ASUS UX21 Live Review – Videos and Notes (Includes Gaming Test Results)

Posted on 18 November 2011 By


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Thanks to everyone that joined in the live testing session yesterday evening. It was totally worth the effort because we uncovered a few more nuggets of information and a lot of data on gaming as well as confirming battery life and performance. The videos are embedded at the bottom of this article.

The bad news first. During the evening we experienced two power-downs on removing / inserting the power plug while we were in a game. It was an instant-off situation [see it on the live video here.]. Apparently others have experienced this too. I testing today, I experienced an instant shut-off while World Of Warcraft was loading (on battery mode.)

Secondly, we experienced one trackpad lock-up although it was as we opened the driver settings for the trackpad. After about 30 seconds the trackpad came back.

In runtime tests during the first part of our review work we used 20% of the battery in 1hour. It matches with my other testing figures which indicate the UX21 can run from 9hrs (idle, unused) through to 1.5hrs in high-performance gaming. In between is a 3-5hrs ‘average’ for most internet-connected workers. Video playback (HD) can be done for about 3hrs.

I was asked to test audio quality because of a report of mains buzz on the analogue output. The analogue signal was clean with and without power inserted (EU plug, 2-pin without earth) and we confirmed that digital audio is sent over the HDMI connector. Separation was good and the sound was clean on the analogue signal. Built-in speakers are very good for the size of device. In summary, no problems with audio. In a later test I confirmed that the audio output is a headset port with mic-in enabled on the same connector.

We’ve got a Core i7 1.8Ghz version with 4GB here. It’s as powerful as an Ultrabook gets and I’m impressed at its dynamic range. Converting 1080p to lower bitrates is very quick using Cyberlink MediaEspresso, unzipping large files is fast, browser test results are fast and the SSD really smooth’s the experience out, even in battery-saving mode which, while not really reducing battery drain much, seems to put a cap on how crazy you can get with the device. It’s a kind of safety mode. Video playback performance is top notch. A 1080p home video at 30Mbps played flawlessly with the CPU at around 13%. And then we did some gaming tests…

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HD Pinball downloaded (above left) downloaded from the the Intel AppUp store [expect to see this pre-installed in some Ultrabooks] played flawlessly and in full screen. No problems there.

A 2008 game, GTR Evolution, (demo, downloaded from Steam) worked but looked a little jittery…until I realized I was playing it in battery-saving mode. Switching to performance mode solved that problem and it worked nicely at full-screen with standard graphics settings.

We then tested Half-Life 2. During the (quiet) opening stages of the game the FPS counter stayed at over 100 (mains, performance mode) When running on battery, that was pushed down to 50-60fps which we found acceptable. No tweaks were made to the full-screen graphics settings.

For a bigger tests we got World of Warcraft running. With ‘good’ graphics settings, Vsync enabled and native resolution we saw 20fps on battery and 30fps on mains power. Going to full settings and turning off Vsync saw the experience turn to an unusable 10fps and less. At good settings with vsync disabled though 40fps was seen in quieter scenes. In my opinion, it doesn’t leave much for headroom and with the base starting to warm up, it wouldn’t be something for the lap. Take it as a reference point from which many of you might be able to gauge other game experiences.

I’m quite impressed at the 3D power available although it’s fair to say I’m not a gamer. It’s more than a ‘snacking’ machine but way less than a modern gaming rig. I think it’s fair to say that it’s 2008-class gaming-capable but you’ll have to be prepared to tweak-down some of the heavier games.

On the heat and noise testing, we found nothing worth worrying about in work-type usage scenarios but the UX21 can build up heat and get very loud when gaming or video editing or rendering. On one hand it’s annoying but on the other, it seems to be doing a good job of getting the CPU cool enough to keep Turbo Boost running at 2.0-2.2GHz. 10-20% more than nominal speeds. I was expecting a warm Ultrabook to have effectively zero thermal headroom for Turbo Boost but I’m wrong. At least the UX21 seems to be doing a good job at cooling under load.

Notes:

  • USB to Ethernet adaptor is USB2 to fast Ethernet – 100Mbps
  • VGA adaptor tested without issues at 1440×900
  • Boot time 21 seconds (with a number of games, applications installed)
  • Resume time – consistently under 2 seconds
  • Only one external monitor can be used at a time. This applies to all 2011 Ultrabooks
  • Confirmed in a separate test – the headphone port is a headset port

 

Finally in this update, there’s the keyboard. I am not finding myself comfortable with it. I would need to change my style quite a lot for it to be as fast as other, cheaper, devices I’ve tested and my missed-key rate isn’t going down very quickly. That said, I write a lot and expect a lot.

A full review can be expected next week but before that, I want to catch the gaming experience on video. I plan to do that in the next few days. In the meantime, take a look at the live videos. They are long and not the greatest of quality as they were taken from the live stream. You’ll see the keyboard and mouse in Part 3 and gaming in Part 4. Part 4 ended ubruptly due to some technical issues.

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  1. #1 by Jon on November 18, 2011 - 15:16

    Thanks a lot for doing this kind of review. I’ve been looking at lots of ultrabook reviews. It feels like most of them consist of a your of the ports, a single run of some standard (but not real world) battery rundown test, a lament about what features are missing and finish up with the inevitable MacBook Air comparison. Your review on the other hand has actual useful information. I can tell you’ve actually been using the machine, rather than just reading its spec sheet. Thanks for the breath of fresh air. I’m looking forward to more useful information (especially on the U300s).

    • #2 by Chippy on November 18, 2011 - 19:09

      Thanks for the positive feedback Jon. Go spread the word ;-)

    • #3 by Michael on November 21, 2011 - 00:36

      What does this Power downs mean? Simple. Don’t buy first generation things. If you want a thin ultrabook, go buy a MacBook Air. Its time tested. People know this. This is the chicken egg scenario. Ultrabooks won’t sell well cause people are too fearful to make the leap.

    • #4 by Michael on November 21, 2011 - 00:46

      In today’s world of 10 hour tablets and even 7 hour netbooks/notebooks, 3-5hrs ‘average’ for most internet-connected workers is pretty sad.
      Is this a joke?

      My ultrabook battery will die in the first half of the day?

      One can get thin and light notebooks weighing 1.4KG, half the price, with twice as long battery life. For example, my Samsung Series 3 with a larger 12.5 inch screen weighs 1.4Kgs but gives 7 hours battery life with wifi on. Its also rather thin and has a faster cpu. So why bother buying a unit that gives merely 3 hours battery life? Even fat notebooks 15 years ago gave more than 3 hours battery life.

      • #5 by James on November 22, 2011 - 11:13

        Let’s stop with the exaggerations. 15 years ago you would be lucky to get a system that gave more than 3 hours without it being either very low performance or using multiple batteries.

        Even now, unless given large batteries a regular laptop won’t run all day on a single charge.

        Sure, a netbook can run for several hours but it’s a very low performance type of system that’s multiple times less powerful than a Ultrabook.

        While most Tablets don’t have the iPad’s run time, even the iPad will drop to less than 7 hours after about 9 months of use, and like netbooks those types of tablets are low performance products that don’t need much power to run.

        The Ultrabook specification actually calls for 5-8+ hours run time. These 1st generation models just failed to meet the specification but Apple failed even worse with their first attempt at the MBA.

        So while it’s not a great start, it’s hardly the worst one ever.

  2. #6 by Seb24 on November 18, 2011 - 16:14

    Thanks !!!
    A review with Ubuntu too ? :D

    • #7 by ben on November 18, 2011 - 17:45

      You can find anything Ubuntu-related here: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1865577
      Most of the issues have been fixed, especially the suspend problems. I will definitely try Ubuntu on this machine when I get one.

      • #8 by Ferhat on May 27, 2012 - 02:12

        Wonderful story, reckoned we could cnbimoe a few unrelated data, nevertheless really worth taking a look, whoa did one learn about Mid East has got more problerms as well

    • #9 by ben on November 22, 2011 - 10:07

      There’s now a wiki about Ubuntu on the UX31:
      https://help.ubuntu.com/community/AsusZenbook

  3. #10 by Chippy on November 19, 2011 - 01:05

    Don’t forget to hit the +1 and tweet button to promote this article.
    Thanks for the support.

    Chippy / Steve

  4. #11 by Shooni on November 19, 2011 - 05:41

    Not surprised about the gaming oddities, nothing makes Windows do strange things like games can. Intel is making alot of noise about how powerful the SB successor GPU will be, so it should be interesting to see how it actually performs.

    Tried any Chrome Web Store games yet?

  5. #12 by FredrikAug on November 20, 2011 - 15:43

    Thanks for a great session Chippy! Many questions got answered, still the power plug in while running issue is a bit scary. Do we know if Asus have said anything about this issue?

  6. #13 by End User on November 20, 2011 - 18:45

    The trackpad is a major concern. I was disappointed that you did not go into a more detailed review of the trackpad. Sadly it appears decent trackpads (apart from those by Apple) won’t appear until Windows 8 ships – (http://goo.gl/NAOtu http://goo.gl/R83Ve)

    Do you have any plans to test it out with a Linux distro?

  7. #14 by Rasmus on November 21, 2011 - 13:18

    Thanks a lot for the nice review .

    Is there any chance that you are going to test the UX31 edition?

  8. #15 by DavidC1 on November 23, 2011 - 03:57

    The Core i7 2677M chip can Turbo to 2.5GHz when dual core sustained and can go to 2.6GHz if thermals allow it. IMO, 2-2.2GHz is a bit low…

    About battery life: The UX21 has a 35WHr battery. The UX31 with something close to a 50WHr would meet the “5+ hour” battery as said in the Ultrabook specifications.

  9. #16 by maryasha on November 24, 2011 - 22:07

    Do you think there might be a difference if the same tests were done on the ux31? I do game occasionally, and was planning to buy the ux31, but after these results, I’m reconsidering…

    • #17 by Chippy on November 25, 2011 - 07:40

      No. There’s nothing in the UX31 that could change these results significantly for you and the same applies across the range of Sandy Bridge Ultrabooks. You’ll need to wait for Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks next year. About 6 months down the road you’ll see some significant improvements in the graphics.

  10. #18 by Rasmus on November 25, 2011 - 10:36

    Chippy :
    No. There’s nothing in the UX31 that could change these results significantly for you and the same applies across the range of Sandy Bridge Ultrabooks. You’ll need to wait for Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks next year. About 6 months down the road you’ll see some significant improvements in the graphics.

    But the resolution on screen is higher – so maybe power consumption is higher also, and watching HD movies it needs more GPU power to do when the screen is 1600 X 900. That was just what i wanted tested on the UX31

    • #19 by Chippy on November 25, 2011 - 10:41

      Ok. In 13w video playback mode the difference will be tiny. Games at native res will, you are right, have lower framerate,

    • #20 by DavidC1 on November 28, 2011 - 10:05

      On one of the Intel presentations, the difference between 1366×768 and 1600×900 on a 15 inch screen is about than 1/2 a watt. Not really significant at this point when its already at 7+ watts.

      • #21 by Chippy on November 28, 2011 - 11:21

        I’m actually surprised it’s that much and in the context of screen power requirements, it is significant. In reality it’s one of those many little power drains that add-up but the consumer is unlikely to notice any real-world difference over a smaller/lower resolution screen.

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