Taiwanese computer-maker Asus is best known these days for the ultracompact and ultracheap, $399 Linux-powered Eee PC. The company also turns out some noteworthy high-end systems, such as the $1,699 Asus U6S. With a leather-covered wrist rest and brushed metal touch pad, it's a stylish ultraportable and one that doesn't skimp on features, packing in high-end options such as an Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 CPU (usually found only in full-size laptops) and discrete GeForce graphics along with a consumer-friendly HDMI output and business-friendly security feature including a TPM chip, a fingerprint scanner, and a face-recognition application that works with the integrated Webcam.
The Asus U6S is on the large end of the ultraportable spectrum. It has a slightly smaller footprint but is also significantly thicker than Apple's MacBook Air. Despite the smaller 12-inch screen, for the same price you do get pretty much every port and connection--including an optical drive--which the Air is missing. Consider the Asus U6S if you want a compact laptop but don't mind carrying a little extra weight; it weighs almost a pound more than the Air and 2 pounds more than pricier and low-power Toshiba Portege R500. The Asus U6S is for someone who wants both style and power in an ultraportable.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$1,699|
|Processor||2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500|
|Memory||2GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce 8400M G|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||11.75 x 9.75 x 1.2 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||12.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.8 / 4.8 pounds|
Asus has made leather-lined laptops for years, but the U6S restricts the cowhide to a thin layer over the wrist rest. The back of the lid instead has a glossy brown finish with an elegant shimmering effect. The overall effect is of a smart, sophisticated laptop. However, it's noticeably thicker than most ultraportables. Technology fashionistas may find the U6S a bit bulky looking.
The U6S's keyboard is comfortable and easy to use, and we're always pleased to see separate Page-Up and Page-Down keys--usually the first thing to get cut on an ultraportable keyboard. There are no quick launch media player or volume control keys, but just two buttons above the keyboard--one launches a Webcam application and the other switches between several preset power consumption modes. One odd note about the touch pad: its built-in scroll zone for navigating vertically through pages is offset from the right edge slightly. It took us a few minutes to find it, as most other laptop touch pads scroll by running your finger along the far-right edge.
The 12.1-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is standard for a most 12- to 15-inch displays. The LED-backlit screen was bright and clear, but the high-gloss finish makes it hard to see if it catches the glare of a desk lamp or overhead light at the wrong angle.
|Asus U6S||Average for category [ultraportable]|
|Audio||headphone/microphone jacks||headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD or multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||Express card||Type I/II PC Card or ExpressCard|
|Networking||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||None, or DVD burner|
Other than a missing FireWire jack (something we're seeing left out of more laptops these days), the Asus U6S includes an impressive array of ports and connections, including an ExpressCard slot (important for adding mobile broadband) and an HDMI port, replacing the largely unused S-Video port found on many laptops (there's still a standard VGA output). Asus offers a built-in HSDPA mobile broadband modem in certain regions, but models available in the U.S. right now lack that feature.
The U6S uses a mix of hardware and software for security, mixing a fingerprint scanner and embedded TPM (Trusted Platform Module) technology with a program called SmartLogin. This application uses the system's Webcam to log you into your Windows account via facial recognition. It's a clever idea, but one that we couldn't get to work consistently, as it seemed too sensitive to variations in lighting and camera angle.
One reason why the U6S is thicker and heavier than you might expect is the 2.2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 CPU. Most ultraportable laptops, including Sony's TZ150 and Toshiba's Portege R500, use ultralow voltage CPUs from Intel that are smaller and run cooler but run much slower than the regular Core 2 Duo chips. The T7500 is commonly found in 15- and 17-inch laptops, so it was a pleasant surprise to find it here, and generally worth the trade-off if you find ultralow voltage systems too sluggish (as we often do). The Asus U6S easily beat both the Sony and the Toshiba ultraportables, as well as Apple's MacBook Air, which has a custom non-ULV 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, on our benchmark tests.
You also get a discrete graphics chip, the 128MB Nvidia GeForce 8400M G--another ultraportable rarity. But don't expect to do much heavy duty gaming--we barely got frame rates in the low 20s playing Quake 4 at 1,024x768.
For all this added performance, you're going to pay the price when it comes to battery life. The U6S ran for 1 hour and 56 minutes on our battery drain test, which is woefully short for a system intended for frequent travel. Sony's TZ150 ran for nearly four hours, while Toshiba's R500 came close to three hours. In real-world use, Web surfing and working on office documents, we got closer to 2.5 hours of life from the U6S, which is still on the short side.