CNET First Look
Asus U30JcAsus has built a solid workhorse 13-inch in the U30Jc-1A that sacrifices some portability for gaming prowess, but still has great battery life.
>> Hi I'm Dan Ackerman and we are taking a look at a pretty interesting 13-inch laptop with a fairly uninteresting name. It's the Asus U30Jc but it uses Nvidia's new Optimus graphics which I think is a really cool thing that any laptop with discrete graphics should have. Now we often say that 13-inch laptops are really kind of that magical sweep spot; they're kind of the biggest laptop that we consider carrying around every day and they're also the smallest kind of laptop that we would be able to use sort of for like serious typing and serious work on a daily basis. So therefore you get a lot of 13-inch laptops that kind of straddle the middle there but aren't particularly good as super portable travel laptops or kind of more high-powered, every day, got to use it for everything laptops. One area where you really see a lot of tradeoff for a 13-inch is in graphics. Not a lot of 13-inch laptops have the discrete graphics so they're not really good for gaming. And if your 13-inch laptop has more powerful components then the battery life usually suffers so it's really tough finding the perfect balance there. What this new Asus does is it uses Nvidia's Optimus graphics which is basically a system Nvidia defines for taking that discrete graphics chip and turning it off and on the fly whenever the system senses it needs it. Usually when you have switchable graphics, the integrated built-in graphics and an actual GPU you have to turn it on by hand either with a physical switch or a software switch. And you know what a lot of people don't even know if they have that ability so they just leave it on all the time in which case they run down the battery; or they just leave it off all the time in which case they don't get the benefit of even having it. So this solution which seems pretty simple to us but Nvidia says they had to overcome a lot of engineering hurdles to get in there, we think it's great and we hope to see it in a lot more laptops going forward. Another thing we really like about this system is it has Intel's new Core i3 processor. That's our favorite now for kind of lower power consumption but still good performance systems. We hope to see that Core i3 roll out into even more smaller laptops. It's really almost as good as it's larger Core i5 cousin that you find a lot of 15-inch and larger laptops. Now of course getting the Core i3 and the discrete GPU in the system means there are some tradeoffs for a 13-inch laptop. This guy is a little bit heavy, a little bit chunky. It's not super sleek, it's not super portable. But if you want to do some gaming on the go it's definitely something you could slip into your shoulder bag and take with you. It's not a shoulder breaker but it's not a super lightweight either. So here's a great example of the Nvidia Optimus in action. We loaded up a game demo on here; it's Just Cause 2, and when we do that the GPU is going to turn itself on and you can actually watch that in a little widget that we got from Nvidia that shows you when the GPU is off and when it's on. So playing around with the games a little bit, it looks fairly decent, we had to dial back some of the settings to medium to get it to run smoothly but for casual PC gaming it certainly looks fine. And then when we quit out of the game you can see that the GPU automatically shuts itself off and that's really where the magic is and now we're not going to have that GPU on sucking down our battery the rest of the time. Just in a regular video benchmark which did not use the GPU we got about four hours out of this guy which is pretty decent. Macbooks run a little bit longer; some other 13 inches will run longer but this is certainly not bad considering that it's got that Intel Core i3 in it and of course you can turn on the graphics whenever you want. So points for having a discrete GPU, having to be able to obviously turn it on and off on the fly automatically without you having to do anything and of course for having probably our favorite current processor, the Intel Core i3. Points off for being kind of bigger and bulkier; even though it's got a lot of brush metal parts and metallic accents on it, it's still not the prettiest laptop we've seen by a long shot especially in that super competitive 13-inch category. I'm Dan Ackerman and that is the Asus U30Jc.