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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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    I haven't used the VAIO TZ, but looking at the pictures they appear practically identical to the ASUS U2E in size and major features. ASUS includes 3GB of RAM where the latest VAIO units ship with 2GB, ASUS provides a mouse and carrying bag and Sony only does that on the top models, and ASUS has a 2-year warranty versus 1-year standard. On top of that the ASUS is priced a few hundred dollars lower for relatively equal specs (i.e. the same outside of the memory config, where ASUS has an extra 1GB). Sony does include T7600 and even T7700 CPUs, however, so the price difference more or less balances out.

    As an example, here's the http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...">VAIO TZ equivalent of the ASUS U2E-A2B. It has a 12.5% faster CPU and comes with Sprint Mobile Broadband (but only a one-month trial, so who cares), with 2GB RAM. That competes with the http://www.zipzoomfly.com/jsp/ProductDetail.jsp?Pr...">ASUS U2E-A2B, which costs $100 less and includes an external 160GB USB HDD. The difference in price and features is quite small, but with the warranty I'd give the edge to the ASUS.
    Reply
  • erwos - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    Wasn't there a variant of the U2E that had an external Sideshow display? I would have really liked to have seen that... Reply
  • Myrandex - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    Why 2GB x 1 & 512MB x 1? Or even 2GB x 1 & 1GB x 1? To get dual channel performance, shouldn't they have two identicle sticks in there? 2GB x 2 ftw~!
    Jason
    Reply
  • BigLan - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    You can run dual channel with mismatched sticks on intel laptops. I've got 2gb + 512gb on my dell, and cpu-id tells me that it's running dual channel.

    They probably topped out at 3gb because they're shipping 32-bit vista and didn't want to confuse customers with 'missing' ram. You could add in your own 2gb stick for pretty cheap if you wanted to.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    Note also that laptops running a 533FSB with DDR2-533 are already matched in bandwidth even in single channel mode. The extra bandwidth helps with IGP a bit, perhaps, but in a system like this the overall memory performance isn't nearly as critical as power requirements. Reply
  • bigdog1984 - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    I was reading the article and im in need of some clarification on two points. Does the unit have micro-dvi or hdmi because the breakdown chart has hdmi and the review states dvi and how much ram is in the unit,,,chart says 3 review says 2.5 Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    Sorry - it's Micro-DVI. It looks the same as HDMI, but doesn't carry audio. At first I thought it was HDMI; forgot to update the table. As for the RAM, the systems are apparently supposed to come with 3GB, but the test unit shipped with 2.5GB (as stated on the bottom of page 9). Reply
  • ciparis - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    Adding features that the MBA omits (like CD/DVD drives, replaceable batteries, and extra ports) is not "addressing shortcomings".

    It's making a different set of tradeoffs.

    Whether that's a good thing will depend an awful lot on your needs and preferences.
    Reply
  • rqle - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    Yes, needs and preference will always be a factor, but “shortcoming” does hold true. When some body is able to add features in relatively same size why wouldn’t it be a shortcoming? Even apple will release an update model to MBA with more ports, faster, etc… Reply
  • ciparis - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    "Relatively" hints at the crux of the matter: it's not the same size, and it wouldn't be able to contain those items if it was. If you're pushing for absolute thinness, something has to go. If that's important to you, those are the trade-offs you make.

    Personally I consider having to lug things around that I don't need or want on my laptop most of the time to be drawbacks, but I wouldn't presume to call it a shortcoming of the Asus because have a clear understanding that that's my preference. It's a feature trade-off that makes sense to me but says nothing about what might make sense to the next guy.
    Reply

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