Only 3.9 pounds without peripherals and just 1 inch tall, the Asus AG S8600 is easy to hoist in one hand and tuck into a briefcase. At just under US$1650, it’s a terrific value for a subnotebook equipped with a Pentium III-850/700 processor. It even ships with a slew of extras, including a USB mouse, a USB adapter cable for attaching a parallel-port device such as a printer, and a nylon carrying case. Audio is unusually strong for a notebook with one speaker on the bottom, and jacks on the front of the case make it convenient to plug in a microphone or headphones.
Typical for this class of notebook, the Asus S8600 has no internal bays and relies on external drives that you attach to the case. The notebook comes with a drive caddy (mysteriously dubbed the AiBox), which attaches to a proprietary connection and holds the included DVD-ROM drive. The caddy alternatively can accommodate a CD-RW drive or a second hard drive. However, it’s not a very convenient peripheral. You must turn off the notebook each time you want to remove or attach the caddy or swap modules. Modules don’t completely eject–you must pry them out of the caddy with your fingers. Moreover, if anything happens to the caddy’s built-in cable, you’ll have to replace the entire unit. To add a floppy drive to the S8600, you must buy a USB model (Asus sells one for $113 extra). To add memory, you must return the S8600 to an Asus service center. Finally, the light-gray keyboard takes some getting used to, with its shallow feel and command keys not much larger than standard alphanumerical keys. Asus offers toll-call technical support only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST, and there is no weekend support.
The new Asus S8600 replaces the company’s S8200A model, an identical laptop except for screen resolution; the S8600 offers a higher resolution of 1024 by 768. The notebook boasts a bluish-purple upper case and screen front and a silver lower case and screen back. Two USB ports and the bundled USB adapter cable help compensate for the lack of standard parallel, serial, and PS/2 ports and a docking connection. (Asus sells a USB port replicator.) A modem and a network adapter also come built in. Four shortcut keys above the keyboard conveniently launch e-mail, the Web, and two programs or files of your choice. The S8600 has two PC Card slots, one more than usual for a subnotebook, and protects them with a sturdy drop-down door (removable if you need to use the bottom slot for a card with a cable attached). To swap or store the notebook’s hard drive, simply remove a large coin screw on the bottom and slide the thin drive out of the left side. Plenty of helpful documentation accompanies the S8600, including separate print and Acrobat driver-installation and user guides. We haven’t tested any other laptops with the S8600’s combination of RAM and processor, but it earned a healthy PC WorldBench 2000 score of 142.
Frequent travelers dreaming of a fast, cheap, easy-to-carry portable could do much worse than the Asus S8600, an ultralight Pentium III-850/700 temptingly priced at $2475, hundreds of dollars less than competing laptops from Dell Computer Corp. and Sony Corp. If you’re a road warrior and can live with this laptop’s finicky drive caddy, slightly cramped keyboard, and limited support, consider it a perfect match.
PC WorldBench 2000 score of 142, Pentium III-850/700 CPU, 192MB of SDRAM, 256KB L2 cache, Windows Millennium Edition, 12.1-inch active-matrix screen, Silicon Motion Lynx3DM graphics chip with 8MB of SDRAM, 20GB hard drive, 8X DVD-ROM drive, built-in V.90 modem and network adapter, touchpad pointing device, 5.8-pound weight (with external DVD-ROM drive, AC adapter, and phone cord), one-year parts and labor warranty, free unlimited tech support 8 hours weekdays, no weekend support.
Prices listed are in Cdn currency.