All-rounder: ASUS U30Jc/U33Jc/U35Jc

For all around competence, we start with the recently reviewed and Bronze Editor’s Choice winning ASUS U30Jc. We find that 13” notebooks offer the best compromise between performance and portability, being more powerful and more usable than 11” and 12” ultraportables and not as bulky and heavy as 14” and larger notebooks.

The U30 has a standard voltage Core i3 processor, the NVIDIA GeForce 310M + Optimus combo, and a huge battery. It packs in all the power and features that a larger system would, including a DVD drive, in a thin and light package that offers nearly 10 hours of battery life. Add to that the aluminum casing, solid build quality, $890 street price, and ASUS’ growing reputation for producing reliable performance notebooks, and you have the makeup of a winner. However, at 4.8lbs, the U30 chassis weighs the same as the larger 14” UL80 chassis (which we’ll get to in a second) and is heavier than many other 13” notebooks. Not that 4.8lbs is terribly heavy, especially when the battery life is good enough to forgo carrying the AC adapter, but still, it’s one of the few areas that ASUS could improve on (along with the LCD quality, a constant sticking point with any midpriced notebook.)

And improved they have, with the U33Jc and U35Jc. The U35 has all the aluminum-encased, Core i3 + Optimus + 10 hour battery goodness of the U30, but omits the optical drive for the purpose of a much thinner and lighter chassis. With a thickness of 0.6”-1” and a 3.74lb carrying weight (including the massive 84 Wh battery), the U35 is pretty astoundingly svelte for having a standard voltage processor and a dedicated graphics card. So long as you don’t require a DVD drive, you lose nothing relative to the U30Jc. And it’s $70 cheaper to boot. So, to recap, it’s just as powerful, a quarter of an inch thinner, 22% lighter, and a bit cheaper. That’s relative to what was already one of the best performance/portability/price compromises on the market.

But what of the U33Jc, you ask? The U33 starts with the U35 base and adds Intel’s Wireless Display technology, a USB 3.0 port, and - get this - bamboo paneling over the lid and palmrests. According to ASUS, the bamboo paneling lets you show off your ecologically friendly side in style. I’m not sure I buy the environmentally friendly stuff (the wood they use would have to be chemically treated to resist the thermal expansion and warping caused by a notebook’s power output), but it’s definitely a more luxurious direction for laptop aesthetics. I must say, I like the way it looks, but I care about industrial design more than a lot of people. There is an associated price increase with the U33, to the tune of $80 more than the U30. Now, that extra money does get you the WiDi and USB 3.0, so it’s not like the U33 is a bad buy (it is, after all, still a sub-4lb thin and light with a standard voltage CPU, dedicated graphics card, and 10 hours of battery life), but it isn’t as good a value as the others and you do end up paying a premium for style.
 

But in the end, all three of these notebooks share the same core values: a lot of performance, a bit of style, oodles of battery life and great value in a thin and light package. Not to say that they’re flawless - the display quality is definitely something that could be improved (as with all mainstream notebooks), and the keyboard is fairly mediocre. However, these are merely nits to pick, and overall, the U30Jc, U35Jc, and U33Jc are some of the most complete portable notebooks on the market.

Alternative: ASUS UL30/50/80Jt

The UL80Jt is the Arrandale refresh of the much loved and Silver Editor’s Choice winning UL80Vt. As such, it comes with a proven platform and suitably high expectations. The UL80Jt is nearly as good an all-rounder as the U30Jc, with the main hardware difference being the use of the Arrandale Ultra Low Voltage processor, but keeping the NVIDIA G 310M, Optimus, and the 84 Wh battery. The Core i3/i5/i7 version of CULV is slightly more power hungry than the Core 2 Duo CULV platform we’ve come to know and love, so the UL80Jt likely won’t be able to match the astounding 13.2 hours of battery life that the UL80Vt put up, but it should be able to exceed the already excellent 10 hour figure put up by the U30. We’d expect a best case scenario of 12 hours, and at least 8 hours in normal usage. The UL80Vt is otherwise similar to the U30, with a slightly larger screen, an integrated optical drive, and the same 4.8lbs carrying weight. While only the 14” UL80Jt is out currently, the 13.3” UL30Jt and 15.6” UL50Jt should also be shipping in the near future. Between the UL series and the U30, the choice ends up between performance and battery life - the U30/33/35 should outperform the UL series handily, with its standard voltage Core i3 processor, but offers around 20% poorer battery life on the same size battery.

Portable Notebook Buyer's Guide Gaming Portable: Alienware M11x
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  • matt b - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Given that numerous laptops 13.3 inchs and smaller are shipping with AMD nile dual core processors (K325 and K625), can we get a review of these? You must have some in your labs b/c you say that they still fall short of the Intel CULV processors on battery life. Can we see some actual reviews from Anandtech? I've seen mixed reviews on the internet. Toshiba has a 13.3 with the k625 that they claim gets over 6 hours of battery life. The k625 does not have bad performance, and in actual games (versus benchmarks like PC Vantage that Anandtech has shown that Intel's latest drivers have broken) the ATI 4225 cards are faster than Intel's. The price is right too. I'd like to see a i3 or CULV comparison using the same battery (one just not rated the same) versus the K625.
    My take from seeing the number of design wins was that Nile must be pretty impressive.
    Reply
  • MadMan007 - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    Hi. I'd like to see you guys do more notebook reviews even if they aren't full reviews. We don't really need to see the same CPU benchmarks for the same CPU/RAM combo for example but the 'extras' in your reviews are extremely useful and what set your reviews apart. Build quality and keyboard/trackpad commentary and *especially* display quality measurements are very nice to read and the latter is not common on other sites. Even if you need to cut down from your full review suite (little point with the same hardware anyway) doing mini-reviews with the things you guys do special would be great.

    Hopefully AT will review some more of the models presented here? I'd be especially interested to see some of the models that don't get much attentino for whatever reason - for example, do the pricey Sony models have any advantage in build quality or screen quality?
    Reply
  • Akv - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    I would be very interested in a Sony VAIO EA for my work, but alas I won't buy it because of the glaring inscription VAIO on the cover.

    When I go to a meeting I don't want to be the intrusive advertisement panel for an off-topic company. And if I buy something that price I expect more discretion. I would feel ridiculous using it in front of other people.
    Reply
  • naalex - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    Exactly the kind of round-up that i needed. I'm personally thinking that the Asus U43JC is the laptop that I'm going to get. USB 3.0 and WiDi are great extra features to have, although perfection would be reached if they came with more powerful GPUs

    Considering that Fall and back to school deals are just around the corner, might it be recommended to hold tight for a month or so, to see what improved models are just around the corner?
    Reply
  • DaKaptin - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    My first post!! (I think). great site, great reviews - thanks to all at Anadtech!

    aaanywaaaay... I bought an Asus Ul80Vt after reading Anandtech's initial review on it (last year sometime). It was my first laptop purchase ever & I have been very pleased with it to the extent that I got one for my sister too! A good mix of performance & battery life leaves me "never really running out of power" in both senses of the word typical for the tasks I use it for (ie movies & internet largely with gaming & business sometimes)

    anyway, without souding too much like a commercial, I'd really like to impress upon the type of setup those laptops present & wonder - "why hasn't anyone else been able to at least imitate them?" the range of tasks you can perform on them (and battery life) make them to me what a laptop is all about! (otherwise seriously, buy a desktop or netbook for the other end of the spectrums)
    Reply
  • descendency - Thursday, July 22, 2010 - link

    I love my X201 Thinkpad.

    If you are in the ultraportable market and have some money to spend, it's by far the nicest laptop available. I got mine for 900 (before tax) through the EPP program and some luck. Well, I added an old Vertex 120gb SSD that I have had since they launched.
    Reply
  • rgathright - Monday, July 26, 2010 - link

    I wish I had read this before buying my ASUS 1201N. A 55nm Radeon HD 4225 would have made a big difference over the power hungry NVIDIA Ion that I am struggling with.

    You can see more about the failed ASUS 1201N here:
    http://www.epinions.com/review/ASUS_EPC1201N_Intel...
    Reply
  • forumreader45 - Monday, July 26, 2010 - link

    This review doesn't cover the Dell offerings well - I just went through this same trade before this came out and also wanted to buy something with a US name on it - still easy to do in the computer world Annandtech - must you kill off our last remaining industry?

    Anyways I got a Studio 14 with an i5 - though you can get i3 or i7. It's a great machine and should have been part of this comparo. (And I'm an Apple fanboy - but the person who wanted this wanted a PC.)
    Reply
  • halcyon - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - link

    SZ12 looks to pack a real punch: lots of features, very fast, very light, full-HD display.

    How about a review and comparison?
    Reply
  • matt b - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - link

    In this article, you wrote, "The new Nile platform, based on the Phenom II architecture, is faster, about on par with the original CULV platform, but even with improved power consumption, battery life still falls short of Intel’s high standard."

    Have you actually tested a computer with the AMD Nile platform?

    I just read a review of the Dell M301z with the AMD K626 processor (Nile). It's got a terrible battery (44Wh, 3740mAh). The battery life wasn't great, but as Notebookcheck.net points out in their review, the battery life on the AMD system is at least equal to the Dell Adamo with an Intel SU9400. The Dell Adamo has a similar battery (44Wh, 3600mAh). It achieves slightly longer surfing times (213 minutes) compared to 187, but less idle time than the AMD chipset (5:40 to 5:19). This despite the fact that the Adamo has a energy saving SSD drive.
    Also, the K625 CPU is at least as fast as the Intel SU9400 on certain CPU benchmarks, like Cinebench R10 (dual core) and faster on single core benchmarks like Cinebech R10. It's graphics performance with the intergrated 4200 series is much faster than the GMA4500 on the Intel platform. So even with a much faster video card and on par CPU performance, the battery life is very close.
    I hate to be particular on this point, but I would like to know if Anandtech really tested an AMD Nile computer or are you just posting what you've heard?
    Link to the Nile review:
    http://www.notebookcheck.net/Review-Dell-Inspiron-...
    Reply

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