So I decided to take a bit of time out from the programming project of death, and do a laptop review.
Depending on how you look at it, this review is either way overdue or given too soon. As it stands, I have some time to sit down and write it out, so I’m doing it now.
Earlier, I reviewed HP’s dm4, and eventually decided I wouldn’t keep it, mostly because of the battery life, prodigious thermal output, touchpad, and the salmon hue the chassis took on under certain lighting conditions. Credit, though, where credit is due: HP is really, really cool about their return policy. 30 days to return for refund, which is just plain awesome. Such a long grace period to test-drive machines should not go unrewarded, which is why I felt bad about returning the laptop to jump ship to another manufacturer.
After spending a bit more time surfing around the nets (note to self: hate laptop shopping! HATE LAPTOP SHOPPING WITH A PASSION! from your past self), I finally settled on an Asus. However, the cheaper Asus models I was looking at had this… weird keyboard configuration, where the enter key was stretched vertically instead of horizontally. That was quite the deal breaker for me, since once I get into a coding zone, I hit enter all the time. Placing it farther away is probably one thing I wouldn’t want to get used to. Hence, I went with the more expensive Asus u33jc-a1.
First impressions (admittedly skewed, since I’m writing down experiences from a few months ago): hmm, looks nice. The wood facade doesn’t look that real, and it’s somewhat difficult to see that it’s wood if one isn’t looking for it. The partially-metal chassis is a nice touch: now, if only the entire thing could be made of the same…
Weight-wise, picking up the laptop for the first time was a heavens-open-and-angels sing moment, as the chassis had just enough heft to not float away. And then I picked up the battery and it turned into another laptop. However, it’s advertised as getting 10 hours, so I’m fine with the introduction of balance/rotational momentum issues around the hinge of the computer.
Second impressions: the keyboard is pretty good, it feels better than the HP keyboard, which felt kind of sticky. The keys are kind of loud, but not overly so. The media keys overloaded on the arrow keys is somewhat strange, and it’s getting me into strange habits, so it’s a very, very slight negative. The screen size (13″) is a nice balance between portability and size/resolution (another 1366×786), and the screen brightness is a little less than some other laptops I’ve owned, but still turns out fair. The touchpad is initially interesting (hey! it’s covered with wood!), but becomes annoying until you learn where exactly in the veneer the touchpad extends.
Interestingly, I swapped out the SSD that had OS installs from the HP laptop, and they mostly worked fine without tweaks. Windows required some more drivers, but it displayed a video signal, and linux just ran like there wasn’t any change in the underlying hardware. I suppose that once you have a live CD that runs most everywhere, it’s not very much work to have installs that also run most everywhere.
Another note on OS disparities: linux boots and shuts down faster than Windows (SSDs are so nice! yeahhhhhh), but Windows has much better battery life than linux (7h vs. 5h, with wifi on. Once you take out the wifi, it boosts to something like 8h on windows). Also, linux runs hotter than Windows: take what you will from such qualitative measures.
After a few more impressions: the wood is very hard to take care of. For instance, the wrist rests on the laptop soak up oils from the bare skin, and it starts to act like hard plastic and with regards to oil, which was one of the qualities I didn’t like about my Dell. The outer shell hasn’t fared much better, since it picked up all sorts of dents and scratches without much effort, which detracts from the aesthetic feel of the laptop. However, the rest of the chassis is still solid, and my only other gripe is the bevel around the screen, which is made of the annoying smooth plastic.
As for innards, rendering out scenes with Blender drives the CPU to around 90C, which probably isn’t that great for any of the electronics. Rendering with only 1 core lowered that temperature to ~70C, which is acceptable, but means that I’m not going to be rendering out any huge animated scenes soon, at least with this machine. I’ll have to look into getting 6-core machines sooner than later…
Oh, and the RAM situation is less than ideal: the maximum 4GB limit is already grating against my needs. However, since I’m planning on not using this as my workhorse machine, the limit shouldn’t matter much.
tldr; The Asus U33JC-A1 is a solid machine, slightly more expensive than needed, but aesthetically pleasing in several ways with only a few cosmetic blemishes and without compromising efficiency.