Although made entirely from plastic, the U30SD has a simple, understated design that'll suit most users. The product finish is perfectly satisfactory, although the casing around the keyboard does tend to dip in a bit when you type.
The keyboard has chiclet keys. These are well sized and well positioned so you won't find yourself hitting the wrong keys by accident. Typing feels soft and instinctive and is generally pleasant. The noise the keyboard makes is, however, not quite so nice, and really makes the product feel very plastic!
The good-quality touchpad ensures precision navigation and your finger slides across it nicely. That said, we think it would benefit from being a few centimetres longer. Plus, it barely even qualifies as multitouch, as only two-fingered vertical scrolling is recognised—there are no horizontal scrolling or zoom functions.
The webcam gives pretty mediocre results. The edges of objects are poorly defined, everything looks pixellated and dark shades block together. It's the kind of webcam you'd only really use if that's all you had available. We'd highly recommend using a separate webcam if you plan on doing a lot of face-to-face chat.
There's a standard set of connections, but it would have been nice to see a high-speed connection like USB 3.0 or eSATA. On the right-hand edge there's a power port, an Ethernet (RJ45) port, one of the three USB 2.0 ports and the DVD burner drive. On the left-hand edge there are two video outputs (HDMI and VGA), as well as the two other USB 2.0 ports and the headphones and microphone sockets. An SD card reader slot can be found on the front edge.
While the U30SD is a very quiet computer, its cooling system could have been designed more effectively. Air vents are located on the side and the underside of the notebook, which means you won't want to use it on your lap for too long. A vent system allowing hot air to escape between the chassis and the screen, for example, would have been a simple way around this problem.
Underneath, with the panel off
VGA out, HDMI out, 2 x USB 2.0 ports, headphones and microphone sockets
DVD drive, USB 2.0 port, Ethernet port and power connection
Processor Power: good performances
The Intel Core i5-2410M used in the U30SD is, along with the Core i3 2310M, one of the processors that we see the most in notebooks on the market right now. It's therefore a CPU that we know well and it's a real all-rounder. Office computing and web browsing are a walk in the park for the Core i5-2410M, and more power-hungry programs (video editing and encoding, 3D design and modelling, decompression etc.) don't pose much of a problem either, with perfectly respectable processing times.
This computer can play HD videos (1080p, Blu-ray equivalent) just fine. For that, we recommend you the video playback capabilities of the integrated graphics processor (Intel HD 3000). This takes care of decoding 1080p Full HD videos without using up power from the processor which is free to get on with other tasks.
The 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium Edition starts up in 57 seconds. You then have to wait between 10 and 32 seconds for the various different software applications to load up and for the computer to connect to a Wi-Fi network. The U30SD takes around 20 seconds to switch off completely.
Gaming: reasonable results
Here, you can no longer count on the built-in Intel graphics chip, as the NVIDIA graphics card is on hand to take over. The switch from the built-in chip to the graphics card is perfectly transparent and the NVIDIA Optimus function takes care of switching back and forth as required.
The mid-range NVIDIA GT 520M graphics card does a decent enough job. You can play all the latest releases, from Crysis to World of Warcraft, in the screen's native resolution (1366 x 768 pixels). You'll still have to turn the graphic detail down in particularly demanding games though, in order to keep gameplay smooth and glitch-free.
Audio: good speakers
It's so rare to see good speakers in a 13.3-inch notebook that the U30SD's decent audio output definitely needs pointing out. The U30SD doesn't do a better job than the market leaders, but its speakers give good-quality, sufficiently powerful sound and don't cause any vibrations or buzzing in the chassis.
There's nothing bad to report in the audio input/output ports either. The microphone entry and headphones output could do with being a bit more powerful, but apart from that they work perfectly well.
Portability & Battery Life: more good newsThe U30SD isn't the lightest or most compact ultra-portable laptop out there, but weighing 2.2 Kg and measuring 330 x 240 x 30 mm, it can still be easily carried around in a rucksack for several hours. That's good news too, since this 13.3-inch laptop held out for almost five hours of video playback (with headphones plugged in, Wi-Fi switched off and the screen brightness at 100 cd/m²). That's a very respectable battery life for a laptop with a dedicated graphics card and a Core i5 processor. That's good news too, as it would have been a shame to confine this ultra-portable notebook to a life of home-based use.
- CPU performance
- Games can be played in the native screen resolution
- Good speakers
- 5-hour battery life
- Very quiet
- Glossy screen with poor colour fidelity
- Gets quite hot during intense use
- No USB 3.0 or eSATA connection
Although it's not the most lightweight ultra-portable notebook out there, the Asus U30SD boasts good all-round performances and a decent battery life. It should therefore appeal to all kinds of different users. It's not too expensive either.