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
Processor Intel Core i3-350M
(32nm, 2x2.26GHz + Hyper-Threading, 3MB L3, 35W)
Chipset Intel HM55
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1066
Max 2x4GB DDR3-1066
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce 310M Optimus
Intel HD Graphics
Display 13.3" LED Backlit Color-Shine WXGA (1366x768)
(AU Optronics AUOB133XW01-V0)
Hard Drive 320GB 5400RPM 8MB cache
(Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B HTS545032B9A300)
Optical Drive 8x DVDRW Super Multi
(Matshita DVD-RAM UJ890AS)
Networking Atheros AR8131 Gigabit Ethernet
Atheros AR9285 802.11bgn
Audio HD Audio (2 speakers with combo headphone/mic jack)
Battery 8-cell 5600mAh, 84Wh
Front Side Flash Reader (SD, MMC, MS/Pro)
Speaker grilles
Left Side Headphone and Microphone jacks
2 x USB 2.0
HDMI
VGA
Cooling Exhaust
Kensington Lock
Right Side DVDRW
1 x USB 2.0
Gigabit Ethernet
AC Power Connection
Back Side None
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)
Extras 0.3MP Webcam
86-Key Keyboard
Multitouch Touchpad
SD/MMC/MS Pro Flash reader
Warranty 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.

ASUS U30Jc Design and Build
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  • jconan - Tuesday, May 25, 2010 - link

    hopefully in the comparison it's compared using apples to apples os with proper drivers Reply
  • Lunyone - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    I would like to have a laptop with better resolution than the 13x768 for a 15"+ laptop. Even my 1280x800 current resolution is fine for the most part. I just don't like the limitation of 1366 x 768. It's wide enough, but the vertical real estate isn't as web page friendly as I would like.

    I also would like better GPU's in this category. Even the 3670 listed on the charts does quite well against the 310m on this laptop. Your right that the 5650 is about as minimum that I might consider for a budget friendly "gaming" laptop. Much less than that an you start to compromise your gaming options.

    So here is what I'd buy right now from Asus if they had it:
    * Dual core CPU (~2.2-2.6 gHz)
    * Dedicated GPU (~5650 or equivalent)
    * 4 gb's of RAM
    * 7200 rpm HD (~250 gb's would be good, I'd even take 160 gb's to keep costs down if needed)
    * 15" or larger LCD w/at least 1400 x 900 or better resolution.

    Bundle that all into a laptop for ~$800-900 and I'm there. I know that this is asking for a bit, but that is the price range that I'll be shopping for.
    Reply
  • acsa - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Manufacturers are still having a marketing department with sound fundaments of microeconomics and game theory ;) If your desire is strong, they find a way to milk you. So,you can either pay for that desire; or loose 132 pixel rows and buy a cheap timelineX 5820T with ATI 5650 with an introductionary guarantee of 3 years and spend the saved bucks on your family or on whatever is _really_ improving your life. Anyway, did these timelinex series arrive in the US? Reply
  • Lunyone - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    They aren't going to milk me. I just do research and buy what I need/want within my budget. I bought a Dell e1505 over 4 years ago with the best GPU that they had (ATI x1400). It has done very well for the 4 years that I've had it. It was about $900 and I've only had to replace the battery. I upgraded the RAM to 2 gb's (max supported) and also the HD to a 7200 rpm one. These were only in the last year, so I'd say I've been lucky and have had a very good experience in the $900 price range, for a budget gaming laptop :) Reply
  • acsa - Thursday, May 20, 2010 - link

    Was a smart buy. I also take care about longevity and upgradeability when buying something. With "milking" I meant that when a model&configuration is designed, it is very carefully decided how to make really tricky deficiencies which are motivating to buy a 20% more expensive config. Reply
  • arnavvdesai - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    I believe ME2 uses the Unreal Engine whereas Dragon Age is a completely in house engine built by BioWare. Dragon Age engine was designed to be made for the PC initially and later ported to the consoles(PS3 last actually). Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Sorry, you're right. I just figured with such similar performance and coming from Bioware, they would use the same tech. DAO uses the Eclipse engine while ME2 uses Unreal Engine 3.5. (The original ME was UE3.) Anyway, neither game runs particularly well at minimum detail and 1366x768. I'll update the text.... Reply
  • RAGETRON - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    My concern is about how loud typical actions done on this Asus would sound in a quiet environment such as a classroom or a library study area. Even though these actions might not be of concern in a normal environment, a quiet environment amplifies the sound and can be especially irritating to others around you and make one self conscious about how they are using their machine. So, how loud is a mouse click in such a very quiet environment (Library, classroom)? I imagine that the rocker button would be louder than laptops with two discrete buttons. Thinkpads seem to be very quiet in this regard. How loud can fast typing get on the chiclet style keyboard? And how about the sound level when the fan kicks in or hard drive churns? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Noise levels are listed on page two: 33.5 dB at idle and 35.5dB at full load. Most of the time the laptop runs at ~33 dB. (My testing environment bottoms out my SPL meter at 30 dB.) The keyboard is about average... the Dell XPS 16 as an example has a softer, quieter key action, but most other laptops sound the same. The touchpad buttons aren't particularly loud, though they're a bit more clicky than some other touchpads. I think it has more to do with the specific design of a touchpad than it does with the rocker style. I figure as long as you're doing normal activities like taking notes no one will care about the noise the U30Jc makes. If you're playing games, though.... ;-) Reply
  • killerclick - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Small screen, too expensive, yet too thick and too heavy. Might as well go for a full-sized laptop. Reply

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