Small Business Notebook Review: Asus U43F Bamboo

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The Asus U43F notebook computer, with its curves and bamboo paneling reminiscent of late 1960s design, is a mid-sized small business notebook computer that reminds us of the two wood-paneled station wagons our family owned when we were kids back in the early ’70s (a Ford Country Squire and dark maroon Pontiac).

If business folk like our dad — an accountant who took the train daily into New York City during the time of Mad Men — owned laptops, they would have looked like the Asus U43 with its dark, bamboo styling.

In addition to its hard bamboo top and hand rest, this notebook PC features aluminum accents around the keyboard and speaker grill. Trim that looks like chrome but is — sadly — actually plastic doesn’t seem very sturdy — runs along the outside edges. That and other plastic parts of the casing make us wonder if the U43F could take much of fall.

As the latest model in the Asus’s line of Bamboo Series of notebooks computers, the U43F isn’t just powerful and pleasing to look at, it is also — Asus asserts — representative of the company’s commitment to green computing. The manufacture of the laptop’s casing, which integrates real Moso bamboo, requires less energy than traditional materials, according to Asus. The company harvests the bamboo when it matures at around two-years of age, about Moso’s natural lifespan.

The computer’s touch pad — with a large button for right and left clicking — is also overlaid with bamboo, making it nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the laptop’s hand rest. All that separates the touch pad is a thin dark outline embedded in the bamboo.

Over time, and we used the U43 for a couple of months, the color of the input devices darkens due to the oils from our fingertips. This is supposed to happen. And, Asus assures, it creates a more personal relationship between laptop and user. Only a natural fiber like bamboo can deliver this type of user experience, Asus emphasizes.

The Notebook PC Beneath the Bamboo

The U43F, a Best Buy exclusive, sells for $829.99. At 1.25- x 13.5- x 9.5 inches and 5 pounds, it is a mid-sized laptop that strikes a good compromise between some of the larger models currently available and popular ultra-thin portables on today’s market.

For instance, unlike the latter, the U43 includes an optical drive (double-layer 8x DVD±RW/CD-RW), which is still convenient to have on hand for most people. And, unlike the former, such Asus’s own K52f and G73 models, the U43F isn’t wide enough for Asus to offer a separate numeric keypad and big display. So, whereas those two notebooks include 15.6- and 17.5-inch screens, respectively, the U43F’s LED-backlit and high-definition (1366 x 768-pixel) screen comes in at 14 inches diagonally.

 Asus U43F Bamboo; small business notebook
The Asus U43F Bamboo offers good looks and performance to match.
(Click for larger image)

Even without the numeric keypad, you won’t be disappointed by the U43F’s keyboard. Its otherwise full-size keyboard, with its Chiclet-style keys, is responsive, easy to navigate and comfortable to use, even after hours of typing. Sure, the laptop also lacks a row of dedicated hotkeys. But that saves space and the function keys ably perform double duty.

The U43F wouldn’t be worth much if it didn’t match its design with equally impressive performance. Unlike considerably smaller netbooks, a category Asus pioneered, there’s absolutely no compromise on specs.

The laptop ships with the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 Home Premium preloaded, Intel’s Core i5-450M processor running at 2.53GHz, and an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900 on-board as a GPU.

It includes 4GB of DDR3 (upgradeable to 8GB) and large 5400RPM 640GB hard disk drive with a 5-in-1 media reader (Secure Digital, MultiMediaCard, MultiMediaCard Plus, Memory Stick and xD-Picture Card formats) situated on the right side of the unit. The latter provides for added storage and the easy transfer of files to-and-from, for example, a digital camera.

A Kensington Security Slot, part of an anti-theft system for securing the U43F to your desk, sits next to the multi-card reader. There’s an Ethernet LAN connector near that, 802.11n Wi-Fi and WiMAX (for those who sign up for a monthly 4G wireless plan) but no Bluetooth. If you’ve already invested in, say, a wireless Bluetooth mouse or keyboard, you’ll have to go the dongle route to use those devices with the U43F.

A built-in 0.3 megapixel webcam sits above the display, while HDMI and VGA outputs reside on the lower left side of the U43F.  Additional connectors include a pair of USB 2.0 ports: one located on the upper right-side and the other near the VGA port.  Next to that USB 2.0 port you’ll find audio in/out ports and, best of all, a single USB 3.0 port — a technology still relatively rare to notebooks.

The USB 3.0 performance rates at 4.8 gigabits per second, ten times faster than USB 2.0. It promises data streaming data between compatible hardware, such as an external drive, that much faster. While we didn’t get close to USB 3.0’s theoretical maximum-throughput during testing, performance was, nonetheless, still very impressive.

The U43F’s speaker system provides excellent sound for the price point, particularly for a laptop that’s not geared toward gamers. Speaking of sound, the notebook’s fan came on pretty quickly during use. When the fan comes on, place your fingers near the computer’s vent, located on the upper-left side, and you can feel the warm air coming off the U43F’s dual-core laptop processor. Although the laptop runs kind of hot –the bottom of the laptop does heat up a bit — the fan is relatively quiet.

Specs Add Up to Good Notebook PC Performance

Overall, the U43F performed well throughout testing on all general office tasks and during some graphics-intensive usage, such as those involving processor usage when playing videos.  It booted up quickly and applications loaded fast. Ample memory meant it could handle numerous opened programs simultaneously with aplomb.

The U43F earned a respectable 4.3 on Microsoft’s Windows Experience Index, achieving its best scores for Processor (6.9), Memory (5.9) and Primary hard disk (5.9). Not surprisingly, its onboard Graphics (4.3) and Gaming Graphics (5.3) marks were the laptop’s weakest performance points. While superior as a business laptop, this is not the system to get if you are also a heavy gamer or work heavily in graphics or video.

Asus claims that the laptop’s large eight-cell lithium-ion battery delivers 7 hours and 10 minutes of average usage. During testing, we saw no reason to argue with that estimate; we never once — even after several hours — needed to plug the unit in due to a low power warning.

The only thing Asus bundles with the U43F inside the box are its smallish 65W power brick and cable. As for software, you get Adobe Reader 9, NEC’s USB 3.0 Host Driver to manage the lone USB 3.0 slot, Windows Media Center, some Asus utilities, trials of Microsoft Office 2010 and Trend Micro Internet Security, as well as — surprisingly — CyberLink’s Blu-ray Disc Suite, although the optical drive isn’t Blu-ray.

The U43F’s an extremely stylish laptop PC that matches its superior aesthetics with good overall performance. It’ll turn heads and should excel as an everyday small business computer for business folk who are on the move.

James Alan Miller is a veteran freelance writer and editor with 17 years experience writing about technology. His areas of expertise include small business, enterprise and consumer wireless, mobile and hardware.

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