You may recall several years ago I was very excited about my new laptop at the time, a Dell XPS M1330. That system has served me well and although it had its issues (like the nVidia graphics chip being faulty during manufacture, the abysmal battery life and a touchpad on the small side) it has been a great laptop for me.
I enjoy using small and light laptops because I believe this type of machine properly fits the purpose of a laptop. Anything larger than 14 inches diagonal screen size and the corresponding laptop body will no longer fit on the average lap. The term ‘desktop replacements’ seems like an oxymoron to me; what’s the point of a laptop that lives 90% of its life on a desk, tethered to power because the battery only lasts two hours?
Anyway, enough proselytizing. This post is about my new laptop which I have become enamored with, to say the least.
As you can see the shape of the system bears a striking resemblance to that of the MacBook Air. However, the main difference is that the Apple offering is less industrial-looking. The Air has a matte finish to its brushed aluminium lid whereas the Zenbook has a more polished look.
Inside the colour is more ‘gunmetal grey’ (one of my favorite colours) than the more silver-looking aluminium of Apple products.
The laptop weighs just over a kilogram and measures just 18 millimetres at its thickest point. Connectivity consists of a USB2, a USB3, SD/MMC card slot, headphone/microphone in/out, micro-HDMI and mini-VGA. The top of the range version sports an Intel Core i7 2677M, 4Gb DDR3, 256Gb SSD, 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.0. Battery life as tested by Engadget is approximately 8 hours with WiFi enabled.
I have installed Windows 7 Home Premium on mine and it is very nice to use. I intend upon replacing my Lenovo T410 work-provided laptop with my Zenbook. Fortunately my employer is very big on the current trend of ‘Bring Your Own Device’ whereby most of the corporate software stack can be accessed through Citrix XenApp. In terms of functionality it’s basically X window forwarding except it works on all operating systems (sidenote: checking my e-mail in Microsoft Outlook on my Google Android handset is probably one of the most ‘haha, this is so dumb but cool’ technology exercises I have recently undertaken).
At first I tried to use Ubuntu 11.10 on this system. It worked OK but wasn’t suitable for use as a full-time work laptop replacement because of the various issues leading me to doubt the reliability of the system as a whole. As mentioned there are a few issues with Ubuntu 11.10 currently:
- Can’t easily suspend/hibernate: requires tweaking with a custom powerdown script which I can’t get working, although reportedly it does work fine.
- Bluetooth support not available until kernel 3.2.
- Some models have a ‘Sentelic’ touchpad, which is not supported by any drivers at present for multi-touch etc. Other models have an ‘Elantech’ touchpad which is fully supported. You can’t tell which you’re buying until you open it up. I have a ‘Sentelic’ model.
- Currently power consumption on all Sandy Bridge CPUs is poor with kernel 3.0.x and 3.1.x; reportedly fixed in 3.2.x though currently there are workarounds which make the system somewhat unstable.
Unfortunately the lack of Bluetooth and poor touchpad support is a killer. In the office it’s not such a big deal but while I am out on site and needing to connect a USB-to-serial adapter to access the console of networking devices, I can choose to either have a mouse plugged in or my phone or the provided USB-to-Ethernet adapter. When working away from the office on unfamiliar network equipment, it’s typically essential to have at least a console and ethernet or console and mouse.
The performance of the system is very good. This is the first computer I have owned with a solid state drive and I am impressed. I have seen other computers with them but never really used them for an extended period of time to really appreciate how fast an SSD can do things. Now whenever I am using any other computer it seems like I am waiting for far too long for anything to happen.
With Windows the battery life is pretty good. Windows usually reports about 7 hours of life from a full charge, though I have never used the laptop continuously for that long on battery, I have seen a solid five hours out of it with two overnights periods of sleep. This may not be optimal, because I have installed Windows from scratch I can’t install most of the Asus utilities, including the “Instant-On” utility which I presume provides some power saving mechanism.
As compared to my last laptop; well, this one doesn’t compare. It is simply better in every way. Even the integrated graphics are better than the old nVidia graphics chip in my Dell. I experimented by playing Grand Theft Auto III on this laptop and it ran quite well.
The price I paid worked out to be around $1760 from a local retailer. They included a free Bluetooth mouse for some reason which I was quite happy with. Unfortunately for me and my insistence on buying the best version of this laptop I possibly could, paying that price meant I missed on on buying the next model down for around $660 cheaper – an i5 / 128Gb SSD model, which can be had on special at JB HiFi. It’s worth it though. With 256Gb I don’t really have to think about what I put on my system. I just know it’ll all fit.