- Review Date: 01/08/2013
- Bottom line: Although it's a sleekly designed ultrabook that features a built-in DVD burner, USB 3.0 connectivity, and a full-size HDMI port, the Asus S46CA-XH51's so-so performance ultimately dilutes its potency as portable solution for small businesses.
- Pros: Built-in DVD burner. Durable aluminum chassis is easy on the eyes. Comfortable keyboard and touchpad. Reasonably priced.
- Cons: Only one USB 3.0 port. Keyboard isn't backlit. Bloatware. Middling battery life.
Design and Features
The S46CA-XH51 is a fairly compact system whose chassis measures 1.2 by 13.7 by 9.6 inches (HWD). At 4.35 pounds, it's still easy to carry around even though it veers towards the heavier end of the ultrabook spectrum, outweighing both the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
At any rate, the S46CA-XH51 is unquestionably an attractively designed system. Its aluminum chassis sports a brushed two-tone finish, with an elegant grey palmrest that's complemented by the system's black lid. From a practical perspective, the aluminum construction makes for a durable system that can withstand its share of bumps and bruises when taken on the go.
The S46CA-XH51's raised tile keyboard is outfitted with black chiclet-style keys that create a nice visual contrast to the grey palmrest. The keyboard is surprisingly comfortable to type on since it manages to sidestep the shallow key travel that so often plagues systems with markedly thin profiles. With so much to like about the keyboard, then, its absence of a backlight comes as something of a disappointment since it's an easily avoidable shortcoming that mars an otherwise well-designed keyboard. Likewise, the S46CA-XH51's smooth and responsive touchpad provides a good amount of tactile feedback for two-finger scrolling and pinch-zooming, with left- and right- click buttons that don't exhibit any unappealing clackiness.
With a maximum resolution of 1,366 by 768, the S46CA-XH51's 14.1-inch LED display doesn't reach the soaring 1080P heights of the Lenovo X1 Carbon's display, but its glossy finish and bright colors nonetheless make it easy on the eyes. Bright colors and crisp text alike pop off the screen, and movies look great in 720P resolution. The latter point is especially relevant since the S46CA-XH51 manages to squeeze a DVD burner into its chassis despite its thin profile. This is a rarity in the ultrabook world – none of the other systems in the S46CA-XH51's class sport such a feature - and even for users that have supposedly sworn off optical media, there's a certain sense of comfort one can derive from knowing that they'll never need to purchase an external drive (assuming, of course, they don't intend on using Blu-rays).
The S46CA-XH51's speakers are housed in a horizontal grille directly beneath the display, and Asus SonicMaster Lite software provides a software-driven boost to make the volume loud enough for a few folks in a small room. Testing these speakers out with "Silent Shout" by the Knife, I was pleased with how loud they belted out sound without sounding tinny, though the subdued levels of bass left something to be desired.
Typical of its ultrabook brethren, port selection on the S46CA-XH51 is a bit skimpy. Like the Toshiba U845-S406 and the Lenovo X1 Carbon, the S46CA-XH51 only features a single USB 3.0 port, which is located on the left side of the system beside an RJ45 port, a VGA port, and a full-size HDMI output. The latter is a good touch since it sidesteps the need to fuss with dongles and the like when connecting the S46CA-XH51 to a larger display. That said, though, the S46CA-XH51 doesn't feature Intel's Wireless Display technology, so be sure to have an HDMI cable ready. Meanwhile, the front side of the S46CA-XH51 features an SD card reader, and the right side houses the S46CA-XH51's tray-loading DVD burner, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, and a headphone/microphone combo jack.
The S46CA-XH51 packs a moderately spacious 500GB 5,400RPM HDD and a 24GB SSD, a one-two punch that delivers storage capacity without compromising quickness since the latter works in the background to help speed up functions like booting, loading frequently used apps, and waking the system from sleep. The 500GB drive comes preloaded with Windows 7 Professional as well as a decent amount of additional software of varying utility. Some of it is useful, like Adobe Reader 10, Microsoft Office 2010 Starter, and a CyberLink burning suite. Additionally, there's also some trialware (McAfee Anti-Virus), a hefty portion of proprietary software (Asus Media Suite, Asus Power4Gear, Asus Vibe 2.0) and, of course, unnecessary bloatware (Bing Bar, Windows Live Essentials). The S46CA-XH51 is covered by a one-year warranty on parts and labor.
The S46CA-XH51 packs a dual-core 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor, and coupled with 4GB RAM, it yielded average (and somewhat unremarkable) scores on our benchmark tests. Its PCMark 7 score of 2,628 points landed at the bottom of the pack, falling short of the Sony VAIO T13 (SVT13114GXS) (3,403 points) and coming nowhere near the Lenovo X1 Carbon (5,149 points) or the class-leading HP Envy Spectre XT 13-2050nr
The S46CA-XH51 fared somewhat better on our multimedia tests, where it proved to be a system that, while better suited for multimedia consumption, nevertheless has the capacity for light media creation. It completed our Handbrake video-encoding test in 2 minutes 3 seconds, falling a mere two seconds behind the Sony VAIO T13 (2:01) and only six seconds short of both the Toshiba U845-S406 and the HP XT 13-2050nr (1:57 each). On the other hand, the S46CA-XH51's Cinebench R11.5 score of 2.36 points edged past the Lenovo X1 Carbon (2.25 points) and came within striking distance of both the Toshiba U845-S406 and HP XT 13-2050nr (2.41 points each). Although the 4 minutes 45 seconds it took the S46CA-XH51 to complete our Photoshop CS5 test was not nearly as brisk as the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (4:18), it nonetheless nipped at the heels of the Sony VAIO T13 (4:35) and the HP XT 13-2050nr (4:34).
Similarly, the S46CA-XH51 landed toward the bottom of the pack when it came to 3D rendering. Its 3DMark 06 scores (4,508 points at medium-detail settings and 1,024-by-768 resolution; 2,446 points at native resolution with 4x anti-aliasing) fell short of the Lenovo X1 Carbon (4,560 points and 3,376 points, respectively) and, to a greater extent, both the Toshiba U845-S406 (5,792 points and 3,278 points, respectively) and HP XT 13-2050nr (5,908 points and 3,256 points, respectively).
The S46CA-XH51 sports an integrated Intel HD 4000 GPU, so it came as no surprise that it, too, failed to crack the 30 frames per second (fps) playability barrier in visually demanding 3D games. Its performance in our Crysis benchmark test (18 fps with medium-quality settings) was on equal footing with that of the Lenovo X1 Carbon and the Sony VAIO T13 (18fps, each) and only slightly behind that of the HP XT 13-2050nr (21fps). Similarly, while the S46CA-XH51's performance in our Lost Planet 2 tests (15fps in medium quality, 5fps in high quality) outgunned the Lenovo X1 Carbon (13fps and 5fps, respectively) and was nearly identical with both the Sony VAIO T13 (16fps and 7fps, respectively) and HP XT 13-2050nr (20fps and 10fps, respectively), the distinctions are meaningless since none were able to deliver frame rates that would be considered playable.
The S46CA-XH51's removable 44Whr battery lasted 5 hours 7 minutes on our MobileMark 2007 battery test, which is longer than the Satellite U845-S406 (5:02), although this isn't an entirely reliable point of comparison since the latter's battery life was tested with a video rundown test. At any rate, the S46CA-XH51's battery life was roughly three hours shorter than those of its competitors, with the Sony VAIO T13 (7:09), Lenovo X1 Carbon (7:19), and HP XT 13-2050nr (7:32) each managing to cross the seven-hour mark. If you're a road warrior whose career entails data-crunching on the road, this means that you won't be able to last through an entire workday on a single charge, so if finding an available power outlet strikes you as an unfeasible or unpalatable endeavor, then the S46CA-XH51 may not be your ideal road companion.
There's plenty to like about the Asus S46CA-XH51, including its handsome design, built-in optical drive, and reasonable price. Alas, however, its so-so performance dilutes its potency as a sure-fire portable solution for small businesses. That's why the Lenovo X1 Carbon's higher price tag and status as our Editors' Choice for business ultrabooks both remain justified. If design and affordability outweigh performance on your list, though, it's worth looking into.
Compare the Asus S46CA-XH51 with several other laptops side by side.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.