Asus s5642-experience

2005/06/12 by Lassi A. Liikkanen

On this page:
o Why buy
o Package
o Experience
o The good
o The bad
o The conclusion
o Post scriptum

Buying an ultra light laptop
Asus S5200 series, model S5642 BNP

This article describes how I ended up choosing Asus S5200 laptop and what strengths and weaknesses I've found from the first moments to three months of extensive testing.

Preinvestment period

In the beginning of the year I decided to finally buy my first laptop. It took me a few weeks to figure out what I really needed and finally I decided to go for an ultra light and ultra portable laptop. There are few models from all the biggest companies, including Apple, IBM, Fujitsu, Dell, Toshiba and also Asus. After comparing models by price/properties manoeuvre and having tried out some machines, I chose Asus. Brands I actually tested beforehand where Fujitsu, Dell, both quite plastic and medium priced, the excellent and expensive IBM, the tiny FlyBook and of course the cute IBook and PowerBook. Asus appeared as the best compromise between cheap price, good feel and adequate specifications. In the final steps, Apple was also considered, but I realized that it really wasn't my thing, besides even 12,1" Powerbook is over two kilos.

Out-of-the-box experience

  • Small, soft carrying case
  • Normal carrying case with a zipper and a belt
  • Slim optical drive (this is truly small and light)
  • Computer package

Asus marketing let me with a quite uncertain what to expect as different sources listed a bit different specifications. So first impression of the brown box was - what the **** is inside that box because the package was REALLY big. But I managed to open it.

At first glance, the S5642 package contains two single packed carry cases, one really small and compact and the other which is a quite standard case, so you don't have to buy one for that purpose. The external optical combo drive is also packed as distinct product and of course, the actual computer package, in another, bit more graphical case. It will be described next.

Gadgets, the hard stuff

  • 1 Computer, H X L X W = 3cm X 23 cm X 27 cm
  • 2 Batteries, one 24W (2200mAh) and one 48W (4400mAh)
  • 1 Battery loader, about size of a cigarette box
  • 1 european standard earthed power cord
  • 1 optical, wireless wheel micromouse with a USB plug receiver
  • 1 Modem-telephone line cable
  • 1 LCD cleaning cloth
  • 1 Asus 128MB USB 2.0 memorystick, a strap, 0,2 cm USB cable and the driver CD

Widgets, the soft stuff

  • 1 Windows XP Pro recovery cd and XPP quick start guide, national language version
  • Nero 6.3 OEM Suite
  • Asus driver & utility CD
  • PowerDirector Video editing software
  • Asus Medi@Show Slide show software
  • AsusDVD

Prints, the mandatory stuff

  • Notebook warranty card
  • Global warranty card
  • Quick installation guide (multi-lingual)
  • Asus S5 user's manual (english only)

The computer looks quite stylish. After unpacking everything and being stunned about the package, I finally attached the battery and plugged in the power and pushed the button to see does it actually work.

It brang back to life! The power switch is marked with blue led light and in general the carbon fibre construction seems a bit tougher than Dell or Fujitsu for example. Charging of the battery went rather nicely, both batteries needed some charging. The charger itself is not too big, but compared to the design of the computer it certainly lacks some style.

Discrepancies

After booting the machine that comes bundled with Windows XP Pro, I found out that the machine has indeed integrated WLAN b/g, unlike told in the manual or in the Asus website. Of course, this is certainly a good thing. Considering that the Windows is localized version, at least here in Finland, it is rather strange that the computer documentation is in English only. This makes totally no sense at all.

After two months of use

During this period I've used the machine to run mainly office applications and basic multimedia stuff. I've not run any modern games or done videoediting, so the opinions are solely based on about 20 hours of weekly usage (around 160 hours total)

Strengths

I've been generally happy with the computer and the input devices. Especially pleased I'm with the Synaptics touchpad that is extremely smart and well-behaving, at least for a touchpad. Especially the scrolling feature created to replace mouse wheels works much better than I expected, at least in most applications. I also like keyboard. I've had trouble only hitting the right shift key and otherwise feel of the keyboard is superior to Fujitsu and Acer, although doesn't quite match IBM quality.

The portability due the size and weight is just great. I have used dominantly the smaller case to carry around in a bag pack. The case works fine, providing adequate protection against shocks and temperature changes.

My subjective feeling on performance is rather positive. Machine definitely has enough capacity, even if it is running on low power consumption modes with processor clock rate reduced to 33% (500 MHz).

Intel display adaptor is not bad. Even though only a VGA output is provided, it can be quite freely configured e.g. to use an external display and extend the desktop to the laptop display.

The two included batteries work as expected. The smaller battery gives little less than two hours of working capacity while using power saving features of Power4Gear. The battery that has twice the capacity provides approximately 3,5 hours of action. The drawback of a bigger battery is not so the weight but the bulky outlook it gives to the unit.

The bundled software is adequate. I personally favour the Nero cd/dvd writer -applications and therefore appreciate the Nero writer, even though the Express version is more simple and limited when compared to the Burning rom set. Unfortunately, I've not tested the video editing software or the DVD player, so I have no opinion whether it is any better than the Window Movie Maker.

Linux compatibility was proven with a fast test using the latest (december 2004) release of Knoppix Linux that can be booted directly from the CD. Everything, including networking, worked as expected so I assume there should be no major problems getting the laptop working with other distros as the basic hardware is quite common among all the Centrinos (Okay, I admit, this is quite hypothetical).

Inconveniences

There is no visible NumLock indicator and as the functionality seems to be activated arbitrary between logins, shutdowns and hibernations it makes things only worse. I myself was rather confused after the computer the computer had recovered from hibernation and my password was suddenly not recognized. In a long run, this has turned out to be a major, recurring problem that should be definitely fixed. The same goes for CapsLock, I would suggest that both locks would have dedicated LED indicators of the kind normally encountered in keyboards

The default configuration for the file system is, for unknown reason, rather odd. The 60GB hard drive contains 32GB and 22GB FAT32 partions, former of which is the primary OS partition. And you know, no one really wants to use FAT as she's also got the NFTS. Second, logical, partition was empty so I converted it to NFTS immediately. After small look up (thanks to Tarmo) I found that there is a tool supplied with XP that can do conversions between filesystems. It's described in the following mickeysoft doc: http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodtechnol/winxppro/maintain/convertfat.mspx. Although the created partitions can't be anymore resized with bundled tools, you can use Linux (e.g. Knoppix) tools to resize the partition or buy an external Windows application like PartitionMagic to do the job.

The display is a bit disappointing. The viewing angles are just adequate for a single person in vertical direction, in horizontal you can get three persons to poke at the screen if you bang your heads close together. Of course viewing angle is also a matter of privacy, but the vertical direction could definitely be better. Unfortunately the color and tone reproduction have not been evaluated at the moment of writing, as I've concentrated on office applications. Another annoying feature that is not alone problem of Asus, is the "vibrating" display. That is, the vibrations of the main "hull" are transmitted to the panel which causes it to become unreadable in some circumstances like buses etc. moving through uneven road sections.

PCMCIA slot release button tends to pop up by itself every time I take the machine out the carrying case. Annoying, I've considered applying some friction to it to smooth it so it would not do that accidentally. A clear design flaw.

The BIOS and Hard drive passwords. I set them initially but they proved to work quite strangely. Only thing that seemed to operate according to plan was the hard drive password. As a result, I was unable to access BIOS in another than user state. Then I tried this: http://www.cgsecurity.org/index.html?cmospwd.html which successfully reseted the CMOS and allowed me to change the passwords. After resetting, the hard disk password persisted BUT now the machine asks the user password every time before loading OS. This didn't occur before! Totally strange. Therefore I choose to disable the user password and give the user only read-only access to BIOS setup, while maintaining a BIOS super user password. The hard disk password provides extra protection for the hard drive data in case of a laptop theft, while the BIOS super user password is adequate to block other abuse if the computer should be left in insecure location.

There are "only" three USB connectors. I currently use an external keyboard, a mouse and the bundled USB 2.0 flash memory so all the connectors are already occupied. This can cause some trouble as e.g. the external optical combo drive requires one dedicated USB connector. So a forth plug would be appreciated, in my opinion, the multi format memory card reader could be sacrificed as the supported formats are soon extinct whereas USB 2.0 is hopefully supported throughout the computers lifetime.

The external combo drive is a bit controversial issue. On the other hand it reduces the size and weight of the main unit, but at the same time makes things complicated. This particular model also makes quite a noise, although playing DVD movies doesn't induce so much noise as file copying and can be coped with.

Summary

Even though the pros and cons show a tendency towards the problematic end I still consider Asus as a fairly good competitor in its class. There are clearly some aspects that can be improved in the future, but generally I've been quite satisfied as the computer and bundled software deliver everything they promise.

After six months

After extended period of almost daily usage (over 700 operating hours) S5200 is still running nicely. I've picked up few updates along the way but no big problems have occurred this far. Some difficulties have risen, mostly related to Intel's PRoset for Wireless -package, which I finally decided to uninstall and deactivate so that Windows XP handles the WLAN connections. This seems to work better. The integrated Intel Extreme Graphics 2 adapter works as expected and provides good signal from the analog D-Sub connector but the software could be improved. Currently the switching between one display and two displayes extended desktop still requires too many steps of configuration every time the environment changes.

I'm still pleased with the Synaptics touchpad. Comparing it to several other pad's I've seen lately, it certainly is worth the money. After having invested in a new digital camera, I've also began to appreciate the integrated SD/MS/MMC card reader which works as expected. The biggest thing I still miss is the NumLock indicator, which should be the first to be added to future revisions of this otherwise excellent machine. The chassis has proven to be quite durable. There are still no obvious signs of use except for the surroundings of the USB terminals. I would expect that the cover will look quite new after next six months or so.

Related content:
User experience benchmark in across platform use for Diigo, Evernote and Pocket., 2016/01/05

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Keywords: [tests] , [computers] Document's status: Ok (Document dates explained)

This document created: 2005/03/25
Modified: 2005/06/12
Published: 2005/03/29


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