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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  • solipsism - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    I'd like to see this machine compared with latest MacBook. There seems to be some evidence to suggest Apple did the right thing withs sticking with C2D this time around in their 13" machines. This machine seems to be a great machine which to compare. Reply
  • Daeros - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    I agree completely. For the extra hundred bucks, you get similar specs, even better battery life (and Bluetooth), as well as somewhat faster graphics. For all the bashing Apple takes for its pricing, it seems that whenever a pc company like ASUS or HP or Dell attempt to get to that level of size & performance, it winds up being very close in price.
    I second a request for this to go head-to head with the 13" Macbook.
    Reply
  • anandtechrocks - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    I disagree completely. if you go by apple's claims you get less than 50 minutes more battery life, a processor that is anywhere from 15-40% slower, half the ram, a smaller hard drive, and a plastic case for $100 dollars more. I know what I'd pick... Reply
  • FATCamaro - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Please note that the Asus doesn't appear to come with abgn networking instead just bgn. So it only has a 2.4Ghz radio it seems, not a 5 Ghz. one. I could be wrong. Other than that and the shit LCD it is a fine MBP alternative for Windows users. Reply
  • anandtechrocks - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    mbp is like $300 more than this isn't it? I think the regular MB is a better competitor, which also doesn't have the best LCD. don't forget apple offers half the warranty of this Asus too Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Depending on the application, you'd need about a Core 2 P9700 (2.8GHz) to equal a 2.26GHz Core i3-350M. In highly threaded workloads, the only way you'd com anywhere near the faster Core i5 processors is by getting a Core 2 Quad, but with the lower clock speeds on quad-core you'll be slower in lightly threaded tasks (i.e. the i3-350M is as fast as Q9000 in PCMark Vantage). It all depends on the app, but when you consider Core 2 Quad also consumes quite a bit more power in testing (i3/i5 idle far better than C2Q), there really aren't too many areas where I'd recommend Core 2 over Core i3/i5.

    I think Apple went with Core 2 Duo (P8600) for the MacBook because they could reuse some old tech and got a good price more than anything. (Maybe NVIDIA gave them a good deal on the chipset as well.) It also keeps the standard MacBook a decent step down from the MacBook Pro.

    The Macbook has a 320M IGP GPU, so it has 3x as many shaders as 310M but it has to share system memory. (48 shaders at 950 vs. 16 shaders at 1530 means the 320M has 85% more shader performance but has to make do with about half the memory bandwidth.) That might mean it ends up with the same relative performance as the 310M in a lot of situations, depending on whether the particular game is bandwidth or shader limited.

    Other than slightly better battery life I'd say the U30Jc beats the MacBook in most other area. The size and weight are pretty much the same (MB is slightly thinner but not enough that I'd worry about it), ASUS gives you 4GB vs. 2GB, and a 320GB vs. 250GB hard drive. It's $100 cheaper and has aluminum surfaces as well. I'm curious about the LCD, though... MBPs have good LCDs, but the standard MacBooks have usually skimped there. 1280x800 vs. 1366x768 is a wash in my book but I'm sure some would prefer the 16:10 AR of the MacBook.

    Of course, if you prefer OS X over Windows 7 the choice is clear. Similarly, if you prefer Windows 7 there's no point in buying a MacBook. MacBooks booting Windows have never reached the same battery life as under OS X. Anyway, we'll see if we can get a MacBook for testing, but I won't be the one doing the review.
    Reply
  • VivekGowri - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    The 13" MacBook Pro also has a Core 2 Duo, suggesting more that Apple didn't want to put Core i5 processors into the smaller/cheaper models. Whether this is because they wanted to differentiate the larger/more expensive 15" model, or because they wanted to maximize profit margins (C2D's must be dirt cheap right now...) we don't know.

    It just doesn't seem entirely likely to me that they couldn't do it or couldn't fit both the larger i5 processor package and the secondary IGP into the MB/MBP case (there are enough other laptops with Core iX and dedicated graphics out there in small chassis; the U30Jc is just one example). Also, I'm not buying Steve's comment that Apple couldn't justify the "very small CPU speed increase".

    I may (*may*) end up with one of the newly updated MacBooks sometime soon, but as Jarred says, we'll see if we can get one and who does the review.
    Reply
  • Penti - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Hardly, a Core i5-520M costs $225 and a P8600 costs $209 (listed price), there no price difference in the processor/chipset platform. It's $265 with chipset for 520M + HM55. Apple might get an rebate, but they might get one or the newer platform too. It's probably the same cost as the old hardware any way. Overpriced as usual. Reply
  • Penti - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    I think more then likely it's just space concerns that has them using C2D + NVIDIA chipset, they do the same in the MBP 13" for the same reason. Switching to Core i5 + HM55 + GPU / Memory takes up more space on the circuit board. Something there aren't a lot of on Macbooks. Of course this is essentially the old Macbook so they could reuse pretty much everything anyway. The chipset is probably even pin-compatible. But they appear to have tweaked the battery though, although the case itself is exactly the same.

    Of course something like adding to the size of the PCB would dictate a case redesign and the removal of the dvd-drive possibly.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, May 20, 2010 - link

    As I pointed out in the MacBook posting comments, there's no problem with getting all of the components with a discrete GPU into the MacBook. It's .1" narrower and .4" less deep, but ASUS has a removable battery that accounts for much of the extra depth. Apple chose the old platform for cost savings--both for the lower prices on the CPU+chipset as well as the ability to reuse the old design without having to spend a lot of time on accommodating a new chipset, CPU, etc. The sad thing is that Apple doesn't pass any of those savings on to the customer: a MacBook still costs $1000, even if it has two year old technology--outside of the chipset, which you could argue is "new". Too bad we never got a chance to have that chipset back when it would have been useful; now it's relegated to Core 2 platforms that are going away. Reply

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