October 3, 2011
- Durable, ultraportable design
- Above average battery life
- USB 3.0 & Bluetooth connectivity
- Solid performance
- Cooling issues
- No backlit keyboard
The Asus U36SD-A1 ultraportable laptop is extremely portable yet compares in performance with most mid-line notebook computers, which is due to its Intel Core i5 CPU and discrete Nvidia graphics. It also has USB 3.0 support and a solid magnesium frame, but with all that power, it has issues with heat dissipation.
The Asus U36SD-A1 measures 12.7 x 9.1 x 0.75-inches (wdh) and weighs 3.7-pounds, which makes it one of the thinnest ultraportable notebooks that we've tested. It has a lightweight and very durable magnesium-aluminum alloy frame that is both sturdy and light enough to be easily carried around throughout the day. There is a textured finish on the lid and body, so it doesn't necessarily look like a metal-alloy case.
The chiclet-style keyboard is about averaged size when compared to other ultraportables and it has good, comfortable feedback in the keys. One thing missing, however, is a backlight, so working in the dark requires some room lighting. The mouse touchpad below the keyboard is perfectly centered on the keyboard deck and has a nice, frictionless surface that was very responsive. We also want to mention that we really liked the feel of the area on either side of the touchpad on our palms while typing. This was perhaps due to a "silky nanometer coating" on the palm rests.
Asus includes a 13.3-inch LED-backlit display with a native resolution of 1366 x 768-pixels. It's a fairly standard screen with average viewing angles and color quality.
The port selection that you'll find on the Asus U36SD-A1 includes two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, HDMI-out, VGA-out, Ethernet and the standard audio ports. There is also a multiformat media card reader, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth V2.1 + EDR wireless. The omission of an optical disc drive is makes the laptop so thin, but it can also be a deal breaker for some users who don't want to rely on an external USB optical drive when necessary. The USB 3.0 and Bluetooth support were both welcomed additions to the set of connections.
Internal specifications of the Asus U36SD-A1 include an Intel Core i5-2410M (2.3GHz) CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 640GB 5400RPM hard drive, Nvidia GeForce GT520M discrete graphics (1GB RAM) and also Intel HD integrated graphics as well. Performance with this laptop compares quite well to the performance with some mid-line laptops, mostly because other ultraportables use low-voltage CPUs and have only integrated graphics. This is definitely a computer that delivers solid performance in a small, lightweight body. However, with all this power jammed into a small frame, there are some heat dissipation issues. During moderate to heavy use, the under-body temperature rose to a point of being uncomfortable to have it sit on the lap.
The graphics setup in this Asus laptop uses Nvidia's Optimus dual-graphics technology, which automatically (and seamlessly) switches between using the integrated Intel HD graphics and the discrete Nvidia GeForce graphics when necessary. This both saves battery life and gives you that additional power boost when needed. While not a gaming laptop per se, it did result in fairly decent 3D gaming scores, but if that is your main use, you'll want to look at a different laptop. Playing high-definition video content from the Internet resulted in very good graphics performance with no visible issues.
Battery life, despite having more power than the average ultraportable, was surprisingly good at between 8:30-9:30 hours. This was about 2 hours better than the ultraportable category average. One particular comparison comes to mind: the Apple MacBook Air, which averages around 6 hours of battery life.