Asus U30Jc-A1 Review

asus u30jc a1 review

Asus U30Jc-A1

“Asus U30Jc offers indecisive notebook buyers a do-it-all machine that sacrifices very little to do a lot.”
  • Powerful Core i3 CPU and dedicated GeForce 310M graphics
  • Sleek aluminum-wrapped design
  • Incredibly quick boot time
  • Surprising gaming performance
  • Comfortable, quiet keyboard
  • Extra-large multitouch touchpad
  • Over six hours of battery life with light use
  • Usable speakers
  • Chunkier than a true thin-and-light
  • Optimus still has some rough edges
  • Tacky chrome touchpad buttons
  • Some bloatware

Introduction

Choosing a laptop is rife with compromises. Small and portable, or big and powerful? Cheap and chintzy, or spendy and sleek? Anemic battery miser, or brutal battery devourer? Asus promises the middle ground on all of the above with the U30Jc. It’s one of the first notebooks from Asus to use Nvidia’s Optimus technology for automatically switching between integrated Intel graphics to save battery and discrete Nvidia graphics for power. Neither too big or too cramped, too expensive or too flimsy, too powerful or too weak, Asus has carved out what may be one of the most practical and least objectionable laptops to come through our doors, and a great value to boot.

Features and Specs

Asus’ marketing for the U30Jc makes an effort to shoehorn it into the popular thin-and-light class, but in truth the U30Jc packs a lot more muscle than its stripped-down competitors, and bears some of the bulk to show for it. At 1.2 inches thick and 4.8 pounds, it can’t compete on specs with a token thin-and-light like Acer’s Timeline 3810T, which measures only 0.9 inches thick and 3.6 pounds. That costs it some aesthetic wow factor, but we travelled extensively with the U30Jc and can say that fractions of an inch there and a pound there don’t really add up to much from a practical perspective.

Redemption comes on the hardware side, where the U30Jc blows any of those lightweights apart. Where thin-and-lights typically hobbled low-voltage Core 2 Duo processors, Asus’ U30Jc gets the potent next-gen Core i3 chip clocked at 2.26GHz. Where they use integrated graphics, the U30Jc sports a brawny GeForce 310M with 512MB integrated RAM and Nvidia Optimus to intelligently switch it on and off when needed, preserving precious battery life. Where they pare out optical drives to gain fractions, the U30Jc retains an 8x DVD-RW drive.

If anything, you might most closely compare the U30Jc to Apple’s 13-inch MacBook in specs. That machine also has some fractions on the U30Jc (4.7 pounds to 4.8, 1.08 inches thick to 1.2) but the U30Jc manages to one-up it all over the map with a next-gen Intel processor, a better GPU that doesn’t share memory with the main system, more total RAM (4GB to 2GB) and a bigger hard drive in the base configuration (320GB to 250GB), all for $100 cheaper.

Design and Build Quality

Asus has made a number of goes at wrapping notebooks in aluminum rather than building them from it, and while a thin veneer of brushed metal can never match the unibody build of Apple’s MacBook Pros, the U30Jc pulls a respectable impression for the money. Both the lid and palmrest wear clean aluminum sheets, and though the area around the keys gets faux silver plastic instead, it’s clean and sturdy enough to forgive. The dreaded gloss black plastic only crops up around the bezel, where we can tolerate it given how easy it is to avoid inadvertently splotching it up with fingers. The same cannot be said of the right and left mouse button, which Asus still nonsensically insists on building from tacky mirror-finish chrome.

The LCD display on the U30J does trade away a bit of strength for its knife-like thinness, but it’s nowhere near as spongy and weak feeling as Sony’ Vaio Y Series. Pinching the gloss black bezel and aluminum lid apart does let you peek in on the guts around the webcam at the top of the screen, though, which feels like a fairly significant chink in its otherwise substantial armor.

Ports

Although a DVD drive sets it apart from most others in the thin-and-light category, the selection of ports on the U30Jc very closely resembles most others in that class, including three USB ports (two on the left, one on the right), HDMI and VGA out for video, an Ethernet jack, headphone and microphone jacks, and of course, a power jack. A five-in-one card reader up front rounds out the average-but-adequate view from the sides.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The U30Jc sports a typical Asus chiclet-style keyboard in a charcoal grey, with eggshell lettering and functions printed on unobtrusively in baby blue. You won’t find backlighting or any other frills, but it flexes very little and offers a quiet, comfortable typing experience that should make most owners happy to tap away on it indefinitely.

Asus really steps up its game with the touchpad, which easily ranks among the top examples in the notebook biz. Like Apple’s MacBook touchpads, it consumes a giant patch of palm rest, making it easy to flick from one corner of the screen to the opposite with one uninterrupted stroke, and supports multi-touch gestures. Recessed only a hair from the aluminum around it, the touchpad surface also sports a silky feeling that offers just the perfect amount of friction for fingers and matches the rest of the notebook style spot on. We’re not as fond of the fingerprint-collecting chrome bar below, which serves as a right-click button on end and a left-click on the other. We could almost excuse the lack of forethought for the clean look it has when it’s not all mottled up, but that’s pretty much never.

Software

Asus has never been shy about loading up its PCs with an assortment of utilities – some useful, some not – and that’s still the case with the U30Jc. An eManual on the desktop? Great, much easier than digging out the paper version. A shortcut to eBay? Uhh, not so much. Asus Power4Gear Hybrid for switching between different power modes? Even easier to use and more comprehensive than the Windows 7 tool, but why is such an important utility buried in the Start menu while Boingo Installer gets prime desktop real estate?

The short story: Asus actually includes some cool levers and knobs, but mixes in just enough bloatware to obscure many of them. You’ll need to spend some time sifting through the Start menu, and likely deleting some debris off the desktop, to find the most useful ones.

Display

Similar to the LCD on the Sony Y Series, the 13.3-inch LED-backlit display on the Asus offers plenty of resolution at 1366 x 768, and excellent brightness. A combination of glare and distortion can make off-axis viewing less than ideal, but it remains usable, if not as dazzling. Like most notebooks in the thin-and-light class, short of Lenovo’s business-oriented Edge, the screen will only recline 45 degrees from vertical.

Performance

Thanks in part to Asus’ FastBoot software and in part to killer hardware under the hood, the U30Jc posted one of the quickest boot up times we’ve ever seen on a Windows 7 notebook: 42 seconds from power on to desktop, and another 10 to open the first browser window. All told, it’s up and ready to roll in well under a minute. Apple’s OS-X-equipped MacBooks can rival that, but the U30Jc remains a sprinter by PC standards.

It may not be the most flattering analogy, but the U30Jc reminded us of the PC equivalent of a weasel: cute upon first inspection, but surprisingly vicious for its size after you start pushing it. We fired up MotoGP 08 at full 1366 x 768 resolution and every setting on max to a perfectly fluid gaming experience – not so much as a clip or hesitation during gameplay.

After batting MotoGP out of the way without any settings to boost, we fed the U30Jc Crysis, which it undertook with a vigor seldom seen from a 13.3-inch notebook in this price and size range. At full 1366 x 768 resolution with all settings on low, game play was absolutely fluid, staying comfortably above 30 frames per second. Boosting settings to medium choked it up enough for us to head back to the drawing board. Shaders proved to be the biggest dog, so leaving them on low and everything else on medium produced a playable game experience with frame rates in the mid 20s and tolerable choppiness during heavy action. The fact that we could play Crysis at all is testament to this notebook’s gaming credibility.

Obviously desktop performance and video doesn’t pose much of a problem for the U30Jc with its gaming pedigree. YouTube and downloaded H.264 videos play all the way up to 1080p quality without issues, including when hooked up to a full 1080p TV rather than the built-in 1366 x 768 display.

Despite the miracles in works in blending performance with battery preservation, we do have to note that Nvidia Optimus occasionally shows a few rough edges. When rousing the U30Jc from sleep, for instance, it often fires up on one GPU, realizes it needs the other one, and switches over, resulting in the screen flashing on, off and on within the span of about two seconds. MotoGP also refused to see the GeForce when we configured it from the desktop, and even though it played fine in the game, cinematic sequences stuttered and dragged, leading us to believe the onboard Intel graphics chip was towing the load. Ultimately, these are small annoyances that stack up to nothing beside the promise of significantly longer battery life – and certainly not much compared to the annoyance of logging off to switch GPUs manually, like Mac users must do. Nvidia’s Optimus utility also allows for some customization, which we suspect could alleviate most woes with enough patience (or future drivers).

In benchmarks, the U30Jc netted an impressive 4251 PCMarks and 5792 3DMarks. Those numbers look good, especially stacked against CULV-powered machines with switchable graphics, like Lenovo’s U550, which returned 2,905 PCMarks and 2,653 3DMarks in the same benchmarks.

Battery Life

A Core i3 processor and GeForce 310M would seem to bode poorly for battery life, but the U30Jc actually does admirably well for itself with the help of Asus Power4Hybrid software and Nvidia Optimus. With screen brightness to half and casual Internet browsing, you can expect a little over six hours of life before the eight-cell, 5600mAH battery peters out. That’s not quite as amazing as the 9.5 hours advertised, but it still manages to hang with real thin-and-light machines like the Sony Y Series, despite its drastically increased performance. Of course, firing up Crysis and fragging away will get things moving much more quickly, to the tune of under two hours, depending on the intensity of the game.

Great performance, yes. Great battery life, yes. But Asus hires engineers, not miracle workers, and you won’t get them both at the same time.

Sound

The front-firing Altec Lansing speakers on the U30Jc won’t quite startle you when they kick in at full volume, but they have enough grunt to work just fine for casual video watching and even gaming without headphones. They also avoid the extreme distortion and rattles that sometimes kick at full volumes on small laptops. Still, music listers will want to grab a nice pair of earbuds to compensate for the lack of bass.

Conclusion

We’ve seen plenty of systems sucked into a vortex of mediocrity attempting to be everything to everyone, but Asus’ U30Jc pulls off this politician’s dance with the grace of a student body president: It’s attractive, equally appealing to jocks (gamers) and nerds (spreadsheet jockeys), and yet not from the snotty rich side of town (Apple?). Strained analogies aside, this is the system you’re looking for when you really can’t decide which niche mobile machine fits your needs best, or, as some reviewers seem to imagine, afford to buy a fleet of laptops for different scenarios. Small but not cramped, cheap but not chintzy, and powerful but efficient, the U30Jc offers indecisive notebook buyers a do-it-all machine that sacrifices very little to do a lot.

Highs:

  • Powerful Core i3 CPU and dedicated GeForce 310M graphics
  • Sleek aluminum-wrapped design
  • Incredibly quick boot time
  • Surprising gaming performance
  • Comfortable, quiet keyboard
  • Extra-large multitouch touchpad
  • Over six hours of battery life with light use
  • Usable speakers

Lows:

  • Chunkier than a true thin-and-light
  • Optimus still has some rough edges
  • Tacky chrome touchpad buttons
  • Some bloatware

Editors' Recommendations