Well-executed, elegant bamboo design. Fastest Core i3 processor yet. Two GPUs built-in. 500GB hard drive. Intel's WiDi present.
Cursor jumps from time to time. Heat detectable in the base. Nvidia GPU didn't reach its full potential. Missing optical drive might be a deal breaker for some.
The Asus U33Jc-A1 ($999 street) is a standout among the ever-growing crowd of laptop look-alikes. Portions of this laptop are made of bamboo, the same stuff pandas eat, but polished to look like a stained hardwood floor. Bamboo is environmentally friendly, durable, and in some cases, fire proof, but no one other than Asus has dared to use this material on a laptop. A speedy Intel Core i3 processor and two GPUs that leverage Nvidia's Optimus technology lie beneath the bamboo frame. If you can get by without an optical drive and put up with some warmth from the system's base, you can have a laptop that blends in with your antique furniture.
This is not the first time Asus has taken everyday materials and fused them with its laptops. The U2E-A2B ($2,499 list, ) was the first leather-clad laptop, and the company is clearly a big proponent of sleek aluminum metal, as shown by the U30Jc-1A ($899 street, ), UL80Vt-A1 ($823 street, ), and UL50VF-A1 ($850 street, ). I've reviewed Asus designs that use foam, synthetic fabric, and even denim cloth, so you can understand why a tough, eco-friendly substance like bamboo would fit into its design scheme. The lid and palm rest areas are covered in it, accented by chrome trimmings and treated with a maple stain that brings new meaning to the word "elegant."
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The frame is as rigid as the aluminum Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz) ($1,199 direct, ) and Asus U30Jc-A1, though it's thicker and heavier than expected despite purging the optical drive. At 4.5 pounds, it's about as heavy as the MacBook Pro 13-inch (4.5 lbs), HP Pavilion dm4-1063cl ($900 list, ) (4.4 lbs), and U30Jc-1A (4.7 lbs)—laptops with built-in DVD burners.
- Gaming, General Purpose, Media
- Operating System
- Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium
- Processor Name
- Intel Core i3-370M
- Processor Speed
- 2.4 GHz
- 4 GB
- 4.5 lb
- Screen Size
- 13.3 inches
- Screen Size Type
- Graphics Card
- Intel GMA HD
- Storage Capacity
- 500 GB
- Networking Options
- Primary Optical Drive
Bordering the screen with bamboo would have been overkill, which was why Asus used black plastic borders around its 13.3-inch widescreen. An edge-to-edge glass screen, like the one found in the MacBook Pro 13-inch, would have been the higher-end alternative. The 1,366 by 768 resolution is nothing to write home about, as it's regularly used by mainstream laptops
Asus is also quite fond of the chiclet-style keyboards. The full size keyboard in the U33Jc-A1 lacks the backlit function of the MacBook Pro, and while the touchpad and mouse buttons looked exquisite in bamboo, the cursor jumped from time to time. You can, however, adjust the touchpad's sensitivity levels under the mouse settings, in the control panel. Aside from these minor peeves, the typing and navigating experience served me well.
Omitting the optical drive was a bit of a surprise. Given the thickness and weight of the laptop, it seems like it should have one. It has the usual selection of ports, including 3 USB, HDMI, multimedia card reader, and Ethernet. It comes with a 500GB hard drive, which is bigger than the 320GB one found in the Asus U30Jc-A1 and Dell Inspiron 14R ($820 direct, ).
Intel's Wireless Display (WiDi) is a feature you'll be seeing more of in laptops, as it needs no cables to extend the desktop environment to an HDTV or any external flat panel. The U33Jc-A1 is one of the first Asus laptops to integrate WiDi, though you'll need to buy a separate Netgear Push2TV receiver ($100 at Best Buy) that connects to the external panel. WiDi is also available in the Toshiba Portégé R705-P25 ($800 street, ) and the Dell 14R. A two year global warranty is the icing on the cake, as this feature is standard on most Asus branded laptops.
The U33Jc-A1 runs on a 2.4GHz Intel Core i3-370M processor, a step up from the 2.27GHz 350M found in the U30Jc-1A and R705-P25. It boosted video encoding (47 seconds) and Cinebench R10 (7,923) scores to the level of a Core i5 processor-equipped laptop. The Core i5 processors found in the Lenovo IdeaPad Y460 ($1,049 direct, ) and HP dm4-1063cl are speedier on paper, although it would be difficult to notice these differences in the real world. The real world gap is further narrowed by 4GB of DDR3 memory, which is a standard configuration in many Asus laptops.
Laptops that switch between two graphics chipsets are also on the rise. With Asus, it started with the UL50VF-1A, followed by the U30Jc-A1, and now the U33Jc-A1. The switch is made possible by Nvidia's Optimus technology, which automatically makes the switch to the appropriate graphics chip, based on the application the user is running. Laptops like the Y460 and the dm4-1063 also utilize two graphics chips, but the switch is done manually through an ATI-proprietary utility.
One of the two graphics chips is the mighty Nvidia GeForce 310M, the same one found in the U30Jc-1A, except with more video memory (now 1GB). Unfortunately, the U33Jc-A1 trailed in every one of our gaming benchmark tests—3DMark06, Crysis, and World in Conflict. Among its peers, which run on similar midrange graphics cards, the U33Jc-A1 fared the worst. According to Asus, the 310M in my test unit was slightly under-clocked (605 MHz versus 625). I suspect that insufficient cooling played a role in cranking down GPU power, since the system was already running warmer than the U30Jc-1A, particularly on the left side of the base (95-99 degrees Fahrenheit).
Battery life also didn't live up to its namesake. Even though they have identical batteries, the U33Jc-A1 (6 hours 34 minutes) trailed the U30Jc-A1 (8 hours) by a significant margin. The higher-clocked processor and insufficient cooling could very well explain why the battery drained quicker. Of course, 6.5 hours of battery life isn't a huge knock against this unit, though, since it outlasted similar systems like the Toshiba R705-P25 (6:20), HP dm4-1063cl (5:01), and Lenovo Y460 (4:52). It's just unfortunate that the U30Jc-1A set the bar for battery fortitude.
The Asus U33Jc-A1's craftmanship deserves every design accolade imaginable, but it's hard not to draw comparisons to the similarly configured U30Jc-A1, the current Editors' Choice. You're basically paying a $100 premium for the bamboo design and trading in the optical drive for a minor bump in processor speed and hard drive capacity. Omitting an optical drive, having an under-clocked GPU, and running hot at the base are signs of insufficient cooling, you can only wonder, is the use of bamboo to blame? Who knows. What I do know is that the U33Jc-A1 is a beautifully made laptop, but the U30Jc-A1 is the better overall machine.
BENCHMARK TEST RESULTS
Check out the test scores for the Asus U33Jc-A1