ASUS U30Jc Design and Build

While unpacking the U30Jc, I was immediately struck by how much better it feels compared to the UL80Vt. At the time, I was wrapping up the HP ProBook 5310m review, and personally there's no way I would save $100 to get what is clearly a slower system. In terms of build quality, while ASUS doesn't use a magnesium alloy frame, the U30Jc feels just about as solid as the ProBook 5310m. The only exception to this is the keyboard, which has a slight amount of flex if you press hard (and I mean really hard).

Like the HP 5310m, the appearance is an attractive blend of aluminum surfaces with a few glossy plastic highlights. Actually, the only glossy plastic is around the LCD bezel, and going with a silver brushed aluminum finish (as opposed to anodized black) makes fingerprints and smudges much less of a concern. The only complaint I have is with the glossy bezel and LCD. I know some users prefer glossy panels (generally for indoor use), but with eight hours of potential mobility it's hard to imagine never wanting to take this laptop outside. A matte LCD with an aluminum bezel to match the rest of the chassis would have been better, at least in my view.

As noted above, the keyboard does exhibit a slight amount of flex, but it's not something I generally noticed during use. By pressing quite hard it's obvious that the keyboard lacks the rigidity of a ThinkPad T-series, and it's not a spill resistant design either, but it works fine otherwise. I'd rate the typing experience as roughly the same as the HP 5310m, which was very good. The major difference (outside of appearance and flex) is that ASUS uses rounded corners on the keys compared to the square corners on the ProBook. There's plenty of space between the keys and the layout is just what I like: the Ctrl key is in the bottom-right corner with the Fn key in one position; Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn are all in a column on the far right, with no Fn+[key] combination required to access any of the commonly used keys.

The touchpad and palm rest are nearly identical in size compared to the ProBook 5310m, which is a good thing. The trackpad supports multi-touch, and we definitely prefer the aluminum surface to the glossy plastic on the HP (and other laptops). It works well, and our only minor complaint is ASUS' continued use of rocker-style mouse buttons as opposed to having two discrete buttons.

Temperatures and noise levels during testing were both good, with a chassis that remained cool to moderately warm to the touch. We measured temperatures of up to 32C during a full CPU+GPU load; not surprisingly, that was for the top-left corner where the GPU resides. The rest of the laptop was up to 5C cooler. Noise levels at idle hover close to the limits of our testing environment, but at 33.5dB(A) the U30Jc is slightly louder than some of the other laptops we've tested. Under load noise levels remain nearly as quiet, increasing to just 35.5dB(A). The fan speed also changes smoothly so you don't notice a sudden jump in noise output, at least in our experience. We're much happier with a laptop that stays at a near-constant 33dB than one that oscillates between 30dB and 36dB every minute or so (Alienware M11x being a prime example of the latter).

Access to the internals of the U30Jc is provided via two panels. The larger panel houses the hard drive while the smaller panel in the middle of the chassis is home to the SO-DIMMs. If you remove the keyboard (which is a rather painless process for a change—just two screws on the bottom plus four clips you can get at with a flat-head screwdriver), you can also gain access to the single Mini PCIe slot. By default it's occupied by the wireless adapter, though, so there's not much point in replacing it. As for the battery, the A1 model includes a large 8-cell 84Wh battery; other models (likely not in North America) may go with a smaller 6-cell 63Wh battery.

The stereo speakers are located at the front of the chassis, with small grilles in front of them. Audio quality from the small speakers is about what you'd expect: okay for basic stuff, but nothing spectacular. If you want good audio fidelity, the headphone jack is the way to go. On the bright side, the speakers don't distort even at maximum volume, which is more than we can say for some laptops. The hinge opens about 135 degrees, so if you're after a laptop that can lie flat this one doesn't quite make it. (We had a reader ask about that feature in case you're wondering; it's not important to most of us, but his vision is so poor that the ideal way for him to read the screen is to hold it up vertically in front of his face.)

Like many other inexpensive (relatively) laptops, expansion options are somewhat limited. Three USB 2.0 ports are the only way to add additional devices. The HDMI output makes this useful as a portable multimedia laptop, and we really like the appearance and design. However, anyone looking for FireWire, USB 3.0, or ExpressCard support—or even a free mini PCIe slot—will be disappointed. In short, you get everything you really need with the U30Jc, but not much in the way of extras. It's a conscious decision on the part of ASUS to balance features and performance with size, and here they've chosen to add an Optimus GPU and cut some other extras that the majority of users will never miss. (I know personally that I have never actually used a FireWire or eSATA port on a laptop, so USB 2.0 works fine for me.)

ASUS U30Jc: Thin and Light Meets Arrandale ASUS U30Jc Performance
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  • jconan - Tuesday, May 25, 2010 - link

    hopefully in the comparison it's compared using apples to apples os with proper drivers
  • Lunyone - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    I would like to have a laptop with better resolution than the 13x768 for a 15"+ laptop. Even my 1280x800 current resolution is fine for the most part. I just don't like the limitation of 1366 x 768. It's wide enough, but the vertical real estate isn't as web page friendly as I would like.

    I also would like better GPU's in this category. Even the 3670 listed on the charts does quite well against the 310m on this laptop. Your right that the 5650 is about as minimum that I might consider for a budget friendly "gaming" laptop. Much less than that an you start to compromise your gaming options.

    So here is what I'd buy right now from Asus if they had it:
    * Dual core CPU (~2.2-2.6 gHz)
    * Dedicated GPU (~5650 or equivalent)
    * 4 gb's of RAM
    * 7200 rpm HD (~250 gb's would be good, I'd even take 160 gb's to keep costs down if needed)
    * 15" or larger LCD w/at least 1400 x 900 or better resolution.

    Bundle that all into a laptop for ~$800-900 and I'm there. I know that this is asking for a bit, but that is the price range that I'll be shopping for.
  • acsa - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Manufacturers are still having a marketing department with sound fundaments of microeconomics and game theory ;) If your desire is strong, they find a way to milk you. So,you can either pay for that desire; or loose 132 pixel rows and buy a cheap timelineX 5820T with ATI 5650 with an introductionary guarantee of 3 years and spend the saved bucks on your family or on whatever is _really_ improving your life. Anyway, did these timelinex series arrive in the US?
  • Lunyone - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    They aren't going to milk me. I just do research and buy what I need/want within my budget. I bought a Dell e1505 over 4 years ago with the best GPU that they had (ATI x1400). It has done very well for the 4 years that I've had it. It was about $900 and I've only had to replace the battery. I upgraded the RAM to 2 gb's (max supported) and also the HD to a 7200 rpm one. These were only in the last year, so I'd say I've been lucky and have had a very good experience in the $900 price range, for a budget gaming laptop :)
  • acsa - Thursday, May 20, 2010 - link

    Was a smart buy. I also take care about longevity and upgradeability when buying something. With "milking" I meant that when a model&configuration is designed, it is very carefully decided how to make really tricky deficiencies which are motivating to buy a 20% more expensive config.
  • arnavvdesai - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    I believe ME2 uses the Unreal Engine whereas Dragon Age is a completely in house engine built by BioWare. Dragon Age engine was designed to be made for the PC initially and later ported to the consoles(PS3 last actually).
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Sorry, you're right. I just figured with such similar performance and coming from Bioware, they would use the same tech. DAO uses the Eclipse engine while ME2 uses Unreal Engine 3.5. (The original ME was UE3.) Anyway, neither game runs particularly well at minimum detail and 1366x768. I'll update the text....
  • RAGETRON - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    My concern is about how loud typical actions done on this Asus would sound in a quiet environment such as a classroom or a library study area. Even though these actions might not be of concern in a normal environment, a quiet environment amplifies the sound and can be especially irritating to others around you and make one self conscious about how they are using their machine. So, how loud is a mouse click in such a very quiet environment (Library, classroom)? I imagine that the rocker button would be louder than laptops with two discrete buttons. Thinkpads seem to be very quiet in this regard. How loud can fast typing get on the chiclet style keyboard? And how about the sound level when the fan kicks in or hard drive churns?
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Noise levels are listed on page two: 33.5 dB at idle and 35.5dB at full load. Most of the time the laptop runs at ~33 dB. (My testing environment bottoms out my SPL meter at 30 dB.) The keyboard is about average... the Dell XPS 16 as an example has a softer, quieter key action, but most other laptops sound the same. The touchpad buttons aren't particularly loud, though they're a bit more clicky than some other touchpads. I think it has more to do with the specific design of a touchpad than it does with the rocker style. I figure as long as you're doing normal activities like taking notes no one will care about the noise the U30Jc makes. If you're playing games, though.... ;-)
  • killerclick - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Small screen, too expensive, yet too thick and too heavy. Might as well go for a full-sized laptop.

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