Holiday Buyer's Guide 2006, Part 7: More Mobile Stuff

Asus A8F Notebook

Normally, when you're looking for a notebook that's small, light, and cheap, you usually must pick two of these characteristics but give in a little on the third. The fairly light, rather small and quite affordable Asus A8F notebook comes close to breaking this "rule". You do have to give up some computing power and display capability, but not enough to make the overall value proposition objectionable.

The A8F features a more-than-adequate Intel Core Duo T2400 processor, with an Intel 945 graphics chipset and a 14" 1280x800 Wide XGA display. The model Asus shipped to us for review included 1 GB of 533 MHz DDR2 RAM, in the form of two 512 MB SO-DIMMs that filled the notebook's dual memory slots.

Despite a listed weight of 4.4 pounds on the company Web site, the A8F tipped our scales at 5 lbs 6.5 oz. The difference is mostly attributable to the optional Toshiba-Samsung DVD/CD burner/reader that was included in our review unit. Throw in the external power supply brick and A/C cable at another 12.8 oz (365 g) and you've topped 6 pounds. To our way of think, this isn't terribly heavy, but it's definitely not very light, either.

The A8F is fairly small, with dimensions of 13.2" x 9.6" x 1.5". Despite the small footprint, it includes a good-sized keyboard with full-sized keys, though there are no additional keypads. Key travel is pretty deep with positive feel, and the keyboard is completely silent when put to work. As touchpads go, the Synaptics unit built in below the keyboard is one of the best we've encountered, but we still preferred an external mouse.

The 80 GB ATA Fujitsu MHV2080 hard disk drive included in the A8F adds significant value. Other niceties include a 4-in-1 memory card reader (SD/MMC/MS/MS Pro), a built-in microphone, and a low-res video camera (great for video conferencing). There is also an Intel 3945ABG wireless networking card for 802.11 a/b/g link-ups - a Bluetooth adapter isn't included - and the SoundMax Integrated Digital HD audio produced pretty good sound; there is also an SP/DIF audio output. Though we didn't try it in the role of a Media Center notebook, adding an ExpressCard TV tuner and remote should turn the A8F into a pretty decent multimedia unit as well.

The A8F has a suggested retail price of $999 as configured, but we found online prices of around $825 without breaking too much of a sweat. At this price point, it makes a pretty good budget notebook for students or family members who need a portable PC but don't want to break the bank acquiring one. Santa probably won't have to wince much when dropping this into his gift bag, either.

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