ASUS N10Jc Review

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$649

Pros: Impressive graphics performance; Sharp 10-inch glossy display; Express Gate instant boot environment; Good battery life; Fingerprint reader and HDMI port

Cons: Relatively heavy; Switching graphics required reboot; No integrated mobile broadband option

Verdict: This 10-inch mini-notebook drops the Eee moniker and adds discrete graphics, instant-on, and other premium features for a reasonable price.

ASUS has put out its fair share of mini-notebooks, but its latest, the $649 N10Jc--despite its 10-inch screen and Intel Atom processor--is not a member of the growing Eee family. The N10Jc, ASUS' first corporate netbook, is more concerned with security and performance features than being "easy to learn, work, and play." Sporting several features not commonly found on other systems in its class--including a glossy screen, switchable Nvidia 9300M GS graphics, ASUS' instant-on Express Gate, an HDMI port, a fingerprint reader, and a two-year warranty--the N10Jc packs plenty of perks. However, this mini-notebook's punchy performance and solid graphics also means that it is chunkier and pricer than the others.

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Design

The N10Jc looks more like a traditional ultraportable, like the ASUSU2EorU6V, than an Eee PC. Its glossy taupe lid branded with the ASUS logo and its silver hinge exude a professional look. The design isn't as flashy as theEee PC S101(it lacks the Swarovski crystals) but looks classier than theEee PC 1000,MSI Wind, andSamsung NC10.

While the N10Jc is smaller than most full-featured notebooks, it is the chunkiest in the netbook class. Measuring 10.8 x 7.6 x 1.4 inches and weighing 3.4 pounds with the six-cell battery, this is the largest 10-inch netbook on the market, mainly because of its inch-thick screen bezel, which also makes the screen look smaller. Compared with its distant cousin the Eee PC 1000H, which is one of the larger 10-inch netbooks on the market, the N10Jc is 0.1 inches thicker and 0.2 pounds heavier. Nevertheless, the system and its AC adapter, which brings the total travel weight to 3.8 pounds, fit nicely in a Targus portable DVD player traveling case and didn't feel heavy on our shoulder.

Keyboard and Trackpad

The keyboard on the ASUS N10Jc is by far the best keyboard we have seen on any ASUS netbook. Unlike the Eee PC 901 or 1000H, the keyboard isn't stricken with flex and the keys provide nice feedback without heavy clicking. Nevertheless, as happy as we are with the feel of the keys, touch typists may be bothered by the awkward placement of the right Shift key, which is shrunken and positioned next to the Up arrow. For this reason, we still prefer the keyboard on the Samsung NC10 and the HP Mini 1000.

We were similarly pleased with the feel of the N10Jc's touchpad, which is spacious and similar in size to those on mainstream laptops. It offered a textured feel as we navigated around the desktop, and the two mouse buttons below are easy to click, unlike the rock-hard buttons on theEee PC 1000and 901. A fingerprint reader is nestled between the right and left mouse buttons but didn't interfere with our navigation.

Ports

The ASUS N10Jc is more than equipped with the necessary ports. The usual three USB ports are included, as well as Ethernet, headphone, and microphone jacks, an 8-in-1 card reader, an ExpressCard/34 slot (for a mobile broadband card), and an HDMI port (for outputting an A/V signal with a single cable). You also get a VGA port for connecting to projectors and older monitors.

Bright, Glossy Screen, Strong Audio

The 10.2-inch, 1024 x 600-pixel resolution glossy screen on the N10Jc is attractive and a step above the Eee PC 1000H's matte display. The screen looked great when we watched an episode of 30 Rock on Hulu.com. The horizontal viewing angles were similar to the HP Mini 1000's glossy display; vertically tilting the screen caused a minimal amount of glare. For those who find the 10-inch screen a bit small, a button above the keyboard launches a zoom function: A magnifying glass appears on the display; dragging it around the desktop enlarges the area by 2X or 3X.

Above the LCD, the 1.3-megapixel webcam served up vivid images when videoconferencing with a friend over Skype. ASUS preloads its Splendid Video Enhancement application, which let us tweak image settings in both video and still shots.

ASUS did away with the Dolby speakers on the Eee PC 901 and 1000H for a set of Altec Lansing speakers that are positioned on the bottom of the N10Jc. The speakers were quite loud for the size of this system and, using the Realtek HD Audio tool, we were able to adjust the levels to make the N10Jc sound less tinny than other netbook speakers.

ExpressGate On Board

The N10Jc also includes Express Gate, ASUS' version of the Splashtop instant-on environment powered by Linux. By pressing a small lightning-bolt button above the keyboard when the machine is off, Express Gate will launch and allow you to do the basics, such as chat, surf the Web, listen to music, and make Skype calls. We liked having this option, especially on this type of system, to send off an e-mail, access our music, and check sports scores quickly. However, while Express Gate launches in just 9 seconds, it takes another 30 seconds to launch the browser. So while it takes 25 seconds less than the time the N10Jc takes to boot into Windows XP, Express Gate is not instantaneous.

Performance

The ASUS N10Jc uses the same 1.6-GHz Intel Atom processor and 1GB of RAM as the Eee PCs to power the corporate netbook. Typical of the systems with the same internal specs, the N10Jc loaded programs relatively quickly even when we had several others running in the background. We were able to listen to streaming music over Pandora, surf the Web in Firefox 3, and write in WordPad all at the same time with no hang-ups. Even a Skype video call didn't tax the system enough to slow down other programs' response times.

Switchable Graphics

While the CPU's performance may be the same as other netbooks, the N10Jc's multimedia prowess is well ahead of its competition thanks to its switchable graphics. Switching between Intel's integrated Graphics Media Accelerator 950 (which shares system memory) and Nvidia's discrete GeForce 9300M GS graphics card (which has up to 256MB of dedicated video memory) requires you to flip a switch on the left side of the chassis and reboot the system. We wish it were similar to the process on the Sony VAIO Z or the MacBook Pro, neither of which requires a restart.

Overall graphics performance was good given the N10Jc's small footprint. In Speed mode (using the discrete GPU), the machine scored 4,911 in 3DMark03 and 1,583 in 3DMark06; both scores are well above the mini-notebook averages of 537 for 3DMark03 and 124 for 3DMark06. When we played F.E.A.R. on autodetect (800 x 600), the N10Jc turned in a respectable 34 frames per second. The graphics performance beat out any other mini-notebook and even some ultraportables. As expected, when we switched the N10Jc to integrated graphics, benchmark scores fell in line with other netbooks with the same GPU (such as the Dell Inspiron Mini 9); the N10Jc notched 715 in 3DMark03, and just 88 in 3DMark06.

Hard Drive Performance and Heat

The N10Jc packs a 160GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive, which boots Windows XP in just over a minute, a bit slow for a mini-notebook. The LAPTOP Transfer Test (copying a 4.97GB folder of mixed media) took 6 minutes and 58 seconds, or a rate of 12.2 MBps, which is 5 MBps slower than the mini-notebook average. By comparison, the Gigabyte M912 holds the highest score in the category, with a transfer rate of 20.9 MBps.

During testing, the N10Jc got a bit hot on the underside of the unit, measuring about 99 degrees. The rest of the system, including the keyboard and touchpad, were not noticeably warm.

Decent Endurance, Good Wi-Fi

With its Intel Atom processor and a six-cell battery, we were happy with the N10Jc's battery life. It managed to squeeze 4 hours and 35 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi) with Stamina mode enabled. That's just around the Eee PC 901's runtime of 4 hours and 38 minutes with a six-cell battery, but it's far behind the Samsung NC10's 6 hours and 34 minutes. ASUS includes its Super Hybrid Engine, which lets users quickly cycle through various modes: power saving, high performance, and super performance. The button to activate this feature is located just above the keyboard to the right. With discrete graphics enabled, the N10J's battery life decreased to 3 hours and 49 minutes.

The N10Jc's 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card provided a strong connection, delivering 19.2 Mbps and 13.7 Mbps from 15 and 50 feet, respectively, from our access point. Both are higher than the mini-notebook averages of 15.4 Mbps and 11.7 Mbps from the same respective distances. During our day-to-day Web activities, the N10Jc maintained a strong link; streaming music over Slacker was fluid, and video clips streaming on Hulu.com were void of any pauses. Considering it's aimed at business users, we wish the N10Jc was available with a mobile broadband option, or at least equipped with the hardware components to support the capability at a later date.

Software and Warranty

Like many other netbooks, the N10Jc comes with Windows XP Home Basic. ASUS includes its own homegrown applications, including ASUS Splendid Video Enhancement Technology, ASUS Copy Protect (used to prevent snoops from copying data to a removable storage drive), ASUS DVD, and ASUS SmartLogon facial-recognition software.

ASUS covers the N10Jc with a robust warranty: two-year global, one-year accidental damage, 30-day Zero Bright Dot (which protects against dead pixels), and 24/7 toll-free tech support.

Verdict

ASUS pioneered the mini-notebook category with its Eee PC, and the N10Jc may just do the same for a new class of netbooks aimed at business users who demand more performance and security features--and who don't have the budget for traditional ultraportables that start at $1,100. Those looking for a slimmer and sexier netbook will opt for the $699 Eee PC S101 or even the $549 HP Mini 1000, and the $499 Samsung NC10 offers much longer battery life. But the $649 N10Jc wraps solid performance, graphics, and endurance in an attractive package.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270
Operating System MS Windows XP Home
RAM 1GB
RAM Upgradable to 2GB
Hard Drive Size 160GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 10.2
Native Resolution 1024x600
Video Memory 256MB
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
USB Ports 3
Card Slots ExpressCard
Card Slots 8-1 card reader
Warranty/Support Two-year global, one-year accidental damage, 30-day Zero Bright Dot/24/7 toll-free phone
Size 10.8 x 7.6 x 1.4 inches
Weight 3.4 pounds
Company Website http://usa.asus.com