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Saturday 11 September 2004

Hardware: Asus M5601NBH [Muz]

Good day, readers. As most of you probably know, I decided to get shot of my trusty Dell Inspiron 500m. While it was an excellent laptop, I realised that it wasn't really geared to my purposes. The 14.1" XGA screen made it overly large and unwieldy, and hence awkward to carry around and use on the move.

Having looked into various solutions for a smaller laptop, I decided I wanted a Sony TR series. Then I remembered my student status and reconsidered. [EED]Lurker, in his position as clan hardware review monkey, recommended the Asus M5 series. I researched further, and liked what I saw. 12.1" screen, Pentium M or Celeron M processor, inbuilt DVD/CDRW combo drive, Gigabit Ethernet, MMC/SD/MemoryStick reader, USB2.0, 802.11b/g. Sounds like a winner. Using rebot's leet price function, I found who stocked the M5601NBH for £900 inc VAT. Bargain. Order was placed by phone Thursday afternoon, laptop arrived Friday afternoon. So far, so good.

So, I opened it up. The delivery box contained the laptop box along with two cases, a small slipcase and a slightly larger laptop bag. I really like the laptop bag. Though it's not leather, it's very well made. A custom pocket for the laptop (obviously), along with spaces for pens, paperwork, mouse, power cable and other odds and ends. It comes with a shoulder strap, and the metal handles retract into the fabric of the case as well.

The laptop box itself contained what you'd expect: hardware, CDs, documentation. However, two little nice touches were an LCD cleaning cloth, and more importantly, a free Logitech Mouseman Traveler notebook mouse. W00t. (Shown here next to my MX700, to give some sense of scale.)

The laptop itself looks... like... this. I turned on the machine, which was preinstalled with XP Home, just to have a look at the screen - very nice. That done, it needed formatting and XP Pro slapping on it, which I proceeded to do. I noticed something curious though - the default partitioning of the drive (it's a 30GB) was very odd. 8GB C: partition, with Windows installed. 20GB D: partition, empty. And (when I looked at the partition table during Windows install) a 2GB OS/2 Boot manager partition, inactive. Errrr... (On further investigation, I discovered it to be a recovery partition. Bye then...)

While Windows was installing, I leeched all the drivers and utilities from the Asus website, which is surprisingly easy to find drivers and stuff on, and slapped them all on a USB flash drive ready to shift over. That done, I quickly flicked through the quickstart guide, looking for initial battery charge time, when something caught my eye. This thing has a 'Suspend touchpad' function button! From said guide: "Pressing this key combination will lock your touchpad in order to prevent accidental cursor movement while typing." Elite!

That done, I noticed the Windows install had finished. So, off I went, installing the drivers for various bits of kit. All in all, pretty painless, apart from the wireless LAN, which had to be installed of the driver CD rather than from the exe I leeched. Not sure why, it looked to be the same file, but the leeched version didn't cause new hardware to be detected by Windows. Ho hum. Anyway, device manager is now clear of errors. Windows XP SP2 slapped on, from a network install I (very conveniently) had lying around. And that, as they say, was that.

Now, some impressions. It's swish. Keyboard layout is a bit different, and keys are smaller than I'm used to, but that's a matter of use rather than anything else. The keyboard itself feels very nice to use, as does the touchpad. The CD tray doesn't feel as robust as the Dell's did, we'll have to see how that stands up under protracted use. While the machine itself doesn't get hot, the vents on the right hand side do expel a mildly warm airflow, so that needs to be kept clear. Other than that, errr, woot! When I can spare the cash, I'll stick some more RAM in (only on 256MB at the moment), but that notwithstanding, I'm happy with it. Initial impressions are that Asus have launched a very nice contender into the ultra-portable market. If only they would sort out their marketing and distribution, they could do pretty well, I reckon. Watch this space for updates.


  1. One of my sysadmins just bought an Asus M5200N - its exactly like yours but white instead.
    Apparently they only ship the white ones to Oz for some reason. It's a Dothan based chipset and as such support for non-MS operating systems is virtually non-existant at this point.
    He specced his out with 512MB and bought one of the 7 hour batteries.
    In the final analysis hes totally chuffed with it, but I still see him eyeing off my 12" iBook from time to time - when I plug a mouse in it "suspends" the touchpad :)
    I would review it but I can't be fucxked

  2. I need me one of those 7 hour batteries, actually. Buggered if I can find someone who stocks them though. :/

  3. On closer inspection it looks like you may have a slightly different model to the one my colleague owns. His is the 1.6Ghz model with the 16x DVD burner.
    After thinking about it for a bit, I can't resist the urge to harp on about my iBook. So here goes.... :)
    It's a 1.07Ghz G4 based machine with a 12.1 inch screen.
    It weighs 2.2kg, so out of ultraportable land but still with a small footprint, as would be expected for the 12" screen.
    What it lacks in portability it makes up for in feature/price comparison.
    The retail price for the model configured to my purchase configuration is currently $2200 AUD, which is 851.547 of your British pounds as of... now.
    It has...
    768MB of RAM60GB disc6 hour battery (180 minutes of DVD play from a full battery)Integrated Bluetooth802.11g cardSlot loading DVD/CD-RW2x USB21x Firewire 400Built in NICBuilt in modemVGA outheadphone jack
    I'm using it as my primarily as my work and travel machine at the moment, it gets some use as a coffee table machine for the missus to shop on ebay with when I'm playing games on my PC.
    When on the move I use the bluetooth module to connect to my Nokia 6600 and out onto the net over GPRS, its modem speeds but certainly enough for light web browsing, email and anything work related.
    The hardware design is very well thought out in most areas, and I'm constantly finding myself with a grin on my face when I discover something new.
    For example, there is a small rubber button on the exterior of the battery, you press it and any number of 4 LEDs light up to show how much battery power is left.
    When I close the lid, it sleeps automatically and immediately. A small white LED situated just to the left of the lid latch lights up and pulses slowly, on opening the screen it immediatly resumes.
    It stays in a sleep state for around 2 weeks when the battery gets low enough to auto-sleep. The staff in my local apple store claim to never charge their demo models, they just open them into wake mode to show a customer for a few mins then shut them again. By the time they're flat, they're obselete :)
    As I mentioned earlier, I plug a mouse in and it disables the touchpad. I plug anything in and it just starts working, no drivers, no waiting. First time a mouse, game device, mp3 player, flash disk or firewire disk goes in it just starts working, no questions asked.
    Performance wise it breezes through desktop tasks, burns CDs without affecting desktop usability, plays quake3 at a fairly respectable rate (50fps) and generally does what I ask of it, but its certainly not a gaming rig.
    The GUI uses OpenGL for window management so alot of wizzbang effects. Some, like Expose, even bordering on useful.
    I won't go into software and desktop usability as its far too subjective and down to personal preference. But I can say that getting software working under the OS as easy as the hardware side of things and I'm extremely happy with the usablity of the system. I feel my productivity has improved significantly.
    My current uptime runs to just over 4 weeks, back in early August I installed version 10.3.5 of the OS which, being a new kernel, required a reboot.
    I cannot recommend it highly enough, especially to anyone thinking of becoming an Apple elitist and looking down your nose at anyone who doesn't wear a beanie and get to work on a segway scooter.

  4. Apparently these are very, very good & also have a label in written in french, saying Bush is a twat :)

  5. We're selling loads of this chassis right now, it's really light for it's class (only Panasonic W2 beats it) and price point is super aggressive.

  6. The fact that the shell is carbon fibre would undoubtedly go some way to explaining the weight.

  7. Right, update as promised. The lappie is absolutely fantastic. Perfect for browsing, IRCing, coding, and basic word/excel stuff. However, the default 24WHr battery only lasts 2-3 hours. Bit self-defeating for an ultraportable, really.
    So, I had a quick google, couldn't find anyone who stocked the larger capacity batteries. So, next logical step, e-mail Asus. Three days later, with no reply, I call Asus. Get told to e-mail them again and they'll send me back a quote. Quote? For a battery? Surely it's got a price, and that's that? Anyway, I e-mail them. Again no reply. Call them again this morning, and they say "There's a lead time of a month or so. Try Some of the distributors, they might have some in stock." Spend the morning calling every distributor on their approved dealers list. The only people who have a battery in stock are Micro Anvika, but when I finally get through to the branch in question, they say: "Sorry, that's on hold for another customer." Me: "But it says in stock on your site, and your telesales guy says it's in stock." Them: "Yes, but we've only got one, and it's reserved." ARGH!
    The lesson of the story is: if Asus just sorted their lives out in terms of distribution and PR, they could rule the entire world. As it is, only geeks with a lot of patience are going to go for their kit. Which is a shame, because it's really, really nice kit.

  8. Yep, when I was dealing with them on a professional level it was just plain horrible how little clue they had about marketing and PR. It appears now their sole activity is to chuck some adverts in the specialist press. They could actually have been remotely helpful when I was trying to cover their shit for free before...
    Oh and don't forget Asus support is non existant. Remember that router that was the best thing ever until a show stopping problem appeared which they just wouldn't fix or even address with a simple email reply? (And that from the editor the trade magazine, imagine how much they'd give a fuck about an end-user).
    Most of those big tiger economy tech firms are the same really. They just seem to turn up on these shores and hire people from the local job centre.

  9. And you still recommend their hardware?

  10. Actually, even more amusing, my M5N owning colleague (I can't actually call him a friend because I'm a cunt and everyone hates me) emailed Asus Asis-Pacific with a querey regarding network setup under XP SP2. They spun him a yarn which culminated with a suggestion that he reinstall his OS :)
    Today he got a number of BSODs with his Intel 2000 BG card trying to do... stuff.
    Being a dull and uninteresting smug cunt Mac owner is hard work :)

  11. Always be hard work :P

  12. I recommend bits of Asus kit but I'm pretty warey after the router. The M5600 I had a very good look at and knew it was the mutt's nuts. Our lads are likely to not place much of a burden on support. Asus mobos are still among the best around although there's little in it between them and MSI these days.

  13. Your lads aren't likely to place a burden on support?
    I bought an Epox mobo. It came with a free magnetic screwdriver. I rang them up first to ask how it worked.

  14. I've been looking at getting an ultraportable for the last week or so and the Asus M5600 series is top of the list at the moment.Larger battery -> These guys say they have them. The website lists a six cell but over the phone they told me they also have the 9 cell. Got to stop looking at the powerbook if I'm ever to make a purchase decision. Damn those apple boys and the evil genius of their OS.

  15. Woops, forgot I had a couple of questions about the Asus
    (1) How many memory slots does it have, they don't list the max ram on any site I've seen. I'm experimenting with the AspectJ plugin in eclipse and it's a pig for memory.
    (2) Only one site lists the amount of memory that can be alocated to the graphics card and that put's it at 8Meg, is that true ?
    (3) The Asus site recons that it can take upto 2ghz dothan, but I can't find any UK retailers with that configuration have you seen any ?

  16. Looks nice enuff but I tells yer, when this TR1MP dies, I'm gonna get me a TR(X)MP. It's the nuts.

  17. Regarding the 9cell battery, Micro Anvika stock them, but they're only arriving in dribs and drabs. Best bet is to keep checking their site for when they have stock.
    Memory slots: not a clue. I'd check the manual, but I didn't bring it with me to uni. I'll try and remember to have a look next time I go home.
    Graphics card memory: I'll check and let you know. Although to be honest, if you want shit hot graphics, this isn't for you. It's for working and browsing on the move. Although I imagine it'd handle TA quite nicely as well...
    I haven't been looking for a while obviously, but the best spec I've seen for it was a 1.6GHz. Tried calling Asus and getting the model number for the 2GHz model?

  18. Update: hit the first snag. Wanted to expand the RAM, so ordered a 512MB SODIMM from Crucial. So far so good. Get around to trying to fit it, and the memory slot is, err, too small. Confusing, thinks I. A quick look at the spec reveals that the thing has 1 x uSO-DIMM slot. A quick Google for uSO-DIMM reveals that it's a memory interface used exclusively for the Asus S5 and M5 series. *sigh*