Asus N10Jc Mini-notebook

Asus calls its N10Jc mini-notebook a “corporate netbook”–which presumably has better connotations than “corporate slaptop.” The question is: When does a jumbo mini-notebook officially become an ultraportable laptop?

At first glance, the N10Jc seems like a do-over of Asus’s Eee 1000H 80G XP, albeit with some superior components and design. In fact, it strays very close to ultraportable notebook territory, despite bearing a price (US$650) that’s inexpensive for an ultraportable, but steep for a mini-notebook.

This model’s first point of differentiation from rank-and-file minis is that it includes a discrete graphics processing unit, nVidia’s GeForce 9300M GS. That GPU isn’t the fastest graphics option on the block, but the N10Jc is the first mini-notebook I’ve played with that lets users toggle between a discrete GPU and the integrated graphics on the motherboard. The new Apple MacBook Pro and a handful of full-price laptops have similar features, but nothing in the N10Jc’s class.

Admittedly, this setup isn’t the hybrid graphics solution that nVidia has been discussing (two GPUs working together in Hybrid SLI for improved performance), but it’s still nice to be able to choose between high-performance and battery-saving GPUs.

Under the hood lies the same 1.6-GHz Intel Atom processor and 1GB of RAM that just about every other mainstream mini-notebook offers. It also has a 160GB hard drive–like the one that the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 carries. For our evaluations of performance, the PC World Test Center ran the N10Jc in high-performance mode. At that setting, it earned a WorldBench 6 mark of 36–middle-of-the-pack among current mini-notebooks, but well short of the IdeaPad S10’s pace-setting score of 41.

Though the unit we received came with a six-cell battery, it weighed only 3.5 pounds (the tiny power brick adds another 0.2 pound). The N10Jc offers two battery-use modes–a power-hungry high-performance mode, and a power-saving mode–so we need to run battery life tests in each. Thus far, we have completed the battery tests for high-performance mode only; at that setting, the N10Jc held out for 3 hours, 40 minutes. We’ll update this review once the numbers are in for low-power mode.

The N10Jc represents a major step forward from Asus’s line of Eee mini-notebooks, which debuted last year.

This model proves that machines of this class don’t have to look like cheap toys. In its design, for instance, the N10Jc more closely resembles a full-fledged notebook than any of the Eee minis did. It may not have the sleek lines of the HP Mini 1000, but it has plenty of polish.

At its native 1024-by-600-pixel resolution, the N10Jc’s 10.2-inch screen looks crisp, bright, and manageable. The glossy panel treatment helps visuals pop, but it also exacerbates glare–especially in broad daylight. Worse, the unusually large and reflective black bezel that brackets the display proves even more distracting than the glare coming from the screen.

I found the N10Jc’s keyboard exceptional to use. The big, fingertip-size buttons have just the right amount of give and spacing. In terms of feel, the unit is even better than the Eee 1000H, and just a hair behind the Mini 1000. Two useful shortcut buttons sit atop the keyboard–one of them acting as a magnifier, the other as a quick-preset button for seven optimized performance and battery settings.

The unit’s touchpad and metallic mouse buttons, too, deserve high praise. The buttons are of good size and are well-spaced, given the small amount of surface area available. Sitting between those two mouse buttons is a biometric fingerprint reader.

Beyond the usual connectivity options, Asus squeezes in a PC Express card slot and an HDMI port. Notwithstanding the presence of that HDMI port, Asus is positioning the N10Jc as business machine, so audio takes a back seat to various work-related features. The built-in Altec Lansing speakers nestle inside and beneath the unit, and that placement causes a nasty reverb that makes everything sound a bit tinnier and more hollow than (for example) the Eee 1000H’s audio, even at low volume.

Asus continues its admirable habit of bundling useful software with its mini-notebooks. On the security side, along with the fingerprint reader and Protector Suite QL, you get basic biometric lockdown for your data. Other goodies are a basic color-tweaking app and DVD software (for MPEG2 decoding, since there’s no optical drive). Less obviously useful is the included label-making program. One shortcoming is the lack of a good backup application, comparable to the one found on Lenovo’s IdeaPad S10.

The N10Jc succeeds in many ways, but its price should prompt you to consider whether you’d be better off to jump from the mini-notebook class altogether in favor of a heavier, all-purpose laptop such the full-featured (as in “with an optical drive”) Sony VGN-NR485 for about $150 more.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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