So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
- Sleek and stylish, dual graphics switch, HDMI port, eSATA port, built-in HSDPA, integrated GPS receiver, included second battery
- No built-in optical drive, battery life
The U3 offers HDMI and eSATA ports, integrated HSDPA and GPS and features a dual graphics setup. Whether or not you are willing to sacrifice an internal optical drive for these features will determine if this stylish ultraportable is for you.
Price$ 2,799.00 (AUD)
ASUS' latest ultraportable sports a stylish and compact design but still manages to squeeze in a 13.3in display and a full sized keyboard. Although it lacks an optical drive, it remains a solid choice and offers a variety of features rarely seen on notebooks in this class.
The U3 is powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 2.20GHz processor, with an 800MHz front side bus and a 4MB L2 cache. A slightly disappointing 512MB of DDR2 RAM is installed, though there is room for expansion of up to 2GB. A 160GB, 5400rpm hard drive rounds out the specifications.
These specifications aren't outstanding, so it's no surprise that the U3 is a solid, but largely unremarkable performer. Unfortunately, we weren't able to run WorldBench 6 due to some technical issues, but in our MP3 encoding test it took 2min 6sec to encode 53 minutes worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3 files using Cdex – a reasonable result. It suggests that the U3 is fine for basic tasks like Internet browsing and word processing, but it will struggle with more complex applications. Gamers and multimedia enthusiasts are best advised to look elsewhere.
The first interesting feature of the U3 is the dual graphics setup. At the flick of a small switch on the right side of the chassis, the U3 allows you to choose between integrated Intel graphics, or a more powerful 128MB NVIDIA GeForce 8400M G. The idea of this is to save precious battery life when you don't need the battery-hungry NVIDIA chip. With the switch on, the U3 scored 7502 in 3DMark01. It's important to note that this machine wasn't designed for gamers, so this score isn't a surprise, nor is it a negative result.
For wireless connectivity, Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g and n are supported, in addition to Bluetooth 2.0. The U3 has all the usual ports; three USB 2.0 ports, an ExpressCard slot, S-Video out, a memory card reader and FireWire. Somewhat surprisingly, ASUS has also added a single HDMI port and an eSATA port and both are welcome additions.
A couple of other features normally reserved for higher end notebooks are built-in HSDPA and an integrated GPS receiver. As always though, there is a catch to these extra features and the U3 doesn't include a built-in optical drive. You do, however, get an external DVD multi recorder in the sales package. Keep in mind though that you'll only be left with two USB ports when this is connected and it does drain battery life significantly. In our DVD rundown test using the multi drive, we only managed a paltry 1hr 10min – not long enough to watch a full length DVD movie. Keep in mind though that this is with the 3-cell battery and not the second 6-cell battery which is included in the sales package. The 6-cell battery returned a more favourable but still not outstanding 2hr 57min. Do note that adjusting power plans in Windows Vista's control panel should result in slightly improved figures.
Aesthetically, the U3 is extremely stylish. A gloss black finish on top of the lid is a nice touch, while inside, a silver keyboard and chrome highlights are attractive. Combined with a leather-like material surrounding the touchpad and fingerprint reader, the U3 is definitely a notebook that will turn a few heads.
Above the display, there's a 1.3-megapixel webcam, with headphone and microphone jacks located on the left side of the chassis. The display is crisp and clear and the LED backlight looks great for multimedia, particularly video content. Contrast and colour is excellent and the glossy finish, although sometimes a little too reflective, completes the job well.
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