A while ago I got to test Asus’s ultra-sleek 13.3 inch laptop, the U36JC.
There were many things I liked about it, but the fact that it boosted older generation hardware kept me from recommending it while waiting for the upgraded version. And we finally managed to get it: the Asus U36S , also known as Asus U36SD in the United States, is the star of this post.
So, this article is a review for the U36SD and in the rows below you’ll find details about all of its important aspects, from hardware to casing and battery life. Thus better keep reading if you’re interested in this 13.3 inch notebook, one of the sleekest in its class right now, and one that we expect to become quite popular this year.
I do have to mention that the version tested here is a review unit, as the U36S is not yet available in stores, but it is identical to the model you can already preorder right now in some parts of the world. It’s also the version we unboxed a couple of days ago.
Anyway, before actually jumping on with the details, let’s have a quick look at the specs so we’ll know what we should expect from the U36S we’re reviewing here:
- 13.3 inch display, 1366 x 768 px, LED backlit, glossy finish
- Core i5-2410M processor clocked at 2.3 GHz, with HyperThreading and Turbo Boost (2.9 GHz)
- hybrid graphics: Intel HD Graphics + Nvidia GT 520M + Optimus
- 6 GB of DDR3 memory
- 640 GB 5400 rpm HDD
- Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR, Wireless N, Gigabit Ethernet
- 2 x USB 2.0 , 1 x USB 3.0 , Card-reader, webcam, VGA and HDMI ports
- 6 Cell 4400 mAh 63 Wh battery
- Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit OS
- 12.9″ x 9.28″ x 0.76″
- 3.6 pounds with the 6 Cell battery (3.74 pounds with the 8 Cell battery)
Notice that you get 6 GB of RAM inside this test unit, while on shops it will only sell with 4 GB, but you can easily upgrade memory on this unit. Also, final version will offer an 8 Cell 84 Wh battery, the one we saw on the U36JC, while this one only has a smaller 6 Cell battery. All the other features and specs are identical to the Asus U36S-A1 version you can find in stores.
Design and exterior
The sleek body is one of the things you’ll be impressed when first laying your eyes on the U36SD. It is only 0.76 inch thick, which is thinner than the Sony Vaio SB, Lenovo E220S or MacBook Pro, but a bit thicker than the Macbook Air and the Samsung Series 9, all competitors in the high-end 13.3 inch notebooks class.
The U36S is not however the lightest in its class, weighing 3.74 lbs with an 8 Cell battery, but it’s on par with most competitors and is not at all a burden to carry around.
The lid case of the new Asus U36 is covered in magnesium, thus it doesn’t bend and feels sturdy, despite the screen being very thin. The version we got to test came in black, but I do expect to see a silver version in stores as well. That one will be covered in brushed aluminum and both these finishes will deal fine with scratches, dust and fingerprints, just that smudges will be more visible on the black model.
Opening the lid, you’ll notice that the palm rest and area around and above the keyboard is cast from a single piece of magnesium as well, while the bezel around the screen is still made from glossy plastic, something we would have loved to see changing over the U36JC.
Port’s placement around the sides is practical and the cooling vent is placed smartly on the left side of the laptop, thus it won’t bother you when using the device on your desk, with a netbook mouse, unless you’re a leftie. Pictures below will tell you more about the ports.
As for the bottom part, this one is made from rough black plastic that feels quite reliable and offers a bunch of cooling vents, the hunched battery (there could be options for a 4 Cell battery which looses the hunch and is better integrated with the sleek shape of the laptop) and a bay that allows quick access to the two memory slots. Accessing hard-dive however is a tad more complicated.
More about the exterior of the Asus U36SD is available in the clip below.
Keyboard and trackpad
A Full-size chiclet keyboard is mounted on the U36S series and I consider it fairly good overall. Keys are proper sized and spaced, there’s little flex and noise and the keys have just enough travel. However, I’m not a big fan of the plastic finishing of the keys, as other devices in this class offer a rubbery smoother coating that feels better when typing.
Beneath the keyboard there’s a proper sized trackpad, clearly differentiated from the palm rest around. The same magnesium is used for its surface and overall the trackpad is smooth and accurate. You also get separated click buttons, fairly easy to press, although they become stiffer as we get closer to the middle, where a fingerprint reader is placed as you can see in the pictures.
There’s a standard 13.3 inch display on this Asus, LED Backlit, with 1366 x 768 px resolution and a glossy finish. A similar display to the one we saw on Asus 13.3 inch laptops during these last years. It offers overall good colors and brightness/contrast levels, but viewing angles aren’t great, especially vertical ones. You need to sit just in front of the screen if you don’t want things to get washed out, luckily the fact that the screen tilts a lot on the back will help you set the viewing angle properly even when using the computer on your lap, the sofa or while lying in bed.
And of course, with the glossy display, using this laptop outside or in strong light conditions will be quite a pain, because of the nasty reflections.
Hardware and performances
As you could spot in the specs list, there’s a 2nd generation Core i5-2410M processor inside this laptop, with Nvidia GT 520M hybrid graphics and Nvidia Optimus technology, plus 6 GB of memory and a standard 5400 rpm hard-drive. This configuration allows the ultra-portable to properly run anything you might throw at it, from standard apps like a browser or a text editor, to photo and video editing software.
In terms of multimedia content, you can run all kind of Full HD content and output it via HDMI and also play games, even some of the recent titles. Still, the GT 520M graphics inside, while a latest generation chip from Nvidia, is an entry level card meant for light gaming only. However, I did manage to run smoothly COD:Modern Warfare 2on medium details, and other titles like Starcraft 2, WOW or Counter Strike will work well also. The powerful hardware will also offer good video processing speed, that’s if you’re planing to edit some clips on it for Youtube or other websites.
The clip below will tell you more about performances and hardware:
Also, we ran a couple o tests and the results are available in these next pictures.
Now, you might also wonder how does the U36SD compare to the U36JC we tested before. I’m planning to write a detailed post on this subject, but for the time being, you should know that the new generation offers similar CPU scores in tests and graphics are significantly better, all these while running more efficiently (thus offering better autonomy). Thus the new generations will be better in games or any piece of software that needs graphics.
So if you were wondering which of the two similar 13.3 inchers is the better pick, there’s hardly any doubt here. If you however already own a U36JC and might consider upgrading to the U36SD, that’s a completely different story and I would say you’re fine with what you have, unless you really need the graphics power and don’t mind spending a couple of hundreds of bucks on the upgrade.
You get great connectivity options on the Asus U36SD, with Wireless N, Bluetooth 2.1 and Gigabit Lan. There’s also an USB 3.0 slot, something I consider a must on laptops these days.
There is no integrated 3G modem though and I doubt there will be a version with such a feature, although that would have been a nice feature and many of the premium 13.3 inchers offer one at least as an extra option.
Heat, noise, speakers and others
Power and an ultra light body usually mean trouble, and i’m talking about heat. As you can see in the pictures below, the Asus U36SD I got to test does get hot quite fast. We can even say it overheats. CPU and motherboard temperatures jump to 80+ degrees Celsius after running some intensive apps. The picture below is taken after playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for like 10-15 minutes and I’m pretty sure those temps would go even higher after playing for an hour or two.
And not only the inside heats, but also the exterior, as the bottom back and the bottom left parts become hot. Too bad I don’t have a proper thermometer to measure exact temperatures for those areas, but I can say that using the computer on your lap while using such apps will not be pleasant. Upper part however only gets a bit warm though, if that’s any consolation.
Of course, with heat there’s noise, as the fans inside this laptop are active most of the time and can get quite loud when dealing with games or HD content.
Update: Now, you won’t really notice all these problems during light everyday use, while running a browser, outlook, listening to some music or watching some SD video content. The will only get worm in these cases and the fan will be pretty quiet. Still, when dealing with complex applications, you end up with what I mentioned above.
I encountered heating problems on the Sony Vaio SB as well, another sleek laptop with an overall similar configuration, so I guess that’s what you have to settle for if you want a thin body and power. Otherwise, the Core i7 Lenovo e220s we tested manages to run quite cool, but it’s a bit thicker and offers no dedicated graphics. Also, future drivers might be able to fix some of the heating problems we encountered on this Asus U36SD, but I wouldn’t get my hopes too high.
Should also mention the speakers, but there’s not much to say about them, although we have some Altex Lansing speakers with SRS surround sound inside this one. They provide good punch and audio quality, but there’s nothing impressive about them. And same thing goes for the webcam: just something to do the job, while not excelling in any way.
Getting the latest generation Intel Sandy Bridge hardware on this Asus U36SD notebook means improved energy efficiency over the previous U36JC generation. And while that one managed to squeeze around 5 hours of life on average use from the 8 cell battery, the U36SD manages nearly the same from a 6 Cell one. Here’s what we got:
- around 6 hours of life during light use, with Screen at 50%, while editing and reading texts, on Power Saver and with Wireless turned OFF
- 4 hours and 50 minutes on everyday use, with Wireless ON, Balanced mode selected and screen at 70%, while performing various daily tasks
- a little bit over 4 hours while looping a 720p clip in Balanced mode with screen at 80%
With the 8 Cell battery, you’ll get an average 6 hours of life on the U36SD, which can range from 3 to 8 based on your activity, and that seems fairly good for me, considering we have quite a powerful machine here.
Prices, warranty and availability
With power, battery life and a sleek body, you’d probably expect the new U36 to be pricey. The good news is that the version we tested here, the Asus U36SD-A1, goes for under $1000. The bad one is that it goes only a little bit under, at least for now.
At the moment, the U36SD is only available for preorder in the US and in Europe. List price is set at $999, with some discounts available in online shops. I’m waiting for it to get listed on Amazon.com though, as they usually offer the biggest price cuts and the best deals on electronic products.
Update: The U36SD is now available in some stores and it is also offered with a small discount online.
You should know that Asus bundles this U36 with a nice warranty package, which includes 24 month Global Warranty, 12 month Accidental handling warranty, 30 days Zero Bright Dot LCD replacement and 24/7 phone support. And this is something you’ll usually pay extra on many other laptops.
Thus I for one consider this Asus notebook proper priced, offering a price/features ratio others will struggle to beat. And it should get even better when the price will drop to around 900 bucks, as I expect to happen by early Fall.
Of course, Asus plans to offer other versions for the U36SD as well, with a cheaper Core i3 powered entry-model and a top version that will feature the Core i7-2620M quad core CPU. More details about these will be added once they become available in shops.
We’ve reached the end of this reviews and it’s time for some conclusions. As you saw, there are plenty of aspects where the U36SD manages to impress: body, looks, performances, battery life. Screen and keyboard/trackpad are good as well, but there’s room for improvement here.
In fact, there’s only one thing you should really worry if looking at a U36SD: heat. And it’s not just a discomfort matter, created by the hot body and the noisy fans, it’s also a potential reliability problem, as heat stresses electronic computers faster than many other factors and they might end up failing on the long term.
Now, there’s still a chance my test unit was someway faulty, but based on other encounters with new generation Core ix platform on ultra thin laptops, I don’t think that’s the case here. Still, if any of you guys own one of these I would love to hear your input on temperatures and noise, so please leave a comment below.
- solid body, high quality materials used for the casing and proper attention to details
- sleek looks, with a very thin body
- overall good keyboard an trackpad
- powerful hardware and proper performances
- good connectivity options, with USB 3.0 slot included
- good battery life for such a powerful notebook, especially with the 8 Cell battery
- the screen and the bezel around it are glossy
- speakers won’t impress
- gets hot and noisy under stress (the review unit did at least) – not that much during light everyday use
All in all though, if it wasn’t for this matter, there would be nothing stopping me from making the U36SD an editor’s choice. It is a great looking device, solid built and with good performances and battery life, all these while offering a hard to beat price/features ratio. And there’s not much more you can ask from a fancy ultra-portable and you won’t find on this one, especially in the under $100o price range.