ASUS K53E Impressions and User Experience

Last week’s ASUS U41JF review is going to be the most interesting comparison to the K53E. Sure, that notebook only comes with a dual-core Arrandale i3-380M, but the 15% CPU overclock option, 83Wh battery, and GeForce GT 425M Optimus graphics give it a leg up on the competition. Yes, i5-2520M is going to be a faster CPU, but everywhere else I’d rate the U41JF as the superior laptop. Before we get to the benchmarks, though, let’s take a closer look at the K53E.

The exterior and interior colors are an interesting shade of brown—almost a coppery color in the right light, and at other times the notebook can appear black. The lid is a textured plastic, which means that in normal lighting fingerprints don’t show up quite so well. Unfortunately, it also means that you can't easily wipe it clean with a microfiber cloth, and flash photography often brings out the greasy prints hiding in the indentations. I still prefer the silver styling of the U41JF (and other ASUS laptops), but the K53E doesn’t look bad.

The 15.6”-screen chassis happens to be one of the least expensive laptop sizes these days. It’s large enough that manufacturers don’t have to work as hard at cooling or internal layout, but still small enough that they’re not wasting a lot of material. Unfortunately, our biggest complaint with the 15.6” LCDs floating around is that most are of the 1366x768 variety, and the K53E falls into that classification. We’d really like to see some better resolutions in 15.6” notebooks—even 1600x900 would be better than 1366x768—but then we’d also like to see LCDs that have a reasonable contrast ratio, maximum brightness, and color quality. In case you were wondering, the AU Optronics B156XW02 v6 panel used in this particular notebook has none of the good features we’re looking for and all of the bad. Yuck.

The keyboard is a traditional ASUS chiclet design, with the numeric keypad wedged in on the right. Like other notebooks, we’re not happy with the 10-key layout, mostly because the zero is half-size and the right cursor key overlaps the 10-key space. It’s not so egregious a flaw that we’ll spend a paragraph or two ripping on the layout, but there’s still room on the sides that ASUS could have used to give us a full 10-key with no compromises. Typing action outside of the 10-key is fine, and the dedicated navigation keys in the top-right (Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn) are certainly welcome.

Something we do like with the K53E is the touchpad. It’s big enough to be useful without being so huge that you accidentally brush it while typing (and as usual, you can configure the touchpad to detect keyboard use and go to “sleep” for a short interval after typing to mitigate that particular problem). The tracking surface is also a nice, smooth texture and there are—gasp!—dedicated left and right mouse buttons. Why can’t we get these on the U-series? The palm rest is a nice metallic brushed aluminum finish, and the touchpad is slightly inset and has a different texture to help you find it without looking.

Rounding out the package, the speakers are still a weak point—every time I fire up a game or play some music on Dell’s XPS 15 (the L502x now has Sandy Bridge CPU support; review is coming soon!), just about every other laptop sounds horrible in comparison. Another big gripe I have is with the position of the AC plug. It’s on the left side, but instead of being at the rear of the notebook (as is usually the case), it’s located in front of the exhaust port. When plugged in, the AC cord gets in the way of the Ethernet, HDMI, and USB port on that side—or you can snake the AC cable around back, in which case you’re partially blocking the exhaust port. It’s not a big enough problem that you can’t use the ports while plugged in, but it’s just a weird design decision, particularly when you consider that nearly every other laptop puts the AC connector at the far back of the chassis.

Looking at the whole, the K53E is a very reasonable notebook for the price. It’s not going to outperform quad-core SNB or gaming laptops, but it will run just about everything you might want with performance to spare. The price also puts it into competition with many inexpensive laptops, and it’s a major reason why we think AMD’s Brazos platform at $600 or more is a dead end. Even the i3-2310M will run circles around an E-350 (in both applications and games), so the only area where E-350 comes out ahead is battery life. With a better LCD (or at least a better resolution) and more connectivity options (e.g. USB 3 and eSATA), this could be an inexpensive desktop replacement for people that don’t need maximum CPU and/or GPU performance. With the current design, the K53E is a decent mainstream offering that boosts performance and battery life compared to the previous Arrandale offerings.

Is that enough to warrant spending $100-$200 more compared to AMD Athlon/Brazos/Turion laptops—or Intel’s older Pentium and Core i3 systems? When you factor in the performance and build quality, I’d actually say that the $720 K53E-B1 is going to be a better all-around notebook than most of the $400-$500 laptops you can currently find at places like Best Buy. But then, I’d be far more likely to save up the remaining $80 to get a better GPU, like in the ASUS U41JF, or wait another month or two and see what AMD’s Llano APU can do for budget laptops. If you’re chasing lowest cost, small size, and battery life as your primary considerations, it’s difficult to beat HP’s dm1z, but as soon as you start customizing and approaching $600 (i.e. the Sony and MSI Brazos E-350 laptops), you have to look at the whole market and not just focus on netbooks.

ASUS K53E: Enter Sandy Bridge Man General Performance – Dual-Core Sandy Bridge vs. the World
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  • MrSpadge - Saturday, April 9, 2011 - link

    I'm totally with you here, Jarred.

    In this review and in the Brazos review it was made very clear that you can totally forget about Atom. And there's a reason you don't include a Pentium 1 laptop from 1995 in these reviews.

    And the i5-25xxM being about 4 times as fast as Brazos in CPU intensive tasks is certainly worth mentioning. You have to say it, because it's ******* true. Whether this matters to someone or not is an entirely different qeustion and up to everyone individually. I think you really made this totally clear.

    MrS
    Reply
  • kevlno3 - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    be frank , CPU not your sport car. you hardly notice the different in your 80% of time while you using it for work.
    I would said we happy to see the technology improve , but we better make up our mind to look at value of money.
    RM1.4k for Llano , within another 3-4 months time vs RM2k core i5 or RM1.4k core i3 2310. what do u think? core i5 only help u fast loading the program. core i3 can't handle the game. Llano A3400 will handle both easily. of course if you keep look at benchmark , u unable to sleep even you have a Core i7. i just throw my intel extreme cpu.
    Reply
  • lenghui - Monday, April 11, 2011 - link

    I agree with you, Jarred. I am a AMD fan, but the includsion and comparison of E-350 is valid and does not take away anything from your well written article. Keep up the nice work! Reply
  • tuskers - Wednesday, April 13, 2011 - link

    Fact-check: a simple search on Amazon for "E-350" can get you a 15.6" laptop for $357.70, as of this posting. Not exactly "around $450" or "$500 for similar components" as the article claims. And that's without even really looking for an affordable one. On the other hand, nothing in retail channels comes up for $600 on Amazon.

    In the article you artificially creep the price of what you're testing down, and creep the price of an E-350 solutions up, in order to make your claims that they're worth comparing. They're different segments: the E-350 was invented to be an ultraportable chip, and you're comparing it to a mainstream (or even desktop replacement) chip.

    People don't choose the E-350 because it's has a good graphics chip-- it merely has a good graphics chip for its market segment, compared to intel's CULV/UM, Atom, and Atom/Ion solutions.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, April 13, 2011 - link

    Sony YB pricing is coming down, and it looks like the MSI X370 should start selling in the US for around $550 as well. And really, E-350 shouldn't ever go to $500, let alone $550, which is the point I have been making.

    So now Acer has a 15.6" E-350 system for $335 or whatever. Great. Twice the price gets you more than double the performance, and Acer's 15.6" designs have NOT impressed me in the past. Is it cheap and fast enough for some people, yes. You're still getting what you pay for.

    Acer Aspire 5253-BZ602:
    AMD E-350
    HD 6310M
    250GB 5400RPM HDD
    15.6" 1366x768 LCD
    2x1GB RAM (so if you want to upgrade, you throw out a 1GB SO-DIMM)
    6-cell battery (quoted battery life of just 3.3 hours... not sure what they ran for that test though)
    Win7 Home Premium

    For that much money, sure, it's a fair price, but as I've said this is what I felt netbooks should have been from day one. Atom just sucks too much, and while there are performance compromises with E-350 it's at least going to handle multimedia content. If I'm going to actually use a laptop on a daily basis, I'll save up and spend more money on a good quality device. Just because something is really cheap doesn't make it a great bargain.
    Reply
  • kevlno3 - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    in fact , battery life is because except Asus giving you 56wh in common, non of them give you this high capacity battery pack . Acer will only provide you 48wh , to avoid hurt his flagship timeline 66wh ,claim can go up to 8 hours.
    currently i using Dell , 48wh. i3 2310 only can last 3hours.
    my friend K43U , E350 last 6 hours office work. 4 hours in facebook game. (i recommend him to buy it, but i fall in the Intel trap) i need to sell my N4110 fast , just 2 days using it. i hope to see Llano base notebook sell at RM1.4k without the HD6650
    Reply
  • kevlno3 - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    infact Malaysia are selling RM1499 for HP DM1 , Asus K43U is just about RM1099. currently Malaysia ringgit is grow up , USD 1 convert to RM 3 (before this is RM3.8) you keep telling the fake answer , USD 600 ,it's RM1800 .(pervious is RM2.4k ) we can buy Core i5 with HD6470 RM1899 from Dell ,even Timeline 4830TG for RM2449, but not the E350. in fact i just get my brand new Dell N4110 ,core i3 2310+ HD6630 just RM1600.
    currently Acer 5560G , is selling RM1800 A3400 + HD6650.
    I dont think the 2310 (or even core i5) cpu is so good to keep battery life go long. in fact is only the Asus quality factory given 56wh instead of 48wh battery to extend the battery life. Currently my Dell N4110 hardly get even 3h10mins when setting 30% brightness , wifi on , power saving mode.
    Reply
  • kevlno3 - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    Dell N4110 core i3 2310 , HDD 500GB 7200rpm , HD6630 , 4GB . 14" LCD. this model you should do a review & tell whole world the Dell had a worse design ever . they put the 7200rpm HDD at the left palm rest area ,after 5mins turn on , it's start cook my palm. battery life even just 3hours 10 minutes.(HD3000 only) ,idle upto 5hours. power saving mode , 30% brightness , wifi & bluetooth on. only start maxthon 3 browser , no back ground program , no antivirus , no firewall. (this model seem like cant only turn on wifi)
    in air condition room you wouldn't notice that much about the left palm area heat issue. but i wonder how much lousy engineer work inside Dell.
    Reply
  • kevlno3 - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    actually i dont mind you put the E350 , i like to know more review before i do a purchase. but in term of battery life the major reason not the CPU ,but the factory who willing give u the 56wh above battery pack.
    i buy Dell major reason is the person who doing promotion to sell it at RM1.6k . but the core i3 2310 not perform as what i read in most review. i read the Toshiba intel B940 can acheived 5h28mins . most of the review also show core i3 2310 will go up to 4-5 hours. but in fact it's just 3hours.
    now 2h15mins -56% , but in fact starting battery drop so fast , & it's doesn't me 4h 30mins even i just unplug the adapter.
    Reply
  • fic2 - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    "lots of people rip on Intel's graphics as being unfit for just about anything"

    Lots of people rip on Intel's graphics because until Sandy Bridge they weren't fit for anything.
    Reply

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