The Asus W3 sits comfortably between being a home-office laptop and a low-end gaming machine. It'll fly through Excel spreadsheets and Hitman: Contracts, but balk if you turn on trilinear texture filtering in Half-Life 2. If you need a general office task machine with a tad more punch, the W3 delivers casual gaming performance for dilettantes.
Based on an Intel Centrino processor, the W3 is less power-hungry than a Pentium 4 laptop and WiFi-equipped out of the box. Intel are getting better at reducing the power consumption of their laptop processors, and this choice of chip makes a big difference to the W3's battery life.
The lid on the Asus W3 is made of wire-brushed effect metal, while the rest of the case is a rugged but uninspired plastic. The W3 is slim, at 33mm, and weighs in at a reasonable 2.2kg. Removing the hot-swappable DVD drive will lower this weight even further to 2kg, but the power adaptor adds this right back on. At 330 by 247mm, the top of the W3 is slightly larger than a sheet of A4 paper and sits easily in a briefcase or bag.
A stylish keyboard on the W3 is marred only by a slightly soft response and a long travel on the keys when depressed. Keyboards are a very personal experience, but to our tastes the W3 didn't feel as snappy as we'd like for long typing sessions. Again, the W3's trackpad, while not as responsive as the pads on laptops like the Alienware Area 51m 7700, will be perfectly adequate for mobile office tasks. If you need to do more accurate Photoshop work or gaming, you can always plug in an external USB mouse and sidestep the trackpad completely.
Underneath the laptop there are a series of hatches that make it easy to replace core components like the hard disk or system RAM. There's no need to take the entire chassis apart to access most of the W3's upgradeable parts. This reduces the risk of damaging the computer with static when replacing components because the motherboard isn't directly exposed to your fingers.
The left-hand side of the W3 includes a VGA port for external monitor connections, two USB ports and an Ethernet port. On the right-hand side there is a DVD-RW drive. This optical drive can be easily slotted out of the laptop and replaced with an extra battery for longer work sessions on the move. Because this module bay is hot-swappable, you can add or remove hard disks, an extra battery pack or combo drive while the W3 is up and running. You also have the option of leaving the module slot unoccupied to save weight.
The battery bundled with the W3 slots in just below the screen-hinge, on the rear of the laptop. This battery runs the whole length of the W3 and is straightforward to unclip if you need to change batteries on the move. Because the W3 can take two batteries simultaneously, you could -- with enough spares -- keep the W3 running without a reboot well beyond it's rated battery life of 3-4 hours.
Every other laptop we've tested has used some kind of mechanical catch to keep the screen clipped to the keyboard during transport. Not so the W3. As well as having no catch, there's no magnet to keep the lid shut either. When it's closed, the laptop screen sits against the keyboard, held by gravity alone. It's a peculiar design decision, and means that the W3 lives a precarious life if it's carried in a rucksack or bag with other items. There's the possibility that a sharp object like car keys will slip between the two loose halves of the laptop and scratch the screen.