Performance and Conclusion
Our U36 came with The World’s Most Common Processor, also known as the Core i5-2410M. Clocked at 2.3 GHz, this powerful but power-efficient processor seems to be widely considered the best compromise between performance and battery life, if vendor purchasing habits are any indication.
For comparison in this test, we’ll be throwing the U36 again the Lenovo ThinkPad X1, the Dell Inspiron 14z, and the MSI X370. All of these are ultraportables, and they cover a range of price from about $550 (the MSI X370) to $1200 (the X1). You’ll find the specifications in the tables below.
Now that the competition is sized up, it’s time for our first round of tests, the SiSoft Sandra processor benchmarks. There probably will not be any surprises here, but we should take a gander anyway.
Yes, the Core i5-2410M acts much like we’d expect, based on previously tested laptops. According to these benchmarks, the U36 and Inspirion 14z dance well together, which makes sense, as our review units featured the same processors. The Lenovo X1’s faster Core i5 gives it some extra spring in its step, while the X370’s AMD Fusion E-350 processor causes it to lag behind substantially.
Now, let’s look at some more general performance benchmarks.
The U36S lands a huge victory, returning a score of 2995 vs. the 14z’s 2242. The reason is simple – system storage. This seems to have a heavy weight in the final score of the PCMark 7 benchmark, and the U36S handily blows away 14z in that area.
In Peackeeper and 7-Zip, the competition is much closer, but the X1 with its faster processor is king. Once again, the inexpensive MSI X370 fails to give much account for itself.
As you might have noticed in the specs, the ASUS U36 includes an Nvidia 520M graphics solution, rather than relying exclusively on Intel HD graphics. How does that work out?
Again the 14z is a great point of comparison, because it is of similar size and has the same processor, but it does not have discrete graphics. In 3DMark 06, we see that the GeForce in the ASUS dishes a defeat to Intel’s part, scoring almost 1000 points higher. In addition, the U36 scored 510 in 3DMark 11. You do not see a graph here because none of the relevant competitors were tested with that benchmark due to lack of support (Intel HD 3000 graphics doesn’t support DX11, as required) or woefully inadequate performance (the X370).
Now we should consider actual in-game performance.
Here we see no major difference in Far Cry 2, but a notable difference in Dawn of War 2: Retribution. But the biggest difference was Just Cause 2, where the game was barely playable on the U36, but unplayable on the Intel HD 3000 graphics found in the 14z and X1. In my past experience, Intel’s HD 3000 seems to fall flat on its face in demanding games like Just Cause 2. It also could not run Battlefield 3 at release (I’m uncertain if that has changed since, as I haven’t had an opportunity to test it again).
Speaking of Battlefield 3, I wrapped up performance by booting up that latest graphical treat. We don’t have benchmarks of class-competitive laptops to provide a frame of reference, so there’s no graph, but I did test the game in multi-player to compile some results. At medium detail, the BF3 wasn’t exactly playable, due to an average framerate of 15. Surprisingly, notching detail down to low only slightly increased the framerate, allowing an average of 19. There was a glitch, as well – my character’s weapon kept disappearing. Overall, it was not a satisfactory experience, but it did run.
UPDATE: Nvidia encouraged us to re-test the ASUS U36S with the newest drivers, which included some performance improvements targeted at BF3. At Medium detail, the average framerate went up to 17.4 FPS. In addition, the issues I had with disappearing weapons no longer appeared. Still, this particular laptop still struggles with BF3 – it’s playable, but only just.
Now, let’s head over to one final test, the boot time and resume time benchmarks.
Both the boot and resume times are quick, in the 21-second range. In addition to that, they’re almost identical. There really doesn’t seem to be any advantage to using hibernate on this computer, because it boots just as well as it resumes. Users may want to disable the hibernate features to free up extra hard drive space.
Ultrabooks may be sexy, but there’s no doubt that the best combination of value and portability remains in the ultraportable segment. The ASUS U36 may not be the best laptop for proving that point, however, as many competitors have less expensive laptops with nearly as impressive specifications. Dell offers the Inspiron 14z for much less, while Lenovo can put you into a ThinkPad Edge E220s for $699, or a ThinkPad X220 for $899. Acer’s TimelineX AS3830T can be found for $599 on Amazon. Only the ThinkPad X1 is more expensive, at $1199.
All of these laptops are competitive with the U36 in performance and features (though you can’t always grab an SSD), but they do lose out in one area – battery life. If you don’t need a laptop that can last eight hours on a charge, you may be better off with the competition. But if you do need that kind of endurance, the U36 is so far superior that it becomes the clear winner with low voltage processors and NVIDIA Optimus. The enhanced gaming performance on this model may also be of some appeal, though it’s still far from sufficient for serious gaming.
For the general consumer, however, the design of this laptop robs it of some appeal. Although it appears tough, there are areas (such as the display bezel and hinges) that look every bit as cheap as what you’d find on one of the company’s $500 budget laptops. In addition, the tough looks serve no functional benefit besides the elimination of fingerprints. That’s nice, but if all a laptop’s luxury is going to be thrown aside, it should be for good reason. Here, I see no good reason.
As such, this laptop is one that can be recommended only to some readers. If you don’t care at all about appearance, and you’d like a powerful ultraportable with class leading battery life, this is a good choice. Just don’t tell your friends how much you paid. Unless they’re computer geeks themselves, it’s unlikely they’ll understand.