ASUS UL20A 12.1″ CULV Laptop Review

Setup

I’d normally not bother commenting on setting up the default operating system installation in a review, but since I wanted to do some benchmarks of the stock system, I went through with the activation of the Windows 7 Home Premium installation. That’s where I discovered several issues.

First, Windows 7 is already installed on the system, so I thought it would be a matter of a couple minutes to specify a user name and password. Instead, Windows got stuck at the “Preparing your desktop” screen for 5 minutes, then some ASUS system configuration locked the computer up for another 10 minutes afterwards.

Upon reaching the desktop, after close to 20 minutes of setup, I realized why it took so long. There is a serious amount of bloat. The system starts up with over 70 processes running.  The Add/Remove programs list requires a lot of scrolling to get through. Some of the utilities are useful, like ASUS Power4Gear, which allows you to specify detailed power levels. Most of the others are useless. Blow away the default install if you get this machine.

Hardware and Performance

The headline hardware in the ASUS UL20A-A1 is the Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 ultra-low voltage processor. The SU7300 is a dual core processor based on the Penryn  core, running at 1.3GHz with 3MB L2 cache, and a 800MHz FSB. It is the highest rated processor in Intel’s so-dubbed “Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage” (CULV) lineup of processors (as of later 2009, when this machine was purchased). The processor has a 10W TDP and supports VT-x, which is required for Windows 7’s XP mode functionality. The CULV processors are Intel’s way of upselling manufacturers, and by association, consumers to more expensive, higher performance processors, while keeping the power consumption relatively low.

By default, the laptop comes with a single 2GB DDR2-800 SO-DIMM, a Hitachi 250GB 5K500.B 2.5″ hard drive (5400RPM) and Intel’s GMA X4500MHD integrated graphics. Intel’s X4500MHD graphics is far from a solution for gamers, but does (fortunately) support full hardware acceleration for MPEG-2, VC-1 and H.264/AVC digital content. Furthermore, Flash 10.1 supports GPU hardware acceleration on the X4500MHD as well.

ASUS UL20A

I’ve used laptops covering a wide range of performance, from a Core 2 Duo T7500 in an HP laptop workstation to an Atom N270 in an HP Mini 311. The SU7300, unsurprisingly, falls in between the two from a performance perspective, but is far more similar to the T7500 than the Atom in everyday usability. Sure, number crunching capacity won’t be as great, but multitasking is still very smooth, something which cannot be said for the Atom. It was after being dissatisfied with the Mini 311’s performance that I purchased the UL20A, with the dual core CULV processor. The Atom and SU7300 provide completely different computing experiences. The gap between the SU7300 and something like the T7500 is far, far smaller, and perhaps even negligible for a less discerning user. It’s a fantastic compromise between performance and power consumption.

While hardware selection by ASUS is pretty good, the same cannot be said for the out-of-box software experience. The laptop boots up for the first time with a whopping 71 processes running and 42% of its memory completely eaten up.

I pulled the hard drive and put in my own 128GB Kingston SSD with a clean install of Windows 7 and came out with 38 processes and only 31% memory consumed.

Gaming and Graphics

“Gaming” for me nowadays means a few arcade games downloaded on Steam. The three games I most commonly play are World of Goo, Audiosurf and Braid.

World of Good and Audiosurf perform admirably, with no slowdowns. Audiosurf in particular exhibits zero lag, so you won’t be able to blame the computer if you miss that block. Analyzing songs to generate the tracks also zips right along. I haven’t had a chance to try Braid yet, but by the looks of things, some light arcade gaming will be easily handled by the UL20A’s integrated Intel graphics.

I do a fair amount of photography, so how my portable computer handles graphics and photography programs such as Photoshop and Nikon ViewNX are important to me. I purposely left Capture NX2 off my list (it’s not even installed) because I don’t intend on doing serious post-processing work on this machine. At most, I’ll download photos from the camera and use ViewNX to cull the awful ones or tag the ones that deserve some post-processing when I get back to my main machine.

Benchmarks

I’ve provided some cursory benchmark results, but really, there shouldn’t be any difference outside of measurement error to other SU7300-powered CULV machines.

The default Hitachi 5K500.B is a fast 5400RPM drive. It achieves over 60MB/s average read/write.

ASUS UL20A HDTune

Here’s Cinebench as well for a baseline.

ASUS UL20A Cinebench

Perhaps the more interesting statistic is some real-world timings when working with Windows, booting up, shutting down, putting the laptop to sleep and so forth. Let’s start off with the performance numbers for the hard drive-equipped stock laptop.

Boot Shut Down Sleep Resume from Sleep
29 seconds to login screen

1:02 until open IE8

12 seconds 9 seconds 2 seconds

I’ve since reformatted the computer and stuck in a Kingston 128GB solid state drive. This is a relatively slow SSD, using a JMicron controller, albeit slightly tweaked to minimize stuttering in an OS environment.

Boot Shut Down Sleep Resume from Sleep
18 seconds to login screen

33 seconds until open IE8

18 seconds 5 seconds 2 seconds

COMMENTS

One Reply to “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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *