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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  • GoodRevrnd - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Isn't 4.8lbs a bit heavy for a 13" laptop?? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    MacBook 13.3" is 4.7 pounds, so I'd say no. Then again, I regularly travel with a 5+ pound laptop (or three). LOL Reply
  • GoodRevrnd - Saturday, May 22, 2010 - link

    Weren't there Acer 14" Timelines that came in at ~ 4.2lbs? I guess I'm just spoiled by my 3.5lb Vaio Z (overpriced though it was). Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, May 23, 2010 - link

    Yes, you can find lighter laptops, even laptops that have a slightly larger display. The difference is they don't have the same level of performance -- no discrete GPU and usually a very low power CULV processor. The Timeline series is exactly that, which is fine for many, but moving to a Core i3 CPU means you need a much larger battery to get roughly the same battery life, plus a larger heatsink to deal with the CPU+GPU heat. An extra .6 pounds seems pretty reasonable in that light, and I doubt you can find anything lighter while keeping relatively equal specs.

    For example, the 11.6" Alienware M11x weighs 4.4 pounds; the Sony VAIO Z VPCZ112GX packs an i5-520M and GT 330M GPU into a 3 pound chassis... but it has a smallish battery with only ~4 hours Internet (according to some), it lacks Optimus I think (but does switchable), the fan noise is apparently very loud, it doesn't have a DVD, and it costs twice as much as the U30Jc. So yeah, there are ways to get lighter laptops with a decent amount of performance, but there are usually issues going that route as well.
    Reply
  • vicbdn - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    I was debating between the UL30VT and the U30JC. In the end I still couldn't get over the the DVD-Rom drive, thicker frame, and lower battery life and went with the UL30VT. If you compare the two aesthetically, the UL30VT looks a lot sleeker IMO and other reviews have called the U30JC bulky in comparison. It's almost a ultraportable but not quite from my perspective.

    Too bad Asus is slow on releasing the UL30JT, and who knows how long before the ship a silver version.

    I don't do anything that requires the extra processing power though. Just my 2c.
    Reply
  • Ipatinga - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    I would love to see Asus, on this notebook, offer an adaptor where you could remove the optical drive and put a hdd/ssd.

    This notebook is great for a friend of mine, but optical drive is useless... a second hard drive (actually, an SSD as primary and an HDD for big storage purposes) is kickass.

    Please Asus... show us some love :)
    Reply
  • jasperjones - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Just wanted to say thanks for the review. Jarred, your reviews are the best in the business, period. Keep 'em coming! Anything interesting in the pipeline? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Thanks! Kind words are always appreciated. :-)

    I'm waiting on the ASUS N82J, which will be similar to this but 14" with a GT335M I think. That would be sweet! I've also got an MSI GX640 I'm beating up. It's fast, but the build quality is nowhere near as good as the ASUS G73Jh. The LCD is an old WSXGA+ CCFL unit, but at least it has a 500:1 contrast ratio.

    Other than that, I have an updated Intel vs. AMD mobile platform comparison I'm trying to get done. (Things haven't changed much, in case you're wondering.) Now if I can just find more hours in a day....
    Reply
  • Hrel - Thursday, May 20, 2010 - link

    1366x768... no need to keep reading. Useless screen resolution. 1600x900 or more or I don't wanna see it. Reply
  • Furuno - Thursday, May 20, 2010 - link

    Great article! I've been keeping my eye on ASUS's PL80JT with it's CULV i5 as battery life is my main concern when purchasing a laptop, but since this one cost almost half of th PL80JT, I might start looking on this one...

    I have one request for your laptop review thought, can you please include a battery life for presentation? I know it will be close to idle, but since I usually use my laptop as a presentation tool with the monitor switched off (only outputting to the projector), I'd like to see the battery life in this situation.

    Best regards,
    Furuno
    Reply

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