With ultraportable laptops, manufacturers usually push for smaller and lighter machines, even if doing so requires the sacrifice of some features. But the Asus W5F is one of a new breed of ultraportables (which also includes the Dell XPS M1210 and the Lenovo 3000 V100) that retain a little bit of bulk and weight in exchange for a rich feature set and a larger screen size. The 3.9-pound Asus W5F provides a great range of multimedia features, including a built-in double-layer DVD burner, a 100GB hard drive, and strong, though not amazing, performance. Given its $1,799 price and stingy support policy, however, we have a hard time recommending it over similar models from larger manufacturers.
Measuring just over one inch thick, 12 inches wide, and 9.5 inches deep, the white-and-silver Asus W5F is a bit larger than the Dell XPS M1210 but almost identical in size to the Lenovo 3000 V100. At 3.9 pounds, the W5F also matches its competitors' weights; its compact AC adapter adds just 0.8 pound, making it reasonably portable for regular travel.
We were unimpressed by the W5F's plastic case, which feels cheap compared to systems from bigger manufacturers, such as Dell and Lenovo, that incorporate magnesium alloy and carbon fiber-reinforced plastic into their chassis. The W5F's 12.1-inch wide-screen display, on the other hand, makes no sacrifice in quality; its 1,280x768 native resolution nearly matches that of the Dell XPS M1210. The glossy finish on the W5F's display is great for watching movies, though it is more prone to glare in light-filled environments.
Above the display sits a rotating 1.3-megapixel Webcam with a built-in microphone; along the right side of the screen are three handy buttons for mute, zoom, and image capture. Though the camera is a cool feature, the images we shot using the included camera software looked pixelated compared to pictures from the cameras on the Dell XPS M1210 and the Apple MacBook. A single, long speaker beneath the screen emits remarkably good sound for an ultraportable.
A side benefit of the wide-aspect display is that the case has room to accommodate a large keyboard; the W5F's feels roomy compared to many ultraportables'. We wish there were a dedicated scroll button or scroll zone on the laptop's slightly small touch pad and mouse buttons. Also, both the pad and buttons are flush with the case, which surprisingly required some adjustment on our part; we're used to having clearer boundaries to our tracking. Above the keyboard sit two handy controls: a Wi-Fi on/off switch and a button that lets you quickly adjust the laptop's power mode to maximize battery life.
The Asus W5F features more or less the same ports and connections as the V100 and the XPS M1210, including VGA, four-pin FireWire, S-Video, and three USB 2.0 ports. The headphone jack doubles as an S/PDIF-out jack, and next to it lie a microphone jack and a volume control wheel. The W5F includes an ExpressCard/34 slot as well as a 4-in-1 media card slot that supports Secure Digital, MultiMediaCard, Memory Stick, and Memory Stick Pro. Networking connections include modem, Ethernet, and 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi; Bluetooth is available as an option. Unlike many ultraportables that jettison the optical drive to save weight, the W5F incorporates a sweet double-layer DVD burner.
The laptop runs on Windows XP Home Edition. The W5F's eclectic software bundle includes the Microsoft Works 8 office suite; a CyberLink suite with the PowerDirector Pro video-editing software and the MediaShow presentation builder; and disc-viewing and disc-burning apps.
Priced at $1,799, the Asus W5F we tested included some average components for an ultraportable: a 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo processor, 512MB of midrange 533MHz RAM, a roomy 100GB hard drive spinning at a slow 4,200rpm, and integrated Intel graphics that borrow up to 128MB of system memory. An identically configured Lenovo 3000 V100 costs $1,349, while a Dell XPS M1210 with the same components plus an additional 512MB of RAM costs $1,474.
On CNET Labs' mobile benchmarks, it was no surprise that the W5F scored about the same as a $2,299 ThinkPad X60s stocked with the same processor and that it far outpaced the similarly priced Gateway NX100X, which is based on an ultra-low-voltage 1.2GHz Intel Core Solo processor. While it's not the fastest laptop we've tested, the W5F's speed would be sufficient for home use that includes light video editing and multitasking. The W5F's 4-hour, 12-minute battery life was a bit above average for an ultraportable and should carry you most of the way through a cross-country flight; however, it was nowhere near the 8 hours, 16 minutes achieved by the larger battery on the ThinkPad X60s.