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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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - link

    We're working on getting a Nile system. FWIW, SSDs, don't generally save on power, unless they're something like the SandForce controllers, but even then a lot of the time your HDD/SSD will power down because of inactivity. The SU9400 is also a higher clocked CULV, so it may not be the best representative of the platform. In fact, in our own test of the Adamo, we found battery life to be generally quite a bit worse than the other CULV laptops we've tested, even when looking at battery life relative to battery capacity:
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/3799/dell-adamo-13-c...

    As for overall performance, the IGP in Nile is definitely better than GMA 4500MHD, but that's not saying much. It's still very slow, and typically inadequate for gaming at native resolution. HD 4200 is faster, but also quite slow -- about on par with the new Intel HD Graphics in the Arrandale processors.

    Anyway, Nile is looking more interesting than the old CULV and should be a lot better than Congo. The real selling point is likely to be price, and as long as the price is right and you don't mind the battery life loss, go for it. Just don't expect to be wowed by performance -- which we'd say of CULV as well.
    Reply
  • matt b - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - link

    Thanks very much for your response. I look forward to the review and I hope you can get the K625 chip for review as it seems to be the highest performer of the Nile parts (thought I would also welcome a review of the lowest TDP Nile part as well). What is encouraging for Nile is that its best performer, the K625, seems to be on par or better performance wise with the SU9400, the higher performing CULV part, but with better graphics, and very comparable battery life. The lower clocked and single core Nile parts have less power usage (as with the lower clocked and single core CULV parts.) It can play HD video with ease, and some reviews show that the 4225 IGP can play older video games at decent (playable) frame rates. For me, that's something that the 4500 can't do, and a nice feature for a netbookish size.
    I agree, in the end it comes down to price. I suspect that a K625 system is going to be cheaper than a SU9400 system. If it has equal or slightly better CPU performance, equal to slightly worse battery life, and much better GPU performance, at a lower price, that's a compelling solution.
    Reply
  • Jmills - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    When can we expect a review on the ENVY 14? Reply
  • TareX - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    Best netbook to buy:

    ASUS Eee PC 1215N..... EASILY.

    1.8 dual core processor
    ION 2
    NVIDIA OPTIMUS
    Chiclet keyboard
    Matte under keyboard
    less than $500
    Privacy webcam toggle

    Coming August 2010
    photos: http://gadgetmix.com/netbook/eeepc-1215n-pics/
    Reply
  • NICOXIS - Friday, July 30, 2010 - link

    What about Samsung r480 ? one of the cheapest i3/i5 + Nvidia GT 330M 14" notebooks on the market.

    really can't see why this one didn't make it to this article...
    Reply
  • therich - Tuesday, August 10, 2010 - link

    How about the Asus U43JC? For about the same price as the recommended U33JC, you also get an optical drive and a core i5 processor (although it's clocked similarly to the i3, it does have Turbo). Reply
  • j.sanders - Friday, September 10, 2010 - link

    I've narrowed my choices down to these two machines and I'm the opinion of the commentariat and hopefully Vivek

    The thinkpad is a bit bigger a bit heavier and has resolution of: 1440 x 900 (11.95" x 7.4") vs 1600 x 900 (11.6 wide x 6.5) for the vaio.

    The Vaio Z is first choice but I have some reservations:

    Screen has great resolution but the dims, 11.6 wide x 6.5 high worry me just a tad.. thats a lot pixel data in not a a lot of space. To those who have used this machine, how do you like the screen? Do you have to zoom in much in your day to day use? I"m assuming that the sony screen is better in terms of color accuracy, white point and black point performance. Confirm or deny?

    The other concern I have with the Vaio is the palm rest / keyboard relationship. Palm rest / track pad look pretty small. Any feedback I'd appreciate.

    The thinkpad is a different animal. I like the pointy thing in the keys, I"m totally confident of durability and useability. Of course I'd like to have 1600 pixels wide vs 1440 but I won't die without with extra resolution so if the thinkpad is more usable I'd accept the lower resolution.

    -J
    Reply
  • kakfjak - Thursday, May 05, 2011 - link


    www.stylishdudes.com

    All kinds of shoes + tide bag

    Free transport
    Reply
  • computerupgradeking - Monday, February 10, 2014 - link

    MSI GE40 2OC-245US i7-4702MQ 2GB NVIDIA 760M 14"

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    Performance isn't the only requirement for gamers. Designed with the professionally hardcore in mind, the brush aluminum interior and exterior of the thin and solid design would leave anyone in awe. Paired together with the red LED's, this portable gaming beast is professional yet aggressive.

    It's Main Features:
    Display: 14 Full HD ANTI-REFLECTIVE MATTE-FINISH DISPLAY
    Processor: INTEL® CORE™ I7-4702MQ QUAD CORE PROCESSOR
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    Graphics: NVIDIA® GEFORCE GTX 760M 2GB GDDR5
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    Reply

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