ASUS U36SD-A1 Notebook Review; Ultra Portable & Affordable

Author: Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig
Date: September 27, 2011
Product Name: U36SD-A1
Part Number: U36SD-A1
Warranty: 2 Years
Purchase at NCIX:
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No one wants to be carting around a five pound brick with them to class, onto a plane or to a meeting but before the advent of low voltage, high efficiency processors, heavy laptops were unavoidable. Sure, a relatively lightweight notebook could be found with decent specs but only if you had a few thousand to spend. Recently these convenient - albeit less powerful than their heavier kin - notebooks have come down in price to more reasonable levels and are more popular than ever.

ASUS currently has an enviably broad lineup of notebooks which is headlined by their U-series of ultra portables. These may not be the flagship gaming-grade ROG products but they are infinitely more affordable and can be carted around just about anywhere. Many of the U-series products have recently undergone a minor facelift along with a significant performance upgrade through the inclusion of Sandy Bridge processors. The U36SD-A1 we’re looking at today is a new model which is priced at just $899 (or less), uses the new internals and retains the classic shape of ASUS’ original genre defining U36.

The U36SD’s specifications are actually quite generous for a sub-$999 ultra portable. It uses a full voltage Sandy Bridge 2410M processor rather than a lower performing QM-series ULV CPU along with 4GB of single channel DDR3 (another module can be installed for 8GB in dual channel mode). However, the crowning achievement here is the inclusion of a dedicated GT 520M graphics processor which uses NVIDIA’s Optimus switching technology to achieve low power consumption and extended battery life. While it is considered an entry level graphics processor, the GT 520 should allow the U36SD to play most games at low detail settings and allow for accelerated processing via its GPGPU capabilities.

The rest of the equipment ASUS has included here is pretty much basic for most notebooks in this category but our unit did come with the optional 8-cell battery and a relatively slow 640GB 5400RPM hard drive. There are quite a few additional options with BlueTooth, faster hard drives and higher end processors being available on some configurations.

Once again, ASUS’ notebook completely out punches the competition in the warranty department. Instead of the industry standard single year (or less!), they provide 2 full years of coverage, one year against battery defects and 30 days of protection against dead pixels. What more could you possibly want?

ASUS starts off things on the right foot by clothing their U36 in a durable matte finish which doesn’t show fingerprints, actually repels dust and is nearly impervious to scratches. Unfortunately, it does tend to pick up quite a few scuffs which can usually be buffed out with a damp cloth.

The supple matte finish continues around the keyboard and palm rest but the same can’t be said of the whole interior since the screen is for some reason housed within a highly reflective bezel. The glossy screen on an ultra portable is bad enough but adding mirror-like qualities around it will drive any on the go user to absolute distraction. This is likely done to attract naïve shoppers at big box stores who are looking for something flashy but we think ASUS has missed their intended market by a country mile by eschewing an all-matte design.

While its footprint is slightly larger than some other 13.3” notebooks (that’s a 13.3” Vaio Z in the picture above), the U36 is only 2cm thick and weighs in at a mere 1.66kg which makes it highly portable. Trust us; you’ll be as surprised as we were upon seeing how easily it fits within a carrying bag.

This lack of weight and thickness doesn’t mean ASUS skimped on reinforcement since the U36 exhibits the same chassis rigidity and high quality feel as larger, more expensive notebooks. Everything from the screen hinges’ firm swing to the hair thin material joints belie the U36’s sub-$1000 price tag. The perception of such high quality is partially due to ASUS’ use of a durable magnesium-aluminum alloy for this notebook’s body.

ASUS has equipped the U36 with an abundance of well positioned connectors but due to its size, there is no disk drive included. On the right had edge there are jacks for a microphone and heaphones, a 5-in-1 card reader, a single SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port, an HDMI 1.4a output and a LAN jack. Meanwhile, the other side holds a Kensington lock, the power connector, a VGA output and two USB 2.0 ports. Some people may wish for more than what's included here but for its market niche, we certainly wouldn’t change anything.

The U36’s underside is mostly barren but the expanded 8-cell battery projects about a half inch from the bottom. This elevates the notebook into a comfortable, ergonomic typing position without causing any balance issues.

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