of having three audio cables permanently dangling from the front of the laptop. A far neater solution would have been to position these out of sight at the rear.

One notable design feature on the W2Vc is its slot-loading DVD drive, which is a neater solution than the tray-loading drives seen on most desktops and laptops. This type of drive doesn't provide any real benefits over the alternative, but it's less likely to be mistaken as a cup holder by your grandmother, or as some kind of adventure playground fixture by your nephew.

Asus is one of a growing number of laptop manufacturers that has opted not to include a lock to secure the screen during transit. This, in theory, means the W2Vc screen is more prone to accidental opening, but it didn't happen once during our test period. In practice, not having a lock makes it far easier to open the screen in a hurry, and there's no chance of the screen being permanently jammed shut should the lock become damaged.



Features
The slot-loading DVD drive is a major source of contention in the W2Vc. It looks great and works well, but the drive on our review sample made a horrible whining, crunching noise when discs were inserted or removed. It reminded us of a live cat being dragged through a meat grinder and may prove too embarassing to use in public. The noise isn't too bad during DVD playback, but don't be surprised if you get a call from the RSPCA. More importantly, the drive isn't particularly fast. It rewrites DVDs at a very pedestrian 4x and doesn't write to dual-layer discs. As a result, your DVD backups are limited to 4.7GB per disc instead of the more capacious 8.5GB.

The W2Vc's most notable feature is its imposing 17-inch screen, which runs at a widescreen resolution of 1,680x1,050 pixels. It uses Asus' 'Color Shine technology' -- a glossy screen coating that enhances brightness and contrast. It works in a similar manner to Sony's X-Black technology and does exactly as Asus claims. Image quality during DVD video playback was excellent, with good distinction between dark and light tones, and bright, lively colours. The screen has a wide viewing angle, so the images won't appear washed out or distorted if you aren't viewing from a central position. This is particularly useful when watching movies in a group.

The W2Vc's core specification is impressive. It uses the new Intel 915PM chipset, which supports modern DDR-2 memory, PCI Express graphics, 7.1-channel audio, and processors that use an 800MHz front-side bus. Our review sample makes good use of the chipset by incorporating the Pentium M 770 -- the fastest single-core Intel mobile CPU. It also has 1GB of DDR-2 memory running at a very nippy 533MHz. This is more than adequate for most users and can be upgraded to 2GB.

Image duties are handled by an ATI Mobility Radeon X700 graphics chipset -- a potent solution in its time. This has now been superseded by a number of laptop graphics cards and currently sits third in the ATI Mobility Radeon pecking order. It's fine for playing most games at low to moderate resolutions, but it lags some way behind the fastest cards on the market.

Our review sample of the W2Vc uses an 80GB Hitachi hard drive with a spin speed of 5,200 RPM. A larger 100GB version is available, but we'd prefer an even bigger drive given the laptop's multimedia focus. If you're likely to amass a large collection of images, movies and music, you'll probably prefer the 120GB offering in Sony's recently released VAIO S5VP.

Being a Centrino laptop, you can connect the W2Vc to your home Wi-Fi network or to a public hotspot. It also has an optional integrated Bluetooth module which makes it easy to transfer files or synchronise data with handheld organisers.

Performance
This W2Vc's combined foundation of the Intel 915PM chipset, 2GHz CPU and 1GB of DDR-2 memory makes it a strong performer. Its speed in ordinary productivity applications such as word processors, spreadsheets etc. is commendable, and most users should find it perfectly adequate for everyday use. It isn't quick enough to rival a high-end desktop PC when performing tasks such as video encoding, but its Sysmark 2004 score of 163 proves it's competent in most respects.

It's also a capable gaming system. Its ATI Mobility Radeon X700 graphics chipset is good enough to run most titles. Far Cry chugged along at a respectable 37.43 frames per second. Doom 3 ran at 27.1fps, and it achieved a commendable 3DMark 2005 score of 2,357.

Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide

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