Hardware, design & build
The US36D's chassis is sober and elegant, its aluminium and magnesium alloy giving a soft coating to the hood and palm rest. The finish is excellent. Pernickety as we are however, we would have liked to see Asus push the matte thing a bit further to cover the contour of the screen and the screen itself (glossy).
The keyboard is in the chiclet style. The keys are well-proportioned, well-positioned and give supple, instinctive keying that minimises keying errors and gives the user a comfortable typing experience. Asus has used the space at its disposal well.
We were also impressed with the touchpad. It's precise and the glide makes it nice to use.
As with the U30SD, the webcam gives mediocre results with moving objects. The contours are poorly defined, the image pixelised and the black is blocked. If you've got nothing else to hand, it'll do as a fallback solution but you'll need an external webcam for regular use.
The connectivity covers all the bases. There's an Ethernet (RJ45) port, an HDMI out, a VGA out, two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, an SD card reader and mic and headphones sockets. Note, there's no DVD rewriter or Blu-ray player! Best to be informed of this before you buy as you may well find yourself having to shell out for an external rewriter/player.
Relatively quiet at idle, the U36SD quickly gets noisier when you push the components hard. The reduced size of the shell and the powerful components contained inside mean the fan has to run fast to extract the heat generated. You won't want to sit this 13.3-inch on your knees as the air coming out gets up to almost 50°C.
The U36SD's temperature readings when you push the components hard
Readings taken using a Fluke Ti25 (Distrame) camera
Matte (keyboard) / glossy (screen)
Power supply, VGA out, USB 2.0 (x2)
Headphones socket, mic socket, card reader, USB 3.0 port, HDMI out and RJ45 port
Processor power: good performance
The Intel Core i5-2410M used in the U36SD is a processor we've seen in a lot of the machines that have been through our lab. It's a decent allrounder. Office document processing and Internet browsing are a walk in the park for it and it's also efficient with more demanding applications (video encoding, 3D modelling, decompression), displaying perfectly reasonable processing times.
You can play HD 1080p (Blu-Ray equivalent) video no problem on this model. We advise you to use the video playback capacities of the integrated graphics solution (Intel HD 3000). This hardware acceleration allows you to decode Full HD 1080p videos without occupying the processor, which is then freed up for other tasks.
Windows 7 Family Premium edition (64-bit) takes 53 seconds to boot. You then have to wait another 10 to 25 seconds for the various pieces of software and connection to a wi-fi network to launch. It turns off in less than 20 seconds.
Gaming: decent capacity
Here you'll no longer need to rely on the graphics chipset as the NVIDIA graphics card will take over here. For the user, moving over from the chipset to the graphics card is transparent and handled by the NVIDIA Optimus technology.
The GT 520M, a mid-range card, has decent capacity. You'll be able to play any title you choose, from Metro 2033 to Counter-Strike, at the screen's native resolution. Note, the most demanding games will require you to lower the graphics details.
Audio: an honourable performance
With a very standard Realtek chipset, the Asus U36SD can claim more than decent audio performance. Additional noise on the ins/outs is limited, as is crosstalk.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the speakers, which, while they give a relatively clean signal, don't give good quality sound.