Windows Vista has opened up a few tasty avenues for PC technology and the Asus W5FE (2P002A) notebook is here to showcase one of them. We took a look at a pre-production model of the Asus W5FE, a notebook which takes advantage of SideShow, a cool new feature of Vista that allows a secondary, external display to be connected directly or wirelessly to a PC or notebook.
- SideShow screen, 1.3 megapixel camera, Battery life
- Some problems with SideShow screen, Shallow viewing angle
The Asus W5Fe has an interesting design and some cool features. The SideShow is not a hugely useful tool, but it's definitely fun and may become a more worthwhile feature as more gadgets are developed. If you're after a notebook with a good mix of features and great battery life then you'll like the W5Fe.
Price$ 2,999.00 (AUD)
What's so good about SideShow then? SideShow works much like the Vista Sidebar, using downloadable gadgets to access the functionality of a computer or its applications, such as checking email or listening to music. These can then be displayed on an external screen. A SideShow screen could be placed in the remote of a media centre, giving access to features without having to turn on the computer or interrupt what you're viewing, for example. On this particular notebook, the SideShow technology is utilised via an external display built into the lid of the notebook.
Gadgets can be found online to access RSS feeds or display photos, among many other things. Currently, there are considerably fewer gadgets for SideShow than for the Sidebar, but more are sure to follow. Most of the SideShow gadgets seem to be geared towards personal use. There are music players, photo viewers and Gmail viewers among the current options. We'd like to see a few more robust business-oriented gadgets for this technology. A calendar gadget is available, but we couldn't get it working properly in our tests. The ability to discreetly check emails via the screen can be useful in meetings, or even while you're travelling to and from work.
Aside from SideShow, the Asus W5Fe is a nice little toy to own. Although it's a business PC at its core, it has been designed with some flexibility in mind and will appeal to those after some additional non-business features. It was also a good performer, especially in our battery test.
Inside the dark-coloured metal chassis is an Intel Core 2 Duo T7400 2.16GHz CPU, 1.5GB of DDR2 RAM and an Intel 945GM graphics chip. The final production model will have a slower Intel T5600 1.83GHz CPU and only 1GB of RAM, so expect a slightly lower performance result than shown here.
In WorldBench 6, our Windows Vista benchmarking software, the Asus W5FE recorded a healthy overall score of 76. This will be more than enough to run the usual array of business applications and more.
As a business machine, the W5FE has only an onboard Intel graphics chip, so don't expect to be able to play any games. Its low score of 4849 in 3DMark 2001 SE is testament to that. Where this notebook really shined was in the battery test. The W5FE has two batteries, a tiny, stylish battery that's more for looks than practicality (though it's great as an emergency power source), and a chunky battery for the long trips.
We ran the W5FE through our DVD rundown test using the larger battery and were very pleased with the result. The DVD rundown is a worst-case scenario test as it uses the optical drive, the speakers, the screen and the CPU for maximum battery drain. In this test, the W5FE lasted for 170 minutes, which is considerably more than the majority of notebooks that we test.
The extensive battery life is helped by the smaller 12.1in screen. With a maximum 1280x800 resolution, the screen looks fairly sharp and has nice colour reproduction, but the viewing angle is fairly narrow, making it difficult to see from an angle. This is compounded by a glossy finish, which makes it harder to see in glary conditions.
A 1.3 megapixel Web-camera is built into the screen and can be rotated to take pictures both in front of and behind the notebook. We believe there's great potential for video conferencing here, and Web-cams are often omitted from business machines, so it's a nice touch.
In addition to being a screen, the SideShow feature also has its own NAND flash memory, allowing you to store up to 500MB of music, photos or other content in the device. This means you can access certain things like music or photos while the notebook is powered down, hibernating or sleeping. Certain functions, such as checking for email, will require the notebook to be turned on to query the email server, so a timer can be set to wake the notebook up. The screen can be turned on and off with a hard-switch, and you can even power the notebook up or down from the SideShow screen when the lid is closed.
Admittedly we did have some troubles with the SideShow screen not pairing or connecting to the notebook properly, but this was resolved by resetting it via its pinhole reset button (using the end of a paper clip). Hopefully, this issue will be resolved in the final production model. Importing data to the device can be done fairly easily. It shows up in Windows Explorer as a device and pictures or music can be dragged and dropped into it. Music can also be synchronised to it by using software such as Windows Media Player.
The W5FE has a 120GB hard drive (5400rpm) and a DVD re-writer with dual-layer support. Three USB 2.0 ports are available, as well as a mini-FireWire port and an Express Card slot. For video output, there's a VGA port, allowing easy connection to a monitor, and an S-Video port, for connection to a TV or projector. Near the microphone and headphone ports is a volume control, which can be very useful. It also has a media card reader, which supports SD, MMC, MS and MS-Pro cards.
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