Introduction

Over the past couple of years, we have reviewed a few laptops that qualify as ultraportables. With a name like that, it's little surprise that in terms of size and weight, these laptops often set themselves apart from the rest of the market. The problem is that getting all of the functionality people want into a package this small generally requires compromises. There is definitely a market for small, highly portable laptops that offer good battery life. Just don't expect to get all of that with performance that can come anywhere near matching larger notebooks - let alone desktops.

Several factors frequently limit the performance we find in ultraportables. First, heat is obviously going to be a problem, and for this reason we usually find much slower processors and a complete lack of discrete graphics. Space is also at a premium, which ties into the first point by making it difficult if not impossible to fit the necessary heat sinks and fans into a small chassis. The reduced size often means that other features are cut, and it's not unusual to see ultraportables that lack optical drives.

In the quest to reduce component footprints, companies have created smaller standards over time, one of the latest being 1.8" hard drives. The problem with such a small physical hard drive size is twofold: storage capacity is obviously lower, but performance suffers as well. Finally, tying up all of the above points is the topic of battery life. What's the point of making a small notebook if you still have to lug around a large battery in order to get reasonable battery life? Thus, performance is often further reduced in order to keep power requirements in check.


All of the above means that ultraportables often disappoint users who don't know what to expect. A good example of this is the MacBook Air, which at first blush looks like a very sleek, sexy laptop.Dig a little deeper, however, and many people will discover that the missing features are just too important. Small keyboards, lack of integrated optical drives, and lackluster performance all play a role, and then you still end up having to pay a price premium for the privilege of owning an ultraportable. Still reading? Good. Let's see how ASUS tries to avoid some of these pitfalls and whether or not they can succeed.

ASUS U2E Overview
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  • lewchenko74 - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link


    Hmmm..

    This review is somewhat flawed. First of all... I echo the comments made by someone else. The MacBook Air is NOT an ultra portable. Its small form factor.. sure, but its still a 13.3" laptop... along with the Dell 1330 XPS and a host of other small factor laptops.

    So I dont see why you have to keep banging on about the MacBook Air.

    Also ... no mention of the EEE, which has just seen the new model released with a larger 9" screen capable of running 1024x600.

    And lets not forget the Lenovo X300 - currently the DADDY of small form factor / ultra portable models. A recent comparison review of the X300 vs Mac Book Air found the Lenovo model stomped all over Apple's baby. (Source : PC PRO magazine)

    With regards to this model in the review... its damn ugly. That faux leather look is so 1980's and it looks cheap and nasty. The processor is lacking in all honesty .. although not as bad as the EEE's.

    And what's with Vista Ultimate ???? on a device like this what on earth is the point of shipping such a heavy OS? Vista Home or even XP home maybe.. but not ultimate.

    World gone mad!
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    The ASUS Eee PC - even the 8.9" model - is in a completely different category. Sure, it's an ultraportable in size, but the single core CPU, limited memory, and other features make it a rather different setup. Also, it's not yet shipping.

    The Lenovo X300 you mention is in the exact same category as the MacBook Air and XPS M1330, in that it is also a 13.3" laptop. Sorry for not explicitly mentioning it, but we should have a review forthcoming.

    Finally, while you may not like the leather design of the U2E, it's not "faux" at all. This is real leather. I much prefer it to the glossy coatings found on many laptops. Obviously, tastes will differ. Vista Ultimate? Well, that's what ASUS installed on the review sample; Vista Business apparently ships on the retail versions. I have no problem with Vista these days, as long as you have 2GB or more RAM.
    Reply
  • Alphafox78 - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    They are almost in different categories, but It seems logical to me that the eee 701 should have been listed here as a comparison. I also dont understand why they give review samples of ultra portables to reviewers who have a bias towards 23" LCDs and quad core cpus. they always seem to get negative reviews and why wouldnt they in that light.

    In terms of 3d performance, obviously its not its forte, but it would have been nice to see some 3dmark01 results. if it doesnt work with 3dmark06, why were the results even listed. seems really dumb to me to list a result of zero when its just the benchmark app that doesnt work with the x3100.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    The 3DMark results are *NOT* zero... they're just so low relative to the other laptops that the numbers get pushed into the text. For reference, the scores are:

    3DMark03: 1075
    3DMark05: 592
    3DMark06: 351

    If you want detailed 3DMark06 results:
    3DMarks: 351.000000000
    SM2.0 Score: 104.000000000
    SM3.0 Score: 141.000000000
    CPU Score: 889.000000000
    Reply
  • Alphafox78 - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    thanks for the #s, didnt see em.
    those really arent that bad, the eee gets around 700 3dmark03 when you overclock it, and thats at 800x480!
    Reply
  • Lonyo - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    A MBA isn't even an ultraportable.
    It's not light, and the footprint is too big.

    I'm not saying it's a bad machine, but compared to 10~11" laptops, it's not really in the same class.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    But there really aren't many 10-11" laptops out there that do compete with the U2E. 12" tablets? Sure. Otherwise, the only currently shipping product I see is the Sony VAIO TZ line... which almost looks like it's manufactured in the same plant as the ASUS U2E. The question is whether people would prefer thinner with a slightly larger keyboard and LCD but without an internal DVD, or thicker with a smaller LCD and a DVD. Weight is about the same. Personally, I'd go for a Dell XPS M1330, because 13.3" is more comfortable for long-term use. (Lenovo X300 is another option in the 13.3" size, with a 1440x900 LCD I think and a 64GB SSD.) Reply
  • Johnmcl7 - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    I've seen a few comparisons putting an M1330 alongside an ultralight but to me this is very false, although the M1330 doesn't look that much bigger on paper I think in reality it is.

    I've had a Sony TX for a couple of years now and I think it's an incredible ultralight machine, more recently I've picked up a 1330 but I've been disappointed with it, in my mind I was expecting something a little larger than the TX with a lot more power. However the 1330 just feels nowhere near as portable, more like a compact 'big' machine if that makes any sense. The M1330 packs a lot of power but at the serious cost of batterylife, on its extended battery it can manage 5 hours or so but the TX on its extended battery can last over twice as long.

    Aside from the performance I find the little TX surprisingly good, it remains just big enough to have a usable keyboard, onboard optical drive, vga port, lan port etc. which previously ultralights did without.

    I do agree the 1330 is a bit more usable in that it has a great keyboard although I find the screen resolution lets it down a bit, one notch higher resolution would have made it more useful to me.

    I'm interested in this review as I'm considering changing my machines, the TX's main weakness to me at least is its sluggish 1.8 inch hard drive. However with SSD that's not a problem, I have a Sony UX1XN with similar specs and a 32GB SSD and I'm perfectly happy with the performance which is far better than the TX. So I have my eye on the Sony TZ as it has the dual core processor, SSD and onboard 3G which would be a decent upgrade. However the price is the main issue so I'll need to see how the Asus compares pricewise in the UK.

    I'm always in two minds about the M1330 though, sometimes I feel it's a waste of money and I should sell it along with the TX to fund a TZ. However other times it's beefier processor and dedicated graphics make it a handy travel companion when I just can't take the bulk of the M1710.

    I'm just saying I don't think the M1330 and TZ can be compared as rivals, despite being close in size I think they are actually quite different machines.

    John
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    They're definitely different machines and compete in different spaces. The real question is which type of machine users really want? If you really want an ultraportable - compromise performance for improved portability - the VAIO TZ and ASUS U2E are great options. The difficulty comes in figuring out if that's what you really want.

    For me, my laptop wish list looks something like the following:

    Roughly a 13" to 15" laptop chassis (I'm flexible here)
    Definitely a 1440x900 or 1680x1050 LCD (or even 1920x1200)
    LED backlighting, a higher color gamut (at least 70%), and preferably something other than a TN panel
    A good keyboard layout - for a 15" chassis, it needs a number keypad
    For now, Core 2 Duo T8300 or T9300 processor
    4GB RAM (but I'll still hold off Vista 64-bit for now)
    A large 7200RPM HDD, or at least a 64GB SSD without spending more than $500 on the drive
    Something better than integrated graphics - GeForce 8700M or 9500M would probably work - but before this really becomes a good idea I want NVIDIA's HybridPower technology so that the discrete GPU can shut off when it's not needed
    Get it under 5 pounds and with 5 (or more) hours of battery life

    Some of the above items simply aren't available yet, of course, but that's why it's a wish list. :)
    Reply
  • Wurger - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    I would like to get an idea of how comparable this notebook is to a Sony VGN-TZ. It looks like both are being marketed the same way. Reply

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