ASUS U30Jc: Refining Thin and Light Performanceby Jarred Walton on May 18, 2010 11:23 PM EST
ASUS U30Jc: Thin and Light Meets Arrandale
ASUS has been making great strides in the laptop designs over the past couple of years. It used to be that an ASUS laptop meant good performance with generally poor battery life at a reasonable price, but that all started to change with the launch of the original Eee PC. With the Eee PC, ASUS managed to usher in a whole new genre of laptop, the netbook, and with the dawn of the netbook expectations for what a laptop could deliver changed. No longer was it good enough to provide decent performance with little regard for price or battery life; today's laptops need to offer a lot more in order to entice potential customers away for $300 netbooks. To that end, ASUS has reworked the design and features of their U-series and put together a well-rounded package that includes good CPU performance, Optimus graphics, and an aesthetic that makes us think someone is listening to our complaints about glossy plastic laptops.
The Core i3-350M CPU will make for an interesting comparison point against the HP ProBook 5310m, which uses a Core 2 Duo SP9300 (in our review model). That means the two CPUs share the same clock speed, though there are obviously other differences. Optimus 310M graphics will certainly help in the GPU department when you need extra graphics performance, although with the new Intel HD Graphics we would argue that 310M might be a bit too low on the performance scale. We'll see what the 310M can do when we get to gaming benchmarks, but it should come as no surprise that 325M and 335M equipped laptops leave it in the dust. The LCD also remains glossy, along with the LCD bezel, which is unfortunate for a laptop that could very well spend most of the day outside and untethered. Here's a quick look at the full laptop specifications.
|ASUS U30Jc-A1 Specifications|
Intel Core i3-350M
(32nm, 2x2.26GHz + Hyper-Threading, 3MB L3, 35W)
Max 2x4GB DDR3-1066
NVIDIA GeForce 310M Optimus
Intel HD Graphics
13.3" LED Backlit Color-Shine WXGA (1366x768)
(AU Optronics AUOB133XW01-V0)
320GB 5400RPM 8MB cache
(Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B HTS545032B9A300)
8x DVDRW Super Multi
(Matshita DVD-RAM UJ890AS)
Atheros AR8131 Gigabit Ethernet
Atheros AR9285 802.11bgn
|Audio||HD Audio (2 speakers with combo headphone/mic jack)|
|Battery||8-cell 5600mAh, 84Wh|
Flash Reader (SD, MMC, MS/Pro)
Headphone and Microphone jacks
2 x USB 2.0
1 x USB 2.0
AC Power Connection
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit|
|Dimensions||13.12" x 9.52" x 0.80-1.20" (WxDxH)|
|Weight||4.80 lbs (with 8-cell battery)|
SD/MMC/MS Pro Flash reader
2-year global warranty
1-year battery warranty
30-day LCD Zero Bright Dot guarantee
|Pricing||Online starting at ~$900|
All of the above features are standard fare for this price range, with a few omissions that may or may not matter depending on your needs. ASUS lists Bluetooth support as "optional" on their site, but at present there are no plans for a Bluetooth equipped model in the North America market; the same goes for a 6-cell 63Wh battery version. eSATA and FireWire are also missing, and there's no USB 3.0 either. If you like using a variety of external devices with the above interfaces, you're out of luck, and there's no ExpressCard slot to alleviate the pain. Dustin tends to place a higher weight on such connectivity options, while personally the omissions are only a minor concern.
The Arrandale CPU is of the i3 variety, which means slightly lower clock speeds and no Turbo Boost (as opposed to the i5 processors). Like all current Arrandale processors, there's a limit of 8GB RAM, which the U30Jc fully supports if you want to spend the money to upgrade. Unlike the previous generation UL30Vt, the U30Jc adds an optical drive and weighs about one pound more, but performance (outside of gaming) will be quite a bit higher.
Why is gaming performance an exception? Because the GeForce 310M is really no different from the 210M. It has a 625MHz core clock and 1530MHz shader clock with 790MHz (1580MHz effective) memory. In contrast, the GeForce 210M (in the UL80Vt) has a 606MHz core clock, 1468MHz shader clock, and the same 790MHz RAM clock. Technically the 310M would be up to 4% faster, but that's hardly worth worrying about. We would have loved to see a GT325M or GT335M in the U30Jc, as that's the only area preventing this from being an Alienware M11x killer. And speaking of the M11x, we should also note that Dell has new beta drivers out, version 179.12, which addresses (for the time being) our concern with outdated GPU drivers. The long-term driver support prospect is still far better for Optimus laptops, but in general the M11x remains the superior small gaming laptop.
Taken as a complete package, the U30Jc has a lot of good features. The LCD quality is still mediocre (i.e. low contrast like 99% of consumer laptops), but with a large 8-cell battery you can expect up to nine hours of battery life (about eight hours of Internet surfing). We understand there's a CULV version of the U30Jc coming, the UL30Jc, but the CPU will be far slower (even with Turbo Boost), and we've heard that it will only increase battery life by around one hour at best. We would rate the current U30Jc as being equal to or superior to the old UL series of laptops in every important metric (outside of battery life where the old CULV design could last up to 14 hours). Build quality is better, the aluminum surfaces are a great upgrade, and the Arrandale CPU makes this a fast system when you need it. If you don't need a beefier GPU and you're okay with the size (about one pound heavier than most ultraportables), the U30Jc is an excellent laptop.
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rootheday - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - linkIs your data on gaming issues on Intel based on testing with recent drivers? If not, can you check these titles with an updated driver and confirm? From my own experience, most of the titles listed are not a problem any more.
GRID, Mass Effect (and Mass Effect 2) are fixed in most recent Intel drivers; Referring back to an earlier article (http://www.anandtech.com/show/2818/8), Dark Athena was fixed in Intel drivers last fall.
Dirt 2 is fixed with latest game patch.
Fallout 3 is a bit trickier - it looks like the ISV assumed Intel was below min spec and hardcoded anti-Intel bias into the app. The proof/workaround is here: http://forums.techgage.com/showthread.php?t=5052 - if you get use this modified version of the d3d runtime dll to tell the app that it is running on NVidia, the game runs just fine on Intel HD graphics.
Dragon Age: Origins - I'm not sure what you are referring to here - other Anandtech articles say that it runs on Intel HD graphics at least as well as AMD integrated - see for example http://www.anandtech.com/show/2921/3 or http://www.anandtech.com/show/2901/4.
In a similar vein, is the comment about Flash 10.1 based on recent drivers/Flash releases?
JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - linkI'll check with the latest drivers. The last I tested on laptops was a couple weeks ago, and all of the games I mentioned failed. Interesting Fallout 3 note; Oblivion appears to have the same hard coding of Intel bias. I'll be working on an article with an i3 + IGP setup, so I'll be sure to try everything I can to make it work this time. :-)
JarredWalton - Thursday, May 20, 2010 - linkI checked and you're right: the very latest driver finally fixes DiRT 2 and GRID (and actually provides decent performance all told, provided you run at a lower resolution than 1366x768). Fallout 3 I can get to load and start benchmarking with the hacked d3d.dll, but it crashes after 20-40 seconds and the only way to recover is to open task manager and force-kill the Fallout 3 executable. Perhaps I just need to start a new save, though? I'll try that and see if it helps at all....
rootheday - Friday, May 21, 2010 - linkGoogle search shows lots of people have suggestions for crashes with Fallout; this one looked promising...Try adding these 2 lines to Fallout.ini in Documents\My Games\Fallout3 under [General]
Seems like there is a threading bug in the game engine that shows up on quad core systems - since Core i3/i5 have hyperthreading, they look like quad core...
Worth a try?
JarredWalton - Friday, May 21, 2010 - linkSo the INI tweaks worked... at least the game doesn't crash while playing it for 30+ minutes. It does crash when you exit, but in my experience that has always been the case when enabling threading on Fallout 3/Oblivion... though perhaps it was just the threaded audio with Oblivion? I may need to check that as well. LOL. It's "playable" if you don't mind some choppiness. I find FO3 needs around 40 FPS to really run well, and with all the LOD scaling it's hard to determine exactly if two PCs render things the same. They appear to, in which case the Intel HD Graphics (plus DLL hack) gives performance about equal to the HD 4200.
aguilpa1 - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - linknothing to see here..., move along
ajp_anton - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - linkI've never understood your x264 playback test for battery life. Is it x264 (= encoding) or is it playback (= decoding)?
If it's playback, are you using a software decoder or DXVA?
JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - linkThe x264 battery life test is playing back a 720p ~6.8Mbit video using Media Player Classic Home Cinema, with DXVA enabled (unless we're using Atom, in which case we use the CoreAVC decoder). So it's sort of a Blu-ray-without-the-disc test. FWIW, I've done the same test with a 1080p 10Mbit video and the battery life was about the same (with a couple percent).
ajp_anton - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - linkThank you. I've seen the x264/h.264 mistake made in many places, the description of the x264 test in your CPU reviews comes to mind.
x264 is one of many h.264 encoders.
crydee - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - linkI wanted one of those UL or U laptops form asus. But the price just isn't right. For 850 I can get a studio 15 with a full 1080p screen, led keyboard, ati 4850 512mb, 4gb ram, 500gb hdd, a 9 cell battery and a core i5 processor.
The only thing I'm going to miss is the ability to turn off second gpu at ease to save battery.