Portable Notebook: ASUS K42J

We'll start by horning in on a little bit of Vivek's territory: choosing a portable powerhouse. ASUS actually has a healthy history of producing 14-inch notebooks with performance characteristics that frankly shame their larger kin. Yours truly has owned two of these beasts (an A8Jm and an X83) and can attest to their quality and performance. Midrange graphics in a 14-inch machine? Yes please.

Our pick for the most portable performance machine goes to the ASUS K42JV-X1, available at Newegg for the princely sum of $949. This tiny terror comes equipped with an Intel Core i5-450M running at a nominal 2.4 GHz clock speed on both cores (2.66GHz with Turbo), 4GB of DDR3 RAM, a 500GB 7200RPM hard drive, and a GeForce GT 335M with 1GB of DDR3 video memory. The GT 335M is equivalent to the desktop GeForce GT 240, but with a reduced shader count (72 instead of 96) and the lowered clocks that are par for the course for mobile graphics.

While we don't have hands on experience with this particular model, its predecessors have been traditionally reliable and popular machines that have offered middling battery life but outstanding overall performance. The low resolution screen (1366x768) and lack of ExpressCard or FireWire make the K42 a tough sell for multimedia work, but for raw performance and portability it's a very tough nut to crack.

Portable Runners Up: ASUS UL80Vt and Alienware M11x

The K42 may use more full-bodied, luscious mainstream processors, but if you demand greater portability you'll be looking toward notebooks utilizing Intel's CULV platform. In that instance, the 14-inch UL80Vt line certainly fits the bill. It's last generation in every sense, using a Core 2 Duo and switchable GeForce G 210M instead of a modern Core 2010 chip and Optimus-enabled NVIDIA hardware, but it's reviewed well and you can pick it up for $700 these days. The UL50Vf was essentially the same system but with a 15.6" chassis and Optimus, but the 14" model was far more interesting. Odds are ASUS has a refresh of this notebook on the way, so it may not hurt to hold out and see what shakes loose. Other alternatives from ASUS include the UL30Jc—it's a 13.3" unit that packs a much more potent CPU, though the GPU isn't at the same level as the K42.

If you want to go simultaneously smaller and bigger, the Alienware M11x is universally beloved even by reviewers that ordinarily hate gaudy Alienware machines (such as yours truly.) With the M11x, Alienware produced something no one else had: an authentic gaming netbook. This one horns in on Vivek's territory, too, but if you're of the belief that more of less is more and are willing to take the hit to processor power, the M11x makes a convincing case as an alternative to the very similarly equipped K42. The original M11x used switchable graphics with an overclocked Core 2 SU7300, similar to the UL80Vt; an updated model with Arrandale ULV and Optimus is now available on Alienware's site—we're still waiting for our review model, but there's no reason the new unit shouldn't surpass the original in every important metric.

Frankly, we'd like to see more Optimus laptops with reasonable GPUs (like the K42Jv above—why doesn't it have Optimus?), but most of those will fall into the ultraportable category so we'll save further discussion for next week. The U30Jc had all the goods but still needs more than a 310M if you want gaming performance. The M11x refresh looks to be the most potent Optimus laptop out there right now, which is why we had to make room for it even if this isn't the ultraportable guide.

14" and Larger Notebook Buyers' Guide Budget Performance Notebook
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  • jazzisjazz - Thursday, July 1, 2010 - link

    Just a day or two ago I was asked for a recommendation for a truly budget notebook <5-600 out the door.
    I saw the title of the article and thought I had hit the jackpot. Nope. Where can I truly find information that doesn't cater to the larger pocketbook but spies out the manufacturer(s) and model(s) that are offering just that little bit more in quality, performance, reliability, and maybe even design so that I know I have done the best by my hard earned dollars, few though they may be. I went to the guide section and checked out the December article and there was a little more information there including a cautionary reference to buying used. I think it says something about the quality of the review that a portion of the folks who could really use an article that considers the full range of budgets will find better information in a hot deals buyer's thread than at the premiere online pc/tech site. I'm just sayin.........
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, July 2, 2010 - link

    The problem is that spending between 5-600, you just aren't gonna get much notebook. Just about everything there is gonna be running off of integrated graphics (the cheapest machine I found on NewEgg that had dedicated hardware was a Toshiba with a Mobility Radeon HD 5145, basically a Mobility Radeon HD 4530, at about $660.)

    I'd say in that market it's really going to be a crapshoot in terms of reliability, and the picks in our guide often push the budget as low as it will go while still offering decent performance. Go cheap and you'll often get what you pay for, and you may wind up having to get another machine a lot sooner than you would have if you'd spent up a bit for something decent; even if it doesn't break down, the performance is going to be pretty anemic.

    Now, ALL THAT SAID, I do like Toshiba and HP if you're working a very low budget, and in those circumstances I am 100% an AMD man. You're not going to get good battery life, but AMD offers great performance on the cheap and the best integrated graphics in the business (outside of the more expensive IGPs Nvidia sells in isolated cases). An Athlon II or Turion II is bound to serve you pretty well. I'd personally avoid Intel chips in this bracket; they're all going to be running Intel's last generation technology, and AMD hardware will likely be much more competitive clock-for-clock against the cut-down Intel hardware you're apt to find.
  • jazzisjazz - Tuesday, July 6, 2010 - link

    What you regard as a problem I see as a self set reasonable limit.

    I'm not asking you to somehow magically make something available at my price point but rather to thoughtfully evaluate whatever is available.

    I don't buy your argument about a crap shoot in quality because I do believe that you could provide useful information about reliability.

    I say that because my neice was unfortunate enough to buy one of the hp laptops with the nvidia chipset/graphics problems of a few years ago which turned out to be @$750 wasted on a company that despite it's great history has declined to the point that it wouldn't do right by its customers.

    While I keep a HP deskjet 722c printer in operation for when my and everyone elses "new" printer goes on the blink, I can not see ever buying an HP PC ever again, under any circumstance.

    Perhaps the article was a missed opportunity to suggest that manufacturer's put out something with an unimportant feature or two less, a total lack of flash but a solid build and clean look, that just plain works well and reliably. Novel idea Huh?

    As long as it runs the software I need in a manner that is acceptable to me,
    the best for what I have decided to pay, your calling it anemic won't bother me at all. I'd still like for you to provide the information. That's why I come to this site.

    At least your response has provided information sorely missing from the original article. Thanks for responding to my post.
  • EddieBoy - Saturday, July 3, 2010 - link

    HEY! I am typing this on a Dell E1505. It may be an "eyesore" (I'll admit that) but it has been a workhorse for me for several years. And it runs Windows 7 just fine.
  • Bron5 - Sunday, July 4, 2010 - link

    I highly recommend the MSI GE600 in the budget gamer category - would love to see your impressions of it. Switchable graphics works flawlessly and it has the nicely matched ATI 5730 card (perfect for the 1366x768 rez). Runs very quietly in normal use, slight whoosh when gaming, but much quieter than most. Very compact for a 16" unit. Runs cool and is a nice looking rig. Typical screen is nothing to write home about, but adequate. i5-430m processor is fine for gaming and the laptop has better than average sound as well. Games sound great when you activate the built in woofer (using the CinemaPro switch). Great presence and soundstage. Currently selling for $899, it plays all current games well on medium or high settings (most on high), the 5730 supports DX-11, the ports are nicely located and overall design is good.

    I was considering the GX640, but went with the GE600 for the switchable gfx and cooler, quieter operation. Had mine about 3 weeks and very happy with it.
  • Akv - Monday, July 5, 2010 - link

    Maybe I have not read everything correctly, but I would have preferred more insistence on heat and noise production.

    For my use (of a laptop) those presented here all reach a sufficient level of performance and equipment. For gaming and video editing and such I have a large tower with a large screen, and it wouldn't occur to me to do heavy work on a laptop.

    Maybe some article on 15" and 15" laptops with i3 and Intel graphics, or other ULV solutions, would be useful. Kind of for those who want ultra low noise and ultra low heat like in a netbook, but still with a decent screen to do office work and watch a few movies when traveling.
  • 5150Joker - Monday, July 12, 2010 - link

    Asus G73 has:

    1. GSOD issues
    2. Failing 5870s
    3. Proprietary MXM slot and card (probably why it fails so much)
    4. Cheap build quality
    5. Terrible mail in service warranty
    6. Missing keystroke issue (must disable the touchpad in the bios to fix it)
    7. no eSata and other ports

    Yeah you get a lot for the money but at the cost of quality in a big way. You get what you pay for with DTRs.

    Now with an M17x-R2, especially if you look for EPP discounts, coupon codes or use the Dell Outlet you can get a slightly more expensive M17x-R2 with the following:

    1. Aluminum chasis/lid, best build quality of any DTR.
    2. Triple fan/heatsink cooling
    3. RGB LED Display with >100% color gamut
    4. Option of dual ATi 5870s in Crossfire
    5. Alien FX lighting
    6. Dell next business day home service
    7. True full sized keyboard
    8. More ports/eSata etc
    9. Standard MXM 3.0b support (no proprietary garbage)

    Anandtech of course leaves all those little bits out and pimps such a fail laptop from Asus.
  • Yasha613 - Monday, July 12, 2010 - link

    Can someone explain to me why x1080 or x900 is a SELLING point for a DTR? It's difficult to even find a decent one at 17, and I don't see any that new ones that hit 1920x1200 anymore.

    I've had my Dell XPS 1710 since inception. I had thought by the time I'd really be thinking about upgrading or worrying about it dieing all together from 24x7 on use that I could get a 19'+ DTR that would kick it's arse, be half the weight, and be at x1600. W....T.....F?

    Am I alone in my disappointment? I'd actually like to upgrade so I can play some modern games at a decent frame-rate, get a chipset that is 64bit of course, and reap the other benefits of an overall modern laptop rig, but it seems the main interface is going backwards..
  • Ryes - Tuesday, July 13, 2010 - link

    How long does the k42jv battery last for?

    Also I do see that Optimus might be available http://www.thinkdigit.com/FCKeditor/uploads/19-2.j...
  • Alexo - Thursday, July 15, 2010 - link

    "Vivek will have a separate ultraportable guide up next week, with a focus on smaller sized laptops with better battery life."

    A week has passed. And another one...
    Is there an ETA on the ultraportable guide?

    I'm looking to get a 13" with decent performance and good battery life and I'd love to see comaprative reviews of new models, such as the Asus UL30JT (or better, PL30JT with a matte screen) or the Acer TimelineX 3820tg


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