ASUS U41Jf-A1 Review

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Pros: Fast performance; Powerful graphics; Long battery life; Attractive screen; Generous warranty

Cons: Keyboard and lid flex ; Mediocre speakers; Grainy webcam

Verdict: Exceptional graphics performance and long battery life make this one 14-inch laptop worth owning.

A brushed aluminum lid. More than 6 hours of battery life. And enough graphics power to play demanding 3D games. The 14-inch ASUS U41Jf ($849) is a thin-and-light notebook that combines sleek looks with solid performance. But there are some things we don't like about this machine. Are our qualms enough to cause you to look elsewhere? Read on.

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Design

Clad in silver with a brushed aluminum lid, the ASUS U41Jf certainly looks classy. The deck of the notebook has the same brushed metal look as the lid but is made of plastic. The edges and underside use matte black plastic, sporting a diamond crosshatch pattern. The glossy black finish of the bezel continues to the area above the keyboard, where the same crosshatch pattern lends a jewel-like look. Still, looks are only skin deep; the lid visibly flexed when pressed.

Measuring 13.3 x 9.8 x 1.1 inches and weighing in at 4.8 pounds, the ASUS U41Jf's dimensions are on a par with other 14-inch thin-and-light notebooks such as the Samsung QX410 (5 pounds). The U41Jf is trim enough to slide into a standard-sized laptop bag.

Heat

When streaming Hulu videos, we measured 96 degrees on the U41Jf's touchpad. Between the G and H keys we recorded a reading of 90 degrees, and the bottom of the system reached the same temperature. The current average temps for the same areas of other thin and lights are 88, 89, and 93, respectively. We consider anything above 95 to be uncomfortable, so the U41Jf only raises a flag for us in one spot.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The ASUS U41Jf features big chiclet-style keys that have plenty of space between them. However, the keys felt somewhat mushy, and the layout flexed quite a bit even under just a small amount of pressure.

The U41Jf's touchpad is roomy, measuring a large 3.2 x 1.8 inches, and its smooth matte surface makes for easy navigation and pinch-to-zoom gestures. Instead of two discrete mouse buttons, the laptop uses a single bar. Unfortunately, our thumb sometimes hit the middle of the bar, and not the ends, forcing us to click again.      

Display and Audio

Sporting a big and bright LED-backlit 14.1-inch display, the ASUS U41Jf's screen is lovely to look at. Its 1366 x 768-pixel resolution is standard for a notebook of this size but is sharp enough to do justice to 720p HD video. When we fired up trailers for Battlefield LA on YouTube HD along with the timeless classic the Chronicles of Riddick, we were treated to deep blacks and well-saturated colors. If we strayed off-angle approximately 45 degrees left or right, brightness dropped significantly.

The notebook's built-in speakers produced clear sound with no distortion even when maxed out. On the other hand, volume was not particularly loud and bass was on the weak side.

Ports and Webcam

The ASUSU41Jf features three USB ports (two on the left side and one on the right), a 4-in-1 media card reader, and DVD Super Multi drive for burning DVDs and CDs. An HDMI port can output video to compatible HDTVs and a combo headphone/SPDIF and microphone jacks handle audio. On the right side are a VGA port and a Kensington Lock adapter.

As far as webcams go, the U41Jf's 0.3-megapixel doesn't impress. Although Skype callers had no trouble recognizing us, image quality was somewhat grainy and colors were washed out.

Performance

Thanks to a fairly muscular 2.53-GHz Intel Core i3 processor and 4GB of system RAM, the ASUS U41Jf performed well on all our tests. On PCMark Vantage, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance, the laptop notched an impressive score of 5,510. That's 594 points above the current category average. That said, the Editors' Choice-winning Samsung QX410 (5,977) soundly beat the U41Jf. Another thin-and-light, the 2.4-GHz Sony VAIO EA, scored lower (4,476).

On file transfer tests, the ASUS U41Jf was able to copy a 4.97GB folder of mixed media to its 500GB (5,400 rpm) hard drive at a rate of 24.5 MBps. That's just a hair below the current category average of 25 MBps.

During everyday use, the U41Jf was quite responsive, whether it was juggling multiple browser windows, streaming HD video from the web, or updating live Twitter feeds. The notebook also transcoded a 114MB MP4 video to AVI in a quick 48 seconds. That beats the Samsung QX410 (50 seconds) and the VAIO EA (56 seconds).    

Graphics

Graphics performance is where the ASUS U41Jf shines. Configured with a powerful Nvidia GeForce GT 425M GPU with 1GB of DDR3 RAM, the notebook turned in a blazing 3DMark06 score of 7,597. That's almost 4,500 points above the category average. It also handily bests the Dell XPS 14 (6,837) which was powered by Nvidia's older GT 420M GPU. By comparison, the Sony VAIO EA (using integrated graphics) scored a low 1,720, while the QX410 (Nvidia GeForce 310M) scored 3,304.

The ASUS U41Jf also delivered excellent gaming performance, turning in a high 62 fps in World of Warcraft at its native 1,366 x 768 resolution and effects at their max; that's almost double the category average. Enabling autodetect mode in the game, thereby disabling some of the more fancy effects, elevated results to a very lofty 106 fps, which is on a par with the average.

Even better, the U41Jf played the more demanding Far Cry 2 at native resolution (1,366 x 768) and effects on Very High with a frame rate of 37 fps. That's more than double the current 15 fps average for thin-and-lights. This score also stacks up well to other premium 14-inchers we've tested, including the Dell XPS 14 (26 fps) and HP Envy 14 (27 fps). The Samsung QX410 could only muster 12 fps.

Battery Life and Wi-Fi

The U41Jf is outfitted with Nvidia's Optimus technology, which automatically toggles between the integrated Intel HD graphics and the more power-hungry Nvidia GPU. The notebook lasted 6 hours and 30 minutes on the Laptop Battery Test (web surfing via Wi-Fi), which is more than 90 minutes longer than the average thin-and-light. The Samsung QX410, which also has Optimus, lasted 5:20.

In addition to Optimus, ASUS includes its own energy utilities, such as its Super Hybrid Engine software, which lets user choose one of four power modes, including Battery Saving (the least taxing) and Performance (which puts the laptop into overdrive). ASUS claims the software will intelligently boost performance to power through particularly demanding computing tasks.

Using an Atheros AR9285 solution for wireless networking, the ASUS U41Jf's throughput at 15 feet from our router was in line with the category average (32.8 Mbps). At 50 feet we recorded a data rate of 15.5 Mbps, below the 21.6 Mbps average for this category.

ExpressGate and Instant On OS

As with other ASUS machines, the U41Jf has the ability to quickly boot into a Linux-based operating system. Called Express Gate, this OS allows fast access to a rudimentary browser, along with basic games and saved photos. While the less resource intensive ExpressGate could save on battery power, the interface is a bit clunky and not particularly responsive. Still, the whole setup boots in about 20 seconds, lightning fast compared with the 75 seconds we measured the U41Jf took to load Windows 7 Home Premium.

Software and Warranty

The U41Jf comes with a sizeable amount of software pre-loaded. There's Amazon Kindle for PC for reading eBooks, Cyberlink LabelPrint and Power2Go to handle DVD and CD disc projects, along with Google Chrome plus Windows Live Essentials. Trial versions of Microsoft Office 2010 and Trend Micro Internet Security are also included.

The ASUS-branded FancyStart controls what splash screen will appear during the boot process and FastBoot helps speed up boot time by delaying when certain software loads.

ASUS backs the U41Jf with a relatively strong two-year warranty covering one year of accidental damage. This includes 24-7 toll-free phone tech support; to see how the company fared in our Tech Support Showdown, click here.     

Verdict

The ASUS U41Jf has plenty going for it. Its long battery life, great performance, and robust graphics mean this notebook can work for hours, followed by a quick round of Modern Warfare to blow off steam. We wished there was less flex to the keyboard and that the speakers were louder, but there's no denying this 14-inch laptop's muscle.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 2.53 GHz Intel Core i3
Operating System MS Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
RAM 4GB
RAM Upgradable to 8GB
Hard Drive Size 500GB
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 Nvidia GeForce GT 425M
Video Memory 1GB
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
Wi-Fi Model Atheros AR9285
Bluetooth
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size 3.1 x 1.75
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
USB Ports 3
Card Slots 4-1 card reader
Warranty/Support 2-Year Global hardware, 24-7 tech support
Size 13.3 x 9.8 x 1.1 inches
Weight 4.8 pounds
Company Website http://usa.asus.com/index.aspx