ASUS U30Jc Design and Build

While unpacking the U30Jc, I was immediately struck by how much better it feels compared to the UL80Vt. At the time, I was wrapping up the HP ProBook 5310m review, and personally there's no way I would save $100 to get what is clearly a slower system. In terms of build quality, while ASUS doesn't use a magnesium alloy frame, the U30Jc feels just about as solid as the ProBook 5310m. The only exception to this is the keyboard, which has a slight amount of flex if you press hard (and I mean really hard).

Like the HP 5310m, the appearance is an attractive blend of aluminum surfaces with a few glossy plastic highlights. Actually, the only glossy plastic is around the LCD bezel, and going with a silver brushed aluminum finish (as opposed to anodized black) makes fingerprints and smudges much less of a concern. The only complaint I have is with the glossy bezel and LCD. I know some users prefer glossy panels (generally for indoor use), but with eight hours of potential mobility it's hard to imagine never wanting to take this laptop outside. A matte LCD with an aluminum bezel to match the rest of the chassis would have been better, at least in my view.

As noted above, the keyboard does exhibit a slight amount of flex, but it's not something I generally noticed during use. By pressing quite hard it's obvious that the keyboard lacks the rigidity of a ThinkPad T-series, and it's not a spill resistant design either, but it works fine otherwise. I'd rate the typing experience as roughly the same as the HP 5310m, which was very good. The major difference (outside of appearance and flex) is that ASUS uses rounded corners on the keys compared to the square corners on the ProBook. There's plenty of space between the keys and the layout is just what I like: the Ctrl key is in the bottom-right corner with the Fn key in one position; Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn are all in a column on the far right, with no Fn+[key] combination required to access any of the commonly used keys.

The touchpad and palm rest are nearly identical in size compared to the ProBook 5310m, which is a good thing. The trackpad supports multi-touch, and we definitely prefer the aluminum surface to the glossy plastic on the HP (and other laptops). It works well, and our only minor complaint is ASUS' continued use of rocker-style mouse buttons as opposed to having two discrete buttons.

Temperatures and noise levels during testing were both good, with a chassis that remained cool to moderately warm to the touch. We measured temperatures of up to 32C during a full CPU+GPU load; not surprisingly, that was for the top-left corner where the GPU resides. The rest of the laptop was up to 5C cooler. Noise levels at idle hover close to the limits of our testing environment, but at 33.5dB(A) the U30Jc is slightly louder than some of the other laptops we've tested. Under load noise levels remain nearly as quiet, increasing to just 35.5dB(A). The fan speed also changes smoothly so you don't notice a sudden jump in noise output, at least in our experience. We're much happier with a laptop that stays at a near-constant 33dB than one that oscillates between 30dB and 36dB every minute or so (Alienware M11x being a prime example of the latter).

Access to the internals of the U30Jc is provided via two panels. The larger panel houses the hard drive while the smaller panel in the middle of the chassis is home to the SO-DIMMs. If you remove the keyboard (which is a rather painless process for a change—just two screws on the bottom plus four clips you can get at with a flat-head screwdriver), you can also gain access to the single Mini PCIe slot. By default it's occupied by the wireless adapter, though, so there's not much point in replacing it. As for the battery, the A1 model includes a large 8-cell 84Wh battery; other models (likely not in North America) may go with a smaller 6-cell 63Wh battery.

The stereo speakers are located at the front of the chassis, with small grilles in front of them. Audio quality from the small speakers is about what you'd expect: okay for basic stuff, but nothing spectacular. If you want good audio fidelity, the headphone jack is the way to go. On the bright side, the speakers don't distort even at maximum volume, which is more than we can say for some laptops. The hinge opens about 135 degrees, so if you're after a laptop that can lie flat this one doesn't quite make it. (We had a reader ask about that feature in case you're wondering; it's not important to most of us, but his vision is so poor that the ideal way for him to read the screen is to hold it up vertically in front of his face.)

Like many other inexpensive (relatively) laptops, expansion options are somewhat limited. Three USB 2.0 ports are the only way to add additional devices. The HDMI output makes this useful as a portable multimedia laptop, and we really like the appearance and design. However, anyone looking for FireWire, USB 3.0, or ExpressCard support—or even a free mini PCIe slot—will be disappointed. In short, you get everything you really need with the U30Jc, but not much in the way of extras. It's a conscious decision on the part of ASUS to balance features and performance with size, and here they've chosen to add an Optimus GPU and cut some other extras that the majority of users will never miss. (I know personally that I have never actually used a FireWire or eSATA port on a laptop, so USB 2.0 works fine for me.)

ASUS U30Jc: Thin and Light Meets Arrandale ASUS U30Jc Performance
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  • rootheday - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Is 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?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    I'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. :-) Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, May 20, 2010 - link

    I 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.... Reply
  • rootheday - Friday, May 21, 2010 - link

    Google 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]

    bUseThreadedAI=1
    iNumHWThreads=2

    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?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, May 21, 2010 - link

    So 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. Reply
  • aguilpa1 - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    nothing to see here..., move along Reply
  • ajp_anton - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    I'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?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    The 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). Reply
  • ajp_anton - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Thank 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.
    Reply
  • crydee - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    I 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.
    Reply

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