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Asus UX50

Review A notebook sized netbook
Mon Sep 21 2009, 15:45

Product: Asus UX50
Website: www.asus.com/ux50
System Specifications: Intel Core 2 Solo 1.4Ghz, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, 15.6-inch screen, HDMI, USB, MMC, SD, MS-PRO, 1.3MP Webcam, WiFi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, Li-Polymer Battery
Price: £999


THE ASUS UX SERIES is a recent addition to the firm's notebook division under its 'superior mobility' marketing banner. What this basically boils down to is that Asus is aiming this and similar models to be light and stylish, perhaps with one eye on MSI's X Slim series.

This notebook is slimmer than those Asus usually produces and has a designer look like that it brought in to its Seashell Eee PC netbooks. In fact, the UX50's look and feel could be said to be a larger version of the Seashell netbook range although we doubt Asus will like us to think of it as that, as the company firmly believes the U series has a ‘Unique ID'

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The U series does have almost the same gloss piano finish of the two netbooks we've reviewed of late, the 1005HA and the 1008HA. Placed side by side they could look like parts of the U range themselves.

When Asus first began airing the idea of the UX50 with dual onboard graphics, we initially thought of the ATI Crossfire. But Asus really meant there were two GPUs in the case, one that's integrated with the motherboard's Intel GS45 chipset and another, better GPU that can be enabled if required.

Included are both an Intel X4500MHD GPU for common, run of the mill usage and a NVIDIA GeForce G105M GPU for its enhanced graphics abilities. These can be switched to and fro while the notebook is running with only seconds delay.

Running with the NVIDIA GPU enabled does considerably reduce the battery's life span. Not running with the Nvidia GPU extends battery life by a significant time, more on that later.

Asus led us to believe the NVIDIA chipset is required for HD playback, though in fact it doesn't perform all that well. There are two power modes for running the UX50 that affect which of the two GPUs it uses, with the highest enabling the NVIDIA GPU and the other running with just the Intel integrated GPU.

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The Intel X4500MHD wouldn't even touch YouTube HD content, let alone anything stronger such as BBC's iPlayer high definition video streams. Even with the Nvidia G105M GPU running the notebook surprisingly struggled with any of the video content. Although the UX50 could play the HD video running the NVIDIA GPU it was very jerky indeed. This was with the video fully cached too, which on the whole we found very disappointing. We weren't able to test out the HDMI output aspects of the system, but we believe that the results would be equally as bad.

This poor performance could very well be down to the processor choice Asus has made with this notebook, an Intel Core 2 Solo 1.4GHz CPU. We feel this could very well be the case as the UX50 reportedly produces a decent 3DMARK benchmark test score. All of which seems to detract from the notebook's main selling point, the dual graphics ability. A demo of Batman: Arkham Asylum struggled to even run with the single core CPU, despite being geared up to use NVIDIA's graphics capability.

The 15.6-inch screen on the UX50 is the largest in the U series, capable of 1366x768. On the NVIDIA settings the image does come across a little on the grainy side, which is none more so highlighted than on a plain white background such as a word processing document. Although you wouldn't really choose the NVIDIA graphics card configuration just to write a letter. In every other aspect the grainy appearance can be overlooked and is hardly noticeable.

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The UX50's keyboard is very familiar to another one we've recently seen in the Nokia Booklet 3G. The Asus notebooks' keys also have plenty of space between them, plus a comfortable return while typing. The keyboard is easy to use.

A nice feature that Asus has included is that the keyboard is back-lit, much the same way as it is on a mobile phone's keypad. It's a good capability for use in poorly lit environments such as planes, or late at night when most web surfing is actually done at home. The only issue we had with this feature was that it couldn't be disabled, which might prove to be an unnecessary power drain. It does appear that the light automatically adjusts in brightness, dimming when the environment is well lit.

Most of the surfaces on the UX50 are highly polished, which included the mouse touch-pad. This proved somewhat of a major effort to use as a result, especially in the navigation of the mouse cursor, as the friction and drag gathered with a flat finger was considerable. The only workaround for this was to use just a finger tip, for the minimal amount of contact with the surface area of the pad. Over time this proved to be tiresome and an external mouse was called in to use.

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Asus has made some curious choices in socket locations on this notebook, with the HDMI port, USB, and mic and audio jack all being located at the rear. Using headphones proved to be a tad awkward, as we couldn't find a set with a lead long enough to stretch that far around the rear and had to resort in draping the lead awkwardly over the top of the screen. This surely must have raised some questions in focus group testing, as it was one of the first annoyances we came across without even looking for any.

In the U series the UX50 is the largest and heaviest notebook weighing in at 2.6kg, whilst measuring 385mm in width, 257.8mm in depth and 28.9mm thick with the screen closed. It's by no means the lightest or slimmest notebook we've seen, but it has potential for hardened gamers whereas in the past they've usually been subjected to carrying around much heavier notebooks.

On boot-up the lower-end power schemes running the Intel graphics adaptor showed there would be three hours of battery life, and switching to the NVIDIA G105M brought that down to one hour and 45 minutes. In our actual tests the 4-cell removable Polymer battery running with the Intel GPU setup lasted for two and a half hours of continuous use, whereas the NVIDIA lasted for one hour and 34 minutes, both somewhat less than advertised.

In Short
For a notebook whose main selling point is the power and flexibility of the graphics processing unit, it's a let down in this area. Perhaps with a more powerful CPU it could have been a better machine. There are other SKUs in the UX50 range that are shipped with an Intel Core2 Duo 1.6Ghz processor, and that would work better in our experience. As is, it seems like Asus built a netbook and called it a notebook  µ

The Good:
Good looking case design and finish, two GPUs.

The Bad:
Ports placed in a awkward place, mouse pad a 'drag' to use.

The Ugly:
Processor too slow for notebook requirements, disappointing battery life.

Bartender's Report:
6/10

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