Asus U2E Review

by Jerry Jackson Reads (78,937)

by Jerry Jackson

The market for notebooks with screens that are 12-inches or smaller is more popular than ever before. As increasing numbers of business professionals and average consumers are looking for thin and light notebooks to satisfy their mobile computing needs Asus has come to the table with one of the most elegant designs we’ve seen. The Asus U2E incorporates an 11-inch display with LED backlighting, ultra low voltage Core 2 Duo processor, thin built-in optical drive, a light-weight chassis with hand-polished stainless steel frame … and let’s not forget about the black premium leather.

Is the U2E a true masterpiece or a sub-par laptop in pretty clothes? Let’s take a closer look.

 

Our review unit of the Asus U2E has the following specifications:

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo Processor ULV U7500 1.06 GHz (2MB L2 Cache 533MHz FSB)
  • Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista Business
  • Chipset: Intel GM965
  • Memory: 3GB DDR2 667 MHz (1GB+2GB) Expandable to 4GB
  • Display: 11.1" WXGA (1366 x 768) LED Backlight
  • Graphics: Intel GMA X3100 Integrated graphics
  • Hard Drive: 120GB 1.8" IDE HDD 4200 rpm (optional 32GB SSD + 160GB External HDD)
  • Optical Drive: Super Multi DVDRW
  • 8-in-1 Card Reader, 3 USB, VGA out, micro-DVI (HDMI), and LAN
  • Batteries:
    • 9-Cell (rated for 6+ hours)
    • 3-Cell (rated for 2 hours)
  • Dimensions:10.9" x 7.6" x 0.98"-1.1"
  • Weight:
    • 2 lbs 13.5 oz with 3-cell battery
    • 3 lbs 8 oz with 9-cell battery
  • Security TPM / Finger Print Reader / Smart Logon
  • Supplied Accessories: Bluetooth mouse and Carrying Bag
  • Asus 360 Service and Accidental Damage Protection (2-year for notebook, 1-year for battery)
  • MSRP: $1,999 as configured ($2,699 with 32GB SSD and 160GB external HDD)


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Build and Design

With a small footprint less than 11 inches wide and a starting weight of less than 3 pounds, the U2E makes a serious impression the first time you pull it out of a bag. Sure, the 11.1" display, and metal accents are cool, but it’s the black genuine leather that gets the real attention.

Asus is one of the few laptop manufacturers to incorporate genuine leather on their notebooks, and while some consumers might not be crazy about this design choice it is done exceptionally well with the U2E. Asus claims that each piece of leather used for the U2E is hand picked and subjected to the most stringent examination to guarantee quality before being applied to each notebook. In other words, the leather looks flawless.


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While Asus deserves some serious credit for the application of leather, the feel of the leather is a bit unusual. When you first remove the notebook from the box or from your laptop bag the leather feels almost plastic to the touch. This is of course due to the adhesives used and the coatings that must be applied to the leather in order to prevent excessive scratches or oil build up from contact with your skin.

Luckily, after the U2E warms up (10-20 minutes after the processor does some work and the hard drive is spinning) the leather becomes warm and softens just enough to make the palmrests one of the most enjoyable we’ve used.


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As is often the case with premium small form factor notebooks, the U2E makes generous use of metal around the chassis for added durability and style. The stainless steels framework around the notebook features etch detailing (brushed metal) and polished metal around the display hinge. The overall look screams luxury business notebook.


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Packaging and Accessories

We don’t typically talk about the box that a notebook comes in or the accessories that come with it. However, Asus did such a noteworthy job with the packaging for the U2E that I felt it deserved a mention.

The attractive black box has an innovative design with hidden compartments for the notebook, notebook slipcase, batteries, accessories, and software. Asus put a lot into a small package … sort of like what they did with the U2E.

One of the nicer accessories that comes with the purchase of the U2E is a wireless Bluetooth mouse. The mouse is actually a rebranded Logitech mouse, so the quality is reasonably good. That said, this is a "freebie mouse" so don’t expect perfect Bluetooth mouse performance.


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Another nice addition is a suede slipcase with genuine leather accents that was designed just for the U2E. This is the type of slipcase you would easily pay $40 or $50 for if you purchased it by itself. The U2E slides in easily and the suede prevents excessive scratching of the leather while the notebook is inside your laptop bag. All in all, a very nice extra.


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Screen

The 11.1" display on the U2E features a WXGA resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels and utilizes backlit LED technology. The benefit of LED over the conventional CCFL used on most notebooks is that LEDs consume less power and in turn increase battery life. LED backlighting also generates more luminance (brightness) with 20%-50% less thickness and weight.

In general use, the screen on the U2E is gorgeous and downright flawless. Direct viewing and horizontal viewing angles are among the best we’ve seen on any notebook of any size. Vertical viewing angles were only average with the lower viewing angle being extremely difficult to view. However, this isn’t a problem unless your notebook is sitting on a tall desk and you’re viewing the screen from the floor.


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Keyboard, Touchpad and Fingerprint Reader

The keyboard on the U2E is quite remarkable compared to other keyboards in this class. The keyboard suffers from virtually no flex, even above the optical drive, which is a major improvement over similarly sized notebooks from other manufacturers. The keys have excellent travel with quiet presses and each key is coated in a semi-gloss paint that includes a slight metal flake that’s only visible under close examination.


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The touchpad was a bit of a mixed bag. The touchpad buttons have nice, deep feedback with well-cushioned clicks. While the touchpad surface is reasonably large and feels nice thanks to its brushed metal surface, the brushed metal probably wasn’t the best choice for a touchpad surface. Every time I ran my finger up or down the touchpad my fingertip would rub against one of the horizontal brush marks and I would stop … thinking that I had reached the edge of the touchpad. This became very frustrating after several days because if I didn’t look at the touchpad I would often think the touchpad was smaller than it actually was.


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Like most ultraportable notebooks designed for business, the U2E utilizes a fingerprint reader for biometric security. Rather than needing to type in your various security passwords each time Windows or an application requires it you simply swipe your fingertip over the reader and the built-in scanner takes an image of your fingerprint to validate your identity.

The fingerprint reader on the U2E works fine. Of course, if you don’t like using your fingertip as your password you don’t have to use the included software to secure your laptop. Although biometrics is a wonderful method for securing data, I for one still prefer old-fashioned typed passwords.


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Input and Output Ports

There is a reasonable selection of ports on the U2E including an HDMI out port for connecting the notebook to your HDTV or external display. However, Asus makes a point of identifying the HDMI port as a "micro-DVI" so don’t expect high-quality HDTV signal via this port.

Like most ultraportable notebooks, the U2E sacrifices a few ports in order to achieve the smaller size. In this case, Asus didn’t include IEEE 1394 Firewire … but that’s not a deal killer since the U2E wasn’t designed to handle your digital video processing needs. The complete list of ports includes:

  • ExpressCard/34 slot
  • Three USB 2.0
  • HDMI out (micro-DVI)
  • 8-in-1 digital media card reader
  • microphone in
  • RJ-11 (modem)
  • RJ-45 (LAN/Ethernet)
  • VGA out

Let’s take a quick tour around the port offerings of the U2E:

Left side: Power jack, VGA, two USB 2.0, HDMI, ExpressCard/34, headphone out and microphone in.


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Right side: Optical drive, one USB 2.0, Ethernet, modem.


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Front side: 8-in-1 memory card reader.


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Rear side: Battery and security lock slot.


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Performance and Gaming

The power of this three-pound notebook was standard for similar laptops using Intel ultra-low voltage processors and integrated graphics. The 1.06GHz Core 2 Duo U7500 processor and Intel X3100 graphics mean this notebook doesn’t need much battery power to do its job … but don’t expect to play modern 3D games on this laptop. Add to that a slower 1.8" hard drive that spins at only 4200rpm and you begin to understand that the U2E was designed for road warriors rather than consumers looking for a desktop replacement.

Intel’s ultra low voltage Merom processor family – namely the U7600 clocked at 1.2GHz and U7500 at 1.06GHz – are designed to provide lower power consumption and cooler operation than other Core 2 Duo processors. These dual core ULV processors provide thermal design power (TDP) of 10 watts, while the other Core 2 Duo Meroms found in most notebooks have TDP of 17W and 34W. In short, ULV CPUs are slower but don’t consume much of your battery.

Listed below are benchmarks that give you a better idea of how well the U2E compares against others in its category:

wPrime comparison results (lower score means better performance):

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Asus U2E (Intel Core 2 Duo U7500 @ 1.06GHz) 86 seconds
Lenovo ThinkPad X300 (Intel Core 2 Duo L7100 @ 1.20GHz) 98 seconds
Apple MacBook Air (Intel Core 2 Duo P7500 @ 1.6GHz) 68 seconds
Asus Eee PC 701 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz) 200 seconds
Sony VAIO TZ (Intel Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz) 76 seconds

 

PCMark05 is a benchmark that measures the overall system performance, so it considers the processor, hard drive, memory and OS as part of the mix.

PCMark05 benchmark results (higher scores are better)

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Asus U2E (1.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7500, Intel X3100) 2,145 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X300 (1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo L7100, Intel X3100) 3,467 PCMarks
Apple MacBook Air (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7500, Intel X3100) 2,478 PCMarks
Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100) 3,283 PCMarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950) 2,446 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 4,153 PCMarks
Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,987 PCMarks
Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB) 4,189 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks
Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 3,487 PCMarks
Sony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400) 3,646 PCMarks

3DMark06 graphics comparison results (higher score means better performance):

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Asus U2E (1.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7500, Intel X3100) 407 3DMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X300 (1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo L7100, Intel X3100) 475 3DMarks
Apple MacBook Air (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7500, Intel X3100) 502 3DMarks
Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100) 504 3DMarks
Toshiba Tecra M9 (2.20GHz Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 130M 128MB) 1,115 3DMarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950) 122 3DMarks
HP dv2500t (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,055 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks

 

HDTune measures the storage performance of a PC, the numbers for the U2E are typical for ultraportable notebooks using a slower 1.8" hard drive:


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Audio

The built-in speaker performance on the U2E was on par for notebooks in this class … not good. The audio is fine for watching short video clips or web conferencing, but don’t expect to enjoy music or full-length movies using the built-in speaker. The sound is similar to what you get be putting a small cell phone on the built-in "speaker phone" setting and then dropping the phone into a tin can.

On the bright side, the audio output via the headphone jack is quite good and provides excellent, distortion-free sound for headphones or external speakers.

Heat and Noise

Thanks to the ultra low voltage Core 2 Duo processor the U2E runs extremely cool even when the system is under significant stress. We ran multiple performance benchmarks on the U2E and after several cycles of PCMark05, 3DMark06, and HDTune the external temperature of the U2E never exceeded 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Impressive.

Below are images with the temperature readings listed in degrees Fahrenheit:


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While the notebook stays quite cool, it isn’t particularly quiet. The small cooling fan inside the U2E runs most of the time when the laptop is plugged in and the fan in our review unit made a consistent light grinding noise that was probably due to a bad bearing in the fan or a plastic fan blade rubbing against the chassis. In fact, when we picked up the U2E while the fan was running the grinding noise would change pitch … almost sounding like a wood chipper working in the distance.

Battery

Asus includes two batteries as standard accessories with the U2E … something we wish more companies would do. The standard 3-cell battery fits flush to the back of the notebook and the 9-cell extended life battery sticks out the back of the notebook (as pictured above).

Asus claims the 9-cell battery can provide more than 6 hours of power and the 3-cell can provide 2 hours. Much to our surprise, these claims proved to be pretty accurate. With the U2E set to "Battery Saving" mode with LED backlight at 50 percent brightness and WiFi on, the extended life battery was drained after 6 hours and 26 minutes. The standard 3-cell battery lasted for only 1 hour and 38 minutes.

Overall, the minor increase in size and weight is a small price to pay for the exceptional battery life provided by the 9-cell battery. I would only recommend the 3-cell for people who insist on having the smallest, lightest notebook possible.


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Conclusion

The Asus U2E is one of the most impressive luxury business notebooks we’ve ever seen. Granted, the $2,000 price tag is more than most consumers are likely to consider … but this isn’t an ordinary laptop. Asus managed to create one of the smallest and lightest notebooks with a built-in optical drive and a build quality that is second to none.

Add in the fact that the U2E still includes a reasonable number of ports and enough processing power to meet your mobile needs, and the U2E makes perfect sense for anyone considering a luxury ultraportable notebook. The black premium leather, metal accents, and a solid selection of included accessories give the U2E just enough of an edge to make the competition want to pay close attention.

If you’re in the market for a stylish, ultraportable laptop that makes a serious statement then the U2E might just be your perfect match.

Pros

  • Low-voltage Core 2 Duo processor is easy on battery life
  • One of the most attractive 11-inch notebooks we’ve seen
  • Excellent build quality
  • Great keyboard
  • Comes with two batteries
  • Nice packaging and extras

Cons

  • Low-voltage processor doesn’t give desktop replacement performance
  • Touchpad surface isn’t great
  • Noisy fan
  • Leather is either stylish or garish depending on your tastes




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