The Asus W3 sits comfortably between being a home-office laptop and a low-end gaming machine. It'll fly through Excel spreadsheets and Hitman: Contracts, but balk if you turn on trilinear texture filtering in Half-Life 2. If you need a general office task machine with a tad more punch, the W3 delivers casual gaming performance for dilettantes.
Based on an Intel Centrino processor, the W3 is less power-hungry than a Pentium 4 laptop and WiFi-equipped out of the box. Intel are getting better at reducing the power consumption of their laptop processors, and this choice of chip makes a big difference to the W3's battery life.
The lid on the Asus W3 is made of wire-brushed effect metal, while the rest of the case is a rugged but uninspired plastic. The W3 is slim, at 33mm, and weighs in at a reasonable 2.2kg. Removing the hot-swappable DVD drive will lower this weight even further to 2kg, but the power adaptor adds this right back on. At 330 by 247mm, the top of the W3 is slightly larger than a sheet of A4 paper and sits easily in a briefcase or bag.
A stylish keyboard on the W3 is marred only by a slightly soft response and a long travel on the keys when depressed. Keyboards are a very personal experience, but to our tastes the W3 didn't feel as snappy as we'd like for long typing sessions. Again, the W3's trackpad, while not as responsive as the pads on laptops like the, will be perfectly adequate for mobile office tasks. If you need to do more accurate Photoshop work or gaming, you can always plug in an external USB mouse and sidestep the trackpad completely.
Underneath the laptop there are a series of hatches that make it easy to replace core components like the hard disk or system RAM. There's no need to take the entire chassis apart to access most of the W3's upgradeable parts. This reduces the risk of damaging the computer with static when replacing components because the motherboard isn't directly exposed to your fingers.
The left-hand side of the W3 includes a VGA port for external monitor connections, two USB ports and an Ethernet port. On the right-hand side there is a DVD-RW drive. This optical drive can be easily slotted out of the laptop and replaced with an extra battery for longer work sessions on the move. Because this module bay is hot-swappable, you can add or remove hard disks, an extra battery pack or combo drive while the W3 is up and running. You also have the option of leaving the module slot unoccupied to save weight.
The battery bundled with the W3 slots in just below the screen-hinge, on the rear of the laptop. This battery runs the whole length of the W3 and is straightforward to unclip if you need to change batteries on the move. Because the W3 can take two batteries simultaneously, you could -- with enough spares -- keep the W3 running without a reboot well beyond it's rated battery life of 3-4 hours.
Every other laptop we've tested has used some kind of mechanical catch to keep the screen clipped to the keyboard during transport. Not so the W3. As well as having no catch, there's no magnet to keep the lid shut either. When it's closed, the laptop screen sits against the keyboard, held by gravity alone. It's a peculiar design decision, and means that the W3 lives a precarious life if it's carried in a rucksack or bag with other items. There's the possibility that a sharp object like car keys will slip between the two loose halves of the laptop and scratch the screen.
The Asus W3 runs a Pentium M770 with a front-side bus of 533Mhz and 512 MB RAM. This is more than adequate performance for any office tasks, and even enthusiastic video editing and some modern games -- more on that later though. The W3's Power4 Gear+ chipset, with a power-saving module for longer battery life, increases the time the laptop can run without a recharge or battery swap.
Graphics and office applications sit easily on the W3's 1280x768 pixel widescreen LCD, which is less glary than the screens on some laptops, such as therange. Nevertheless, the W3 does suffer from some reflectivity in bright office environments and we would have preferred a completely matt finish to the display. The ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics processor makes it a credible Photoshop machine, and because it's a widescreen laptop, it's suited to watching widescreen DVDs on the move.
If you want to use a tool like Premiere to edit your digitised video captured using the W3's Firewire port, you should consider supplementing the base memory. There's space to install 1GB in the W3, but no more than that. If you want to watch your video on an office projector or television screen, the laptop includes a TV-out in the form of an S-video connector. Most modern televisions and almost all projectors are compatible with this form of video output.
Although S-video output from the W3 was far superior to what we've seen from most Media Center PCs, laptops generally appear to be better equipped to output a clean S-video signal. S-video can't come close to DVI and even struggles to match VGA, but the W3 does provide a passable S-video output for presentations. Most projectors will include a VGA input, so you can always hook the laptop up with a superior VGA connection.
The built-in DVD±R means you can burn movies or data onto writable discs. The W3 also has an Audio DJ controller system that lets you copy audio CDs to a predetermined file at the press of a button, without booting into Windows.
The W3's speaker system is just loud enough to fill a small bedroom, but won't have you jumping out of your skin when zombies attack in Half-Life 2. There's a headphone jack for a more personal computing experience, and an internal microphone concealed in the display.
Battery life on the Asus W3 is rated at 3-4 hours in Office Mode and our experience confirmed this. Unfortunately, watching a DVD or performing intensive graphics tasks reduced this to around 2 hours. Office applications installed as expected and performance in Excel and Word was equal to what we've seen on much more powerful desktop machines.
Ramping up our demands a little, we installed Half-Life 2 on the W3, and it managed to render action at a completely playable frame rate. We couldn't push graphics settings as far as we've managed with dedicated gaming machines like the Alienware range, but given the W3 is not pitched as an entertainment platform, we were happy to discover it could cope with casual gaming. Don't buy this as a games machine, but if you like to snack on some tasty zombie death between spreadsheets, you won't be disappointed.
During tests we found it slightly offputting that the W3 evacuates hot air through its right-hand side chassis vent. This means any right-hander will find their mouse hand is constantly warmed by the laptop. If you're using the W3 on location in Alaska, you'll love this feature. For most people, however, a hand dripping with sweat might not give the best impression during a presentation.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide