Logo   Banner   TopRight
TopUnder
Transparent
Asus 13.3" U30Jc Laptop, Optimus-Enabled Mobility
Transparent
Date: Apr 05, 2010
Section:Mobile
Author: Ray Willington
Transparent
Introduction and Specifications

It seems like just yesterday that we commented on how many new CULV notebooks had hit the scene, and how Intel had seemingly hit the proverbial sweet spot. These low-voltage Core processors fit perfectly between high-end netbooks and low-end mainstream laptops, offering enough power for most users in a package that would run for hours on end without a recharge. The price point was also good, with many CULV options listing for around $700 to $900. And then, the Core 2010 lineup of processors were launched, and Intel seemingly ate its own in a ploy to get even faster chips on the market.



Today, we're taking a look at one of those very chips, a Core i3-350M that fits into the Arrandale platform. It's housed within a sleek and stunning new ultraportable from Asus, and it just might be the most classy and bold machine we've seen from the company in recent memory. The U30Jc combines the best in new mobile CPU technology with the best in new mobile GPU technology, and the result is a reasonably priced ($899.99; available today at Amazon and NewEgg), but extremely promising machine that will easily fit on a tray table in coach.



The brushed aluminum finish is striking, and it's a definite departure for Asus. This machine is extremely understated, which is perfect for the modern business user or the on-the-go traveler who just wants a portable machine with brawn and brains. In terms of its specifications, it's hard to knock the machine. Asus has done a fine job of outfitting this notebook, with a Core i3 processor and NVIDIA's Optimus graphics solution, which offers seamless switching between the integrated Intel GMA graphics and the NVIDIA GT 310M GPU.

Asus 13.3" U30Jc Notebook
Specifications and Features (as tested)
  • Intel Core i3-350M  @ 2.26GHz, 1066MHz FSB; 3MB L3 Cache
  • 4GB of DDR3 RAM (1066MHz; 2x2GB)
  • 13.3" LCD (1366x768); LED backlight, glossy
  • NVIDIA GeForce GT 310M (512MB) + Intel GMA graphics
  • NVIDIA Optimus Enabled
  • 320GB (5400RPM) Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B Hard Drive
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • DVD R/W dual-layer Optical Drive (8x)
  • 0.3 megapixel webcam
  • VGA and HDMI
  • USB 2.0 x 3
  • RJ-45 (Ethernet 10/100/1000)
  • Headphone / Mic Input Jacks
  • SD / MMC / SDHC Multimedia Card Reader
  • Stereo Speakers (Altec Lansing)
  • Gesture-Enabled Multi-Touch Trackpad
  • 4.8 Pounds (with 8-cell battery installed)
  • Removable 5600mAh 8-Cell Li-ion Battery
  • 13.12" x 9.52" x 1.20" (Dimensions)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
  • Price (as tested): $899
  • 2-Year Warranty


Just a few months ago, $899 would get you a reasonably well-equipped CULV machine; Asus has since upped the ante. We're guessing this machine will beat those CULV options pretty badly on the test bench, though the battery life may suffer somewhat. We haven't had a chance yet to toy with a Core i3-equipped notebook paired with Optimus, so we're extremely interested to see how the combo does. Will this machine have enough horsepower for gaming? Will it glide through HD playback? Find out those answers in more in our full review in the pages to come...

Transparent
Design and Build Quality


   
Where do we begin? The Asus U30Jc is one of the most well-designed notebooks we have have had the pleasure of testing, and particularly in the ultraportable space, we think it's only rivaled by Apple's MacBook. The brushed aluminum design spreads beyond the lid; it goes underneath to the palm rest and below to the underside. It's not some cheesy plastic imitation. This is the real deal, and it feels extremely smooth to the touch and as solid as a rock.


Click To Enlarge

One look at this machine in person, and you'll be smitten. It's just gorgeous. It shimmers, and it's extremely solid without being overly heavy. There's no flex to speak of; it's like a stiff sheet of steel. We also love that there are no palm rest stickers. Asus includes them, but they're on a plastic sticker sheet that can easily be removed. Just like that, it's perfectly clean inside and out, just like all notebooks should be.
 

     
Click To Enlarge

Along the front edge, there are a number of LED status indicators and an SD/SDHC/MMC card slot. Around the sides are the ports: an HDMI and VGA output, three USB 2.0 ports, a Wi-Fi on/off switch, eSATA port, audio in/out ports, a DVD R/W optical drive, Ethernet port and an AC socket. We wish these were USB 3.0 ports, and an ExpressCard slot would be nice, but overall this should be plenty for most users.

     
Click To Enlarge

Asus has placed a multi-touch, gesture supporting trackpad on this machine, and it might just be the best one we have ever used on an ultraportable. There's a solid left/right click button that has an ideal amount of travel, and the spacious pad itself responds remarkably well to inputs. Touch inputs are always picked up right away, and two-finger scrolling/zooming/pinching was also exceptional. It's hard to use a trackpad without multi-touch after using the one on the U30Jc. Asus, please do us all a favor and use this trackpad technology on all of your notebooks.

     
Click To Enlarge

The chicklet-styled keyboard is better-than-average. There's no flex at all, and aside from a few typos here and there, we had no problems adjusting. The layout is standard, and it's easy to jump right onto and type away. The key texture is also nice; a flat surface but with a smaller amount of travel than we would ideally like. Still, the amount of Fn keys were great, and we think Asus has done a great job here overall.


Click To Enlarge

The LCD is a typical 13.3" glossy, LED backlit LCD. The LCD hinge was very solid, reclining back and holding in place until we forced it in one direction or the other. The panel itself was a little bit difficult to see when under direct sunlight, but it's still one of the better glossy panels we have seen. Colors were sharp and vibrant, and the viewing angles were spot-on.


Click To Enlarge

Overall, the fit and finish here was second to none. It was easy to carry around, it felt great in use, and it was built like a rock. It reminded us of a classic ThinkPad in terms of rigidity. The fans did kick up when we taxed the system, and a fair amount of heat was generated, but we never felt it getting so warm that we couldn't use it on our lap.

Transparent
Software and Accessories


Asus keeps it pretty simple when it comes to packaging. The box itself is rather small, just large enough to hold the U30Jc notebook, a power cord, an AC power brick, a drivers CD, user guide and a micro-fiber LCD cleaning cloth, the latter of which is a great inclusion considering that the glossy panel picks up dust and fingerprints readily. No extras beyond the cloth are included, but for the price, we honestly didn't expect any.


Click To Enlarge

As for software, Asus has smartly loaded the 64-bit copy of Windows 7 Home Premium on here. Many machines these days are shipping with 4GB of RAM, but only a 32-bit OS. The 64-bit platform enables all 4GB to be fully used and recognized. Unfortunately, a good bit of bloatware was also included.



A Trend Micro security suite continually bugged us to activate and register, and a few other apps loaded up on startup that we weren't exactly eager to use. Again, we wish PC makers would leave these non-essential apps on a disc for users to install or leave alone; as it stands, we had to spend a good bit of time uninstalling things to get the machine how we wanted it.

Transparent
User Experience


Using the Asus U30Jc was an outstanding experience, filled with many positive surprises and few negatives. For whatever reason, we found this machine to be more responsive than the Samsung R580 we recently tested, despite the fact that the R580 was equipped with a Core i5 CPU.


Click To Enlarge

We found that opening, closing and changing applications was an extremely smooth process on the U30Jc, far outpacing the CULV machines that listed for just as much at the end of last year. The Core i3 CPU may be the weakest of the Core 2010 lineup, but it's still an extremely powerful piece of kit. For average desktop chores, it provided enough power to churn through our multi-tasking without ever breaking a sweat. Overall, we were extremely impressed with the Core i3; we expected it to be appreciably slower than the Core i5, so we were pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't.


Click To Enlarge

Bootup and wakeup from 'Sleep' mode were both snappy, and we never experienced any real lag when using the most common applications. Having 4GB of DDR3 RAM onboard allowed us to have a whole slew of application on at the same time, and even with a bunch of apps running in the background, we were able to play back YouTube HD and standalone high-def files without any stuttering.



We should also mention the performance of NVIDIA's Optimus. This machine is equipped an Intel integrated GMA chipset and a discrete 512MB GT 310M GPU. The magic of Optimus is that the system itself chooses which GPU should be used based on the type of application you're running. If you're just typing a Word document, the integrated graphics will be active in order to save battery life. If you fire up Half-Life 2, the discrete GPU will become active in order to boost frame rates. And you'll never know outside of the increased or decreased graphical performance. NVIDIA has solved the issue of users having to manually switch a discrete GPU on or off, and in our experience, it worked perfectly. We shifted in and out of graphically intense apps, and each time, the GPU turned on and off without any system lag. It's a beautiful system, and it worked great on the U30Jc.


Click To Enlarge

HD multi-media playback was as smooth as ever, with even a 1080p clip taxing the CPU. YouTube HD and Flash were obviously no problem for the system, and even our gaming tests led to impressive results (more on those in the pages to come). We can only imagine how much better things would be if you swapped out the 5400RPM drive with a 7200RPM drive or an SSD.

    
Click To Enlarge

We also appreciated having an optical drive onboard. The DVD drive is becoming a component that is increasingly being left out, but it's still really useful. Many CULV laptops that cost $700 or $800 don't have an optical drive, yet this one does. It's not a slot-loading drive, but it's pretty quiet in use. We also found the machine overall to be quiet, with the fans only kicking in during extended gaming sessions. The heat output was reasonable; even after long gaming sessions, it never got so hot that we couldn't let it reside on our lap.

Transparent
Test Setup and 3DMark 06 CPU


 
  
HotHardware's Mobile / Test Systems
Covering the bases
Asus U30Jc

Intel Core i3-350M
(2.26GHz)

4GB DDR3

512B NVIDIA GT 310M +
Intel GMA (Optimus)

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x320GB Hard Drive
5,400 RPM SATA

Windows 7
Home Premium (64-bit)

13.3" LED backlit Display
(native 1366x768)
Asus UL80Vt

Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300
(1.3GHz)

4GB DDR3

Intel GMA 4500MHD +
512MB
NVIDIA G210M GPUs

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x320GB Hard Drive          
5400 RPM SATA

Windows 7 Home
Premium (64-bit)

14" LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)
Samsung R580

Intel Core i5-430M
(2.27GHz)

4GB DDR3

512B NVIDIA GT 310M

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x500GB Hard Drive
5,400 RPM SATA

Windows 7
Home Premium (32-bit)

15.6" LED backlit Display
(native 1366x768)
Dell Studio XPS 16

Intel Core 2 Duo P8600
(2.4GHz)

4GB DDR3

1GB ATI Mobility Radeon 4670

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x500GB Hard Drive            
7,200 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Home
Premium SP1 (64-bit)

16.0" Full HD RGBLED Display

(native 1920x1080)


 Performance Comparisons with 3DMark06
 Details: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/

The Futuremark 3DMark06 CPU benchmark consists of tests that use the CPU to render 3D scenes, rather than the GPU. It runs several threads simultaneously and is designed to utilize multiple processor cores.



Would you look at that? Just a few months ago, we figured the raft of CULV machines had found a niche. Now, we're not so sure. This Core i3-powered machine made the CULV UL80Vt look slow, and it retails for just $100 or so more than most CULV laptops on the market today. It's just shy of matching the Core i5-powered Samsung R580, too. Would you pay $100 more for an ultraportable with a CPU that's capable of demolishing the machine that's just $100 less? We think a lot of people would, and if you're in that camp, you can rest assured that the U30Jc will make that extra bill go a long way.



Asus U30Jc 3DMark 06 CPU Score
Transparent
Futuremark PCMark Vantage


Next we ran the Asus U30Jc through Futuremark‚Äôs latest system performance metric, PCMark Vantage. This benchmark suite creates a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including HD media and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. We like the fact that most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, in order to exploit the additional resources offered by multi-core processors.


It's important to note here that this Core i3 CPU crushes the CULV and Core 2 Duo options we put it up against, all of which cost around as much (if not more) than the U30Jc at launch. The only machines that managed to score higher were the Core i5 notebook and the Core i7 gaming rig, though the Core i5 machine just barely pulled ahead. All in all, it's looking like the Core i3 here is capable of holding its own, and these impressive numbers definitely reflect the positive experience we had in using it.


Transparent
SiSoftware Sandra and Multimedia Benchmarks


Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2009
Synthetic Benchmarks

We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2009, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant.  We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks). All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running with Turbo33 enabled along with 4GB of DDR3-1066 RAM running in dual-channel mode.

 
CPU Arithmetic Test; Click To Enlarge


CPU Multimedia Test; Click To Enlarge


Memory Bandwidth Test; Click To Enlarge


Physical Disc Test; Click To Enlarge

We aren't quite sure if we've seen a more well balanced marriage of chassis, CPU and GPU than what's together here in the U30Jc, and it shows in the benchmarks. Just look at the CPUs that this Core i3 is hanging with. That's pretty good company, particularly for a sub-$900 ultraportable. The 5400RPM hard drive is an easy upgrade target, but having 4GB of DDR3 memory helps alleviate the slow-load-time pain a fair bit. A good showing, no matter how you slice it.



To test multimedia capabilities, we attempt to play back a 720p WMVHD clip, a 720p H.264 clip and a 1080p clip. We've also included two screenshots of the 1080p clip from prior test rigs to give you a better idea of CPU utilization from rival systems.


Click To Enlarge; 720 H.264


Click To Enlarge; 720p WMVHD


Click To Enlarge; 1080p


Click To Enlarge; 1080p on HP Mini 311 w/ Ion


Click To Enlarge; 1080p on Asus Eee PC 1201N w/ Ion

Is there anything more beautiful than 1% CPU utilization rates when playing back high-definition media? The U30Jc didn't come close to breaking a sweat when asked to play back 720p and 1080p multi-media files, and playback was as smooth as possible. We never even noticed the GPU switch from integrated to discrete (that's the beauty of NVIDIA's Optimus, but we did notice the fans kick in. Things got a little warm after extended playback, but nothing uncomfortable.

Transparent
Gaming Benchmarks



 Performance with Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Gaming Performance

To touch on gaming performance, we chose two games that draw moderately on system resources, Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. We then ran a pre-recorded demo of each at a resolution of 1280x800 or 1366x768 (on our newer machines). The resulting performance achieved is indicated in frames per second in the graph below, and for comparison with machines that are able to play at higher resolutions with larger screens, we'll provide you with a link to our chart from the Asus G51J review.



We really like NVIDIA's Optimus technology. There's no two ways about it. It switches seamlessly between the integrated Intel GPU and the discrete GT 310M, and the latter performs great in gaming titles. We saw FPS spikes in HL2 of well over 70FPS at the machine's native resolution, and at no point in time did either title lag at all. Gameplay was perfectly smooth throughout, so even thought this machine promises portability, it's also plenty capable of handling modern day first-person shooters.
Transparent
Power Consumption and Battery Life


We used BatterEaterPro's "Real World" option to test the Asus U30Jc's battery life. With it's Core i3 CPU and switchable GPU, along with a thin 8-cell battery, we had hopes that this machine would surprise us and keep pace with the long-lasting CULV alternatives.



Not bad at all. Even during our taxing battery test, the machine lasted just over two hours with the GT 310M GPU enabled, and around an hour more with the integrated GPU on. This is also with Wi-Fi enabled and screen brightness locked at 65%. There's no doubt that you could push these figures for another hour or so if you lowered the brightness, disabled Wi-Fi and went easy on the multi-tasking, but for a Core i3 CPU, we're impressed. It's not the most earth-shattering figure, but it's certainly respectable given that this isn't a low-power CULV machine (nor does it bill itself as such).


Click To Enlarge
Transparent
Summary and Conclusion


Performance Summary:  In our SiSoftware Sandra tests, the Asus U30Jc stood up quite well against the competition, thanks to its Core i3-350M. The NVIDIA Optimus solution, which seamlessly switches between the integrated Intel GMA set and the discrete GT 310M (512MB) GPU, was also a huge boon. It worked as advertised, and powered through whatever games and HD multi-media quite well. Having 4GB of RAM and a 64-bit operating system (Windows 7 Home Premium) to really take advantage of it was also helpful, and while this 13.3" form factor may give you the impression that it's just a CULV alternative with good portability, the performance numbers prove otherwise. This machine is more powerful than many "standard" 15" notebooks out there, and for under $900, we think you'll have a hard time finding a more well-balanced marriage of price, design, portability, and performance.



Asus did well by designing this machine in the way that they did. Right out of the box, it's stunning to look at. It's built tough and rigid, the brushed aluminum is of high quality, the trackpad is the best we have used and the "clean" look throughout assures you that Asus intends for this machine to handle serious work with ease. We really enjoyed the usability; having a multi-touch trackpad that worked well helped our productivity, and having a nice, spacious keyboard did as well.


Click To Enlarge

The 13.3" LCD offered plenty of screen real estate for being an ultraportable, and while we weren't big fans of the glossy coating, at least Asus threw in a micro-fiber cloth to keep the dust wiped clean. The amount of ports was satisfactory, but those who rely on an ExpressCard for 3G or some other peripheral should take note: there's no ExpressCard slot here. Also, the lack of USB 3.0 is somewhat of a let down. Asus recently came forward and boasted that it was the first company who was making USB 3.0 a priority, yet it's only USB 2.0 here. There's also a bit of fan noise and heat to deal with during extended gaming sessions, but nothing that became annoying or intolerable. We will say, the inclusion of an optical drive deserves noting. Many machines of this stature simply skip out on this component, but we still think it's a useful component in today's market place. The physical disc hasn't vanished completely, and it really comes in handy when you need it. All in all, there are far more praise points than gripes, and for $900, we can't think of a better ultraportable to chose right now. Asus really executed well on the U30Jc, from the gorgeous design to the inclusion of an optical drive and Intel's potent Core i3, not to mention the power-saving and intelligent NVIDIA Optimus solution. A five-star machine at a reasonable price, and it's available in the U.S. starting today.



     
  • Fantastic Value at Sub-$900
  • Gorgeous Aluminum Design
  • Great Trackpad and Keyboard
  • Stellar Multimedia Playback
  • NVIDIA Optimus
  • Glossy Display
  • So-so Battery Life
  • Added Bloatware
  • No USB 3.0




Content Property of HotHardware.com