Reviewed March 27, 2008 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
The US notebook computer market is a highly competitive space with established brands such as HP, Dell, Apple and Toshiba dominating. Though ASUS is a relatively new name in the US notebook market, it has an extended portfolio of laptops sold in Asia. While the wildly successful 7” ASUS Eee PC gives us a $300-$400 option for entry level users, the 12-inch ASUS U6 series speaks of style, quality and performance. The ASUS U6 series is one of ASUS’ luxury notebooks lines featuring competitive specs and a modern design that features an aluminum alloy display cover and a hand crafted leather wrist rest. There are several models in the ASUS U6 series, and in the US there are two models available: the ASUS U6E (Pearl White), which we received for review, and the ASUS U6S (Mocha Brown) which adds discrete graphics and HDMI port.
Design and Ergonomics
The ASUS U6E has a rich cream-colored aluminum alloy cover with subtle metallic accents, while the ASUS U6S has a mocha brown metallic finish. ASUS claims that the LCD cover’s finish takes 13 steps to complete. The brushed metal look with slim silver accent lines compliments the creamy leather bound wrist rest on the inside. As a whole package, the notebook looks classy, clean and high quality. The ASUS has standard 83-key notebook keyboard (no separate number pad on the right) as well as a touch pad and fingerprint scanner. The keyboard doesn’t have huge travel but is easy to type on. The touch pad is smooth and easy to use, but the left and right mouse keys below the touch pad have almost no travel and are hard to use. The fingerprint scanner works with the notebook’s Trusted Platform Module v1.2 and the U6 comes with the Infineon security platform for creating digital certificates and security policies. In addition to fingerprint scanner, the ASUS also has cool facial recognition software called SmartLogon. It uses the webcam to take a photo of your face (actually several images in burst mode), and then use these images to match your face at login. SmartLogon wasn’t very reliable and only recognized the “assigned” face about half of the time.
The ASUS U6E is free of button clutter with only the power button and two quick launch keys above the keyboard and a strip of small LED indicator lights. The WiFi / Bluetooth switch lives on the notebook’s left side and a VGA webcam sits above the 12.1” display. The heat vent on the left side generates moderate heat and the computer doesn’t run too hot.
ASUS includes a couple of bonus items with the notebook, which is a rarity these days. These include a wireless mouse, a sleeve case and a nice, sturdy computer bag. The included Bluetooth mouse has brush metal-look that matches the U6. You will need to provide your own AA batteries for the mouse and use the Bluetooth manager in Control Panel to install its driver.
Display and Multimedia
The ASUS U6E has a 12.1” widescreen LED display that’s 1290 x 800 (WXGA) in resolution. LED backlight panels are thinner and lighter than traditional LCD panels and they use less power. They’re generally stunningly sharp, colorful and bright as well, and worth the price premium if you can afford it. Sony ultra-light notebooks (Vaio TX, TZ and SZ lines) have gorgeous LED displays, as do recent Apple MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models. But the ASUS U6E’s LED display doesn’t measure up to Sony and Apple’s. The ASUS’ display isn’t as bright, and has painfully high contrast that makes some photos look harsh. The screen almost always needs to be at max brightness setting when watching DVDs, and blacks tend to reverse to a dull gray. The optimal viewing angle is smaller than other notebook LED displays we’ve tested.
The built-in speaker system is located on the bottom of the notebook and the speaker grille is on the front edge. Music playback sounded noticeably thin via the speaker and even via good quality headphones before adjusting the EQ in Windows Media Player. Video call quality was good and volume was loud.
DVD playback is smooth and the CPU plus Intel X3100 integrated graphics can handle various forms of video playback easily. With integrated graphics, the ASUS U6e can handle games that don’t require the latest killer graphics chips. Games like Rise of Nation and Age of Empires III all ran fine. If you need more power choose the U6S with GeForce 8400M G and 128MB dedicated graphics memory. That’s still not what we’d call a gaming machine, but it will get you a few more fps in F.E.A.R.
Horsepower and Performance
Traditionally ultra-light notebooks aren’t speed demons. The U6 series bucks that trend with a fairly beefy processor instead of the usual ULV 1.2GHz Core 2 Duo found in some competing Fujitsu, Sony TZ and Toshiba 12” models. For serious multimedia and light to moderate gaming, the U6S is a surprisingly good choice, and if 3D gaming isn’t your thing, the U6E will do just fine. Our U6E had an Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 processor running at 2.20 GHz with 4 megs of level 2 cache, an 800MHz FSB and 2 gigs of DDR2 RAM. IThe ASUS U6E runs on the mobile Intel 965 Express chipset family (with Intel GMA X3100 integrated graphics). The notebook has 2 SODIMM slots, each has 1 GB RAM installed at 667MHz frequency and you can expand that to 4GB max. The notebook has a 160 gig SATA 2.5” hard drive (Fujitsu MHY2160BH) running at 5400 rpm. The notebook is loaded with Windows Vista Business 32-bit version (the machine supports 64-bit) and the side-loading optical drive is a super multi-DVDRW drive, with no HD or Blue Ray support.
The ASUS U6E performs well running applications such as Office 2008, Photoshop and when playing music and DVDs. Skype video calls worked very well with good video quality and smooth audio. We did benchmark tests with PCMark 05 on the ASUS U6 running on the Balanced power setting with the notebook plugged in. The test results showed strong CPU and RAM performance as well as good hard drive speed. The graphics were are the upper end of what we usually see with the Intel X3100, and from tests of other notebooks running the NVDIA 8400, we’d estimate the U6S would score 1,000 points higher on graphics.
For a 12.1” notebook, the ASUS U6 doesn’t leave you feeling laack of ports or connection options. The ASUS U6E comes with the Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN, which had excellent performance (especially with an802.11n router), and the ASUS Bluetooth model (BT-183) paired easily with all the devices we tested. The notebook has a software utility that allows you to turn on or off the two wireless radios together or separately. We tested streaming video playback from NetFlix and YouTube over WiFi and they played smoothly. We also paired phones, other computers and Bluetooth peripherals via Bluetooth, and he notebook worked well with them. The U6E has 4 USB 2.0 ports (one on the right and three on the left side of the notebook), while most ultralights have only 2 (or 1 in the MacBook Air’s case). The built-in card reader can read SD/MMC/Memory Stick cards in 11 formats and the optical drive is multi-layer DVDRW drive. Other ports include an ExpressCard slot (supports ExpressCard/34 and ExpressCard/54), RJ-11 modem and RJ-45 Ethernet port with Realtek Gigabit Ethernet. You will also find VGA out, 3.5mm mic and headphone jacks (supports SPDIF) and Kensington Lock slot security. The ASUS U6S comes with an HDMI port, but the ASUS U6E does not.
OS and Bundled Software
The ASUS U6E comes with Windows Vista Business (32-bit) and the usual Microsoft applications (Windows Defender, Fax and Scan, Live Messenger, Media Player 11, Movie Maker, Meeting Space, Photo Gallery, Mail and Internet Explorer). For Internet security, the ASUS comes with a 90-day demo of Norton Internet Security software. The notebook also comes with backup and restore utility as well as recovery DVD to restore the notebook back to factory settings.
ASUS bundles some useful OEM and 3rd party software that range from utilities and drivers to entertainment apps. OEM software include ASUS DVD player, SmartLogon (facial recognition software for secure logon), LifeFrame (webcam tool), PowerForPhone (IP phone utility) and WinFlash (for flashing the BIOS). Third party software includes LightScribe (disc labeling), Nero 7 suite for burning and managing your CD and DVDs. Thank goodness, the plague of bloatware hasn’t spread to the ASUS U6 series. Nice going, ASUS!
The 12.1” display and integrated graphics usually mean good battery life for a notebook, and the ASUS U6E has good but not stellar battery life. The notebook comes with a rechargeable 6-cell Lithium Ion battery that’s 4800mAh in capacity. The battery sticks out in the back of the notebook, creating a nice handle for holding the U6E, though it does disrupt the notebook’s otherwise clean lines. The ASUS has three power settings: Power4Gear Entertainment (default), Power4Gear Battery Saving and Power4Gear High Performance. The ASUS managed 3 hours in mix of business tasks such as MS Office and Outlook along with some light entertainment. But watching a DVD will reduce the run time by 1 hour (an hour of DVD playback used up 50% battery life in our tests) and watching streaming movies/video via WiFi will drain battery even faster. All of our tests were done with default power setting (the same as Vista’s “Balanced” setting) but we turned brightness to max. How does the battery life compare to other notebooks in and around its class? It’s comparable to the 13” MacBook Air, much longer than the 12” HP Pavilion TX1000 and much shorter than the Sony Vaio TZ series. The ASUS U6E comes with a large brick world charger.
In the clone war of notebook PCs (Apple excluded), the ASUS U6 creates a different look and can hold its own in competing with Sony and Fujitsu ultra-lights. The various processor and graphics options mean you can create a notebook that fits your needs and budget. We liked the performance and ample ports on this notebook. The bundled applications, drivers and utilities are very useful and the notebook is free of bloatware. The price is competitive with other ultra-light notebooks and having good warranty options is a must when consumers buy from a relative new brand. The ASUS U6E however isn’t a gaming or entertainment powerhouse thanks to its integrated graphics and the sub-standard LED display and the thin sound.
Pro:Stylish design that’s esthetically pleasing. Excellent performance and port selection by ultralight standards-- no compromises due to size here. Keyboard is easy to use, and the notebook comes with a Bluetooth mouse among other goodies. Strong WiFi and Bluetooth connections, and the wireless manager is a plus. Good security features for corporate users and the facial ID security is new and cool, though we wished it were more reliable. Great software bundle.
Con:Display isn’t up to LED standards. Audio is a bit thin sounding. Battery sticks out the back.
Price: $1749 for the U6E (Pearl White); $1799 for the U6S (Mocha Brown).
Warranty: 2-year warranty, 1-year battery warranty and 30-day Zero Bright Dot LCD warranty.
Display:12.1” diagonal widescreen LED backlight display at 1280 x 800 native resolution (WXGA). Mobile Intel 965 Express chipset family (Intel GMA X3100) integrated graphics.
Battery:6-cell 4800mAh Lithium Ion battery. Universal AC charger included, takes input 100-240V.
Performance:Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T7500, 2.2GHz, 4MB L2 Cache, 800MHz FSB. 2GB SODIMM max per slot (has 2 slots).
Size:11.8 x 8.6 x 09-1.2 inch. Weight: 3.5 pounds.
Drives: 160GB (5400 RPM) Serial ATA 3.5” drive by Fujitsu. HD SuperMulti DVDRW optical drive.
Audio:Built-in speaker, mic and 3.5mm headphone jack with SPDIF support.
Networking: Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN (802.11a/g/n). Realtek RTL8168/8111 PCI-E gigabit Ethernet and 56k modem. RJ-45 LAN port. Bluetooth v2.0 with EDR. Wireless manager included to turn on/off WiFi and Bluetooth.
Software: Microsoft Windows Vista Business (32-bit) Operating System. ASUS software include DVD Player, CopyProtect, SmartLogon, Multi-Frame, Power4Phone, Life Frame andWinFlash BIOS and driver live update. Other software included are Nero Express 7 suite and Adobe Acrobat Reader 8. Trial software include 90-day Norton Internet Security software.
Ports and Slots:Four USB 2.0 ports, a RJ-11 modem port, a RJ-45 Ethernet port, 1 stereo headphone out with support for SPDIF audio, mic-in, a 11-in-1 card reader, an ExpressCard/54 slot and VGA port. Also included a fingerprint scanner with TPM support. Also has integrated VGA webcam.
In the box: The notebook, sleeve case, carrying case, Bluetooth mouse, phone cord for modem, Companion and 3rd party software DVDs and printed user manual.