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ASUS ExpertBook B9450 Review

Posted August 30, 2021 | ASUS | ASUS ExpertBook | Hardware | Mobile | Windows | Windows 10


The ASUS ExpertBook B9450 presents a unique take on the premium ultraportable PC with its incredibly light weight and portability.

Design

From a design perspective, the ExpertBook stands alone in a sea of premium, business-class PCs from bigger vendors like Dell, HP, and Lenovo. It has a distinctive look and features angled elements everywhere, from the sunken keyboard surround to the bottom part of the exterior of the display panel that wraps around and covers the hinges. It even comes in a unique color that ASUS calls Star Black, which has hints of a very dark blue. It’s quite attractive.

The ExpertBook is also unique in its use of a magnesium-lithium alloy in the display lid and chassis bottom that ASUS claims is 16 percent lighter overall than the magnesium-aluminum alloy it used in previous generations, while being stronger as well.

The ExpertBook’s ErgoLift hinge is also somewhat unusual, in that it raises the bottom back of the chassis by 5 degrees as you open the laptop lid. This angles the keyboard, which doesn’t impact much from an ergonomic standpoint, but it does help with cooling, since it better exposes the air intake on the bottom. It also improves the audio quality of the bottom-firing speakers.

With the understanding that beauty is subjective, and that some will be a bit put off by the ExpertBook’s combination of design, color, and build materials, I really like it. It’s a quirky bit of individualism in a sea of me-too competitors, and I find it quite attractive.

If there’s one ding to the design, it’s that the materials don’t feel particularly premium. And, it’s hard to believe that a device this light could in any way be durable. But ASUS tells me that the ExpertBook is tested against MIL-STD-810H durability tests and specifically designed to withstand harsh environments, drops, and bumps. There are multiple internal components that contribute to this prowess, including heavy-duty stainless-steel brackets on its hinges and I/O ports and rubber dampers on its motherboard and battery screws help cushion them during physical shocks.

I can’t confirm any of that, of course, not in the short time I’ll have the PC in-house. But I can at least report that there’s surprisingly little flex in the chassis, even when I press down with force on the center of the keyboard.

Display

With PC makers finally moving to 16:10 and even 3:2 displays with their premium lineups, I hate to see stragglers like the ExpertBook stumble to the finish line with an antiquated and inefficient 16:9 display. But that’s my only complaint here, as ASUS gets just about everything else right.

The ExpertBook features a 14-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS panel with an antiglare coating and an ample 300 nits of brightness. It has excellent viewing angles and ASUS reports that it covers 100 percent of the sRGB color gamut. I found it to be bright, colorful, and accurate, and as you can see, it lays flat, albeit with a bit of a lift.

As good, the bezels are quite small—just 4 mm on the left and right, and 7 mm on the top—and the ExpertBook delivers an excellent 94 percent screen-to-body ratio. The bottom bezel is larger, but you can’t see it thanks to the PC’s unique hinge; as you open the screen, the bottom back of the chassis raises, hiding the bottom of the display panel.

Internal components

The ExpertBook is powered by an 11th-generation Intel Core i7-1185G7 processor with integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics, 16 GB of LPDDR4X RAM, and a large and speedy 1 TB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD drive that is inexplicably split into 380 GB and 572 GB partitions for the OS and data, respectively. (It’s on the user to figure out how to configure Windows to use the data partition for data, too.)

I don’t see the point of the drive partitioning—I’d make it a single partition myself if the PC were mine—but the internal components, combined with this Ultrabook’s lightness and battery life, justify its Intel Evo sticker. And because the ExpertBook is designed for business customers, it has Intel vPro provisioning and management capabilities as well.

(The ExpertBook has two M.2 slots internally, so it is apparently possible to configure one with two SSD drives, and in a RAID 0 or RAID 1 configuration, if desired. This seems like overkill for most.)

Performance has been excellent across the board using my standard productivity apps, and I had no issues running Firefox, Microsoft Word, Affinity Photos, Microsoft Teams, and Skype simultaneously for days at a time. No surprises there.

Noise and heat, alas, are another issue. The ASUS exhibits a near-constant fan hum, which can range from a low and almost-pleasant white noise to a something a bit louder and more annoying, depending on what you’re doing. This is, of course, the unfortunate biproduct of the device’s thinness, but at least it never gets truly hot.

ASUS does let you tune the fan speed for quieter operation using a bundled MyASUS app, and I did test switching it to Whisper mode, which minimizes fan speed and noise (and presumably lets the PC run a bit hotter). This does work as promised, but it never truly silences the fan. I ended up leaving it on Standard mode.

Connectivity

The ExpertBook provides Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity as expected, but there’s no cellular data option, nor is there an NFC radio, which I never really use on PCs anyway.

Ports and expansion

Despite its thin frame, the ExpertBook provides a reasonable selection of modern and legacy ports. On the left side, you’ll find two Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports—I’d rather have one on each side—a full-sized HDMI port, and a micro-HDMI port that can be outfitted with the included Ethernet dongle for wired connectivity, a nice touch.

On the right, ASUS provides a Kensington lock slot and a full-sized USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 port.

Audio and video

The ExpertBook provides two downward-firing speakers that are tuned by Harmon/Kardon. I wasn’t expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised by the stereo separation while enjoying YouTube Music and the Battle of Crait sequence in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It gets reasonably loud for a laptop, and doesn’t exhibit any distortion, even at 100 percent volume. And you can customize the sound with the bundled DTS Audio Processing app, though I never saw the need.

For the inevitable video conferences, ASUS provides four omnidirectional microphones with AI-based ClearVoice ambient noise cancelation capabilities, plus a 720p HD IR webcam with Windows Hello facial recognition capabilities and a manual privacy shutter. Quality is nothing special in either case, but that’s par for the course these days, even in the premium PC space.

Keyboard, touchpad, and fingerprint reader

I write a lot—I logged over 40,000 and over 60,000 words in the previous two weeks, respectively—and I really pay attention to the typing experience on the laptops I use and review. And perhaps not surprisingly, my preferences have evolved over the years as hardware makers have turned to ever-thinner designs that have materially impacted the keyboards they’re able to include in their portable PCs. Some experiences have been positive and even transformative. Some, less so.

And the ExpertBook has surprised me. Its backlit and full-sized keyboard provides longer key travel than I like these days—1.5 mm—and yet I found myself adapting to it quickly and enjoyed the overall experience quite a bit. There’s also a subtle and curved indentation on each key, which sort of cups your fingertips, a nice detail in this age of flat chiclet keys.

The keyboard is recessed into a sort of angled depression in the lower deck, and as noted it’s raised towards the back as you open the display. This is a trick see in a few other PC designs, and I like it well enough, but I’m not sure it’s particularly “ergonomic” as ASUS describes it. Perhaps the slight rise relieves some tension on the back of your hands.

My only real complaint is that the Power key is to the right of the Delete key. That takes some getting used to.

The ExpertBook’s glass-coated precision touchpad is perhaps its most unique feature. It’s a large and very wide touchpad, and I very quickly disabled three- and four-fingered gestures due to some early mistouches. But once that was done, I found it to be very accurate.

Unique hardware features

The ExpertBook includes several unique hardware features, some of which might put it over the top for potential customers.

Let’s start with that touchpad, since I just mentioned it. You can tap a sensor in its top right to toggle the ASUS NumberPad, an LED-illuminated numeric keypad that appears directly on the touchpad. And you can swipe on a sensor in the touchpad’s upper right to quickly launch the Windows 10 Calculator app. Naturally, some will choose to use these two features in tandem: Swipe to open Calculator and then tap to open the number pad and calculate away. Very nice.

The ExpertBook also features a proximity sensor that works in tandem with Windows Hello and some ASUS-supplied software to provide a more comprehensive security solution. When enabled, this feature—called AdaptiveLock— will dim the ExpertBook display and lock the PC when you walk away. Then, when you return, the display lights up again and, if you also enabled Windows Hello facial recognition, it signs you in again automatically. Also very nice.

(There are other security hardware features, too, of course, including the aforementioned IR webcam, fingerprint reader, and webcam shield, plus TPM 2.0 for Windows 11 compatibility, a Kensington lock slot, a configurable USB port control device lock. I discuss some security-related software below as well.)

Finally, the ExpertBook includes a light bar on the bottom front of the keyboard deck and directly below the center of the touchpad. This bar lights up red when the PC is charging and green when it’s fully charged. And it pulses light when you use the system’s far-field microphones to speak to smart assistants like Amazon Alexa and Cortana. Fun!

Portability

At just 1.9 pounds, the ASUS ExpertBook B9450 is the lightest 14-inch Ultrabook I’ve ever used, and it is a delight to carry around, either out in the open or in a bag. We traveled even lighter than usual during a recent overnight trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, and the ASUS was an inspired choice: I never even noticed the ExpertBook in my single carry-on backpack. It’s just 0.6 inches thin at its thickest point, too.

Battery life is also exceptional, though it fell far short of the 17-hours claimed by ASUS; I assume that’s for video streaming over Wi-Fi with a dim display. Still, I saw an average of over 12 hours of battery life during my tests. That’s quite impressive.

The ASUS can also fast charge its 4-cell 66 watt-hour battery via the bundled USB charger: You can add a 60 percent charge in just 40 minutes.

Software

As a business-class PC, the ExpertBook ships with Windows 10 Pro, which is appreciated. But I Iike ASUS’s approach to its default software image even more. Sure, the PC is saddled with McAfee Personal Security, but that’s easily removed, and the remaining preloads are light and undeniably useful.

For individuals, the key app is called MyASUS, and it’s pinned to the taskbar by default. It provides a lot of useful features—like system updates and customization functionality—in a single place. This includes configuring how the battery charges, the fan profile, the AI noise-canceling microphone and speakers, the color temperature, and much more. But I should also call out its Internet connection prioritization capabilities, WiFi SmartConnect—which overrides Windows to find the very best Wi-Fi connection at all times—and that AdaptiveLock feature that I mentioned above. It’s worth spending some time with this application.

A second versatile ASUS utility called ASUS Business Manager provides a similar front-end to features that might interest the target market, like device access control, disk encryption, system restore, and secure file erasing via a File Shredder utility. It’s quite useful.

Beyond that, ASUS preinstalls a SimPro Dock app for interacting with its preferred docking solution (which I wasn’t able to test), some Intel utilities, the aforementioned DTS Audio Processing app, and a Realtek Audio Console app. That’s it.

Pricing and configurations

In the review configuration—Core i7, 16 GB of RAM, and a 1 TB SSD drive—the ExpertBook costs $1700, which is obviously at the high-end of the thin and light premium Ultrabook segment. That’s the only configuration of which I’m aware, but Amazon notes that a version with 32 GB of RAM and 2 TB of SSD storage exists, though it’s not in stock and the price is unclear.

What I’d rather see is a lower-end Core i5/8 GB/256 GB configuration that gets the ExpertBook closer to the $1100 to $1300 ideal for premium Ultrabooks so that this delightfully portable PC is available to a bigger audience.

Recommendations and conclusions

ASUS may be largely unknown as a brand, especially in the premium PC segment, but the ExpertBook B9450 should help overcome any doubts. This is an attractive, thin, ultra-light, and powerful Ultrabook with epic battery life, superior security functionality, a terrific typing experience, and an unusual but useful touchpad. In a market crowded with familiar Lenovo, HP, and Dell offerings. The ExpertBook is an interesting choice for those looking for something a bit different with its own unique value. The ASUS ExpertBook B9450 is highly recommended.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Incredibly light and portable
  • Excellent battery life
  • Modern, high-end components
  • Great expansion capabilities
  • Windows Hello facial and fingerprint recognition
  • Surprisingly strong audio performance
  • Excellent typing experience, unique touchpad
  • No crapware and some truly useful software utilities

Cons

  • 16:9 display
  • Build materials feel almost plastic, not premium

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