Thanks to LDLC for the loan of this model.
ASRock is well known for bringing out motherboards with a worthwhile price/quality ratio. For some time now, the budget brand of the well-known manufacturer Asus has also been producing a laptop range following the same recipe. An all-round model at the price of a netbook and delivered without a pre-installed OS. Something for those on a small budget then, as well as Linux fans.
Hardware, design and build: both eyecatching and sober
The ASRock F14 has a surprising design. The chassis is in matte black plastic, incrusted with glitter. It's sober, very much in line with the most recent Samsung models. The surround and top of the screen are however in a very eyecatching glossy black (like the Asus UL80), which is a bit of a magnet for finger marks and dust. The combination isn't too bad but we can't help thinking that it would have been better if they'd kept the matte black around the screen. Otherwise the machine is pretty massive for a 14-inch. It's robust with a solid feel to the screen frame.
The keyboard has flat keys (17 x 17 mm). Keying is very supple and comfortable, much better than the M15 by the same manufacturer. Above the keyboard, one button disactivates the touchpad, while another is for Wi-Fi. These buttons aren't very practical and you have to press quite hard on them to activate them, while they actually look quite sensitive. We would have preferred them better separated.
The multi-touch touchpad is the right size and is built-in to the shell. The matte surface gives a nice glide and is also precise. The click bar underneath isn't as successful. The left click is less responsive than the right and its glossy surface picks up finger traces very easily.
The webcam is fine. Overexposed areas burn and it needs quite bright light to function correctly. Fluidity is good. The microphone is to its right, a much better positioning than beside the keyboard (as with the M15). Sound is fine.
The fan is relatively discrete for the category, similar to the Toshiba U500. The fan accelerates when the machine is working hard, without however ever entering turbine mode.
The F14 has full connectivity in spite of its low end positioning. The DVD burner is on the lefthand side. On the front edge the headphones and microphone sockets are positioned beside a 4-in-1 memory card. On the right there are 3 USB ports, one of which is an e-SATA combo, as well as the RJ45 (Ethernet Gigabit). Lastly, at the back of the machine are VGA and HDMI video outs, as well as an RJ11, the power socket and antitheft. You also get Wi-Fi N.
Under the machine, a wide panel gives access to all components apart from the hard drive that you access from beside the DVD burner.
||2 USB 2.0, 1 e-SATA/USB, RJ45
|Power supply, VGA, RJ11, HDMI, antitheft
||Touchpad and click bar
Processing: the dual-core ensures a minimum of power
Windows 7 index: 4.9. Details: CPU 4.9 - Memory 5.4 - Graphics 4.9 - Gaming graphics 5.9 - Main hard drive 5.6.
The Intel Celeron Dual Core T1400 processor that equips this ASRock F14, is an entry-level model. Its 2 cores ensure a certain level of use in spite of a rather low overall index of 34. Our reference machine (100 on the index), is the Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi3650 (equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400), while an Intel Atom netbook generally scores around 20.
The F14 gives enough for comfortable work on office documents and the internet. Photo and video editing are also possible, as long as you're patient. The 1 GB of RAM saturates rather quickly! We advise you to invest in a second memory module (or even 2x2GB modules).
The processor can handle HD 1080p (Blu-Ray equivalent) on its own. We do however advise you to use hardware acceleration, as this relieves the CPU significantly.
3D gaming: good for a few not too demanding games
The built-in graphics solution is largely insufficient for recent 3D titles. You'll have to make do with 2D games or old school 3D with limited graphics settings.
Audio: headphones a must
The F14's speakers are located under the screen, which is never a good sign. And the sound is indeed totally flat, dry, without any bass, with a predominance of high-end. Use the headphones out as this'll give much better results in spite of the slight hiss.
Mobility, battery life: small battery = limited life
The 4400 mAh battery is certainly an economical choice for this machine. Battery life only extended to 2 hours 37 minutes when playing films (brightness at 100 Cd/m², Wi-Fi disactivated and headphones plugged in), but this is ok for the category. The M15, also from ASRock, which has a bigger screen and similar configuration, lasts 10 minutes less.
From a portability point of view, the F14 is much closer to a standard notebook than an ultra-portable, in spite of its 14-inch screen. It weighs in at 2.1 Kg, which is fine, but the most mobile among us will probably prefer something more compact.