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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  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    I spent almost half the conclusion talking about exactly this. I'm not sure what you want me to say more, other than you'd love for me to sing the praises of AMD and decry Intel has too expensive? Seriously:

    $300 to $500: Brazos C-50 or E-350 are hard to beat. If you want more performance with less battery life, Athlon/Turion/Phenom II are also available. Or wait a month for Llano and see how that compares.

    Above $600, right now there's no way I would recommend Brazos. There's also no way I would recommend a 15.6" Brazos laptop, just like I would laugh at a 15.6" Atom-based system. Brazos E-350 is about twice the CPU performance of Atom, but then CULV was already three times as fast as Atom. I bashed on Atom a lot, and I continue to do so; it's far too easy to beat Atom and thus the real target has to be Pentium and Celeron at the very least. I'm going to see if I can get an Arrandale Pentium or Celeron just to see how it compares, because I expect about 2x the performance of Brazos on the CPU with slightly slower graphics. Well, actually a lot slower, but Bobcat is the bottleneck.

    If anyone has $600 to spend on a laptop, they really shouldn't be looking at Brazos. Heck, even $500 is probably too much these days, considering all the options in that price range, unless you want small size and good battery life. If you can stomach the keyboard, Acer has the 1430Z (Pentium U5600) and the 1830T (i3-380UM) that are certainly viable alternatives to E-350.
    Reply
  • krumme - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    With a house full of Intel computers, i am not here to judge Intel as expensive and AMD as cheap. I think the consumers know what they should pay for the benefits if fthey get it presented in a balanced way. And i dont disagree with you recommandations personally.

    My point is. People can decides for themselves what is good enough for them. They are experts on their own life. If they buy a brazos and dont complain afterwards its fine for me. I have seen so many people getting disapointed by Atom for reasons we all know - no hd youtube and slow surfing. When someone less informed reads this review - perhaps by chance using google - and look at the bottom of the charts - they migt get the impression brazos is the same stuff as Atom. And judged by their standards - their measurements intruments - brazos is very different from Atom. So it would be a wrong assessment from their view.

    And yes - right now the oem is ripping of brazos customers because of limited suply, - and because they can. But it just shows how brilliant the product is mm2 vs profitability. And yes AMD positioning this like pentium/celeron perf. is not just bs, but plain stupid for their long time brand building, as is the low performance parts eroding the brandvalue. But this is just AMD marketing performance as usual.
    Reply
  • floersch - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    Your General Performance charts identify the CPU of the Apple MBP13 2011 as an i5-2415M but your Gaming charts identify it as an i5-2515M. Are these two different machines or does one set of charts incorrectly identify the CPU? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    It's the 2415M... I'll correct the charts that have the wrong model number. Reply
  • floersch - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    Thanks, Jarred, for the quick reply and for all of your excellent work. I always look forward to your analyses. Reply
  • vol7ron - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    I think it's coming pretty close to a decent price point for performance.

    I'd like to see these laptops ship with a free HD extender/docker. It shouldn't cost the company much and when swapping out that big ol' 5400 for a SSD, it'd be nice to have the device immediately, to dedicate it to backups/storage.

    What do you think?
    Reply
  • veri745 - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    Why drop the E-350 from the comparisons when you get to medium settings? I would expect it does a lot better relative to HD 3000 when you start bumping up the graphics settings. Reply
  • silverblue - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    Not really, because HD 3000 will have access to much more bandwidth than Brazos. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    Because our medium settings typically run 25 to 50% slower than our low settings. Brazos manages to hit 30FPS in zero of the eight current games we're testing; do we need to show that it performs even worse at medium? Anyway, I actually did run MSI X370 at Medium settings. You can see the comparison (like many others) in Mobile Bench:
    http://www.anandtech.com/bench/Product/348?vs=346
    Reply
  • silverblue - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    Think about it... even if Brazos is supposed to be priced much lower than low-end Sandy Bridge laptops, it doesn't follow that it will always work out that way. You shouldn't ever be paying more than $500 for a Brazos machine unless it's a sufficiently high quality build but right now that doesn't seem to be the case all of the time.

    Toms just made a comparison between three diffferent Brazos laptops ( http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/gateway-nv51b0... ) and they came to the conclusion that chopping $50 off the price of a lot of these machines could really make Brazos stand out.

    What AMD should be doing is advertising Brazos as the true Atom competitor that it should be, at the very most CULV Celerons, instead of falsely positioning it as a competitor to Pentium setups.

    Just because such articles highlight overcharging and the advantage of spending not a huge amount more on something far more powerful, that doesn't make it an incorrect assessment. I expect that once there's more Brazos offerings on the market, manufacturers will have to lower prices in order to compete, and then there really will be a gulf in price between Brazos and Sandy Bridge, like there should be.
    Reply

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