ASUS U30Jc Design and Build

While unpacking the U30Jc, I was immediately struck by how much better it feels compared to the UL80Vt. At the time, I was wrapping up the HP ProBook 5310m review, and personally there's no way I would save $100 to get what is clearly a slower system. In terms of build quality, while ASUS doesn't use a magnesium alloy frame, the U30Jc feels just about as solid as the ProBook 5310m. The only exception to this is the keyboard, which has a slight amount of flex if you press hard (and I mean really hard).

Like the HP 5310m, the appearance is an attractive blend of aluminum surfaces with a few glossy plastic highlights. Actually, the only glossy plastic is around the LCD bezel, and going with a silver brushed aluminum finish (as opposed to anodized black) makes fingerprints and smudges much less of a concern. The only complaint I have is with the glossy bezel and LCD. I know some users prefer glossy panels (generally for indoor use), but with eight hours of potential mobility it's hard to imagine never wanting to take this laptop outside. A matte LCD with an aluminum bezel to match the rest of the chassis would have been better, at least in my view.

As noted above, the keyboard does exhibit a slight amount of flex, but it's not something I generally noticed during use. By pressing quite hard it's obvious that the keyboard lacks the rigidity of a ThinkPad T-series, and it's not a spill resistant design either, but it works fine otherwise. I'd rate the typing experience as roughly the same as the HP 5310m, which was very good. The major difference (outside of appearance and flex) is that ASUS uses rounded corners on the keys compared to the square corners on the ProBook. There's plenty of space between the keys and the layout is just what I like: the Ctrl key is in the bottom-right corner with the Fn key in one position; Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn are all in a column on the far right, with no Fn+[key] combination required to access any of the commonly used keys.

The touchpad and palm rest are nearly identical in size compared to the ProBook 5310m, which is a good thing. The trackpad supports multi-touch, and we definitely prefer the aluminum surface to the glossy plastic on the HP (and other laptops). It works well, and our only minor complaint is ASUS' continued use of rocker-style mouse buttons as opposed to having two discrete buttons.

Temperatures and noise levels during testing were both good, with a chassis that remained cool to moderately warm to the touch. We measured temperatures of up to 32C during a full CPU+GPU load; not surprisingly, that was for the top-left corner where the GPU resides. The rest of the laptop was up to 5C cooler. Noise levels at idle hover close to the limits of our testing environment, but at 33.5dB(A) the U30Jc is slightly louder than some of the other laptops we've tested. Under load noise levels remain nearly as quiet, increasing to just 35.5dB(A). The fan speed also changes smoothly so you don't notice a sudden jump in noise output, at least in our experience. We're much happier with a laptop that stays at a near-constant 33dB than one that oscillates between 30dB and 36dB every minute or so (Alienware M11x being a prime example of the latter).

Access to the internals of the U30Jc is provided via two panels. The larger panel houses the hard drive while the smaller panel in the middle of the chassis is home to the SO-DIMMs. If you remove the keyboard (which is a rather painless process for a change—just two screws on the bottom plus four clips you can get at with a flat-head screwdriver), you can also gain access to the single Mini PCIe slot. By default it's occupied by the wireless adapter, though, so there's not much point in replacing it. As for the battery, the A1 model includes a large 8-cell 84Wh battery; other models (likely not in North America) may go with a smaller 6-cell 63Wh battery.

The stereo speakers are located at the front of the chassis, with small grilles in front of them. Audio quality from the small speakers is about what you'd expect: okay for basic stuff, but nothing spectacular. If you want good audio fidelity, the headphone jack is the way to go. On the bright side, the speakers don't distort even at maximum volume, which is more than we can say for some laptops. The hinge opens about 135 degrees, so if you're after a laptop that can lie flat this one doesn't quite make it. (We had a reader ask about that feature in case you're wondering; it's not important to most of us, but his vision is so poor that the ideal way for him to read the screen is to hold it up vertically in front of his face.)

Like many other inexpensive (relatively) laptops, expansion options are somewhat limited. Three USB 2.0 ports are the only way to add additional devices. The HDMI output makes this useful as a portable multimedia laptop, and we really like the appearance and design. However, anyone looking for FireWire, USB 3.0, or ExpressCard support—or even a free mini PCIe slot—will be disappointed. In short, you get everything you really need with the U30Jc, but not much in the way of extras. It's a conscious decision on the part of ASUS to balance features and performance with size, and here they've chosen to add an Optimus GPU and cut some other extras that the majority of users will never miss. (I know personally that I have never actually used a FireWire or eSATA port on a laptop, so USB 2.0 works fine for me.)

ASUS U30Jc: Thin and Light Meets Arrandale ASUS U30Jc Performance
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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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