ASUS UL20A 12.1″ CULV Laptop Review

Introduction

Even at a time when I was looking for maximum performance out of every computer I purchased, ultraportables always caught my eye, for one reason or another. Perhaps it was their cuteness, or perhaps it was the jet-setting lifestyle that they were associated with. Whatever the reason, they’ve held a soft spot in my heart, but prices have always been a hard knock for my wallet.

Intel became a victim of their own success in the Atom processor. Although margins on the product are pretty high, they cannibalized sales of more expensive processors, especially during the economic downturn of late. Sure, they’re still making money from Atom, but less revenues equals (=) bad for most companies.

Intel launched the Consumer Ultra-Low-Voltage (CULV) lineup of processors to help combat falling ASPs, starting with single core SU2700 and SU3500 processors. Since then, they’ve broadened the lineup to include dual core Celeron SU2300, Pentium SU4100, Core 2 Duo SU7300, and more. I always thought it would be AMD that forced ultraportables into my price range; it’s ironic that Intel’s own upselling strategy put the ultraportable within my budget.

ASUS launched their CULV notebook products in early September 2009, and a couple months later, the UL20A began shipping in North America. The smallest of the bunch, the 12.1″ UL20A brings decent dual core performance down to something not much bigger than the larger netbooks, which range all the way up to 11.6″. In fact, one of the “netbooks” I’ll compare the UL20A to, the Atom + ION powered HP Mini 311, is less than 0.1lbs lighter and 0.4″ narrower and shorter.

ASUS

Purchased configuration

Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 (1.3GHz)
1x2GB DDR2-800 RAM (1 open slot)
250GB 5400RPM HDD (Hitachi 5K500.B)
12.1″ LED-backlit display (1366×768)
Intel GMA X4500MHD
10/100Mbps Ethernet
0.3MP webcam
Intel WiFi Link 1000 802.11bgn
6-cell battery – 4400mAh (47.5Whr)
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions:  11.8″ (W) x 8.4″ (L) x 1.0″ (H)
Weight: 3.3lbs (6-cell battery)

Price: $599 CAD

Reason for purchase

My choice of laptop would paint a pretty accurate picture of my interests and hobbies over the last five years. When I entered university, I went for a desktop replacement for power and gaming, an ASUS Z71V. Two years later, I downsized to a Dell XPS M1330, albeit with the discrete NVIDIA graphics, as I realized absolute performance was no longer the most useful asset of a laptop, with portability starting to trump. And now, as I wrap up my university career, I’m moving further down the size and performance food-chain with the ASUS UL20A. Without space limitations, a powerful desktop takes care of all my high-end photographic work.

Despite some drama around the time of the Dell-NVIDIA GPU issues, the M1330 has served me quite well for 2.5 years. That’s about as long as I’ve held onto any one piece of technology. The combination of portability and performance is not lost on me, and it served its purpose quite well. However, 2.5 years is a long time for the lithium-ion batteries, and both the 6 cell and the 9 cell started to wear out. To maintain portability away from power outlets, I needed to look for something new.

With a desktop holding down the performance fort, I went on the lookout for a small laptop, with good battery life. Cheap was also a bonus, as my place of employment would provide me with a laptop for business use. Really, this would be a toss-around for trips and lounging at home. Think netbook, but marginally more powerful.

I wanted something smaller than the M1330, so I juggled the Acer 1410T, 1810T, the ASUS UL20A, and the Dell Inspiron 11z.

  • The Dell was struck from the list, after I found out even with the tumorous 6-cell battery, it only gets slightly over 5 hours of battery life.
  • I’m still a sucker for aesthetics and design, and well, the Acer isn’t exactly a pretty face.
  • The Acers all come with bilingual keyboards in Canada, which I haven’t had much luck adapting to in the past.
  • The 1410T (SU4100) was $50 less than the UL20A, with similar battery life
  • The 1810T (SU7300) was $50 more than the UL20A, with better battery life.

In the end, I compromised with the prettier option, an English keyboard, and decent battery life in the UL20A. The laptop was purchased from NCIX.com for $599.95.

One thought on “ASUS UL20A 12.1″ CULV Laptop Review”

  1. Great review, nice detail. I’m currently using a Dell Latitude D400 (manufactured 2003, purchased used in 2007). It’s got a 12″ screen, weighs 3.3lbs. I really want more battery life and have been looking at the ASUS UL series. Probably going to go with at UL30. There is so much overlap between the UL20 & UL30 series that this has been a great help. Thanks!

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