Introduction and Design
Can Sandy Bridge Be Purchased On A Budget?
The last three years have been great for ultraportables and netbooks. Laptops with displays below fourteen inches in size have exploded in popularity thanks not only to Intel’s Atom, but also a wide selection of Intel ultra-low voltage products. Many of the laptops that we’ve reviewed over the past year, such as the Lenovo IdeaPad U260 and the Alienware M11x, would have been impossible prior to the release of those processors.
Mainstream laptops have enjoyed less progress, however. The 15.6" laptop remains the most popular category with consumers, but while it has enjoyed a boost in performance with the release of the original Core i series processors, issues like battery life and graphics performance remained largely unaddressed. These mainstream laptops have continued to represent a major compromise, as they’ve been unable to provide great battery life but also (unless supplimented with a discrete GPU) lack the chops to play any but the most basic 3D games.
According to Intel, these flaws could soon be addressed. Intel’s Sandy Bridge mobile processors are nothing short of the savior of mainstream laptops. These processors not only offer the typical improvements in speed but also drastically improved integrated graphics and provide much better battery life.
Or, at least, that’s what Intel says. They’ve said such things in the past, however – Intel’s IGPs have often promised more than they can deliver. But every piece of hardware deserves a fair shake, and now it’s time for Intel’s Sandy Bridge to step up to the plate, appearing today in the form of the ASUS K53E. Let’s see what is under the hood.
This configuration of the K53E is labeled as the K53E-A on the laptop’s underside, but the hardware is more like the K53E-B1. The Core i5-2520M processor inside this laptop is the mid-level component in the second-gen Core i5 line, but it’s still an extremely powerful processor on paper, thanks to a Turbo Boost maximum of 3.2 GHz.
The Intel HD Graphics 3000 IGP found in this laptop is the same as what you’ll find in other second-gen Core processors, but the dynamic clock reaches as high as 1.3 GHz, while Core i3 models generally have to make due with a maximum clock of 1.1 GHz. Otherwise, this is a typical modern Intel dual-core, and as such it does have hyper-threading enabled to make up for some of the multi-thread performance you might lose compared to a quad.
It’s time to put the technical mumbo-jumbo aside, however. A great processor is no good if it’s placed in a bland laptop, and 15.6" laptops don’t always have the best design. Let’s see if the ASUS K53E can live up to the promise of its hardware.
At a glance, there’s not a lot to say about the ASUS K53E’s design. This is clearly a laptop that is meant for the budget market, and as such it has a simple matte black plastic lid with nothing but a woven texture to distinguish it. As always, the matte coating is appreciated, as it helps ward off fingerprints – but when combined with the lack of color, the result is cheap first impression. You’ve never know that this laptop contains cutting-edge Intel hardware simply by looking at it.
Opening the laptop offers some improvement. The majority of the laptop’s interior is coated with a mocha brushed-aluminum finish that looks great and straddles the fine line between visual excitement and long-term practicality. The semi-gloss aluminum doesn’t easily pick up smudges and can be wiped off with a single swipe if you do gunk it up.
Unfortunately, the rest of the laptop’s interior is your typical budget-friendly fare. The keyboard’s simple matte keys are sufficient, but are backed by glossy black plastic that reflects more light that I’d like. The touchpad, which is made of plastic, isn’t remotely the same color as the surrounding aluminum. It’s much lighter, and the miss-match significantly cheapens the appearance of the laptop. The touch buttons also do the laptop no favors, as they do not always rest at even heights and have a half-hearted chrome finish that offers a nice surface for fingerprints to cling to.