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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  • Friendly0Fire - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    You're painting this as if it was losing its entire battery life in a matter of hours. I've read about 10-20% in a day, with some people claiming 2-5% with some tweaking. The former numbers are high but tolerable unless you're constantly on the go, while the latter numbers are fine by me.
  • jtsarnak - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    I am constantly on the go. This is a luxury class laptop and billed as an ultra-portable business solution. ANY substantial loss after a day, be it 5% or 20%, is unacceptable. It's the only laptop I've ever owned that loses this much power overnight. Anything else doesn't lose that power in a WEEK's time.
  • Alexo - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Note: I am more interested in battery life than gaming performance so my comment is going to address that, but it is equally valid for other benchmarks.

    With the above in mind, I am quite disappointed with the article.
    I came to associate AnandTech's articles, reviews and recommendation with rigorous testing.

    However, of all the notebooks that claim long battery life, only the Asus U30jc was actually reviewed and hard numbers were given. For the rest of the recommendations, battery life times were either "extrapolated" based on assumptions (Asus UL?0jt) or worse -- taken from the manufacturers' claims. There were no measurements to verify the claims/assumptions and no real-life data was given.

    If not a full comparative review, I expected to see at least a short comparison of measured performance. Especially since the actual user experience reported on various forums greatly varies.

    After reading the article, I still have no idea how the RECOMMENDED U30jc, U35jc, UL30jt, 3820tg and X201 compare to each other in terms of performance and battery life.

    Display quality was also glossed over. The article mentioned that most displays were bad but no mention was made which are better/worse than others.

    All in all, I got the impression that some of the recommendations were based on press releases.

    Vivek, can you get your hands on these models and give us some actual numbers?

    Best regards,

    Another minor thing that I'd like to mention: The PL?0jt (the "business" version of the UL?0jt) is apparently available with matte displays.
  • SongEmu - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    I was impressed with the looks of the new HP Envy line, and was hoping they'd turned a new leaf in thermal management as well... guess not.
  • Munna2002 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Thanks for a great list, but I still don't see a laptop that fits all of my criteria.

    1) Non-ULV i5/i7
    2) Optimus technology
    3) 13-15" screens
    4) Decent non-Intel graphics card for light gaming
    5) Pointing stick
    6) (*Optional*) About 6 hours of battery life

    The closest match that I see are Thinkpads T410, HP Elitebook 8440p, and Dell Latitude E6410. (but these don't have Optimus, and T410 has really bad battery life)

    Suggestions anyone?
  • VivekGowri - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    All of the Asus U30/33/35 line is sold elsewhere with Core i5 processors. If you were so inclined, you could technically just buy a Core i5 or i7 processor and swap it in yourself. Or there's always the Sony Z.....LOL.

    Optimus is still in the ramping up stages, only a few makers have had the chance to use it by now, so give it a few months and as more of the fall releases hit, there should definitely be at least a few that fit your needs.
  • sam333 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    I've been reading anandtech for quite some time and I've always felt that you are biased towards Intel giving them the publicity and advertising.
    Abt time if you gave a fair comparison.
  • rhys006 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the post. I'm curious why you chose to flag 'heat' as an issue for the Envy 14? The developers realized that the previous versions had short comings in this area and modified the unit accordingly. I've been following owner forums since the Envy 14 came out and excessive heat has not been cited as an issue.

    Do you have more intel than we do?
  • batterycompanycomau - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    1. Most of the new Laptop Battery at the factory are set to sleep mode, the first boot with only about 5% of the electricity. You should not use an external power supply at this time, let the battery exhausted, until shutdown, then switch on the external ac adapter and the first charge had better over 15 hours. After fully charged, you should charge after the exhaustion of batter, the time of the second and third charge should be more than 12 hours, in order to activate TOSHIBA Laptop Battery and lay a good foundation for future use.
    2. TOSHIBA battery life is measured in terms of the number of charging and discharging. Do not enable the TOSHIBA Laptop Battery unless it is necessary, if you don't use the battery for a long time, you should charge it to about half full and place in a cool place to keep. If you enable the TOSHIBA battery, you should run out of power after the charging, and do not plug in the AC power before exhausted. When the TOSHIBA Laptop Battery fully charged, you should disconnect the AC input because overcharge will make the TOSHIBA battery overheat and that will shorten the TOSHIBA battery life.
    3. Generally speaking, nowadays the laptop are with intelligent TOSHIBA battery protection, the TOSHIBA Laptop Battery will not be damaged due to normal operation, but still may damaged for the life-span of travelmate battery or other special reasons.
    4. Lithium-ion TOSHIBA Laptop Battery should fast charge in constant current and then switch to slow charge in constant voltage when the voltage reaches a certain value. Usually the laptop doesn't have a strictly constant-current charge monitoring device. Charge current will turn small when system load large and vice versa, the current is decided by the TOSHIBA AC adapter power margin, it is obviously.
    5. Discharge in a current as small as possible, the action is to slow down the CPU, stop the hard disk, adjust the screen to the most dark, and then do not run any programs until the laptop automatically shut down. The reason to emphasize the small current discharging is to prevent the TOSHIBA laptop premature detect the Laptop Battery voltage shortage.

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  • matt b - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Given that numerous laptops 13.3 inchs and smaller are shipping with AMD nile dual core processors (K325 and K625), can we get a review of these? You must have some in your labs b/c you say that they still fall short of the Intel CULV processors on battery life. Can we see some actual reviews from Anandtech? I've seen mixed reviews on the internet. Toshiba has a 13.3 with the k625 that they claim gets over 6 hours of battery life. The k625 does not have bad performance, and in actual games (versus benchmarks like PC Vantage that Anandtech has shown that Intel's latest drivers have broken) the ATI 4225 cards are faster than Intel's. The price is right too. I'd like to see a i3 or CULV comparison using the same battery (one just not rated the same) versus the K625.
    My take from seeing the number of design wins was that Nile must be pretty impressive.

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