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Asus U30Jc-A1 review: Asus U30Jc-A1

Asus U30Jc-A1

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a semi-regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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6 min read

We're fond of saying that the 13-inch laptop is so unique it deserves its own category in the laptop family tree. In general, a 13-inch system hits the sweet spot of being the biggest laptop we'd consider carrying around every day, and also the smallest we'd consider using on a daily basis for serious work. It may not be the perfect solution for either road warriors or desk jockeys, but it comes the closest to straddling that line and being universally useful.

OVR
8.0

Asus U30Jc-A1

The Good

Powerful 13-inch with Nvidia Optimus graphics and new Intel Core i3 CPU.

The Bad

Bulky and heavy; only $100 less than a 13-inch MacBook; no Bluetooth.

The Bottom Line

Asus has built a solid workhorse in the 13-inch U30Jc-1A that sacrifices some portability for gaming prowess, but still has great battery life.

As typified by Apple's 13-inch MacBook and MacBook Pro, however, most 13-inch laptops require a certain amount of sacrifice on the horsepower front, especially when it comes to gaming. Hoping to add a little more oomph to a typical 13-incher, Asus has added an Nvidia GeForce 310M GPU to the Asus U30Jc.

But the real bonus is that the system also uses Optimus, Nividia's new switchable graphics solution, which turns your GPU on and off on the fly. Previously, switchable graphics required you to actively turn off the discrete graphics card when you didn't need it. It's a seemingly simple concept, but according to Nvidia, engineering challenges have only recently made it possible.

The upshot is that you get the benefit of a dedicated GPU for gaming, but the battery life of a typical 13-inch laptop the rest of the time, without having to remember to flip a switch.

Coupled with Intel's Core i3 processor, it's an excellent all-around package, with only two flaws. At $899, it's only $100 less than a basic MacBook (and if you're not interested in 3D gaming, you might prefer the iconic Apple laptop), and the U30Jc is bulky and heavy, compared with other 13-inch systems.

This sturdy system is a combination of brushed metal and plastic, which makes it look more upscale than a fully plastic laptop, such as the Toshiba T135, but also not quite as upscale as the full metal body of the MacBook Pro. The end result feels sturdy, but lacks a certain slickness, looking a bit too industrial for design-savvy consumers.

The real problem is the system's weight. At a bit under 5 pounds, this may not be a shoulder-breaker, but it'll certainly feel heaver than a lot of other 13-inch laptops. We've also been spoiled recently by carrying around the 10mm-thick Dell Adamo XPS, which, despite the same screen size, is an entirely different animal.

The black plastic island-style keyboard has a matte finish, which is great for avoiding fingerprints (and the keys have excellent grip). Our main trouble spot is the slightly shortened right Shift key, which always gets in the way of our typing speed. Rather than dedicated media control or quick-launch keys, any extra functions are mapped via the Fn key to the existing keyboard. A nice bonus for a 13-inch laptop in this price range would have been a backlit keyboard. Alas, it was not to be.

The sizable touch pad also has a matte, brushed-metal surface. It supports multitouch gestures such as two-finger scrolling, but the left and right mouse buttons are combined into a single rocker bar, which is one of our laptop pet peeves.

The 13-inch wide-screen display offers a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, which is standard for most 16:9 laptops this size. It provides for text and icons that are highly readable, and is well-suited for 720p HD video content, but the off-axis viewing angles weren't the best we've seen.

The ports and connections on the U30Jc are basic, to say the least. Though we like getting an HDMI port, and three USB ports are fairly standard, there's no Bluetooth or eSATA port (something that's becoming so common we recently invested in a 1.5TB eSATA external drive). As a fixed-configuration system, there's no option for adding mobile broadband; you'll need something like a USB 3G antenna for that.

We've quickly become fond of Intel's new Core i3 CPU for its combination of computing horsepower and power efficiency. We'd definitely want it over an ultralow-voltage chip in a system like this, although that might also partially explain the Asus' larger, heavier body. In our benchmark tests, the Asus U30Jc fell a bit behind the latest Core 2 Duo MacBook as well as Sony's Vaio Z116GX/S, which has an even faster Core i5 processor (but is also much more expensive). That said, the Asus handily beat two upscale 13-inch ULV laptops, the HP Envy 13 and the Dell Adamo XPS.

With its Nvidia GeForce 310M graphics, we got 73.4 frames per second in Unreal Tournament III at 1,366x768-pixel resolution. That should make almost any current PC game very playable, although you may have to dial down the detail settings a bit. The best part was that we didn't have to manually engage the GPU; it just seamlessly went from integrated graphics to the Nvidia chip when we launched the game.

Juice box
Asus U30Jc Average watts per hour
Off (60%) 0.37
Sleep (10%) 1.14
Idle (25%) 7.94
Load (05%) 38.1
Raw kWh Number 37.02
Annual power consumption cost $4.20

Annual power consumption cost
Asus U30Jc
$4.20 
HP Envy 13
$5.34 

The real advantage of the Nvidia Optimus system is that you don't need to remember to switch off your GPU when it's not needed to save battery life. During our video playback battery drain test, the GPU wasn't needed, so the system ran for an impressive 4 hours on the dot. That's not as good as a 13-inch MacBook, which ran about 90 minutes longer, but it's still very good for a powerful, non-ULV 13-inch.

Asus includes a better-than-average two-year parts and labor warranty with the system. That said, we've always found the bewildering maze of Asus support and warranty Web sites to be a bit of a mess (although it's better than it used to be). There's a toll-free number for tech support, but it's only available Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Asus U30Jc
786 
HP Envy 13
1,378 

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Asus U30Jc
130 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Asus U30Jc
172 

Unreal Tournament III (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,280x800, 0X AA, 0X AF*  
1,440x900, 4X AA, 8X AF*  
Asus U30Jc @ 12x7 / @1366x768
80.9 
73.4 
HP Envy 13
31.5 

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Asus U30Jc
240 

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations:

Asus U30Jc
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.27Hz Intel Core i3 M350; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 310M + 64MB Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD; 320GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Apple MacBook - Fall 2009 - Core 2 Duo 13.3 inch - 2.26GHz
OS X 10.6.1 Snow Leopard; Intel Core 2 Duo 2.26GHz; 2048MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 9400M; 250GB Toshiba 5,400rpm

Sony Vaio VPC-Z116GX/S
Windows 7 Professional (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 M520; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 330M; 256GB Intel SSD

HP Envy 13
Windows 7 Professional (64-bit); 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SL9600; 3072MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330; 250GB Toshiba 5,400rpm

Dell Adamo XPS
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 800MHz; 128MB (Dedicated)/1759MB (Total) Intel GS45; 128GB Samsung Solid State Drive

OVR
8.0

Asus U30Jc-A1

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Battery 8Support 7