ASUS B43J (A1B) Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Excellent overall and graphics performance; Can connect to three displays simultaneously; Good business-centric software and utilities; Three-year warranty

The Cons

Heavy for a 14-inch laptop; Short battery life; Weak speakers

Verdict

ASUS delivers a powerful and sturdy business notebook with support for three external monitors.

The ASUS B43J represents the company's first serious foray into the business notebook category, and it offers plenty of perks for professionals, including a water-resistant keyboard and your choice of facial or fingerprint login. Coupled with an ATI GPU and Eyefinity technology that supports up to three external monitors, this $1,249 system is powerful enough for hardcore multitaskers. However, some buyers will want to think twice about toting this 14-inch laptop to and from the conference room and bringing it on the road. 

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Design

Our first impression of the ASUS B43J is that it's solid and utilitarian. The 13.8 x 9.6 x 1.4-inch system isn't super slim or feather light--it weighs 5.6 pounds--but the solid metal interior and scratch-resistant aluminum panels makes the notebook feel sturdy. Overall, the understated brushed aluminum lid, minimalist deck, and simple black paint job all work in the B43J's favor, but it won't exactly turn heads in the conference room.

The B43J's business DNA is apparent not only from its aesthetics, but also from such features as a button to disable the touchpad--very useful for those who accidentally brush the surface while typing--and the ASUS Scene Switch toggle for presentations (more on this below) to the left of the keyboard. As on many ASUS notebooks, the button on the upper left pulls double duty, switching between power profiles when the user is logged into Windows and booting ExpressGate when the notebook is off or hibernating. A fingerprint reader sits on the lower right. The company even included a slot for a business card on the bottom of the system.

Heat

During use, the ASUS B43J stayed relatively cool in our lap, and we never noticed excess heat when using it on flat surfaces. We tested temperatures at three key points after playing a Hulu clip at full screen for 15 minutes. The space between the G&H keys measured only 89 degrees, the touchpad 90, and the middle of the underside at 91. The left side underneath gets the hottest, but even then the temperature wasn't bothersome.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Like any good business notebook, the B43J includes a spill-resistant keyboard. The platform keys on the B43J are wide and comfortable and offer good feedback when typing. The return is a bit mushier than we're used to, and our accuracy was slightly off. However, our main complaint is shrunken right Shift key. 

The 3.3 x 2-inch touchpad is large enough to be useful, but considering the size of the deck, ASUS could have been more generous. Still, the surface is slick and friction-free and the left and right mouse buttons underneath are large and responsive.

Display, Audio, and Webcam

The matte 14-inch, 1366 x 768 resolution display on the B43J has wide vertical viewing angles and decent horizontal angles. Though colors are vibrant, blacks aren't as deep as we'd like. We noticed that transitions from light to dark scenes in the HD trailer for The Discoverers revealed obvious pixilation. 

The speaker bar that lines the front lip of the system is capable of some depth when it comes to bass-heavy songs, though the upper range was a bit tinny. Volume was a disappointment - even at 100 percent we weren't able to hear our music or videos as clearly as we'd like in a small room with low-level background noise.

Ports and Docking Station

ASUS not only packed a generous number of ports along the B43J's edges, but also included a docking connector on the bottom. Along with the standard VGA and (now almost standard) HDMI port, there's a DisplayPort for connecting to an external monitor. Just under the 5-in-1 memory card reader on the front of the notebook there's a Smart Card reader slot for security. Sharing space with the Ethernet port on the left side is a modem jack.

 

 

The B43J is compatible with the ASUS Power Station II docking station ($179), which expands the port repertoire and even brings in some old-school connections. It has four USB ports, DVI, VGA and HDMI, serial, PS/2 and parallel ports, mic and stereo audio out, and Ethernet. 

Business Features and Software

ASUS burnished the B43J's business cred with a nice set of pre-loaded apps and utilities. On the security side, there's the Smart Login Manager, which registers your face for easy login; Wave's Embassy Security Center, which offers biometric login via the fingerprint reader for both Windows and the pre-boot state; and Infineon Security for backup and migration solutions.

It took a while to get our face properly registered by the Smart Login Manager. If you've activated either this feature or Embassy, users can login whichever way is fastest--face, fingerprint, or by entering the password. 

A few ASUS branded utilities are also along for the ride, including CopyProtect, Secure Delete, and Scene Switch. The last option allows users to set two custom display themes that activate during presentations and are accessed via the Scene Switch button to the upper left of the keyboard. Users can choose different resolutions, desktop wallpapers, even visible icons.

Though not strictly business-related, we did appreciate the FastBoot utility, which allows users to choose which programs and services load when Windows 7 first starts up and which wait a while, getting the boot process over with faster. Plus, the Boingo hotspot finder is perfect for this notebook's audience, which is more likely to take advantage of that provider's widely available hotspots.

Performance

The B43J's 2.66-GHz Intel Core i5 560M CPU and 4GB of RAM earned the system a score of 7,065 in PCMark Vantage, more than 2,000 marks above the average thin and light notebook. The Samsung QX410 (2.5-GHz Core i5/4GB RAM) only scored 5,977 and the HP EliteBook 8440p (2.4-GHz Core i5/2GB RAM) notched just 5,552 marks. However, the Lenovo ThinkPad T410s (2.66-GHz Core i5/4GB RAM), which also benefits from a solid-state drive, scored an astronomical 11,264.

The 320GB, 7,200 rpm hard drive completed the LAPTOP File Transfer test in a speedy 2 minutes and 53 seconds for a transfer rate of 28.3 MBps. This isn't as fast as the EliteBook 8440p (29.6), but the B43J isn't too far behind. It trounces the Samsung QX410 (21.6), and the category average (25.0). Given this, the 67-second boot time into Windows 7 Professional seems somewhat slow (the average thin and light laptop clocks in at 63 seconds). However, users will be able to shave off some time with the aforementioned FastBoot utility.
The B43J also proved speedy at transcoding video. It converted an 114MB MPEG-4 video to the AVI format in just 50 seconds, the same as the Samsung QX410 and ahead of the EliteBook 8440p (53) as well as the category average (1:07). 

Triple Monitor Display Support

The B43J features AMD's Eyefinity multi-monitor technology, which allows users to connect up to three monitors simultaneously. Unlike the Lenovo T410s, users don't need the optional dock in order to take advantage of this functionality. However, if you want to use three external monitors, one of them must use a DisplayPort connection or you'll need to get a DisplayPort-to-HDMI/DVI cable.

Even when we used the docking station--which has HDMI, VGA, and DVI connections, but not DisplayPort--the B43J would only let us use more than one monitor if we shut de-selected the notebook display. Considering there's no such restrictions when using an Nvidia GPU (such as with the Lenovo T410s and a docking station), this is an unfortunate oversight on ATI's part. 

With two monitors hooked up we easily played a game on one display while watching a video on the other, and moving windows between displays didn't cause any jumps or skips, even when moving videos. 

Graphics Performance

The B43J's AMD/ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470 GPU is backed by 512MB of RAM and is switchable with Intel's integrated graphics. When unplugged, the system will fall back to integrated graphics automatically, though users can switch manually via an included utility. The AMD/ATI card scored 4,414 in 3DMark06, quite above the competition and the category average (2,822). The Samsung QX410 (NVIDIA GeForce 310M/512MB) comes closest with 3,804 marks, then the ThinkPad T410s (Nvidia NVS 3100M GPU/512MB) with 3,761, and finally the EliteBook 8440p (1,766), which has Intel's integrated graphics only. 

The B43J managed a decent 50 fps at auto resolution (1024 x 768) on the graphically demanding Far Cry 2. Just don't try it native resolution, or else you'll crawl along at just 18 fps. In World of Warcraft we saw 51 fps at 1366 x 768 but without the graphics turned up to the max. 

Battery Life and Wireless Performance

ASUS claims that owners will get 3 years of "like new" use from the B43J's Boston Power Sonata battery with a 5-year overall service life. Unfortunately, the short battery life is a disappointment. The 3-cell 47WHr battery lasted just 2 hours and 53 minutes in the LAPTOP Battery Test (with integrated graphics on). For many road warriors this lack of longevity will be a dealbreaker. ASUS' notebook trails Lenovo ThinkPad T410s (3:47) to the HP EliteBook 8440p (4:41) to the Samsung QX410 (5:20). 

The Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6200 wireless radio delivered strong throughput of 33.7 Mbps 15 feet from the router and 24.4 Mbps 50 feet away, on a par with the thin-and-light average (31.5 / 20.8 Mbps) and the EliteBook 8440p (31.9 / 24.6 Mbps). However, there are no integrated mobile broadband options available.

Configurations

In addition to the $1,249 configuration we reviewed--B43J-A1B--ASUS also sells this model with just 2GB of RAM for $1,199. Another similar model, the $1,449 B43J-B1B, has a more powerful 2.8-GHz Core i7 (640M) CPU and 4GB of RAM, though the rest of the configuration is the same.

Green Tests

The B43J took 1 hour and 4 minutes to reach the 80-percent mark while charging, and 2:18 to get to 100 percent capacity. During that time it used an average of 27.1 watts. Its LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating of 21.6 is only just under the category average of 22.2 (lower is better). 

Warranty and Support

ASUS offers a generous protection package with this notebook: a 3-year parts and labor warranty with 1 year accidental damage protection and a 30-day Zero Bright Dot guarantee. Support includes 2-way free shipping and 24/7 phone and online tech support. The battery itself is also covered for 3 years. Click here to see how ASUS' tech support measures up in our Tech Support Showdown.

Verdict

Business users looking for a powerhouse of a notebook will find the $1,249 ASUS B43J appealing. It feels solid and offers plenty of speed and graphics muscle, along with business features mobile professionals--and IT departments--expect out of a business machine. The triple monitor support is especially nice, so long as you ensure one of those screens has a DisplayPort connection. We just wish this laptop were more mobile--both in terms of its weight and battery life. Overall, we prefer the ThinkPad T410 with Nvidia Optimus graphics in this price range ($1,168 with three-year warranty), but the B43J holds its own against some pretty fierce competition. 

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 2.66-GHz Intel Core i5-560M
Operating System MS Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)
RAM 4GB
RAM Upgradable to 8GB
Hard Drive Size 320GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 14.1
Native Resolution 1366x768
Optical Drive DVD SuperMultiDrive
Optical Drive Speed 8X
Graphics Card ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470 and Intel GMA HD
Video Memory 512MB
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n
Wi-Fi Model Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6200
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size 3.3 x 2 inches
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) Modem
Ports (excluding USB) Mini DisplayPort
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) eSATA/USB
Ports (excluding USB) ExpressCard/34
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
USB Ports 2
Card Slots 5-1 card reader
Warranty/Support 36 month limited hardware warranty; battery warranty: 1 year for 6 cells, 3 years for 3 cells. 24/7 online support.
Size 13.8 x 9.6 x 1.4 inches
Weight 5.6 pounds
Company Website http://usa.asus.com