ASUS U30Jc: Refining Thin and Light Performanceby Jarred Walton on May 18, 2010 11:23 PM EST
ASUS U30Jc: Thin and Light Meets Arrandale
ASUS has been making great strides in the laptop designs over the past couple of years. It used to be that an ASUS laptop meant good performance with generally poor battery life at a reasonable price, but that all started to change with the launch of the original Eee PC. With the Eee PC, ASUS managed to usher in a whole new genre of laptop, the netbook, and with the dawn of the netbook expectations for what a laptop could deliver changed. No longer was it good enough to provide decent performance with little regard for price or battery life; today's laptops need to offer a lot more in order to entice potential customers away for $300 netbooks. To that end, ASUS has reworked the design and features of their U-series and put together a well-rounded package that includes good CPU performance, Optimus graphics, and an aesthetic that makes us think someone is listening to our complaints about glossy plastic laptops.
The Core i3-350M CPU will make for an interesting comparison point against the HP ProBook 5310m, which uses a Core 2 Duo SP9300 (in our review model). That means the two CPUs share the same clock speed, though there are obviously other differences. Optimus 310M graphics will certainly help in the GPU department when you need extra graphics performance, although with the new Intel HD Graphics we would argue that 310M might be a bit too low on the performance scale. We'll see what the 310M can do when we get to gaming benchmarks, but it should come as no surprise that 325M and 335M equipped laptops leave it in the dust. The LCD also remains glossy, along with the LCD bezel, which is unfortunate for a laptop that could very well spend most of the day outside and untethered. Here's a quick look at the full laptop specifications.
|ASUS U30Jc-A1 Specifications|
Intel Core i3-350M
(32nm, 2x2.26GHz + Hyper-Threading, 3MB L3, 35W)
Max 2x4GB DDR3-1066
NVIDIA GeForce 310M Optimus
Intel HD Graphics
13.3" LED Backlit Color-Shine WXGA (1366x768)
(AU Optronics AUOB133XW01-V0)
320GB 5400RPM 8MB cache
(Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B HTS545032B9A300)
8x DVDRW Super Multi
(Matshita DVD-RAM UJ890AS)
Atheros AR8131 Gigabit Ethernet
Atheros AR9285 802.11bgn
|Audio||HD Audio (2 speakers with combo headphone/mic jack)|
|Battery||8-cell 5600mAh, 84Wh|
Flash Reader (SD, MMC, MS/Pro)
Headphone and Microphone jacks
2 x USB 2.0
1 x USB 2.0
AC Power Connection
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit|
|Dimensions||13.12" x 9.52" x 0.80-1.20" (WxDxH)|
|Weight||4.80 lbs (with 8-cell battery)|
SD/MMC/MS Pro Flash reader
2-year global warranty
1-year battery warranty
30-day LCD Zero Bright Dot guarantee
|Pricing||Online starting at ~$900|
All of the above features are standard fare for this price range, with a few omissions that may or may not matter depending on your needs. ASUS lists Bluetooth support as "optional" on their site, but at present there are no plans for a Bluetooth equipped model in the North America market; the same goes for a 6-cell 63Wh battery version. eSATA and FireWire are also missing, and there's no USB 3.0 either. If you like using a variety of external devices with the above interfaces, you're out of luck, and there's no ExpressCard slot to alleviate the pain. Dustin tends to place a higher weight on such connectivity options, while personally the omissions are only a minor concern.
The Arrandale CPU is of the i3 variety, which means slightly lower clock speeds and no Turbo Boost (as opposed to the i5 processors). Like all current Arrandale processors, there's a limit of 8GB RAM, which the U30Jc fully supports if you want to spend the money to upgrade. Unlike the previous generation UL30Vt, the U30Jc adds an optical drive and weighs about one pound more, but performance (outside of gaming) will be quite a bit higher.
Why is gaming performance an exception? Because the GeForce 310M is really no different from the 210M. It has a 625MHz core clock and 1530MHz shader clock with 790MHz (1580MHz effective) memory. In contrast, the GeForce 210M (in the UL80Vt) has a 606MHz core clock, 1468MHz shader clock, and the same 790MHz RAM clock. Technically the 310M would be up to 4% faster, but that's hardly worth worrying about. We would have loved to see a GT325M or GT335M in the U30Jc, as that's the only area preventing this from being an Alienware M11x killer. And speaking of the M11x, we should also note that Dell has new beta drivers out, version 179.12, which addresses (for the time being) our concern with outdated GPU drivers. The long-term driver support prospect is still far better for Optimus laptops, but in general the M11x remains the superior small gaming laptop.
Taken as a complete package, the U30Jc has a lot of good features. The LCD quality is still mediocre (i.e. low contrast like 99% of consumer laptops), but with a large 8-cell battery you can expect up to nine hours of battery life (about eight hours of Internet surfing). We understand there's a CULV version of the U30Jc coming, the UL30Jc, but the CPU will be far slower (even with Turbo Boost), and we've heard that it will only increase battery life by around one hour at best. We would rate the current U30Jc as being equal to or superior to the old UL series of laptops in every important metric (outside of battery life where the old CULV design could last up to 14 hours). Build quality is better, the aluminum surfaces are a great upgrade, and the Arrandale CPU makes this a fast system when you need it. If you don't need a beefier GPU and you're okay with the size (about one pound heavier than most ultraportables), the U30Jc is an excellent laptop.
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solipsism - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - linkI'd like to see this machine compared with latest MacBook. There seems to be some evidence to suggest Apple did the right thing withs sticking with C2D this time around in their 13" machines. This machine seems to be a great machine which to compare.
Daeros - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - linkI agree completely. For the extra hundred bucks, you get similar specs, even better battery life (and Bluetooth), as well as somewhat faster graphics. For all the bashing Apple takes for its pricing, it seems that whenever a pc company like ASUS or HP or Dell attempt to get to that level of size & performance, it winds up being very close in price.
I second a request for this to go head-to head with the 13" Macbook.
anandtechrocks - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - linkI disagree completely. if you go by apple's claims you get less than 50 minutes more battery life, a processor that is anywhere from 15-40% slower, half the ram, a smaller hard drive, and a plastic case for $100 dollars more. I know what I'd pick...
FATCamaro - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - linkPlease note that the Asus doesn't appear to come with abgn networking instead just bgn. So it only has a 2.4Ghz radio it seems, not a 5 Ghz. one. I could be wrong. Other than that and the shit LCD it is a fine MBP alternative for Windows users.
anandtechrocks - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - linkmbp is like $300 more than this isn't it? I think the regular MB is a better competitor, which also doesn't have the best LCD. don't forget apple offers half the warranty of this Asus too
JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - linkDepending on the application, you'd need about a Core 2 P9700 (2.8GHz) to equal a 2.26GHz Core i3-350M. In highly threaded workloads, the only way you'd com anywhere near the faster Core i5 processors is by getting a Core 2 Quad, but with the lower clock speeds on quad-core you'll be slower in lightly threaded tasks (i.e. the i3-350M is as fast as Q9000 in PCMark Vantage). It all depends on the app, but when you consider Core 2 Quad also consumes quite a bit more power in testing (i3/i5 idle far better than C2Q), there really aren't too many areas where I'd recommend Core 2 over Core i3/i5.
I think Apple went with Core 2 Duo (P8600) for the MacBook because they could reuse some old tech and got a good price more than anything. (Maybe NVIDIA gave them a good deal on the chipset as well.) It also keeps the standard MacBook a decent step down from the MacBook Pro.
The Macbook has a 320M IGP GPU, so it has 3x as many shaders as 310M but it has to share system memory. (48 shaders at 950 vs. 16 shaders at 1530 means the 320M has 85% more shader performance but has to make do with about half the memory bandwidth.) That might mean it ends up with the same relative performance as the 310M in a lot of situations, depending on whether the particular game is bandwidth or shader limited.
Other than slightly better battery life I'd say the U30Jc beats the MacBook in most other area. The size and weight are pretty much the same (MB is slightly thinner but not enough that I'd worry about it), ASUS gives you 4GB vs. 2GB, and a 320GB vs. 250GB hard drive. It's $100 cheaper and has aluminum surfaces as well. I'm curious about the LCD, though... MBPs have good LCDs, but the standard MacBooks have usually skimped there. 1280x800 vs. 1366x768 is a wash in my book but I'm sure some would prefer the 16:10 AR of the MacBook.
Of course, if you prefer OS X over Windows 7 the choice is clear. Similarly, if you prefer Windows 7 there's no point in buying a MacBook. MacBooks booting Windows have never reached the same battery life as under OS X. Anyway, we'll see if we can get a MacBook for testing, but I won't be the one doing the review.
VivekGowri - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - linkThe 13" MacBook Pro also has a Core 2 Duo, suggesting more that Apple didn't want to put Core i5 processors into the smaller/cheaper models. Whether this is because they wanted to differentiate the larger/more expensive 15" model, or because they wanted to maximize profit margins (C2D's must be dirt cheap right now...) we don't know.
It just doesn't seem entirely likely to me that they couldn't do it or couldn't fit both the larger i5 processor package and the secondary IGP into the MB/MBP case (there are enough other laptops with Core iX and dedicated graphics out there in small chassis; the U30Jc is just one example). Also, I'm not buying Steve's comment that Apple couldn't justify the "very small CPU speed increase".
I may (*may*) end up with one of the newly updated MacBooks sometime soon, but as Jarred says, we'll see if we can get one and who does the review.
Penti - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - linkHardly, a Core i5-520M costs $225 and a P8600 costs $209 (listed price), there no price difference in the processor/chipset platform. It's $265 with chipset for 520M + HM55. Apple might get an rebate, but they might get one or the newer platform too. It's probably the same cost as the old hardware any way. Overpriced as usual.
Penti - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - linkI think more then likely it's just space concerns that has them using C2D + NVIDIA chipset, they do the same in the MBP 13" for the same reason. Switching to Core i5 + HM55 + GPU / Memory takes up more space on the circuit board. Something there aren't a lot of on Macbooks. Of course this is essentially the old Macbook so they could reuse pretty much everything anyway. The chipset is probably even pin-compatible. But they appear to have tweaked the battery though, although the case itself is exactly the same.
Of course something like adding to the size of the PCB would dictate a case redesign and the removal of the dvd-drive possibly.
JarredWalton - Thursday, May 20, 2010 - linkAs I pointed out in the MacBook posting comments, there's no problem with getting all of the components with a discrete GPU into the MacBook. It's .1" narrower and .4" less deep, but ASUS has a removable battery that accounts for much of the extra depth. Apple chose the old platform for cost savings--both for the lower prices on the CPU+chipset as well as the ability to reuse the old design without having to spend a lot of time on accommodating a new chipset, CPU, etc. The sad thing is that Apple doesn't pass any of those savings on to the customer: a MacBook still costs $1000, even if it has two year old technology--outside of the chipset, which you could argue is "new". Too bad we never got a chance to have that chipset back when it would have been useful; now it's relegated to Core 2 platforms that are going away.