All-rounder: ASUS U30Jc/U33Jc/U35Jc

For all around competence, we start with the recently reviewed and Bronze Editor’s Choice winning ASUS U30Jc. We find that 13” notebooks offer the best compromise between performance and portability, being more powerful and more usable than 11” and 12” ultraportables and not as bulky and heavy as 14” and larger notebooks.

The U30 has a standard voltage Core i3 processor, the NVIDIA GeForce 310M + Optimus combo, and a huge battery. It packs in all the power and features that a larger system would, including a DVD drive, in a thin and light package that offers nearly 10 hours of battery life. Add to that the aluminum casing, solid build quality, $890 street price, and ASUS’ growing reputation for producing reliable performance notebooks, and you have the makeup of a winner. However, at 4.8lbs, the U30 chassis weighs the same as the larger 14” UL80 chassis (which we’ll get to in a second) and is heavier than many other 13” notebooks. Not that 4.8lbs is terribly heavy, especially when the battery life is good enough to forgo carrying the AC adapter, but still, it’s one of the few areas that ASUS could improve on (along with the LCD quality, a constant sticking point with any midpriced notebook.)

And improved they have, with the U33Jc and U35Jc. The U35 has all the aluminum-encased, Core i3 + Optimus + 10 hour battery goodness of the U30, but omits the optical drive for the purpose of a much thinner and lighter chassis. With a thickness of 0.6”-1” and a 3.74lb carrying weight (including the massive 84 Wh battery), the U35 is pretty astoundingly svelte for having a standard voltage processor and a dedicated graphics card. So long as you don’t require a DVD drive, you lose nothing relative to the U30Jc. And it’s $70 cheaper to boot. So, to recap, it’s just as powerful, a quarter of an inch thinner, 22% lighter, and a bit cheaper. That’s relative to what was already one of the best performance/portability/price compromises on the market.

But what of the U33Jc, you ask? The U33 starts with the U35 base and adds Intel’s Wireless Display technology, a USB 3.0 port, and - get this - bamboo paneling over the lid and palmrests. According to ASUS, the bamboo paneling lets you show off your ecologically friendly side in style. I’m not sure I buy the environmentally friendly stuff (the wood they use would have to be chemically treated to resist the thermal expansion and warping caused by a notebook’s power output), but it’s definitely a more luxurious direction for laptop aesthetics. I must say, I like the way it looks, but I care about industrial design more than a lot of people. There is an associated price increase with the U33, to the tune of $80 more than the U30. Now, that extra money does get you the WiDi and USB 3.0, so it’s not like the U33 is a bad buy (it is, after all, still a sub-4lb thin and light with a standard voltage CPU, dedicated graphics card, and 10 hours of battery life), but it isn’t as good a value as the others and you do end up paying a premium for style.

But in the end, all three of these notebooks share the same core values: a lot of performance, a bit of style, oodles of battery life and great value in a thin and light package. Not to say that they’re flawless - the display quality is definitely something that could be improved (as with all mainstream notebooks), and the keyboard is fairly mediocre. However, these are merely nits to pick, and overall, the U30Jc, U35Jc, and U33Jc are some of the most complete portable notebooks on the market.

Alternative: ASUS UL30/50/80Jt

The UL80Jt is the Arrandale refresh of the much loved and Silver Editor’s Choice winning UL80Vt. As such, it comes with a proven platform and suitably high expectations. The UL80Jt is nearly as good an all-rounder as the U30Jc, with the main hardware difference being the use of the Arrandale Ultra Low Voltage processor, but keeping the NVIDIA G 310M, Optimus, and the 84 Wh battery. The Core i3/i5/i7 version of CULV is slightly more power hungry than the Core 2 Duo CULV platform we’ve come to know and love, so the UL80Jt likely won’t be able to match the astounding 13.2 hours of battery life that the UL80Vt put up, but it should be able to exceed the already excellent 10 hour figure put up by the U30. We’d expect a best case scenario of 12 hours, and at least 8 hours in normal usage. The UL80Vt is otherwise similar to the U30, with a slightly larger screen, an integrated optical drive, and the same 4.8lbs carrying weight. While only the 14” UL80Jt is out currently, the 13.3” UL30Jt and 15.6” UL50Jt should also be shipping in the near future. Between the UL series and the U30, the choice ends up between performance and battery life - the U30/33/35 should outperform the UL series handily, with its standard voltage Core i3 processor, but offers around 20% poorer battery life on the same size battery.

Portable Notebook Buyer's Guide Gaming Portable: Alienware M11x
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  • DanaG - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    You also missed the EliteBook 8440w:

    It has all sorts of awesome features, and awesome build quality.

    The only bummer: the business-grade laptops are expensive.
  • VivekGowri - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    There'll be a lot more on the 8440w later this week. The reason it didn't make the list is because it really isn't a portable-style notebook; it's up near 6 pounds with the larger battery. As a portable workstation, it's okay - rugged, but rather expensive.

    At the same price, I'd wonder if it wouldn't be a better idea to get a far faster (both CPU and GPU-wise) ENVY 14. At the $1500-ish retail price of my review SKU, you could get yourself the Envy with a quad-core, the HD5650 and like 8GB of RAM...Just something to think about.
  • seanleeforever - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    as an actual user of few business laptops for business purpose, i think i might have some valuable opinion to share.

    as great as Elitebooks are, they are just not where thinkpad is. since I am typing this on my 4 thousand dollar elitebook, i believe my opinion is completely unbiased.

    Elitebooks are heavy, so heavy that it becomes a burden to carry around. they use excessive amount of aluminum for fashion NOT for utility. case in point: exactly why do you need aluminum on the palm rest? it looks cool, but it is a pain to use because they are good heat conductor, which means you palm will either be cold (when machine first start up) or hot (when your computer heats up). those shining surface also require much more cleaning or it will look like crap after a week of use.

    laptop, for all intention and purposes, is designed to work on the lap when no table is around. Why, oh WHY would most laptop manufacturers design a freaking venting spot on the bottom that could EASILY be covered by soft surfaces? it is like a phone that is designed to greatly reduce its reception when you touch it. Only two computer manufacture got the design right: Apple and Lenovo. look under any thinkpad, you will not see any venting spot that you have to pay special attention to avoid. HP is miles away in this aspect.

    volume slide: again, form over function. HP played fancy by putting a touch sensitive volume bar that no one knows how to control . in a thinkpad, you get solid buttons and you know each press counts, in a HP, not so much. it is very tricky because it can be very sensitive one second, and completely ignore to you command the next. it is SUCKS that change the volume on Elitebook will always kick you out of the full screen mode, a MAJOR deal breaker when you do presentation,

    track point: those of whom never used track point, you guys are missing something in life. IMO, track point a particularly useful in small laptops because you don't have too much room to play with, you can rest your palm on your computer while navigating the cursor. the track point in a thinkpad is simply the most delightful to use. the track point on the HP, however, is like a last minute design that no one pay any attention to. the track pointer buried in the keys give you no room to fit your finger tip. it is very tough to move around, and the mouse buttons are stone hard that i have to press it with a lot of effort. three mouse buttons made of the same shape and put in the same place that you will always confuse right click with middle click. the software driver to support track pointer is also not there.

    ruggedness: the top of the Elitebook is actually make of cheap plastic that is not rugged.
    there was once that my elitebook, (stored in the HP carry bag), dropped from my luggage onto the floor. the drop is about 1 meter in height (40 inches) and it broke the plastic piece on the top. This would NEVER happen to a thinkpad where the whole cover is made of Magnesium alloy. in fact, Thinkpad are so strong that I can safely stand on a thinkpad without any concern that my weight will break the LCD. other than Toshiba Toughbook, i have yet to see any other main brand that allow me to do this.

    keyboard layout: why would FN keys are smaller than letter keys? why would Page Up and Page DN placed horizontally instead of vertically ( you know, like in any standard keyboard)

    if you are a road warrior and your laptop would face accidental drop and abuse, there is no better product than a Thinkpad. they are black, they are ugly, they got no shining parts, no touch sensitive volume controls and fancy LED lights, but they mean business.

    before you call i am a thinpad fan boy, knowing that my most experiences computers (business and personal), has all been HP brand.
  • Chloiber - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    I have to agree in most points.

    I've got an older 6910p, which was replaced by the Elitebookseries about 1 or 2 years ago.

    The touch volume keys are pretty much unusable. Plus now I got some strange thing that they are lighting up when I press Caps Lock (volume goes up, down, mutes, HP Info Center if I press every single button).

    Track point: unusable. I tried it for a week and it just didn't work. The funniest part: it's broken now (fell off, can't put it back). But I rarely used it.

    The MOST annoying part is, as you mentioned, the vent in the bottom. It happens that I am working on my lap or that I am watching some movies while lying in my bed. I tried many things...a small cushion in the way...a magazine on top of the cushion...nah, not working, still gets hot and loud...

    It's not a laptop, it's a "sidetop" O_o
  • wkeller - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Nice article, but I missed a table with all the mobility specs, in particular weight and batterylife, besides screensize and cpu. We have several Ácer 1810T at home and we love them because of the right combination of these 4 dimensions. We never want a heavy laptop with limited batterylife anymore!
  • Zok - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    While it helps to know what major uses cases are best served by a single laptop (or one alternative), perhaps it'd be beneficial to know what other devices were considered - even without a writeup on them.

    I say this because, for people who don't drink the Apple haterade, the 13" MBP can provide some pretty sick battery life. I recognize that there are articles dedicated solely to the MBP, but I think it'd be helpful for people to understand where they fit in "with the rest of the pack."

    ... Or at least mention that they were deficient, which leads me back to my first point.
  • VivekGowri - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Well, the MBP has a Core 2 Duo, integrated G 320M, and 10 hours of battery life. Asus U30Jc has a Core i3, G 310M with Optimus, and the same 10 hours of battery life for $300 cheaper. To be fair, the MBP is built better, has a better display, and has OS X (if that makes a difference to you), but it's older technology for more money....See why there's a problem there?

    It's not that I don't like it (I nearly bought one) but they're clearly not for everyone and with the above problem with the whole value proposition, I figured it wasn't worth it.
  • feelingshorter - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Its not about haterade but its the fact that Apple has always charged more for their stuff when you get less.

    Lets take the 13inch MacBook first. Yeah you get the 320M instead of the 310M but the MacBook's 320M can only use up to 250 mb of ram while the 310M uses 512 of the system ram.

    To make matters worse, the MacBooks only have 2 gigs of ram in total to begin with. All windows laptops come with 4 gigs at the price range of $1000 with the lone exception of Lenovo ThinkPad (but the ThinkPads are built like tanks). Also the MacBooks weigh in at 4.7lbs, which isn't sub 4lbs. It also uses the older Core 2 Duos instead of the newer i3/i5, which are more powerful yet gives better battery life due to on die graphics.

    I compared to the MacBook instead of the Pro b/c $1000 is already a lot. Fine you want to compare the MacBook Pro? Ok you get 4 gigs of ram but hell your graphics card is still the G320M with the same 256 mb limitation. The ram is also the same speed at 1066mhz as in windows ones. It weighs in at 4.5lb which is still not sub 4lbs. Not to mention you still get an abysmal 320gb hard drive. Not that you would use more space but larger hard drives = higher density = faster speeds (b/c were not talking about WD Raptors or anything, just normal drives). And your still on the Core 2 Duo, old technology once again yet paying 1200. You can get soo much more from the options listed in the In this Laptop Buyer's Guide

    The fact of the matter is you also only get 2 USB ports whereas most windows laptops come with 3 (i dont know why that is). If i remember, one of the USB ports on the mac isnt even full speed b/c half of it is used for the Bluetooth or Webcam (not sure if this is still true since i last read about it). So once advantage is that you get bluetooth built in but you can easily buy an adapter for like 10 bucks that sticks no more than 3-4mm anyways. But the half powered and half speed USB is bad since sometimes you want to use it to charge your phone or need the full speed for a USB drive.

    Ok, you want an i5 MacBook Pro? Lets compare the $2000 MacBook Pro so we can compare it to the HP Envy listed in this Buyer's Guide (note: the cheapest i5 MBP is still 1800 anyways). Weighing in at 5.6 lbs, its still heavier than the HP Envy at 5.25. MBP has 4gb ram at 1066mhz and 500gb hard drive @ 5400 rpm. The Envy as 256gb SSD, which is going to be soo much faster than the MBP. For the $1989 Envy, you also get the i7-720 Quad core, which is faster than the MBP's i5. You also get the ATI 5650 on the Envy, which is again faster than the GT 330M by a good margin. And yes the Envy does have a backlit keyboard. Oh i forgot to mention the $1989 14 inch Envy i configured includes TWO 8 cell battery instead of 1, just so i can get the price closer to the $2000 price point to compare to the MBP. But just to recap, the Envy weighs less, has a faster hard drive, has a faster and overall better CPU, faster video card by a good margin, and added an extra 8-cell battery in there just to even match the MBP's high price point. All that and its still 11 bucks cheaper than the MacBook Pro.

    I'm in the market for a new laptop that can play SC2 so i just spent 3 hours or so doing my research. Hope that helps you in your decision with which laptop to buy. If your waiting for the next MacBook and MBP update, it is estimated that Apple will update them in 3.5 months. They update their notebooks every ~200 days and its only been 100 days into the last update (of both MB and MBP). So if your gonna wait 3.5 months or so to get a MacBook, do understand that the Windows PC market will also move along with it. Then where does that put us? In the same position as always. If you like OSX just buy it. If not, MBPs just aren't price competitive but their laptops are some of the best looking IMO.
  • TEAMSWITCHER - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    My daughter just got a 13" MacBook Pro, and I have to admit that I am very impressed with the design and construction quality. Performance isn't everything. I would rather give up one or two performance points for a machine that feels as solid and looks as good as the MacBook Pro.

    Her battery life is also incredible, she can use it all day long and not have to plug in. I gifted her a copy of Portal (through STEAM) and while I didn't run any benchmarks the game played just fine. I know its an older game, but she's not a hard core gamer.

    Toms Hardware really needs to stop ignoring hardware just because it has an Apple logo on it. You do yourself and your readers a huge disservice by pretending Apple hardware is less than what it is. Not the fastest machine, or cheapest equipment to be sure, but it does have noteworthy qualities. Better than many of the computers in your comparison.

  • 8steve8 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    " Spec’ed the same as the $799 Toshiba R705 (Core i3, 4GB, 500GB hard drive, 6 cell battery, Bluetooth, etc) "

    the R705 does not have bluetooth.

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