ASUS UL20A 12.1″ CULV Laptop Review

Battery Life

With my work and personal lives becoming more and more mobile, and less time sitting in front of a desk, I wanted something with good to great battery life. To get decent battery life out of the Dell M1330, I had to strap in the 9 cell, which increased the thickness of the laptop significantly, and raised the weight of the system up to just over 5lbs.

The ASUS UL20A comes with only a 4400mAh, 48WHr 6 cell battery. It fits flush with the back of the system, and raises the rear of the laptop a few millimeters. Despite the small battery, ASUS advertises a 7.5 hour runtime for the UL20A-A1. How realistic is this?

The majority of my use with the UL20A will be for productivity and web-browsing. I measured the power drain while I typed out part of this review and surfed the web, a pretty typical load I’d put on the system. Wi-Fi was (obviously) on, the screen was set to around 2/3rd brightness and Power4Gear in “Quite Office” mode. The display never turned off for the duration of the test, and no peripherals were attached to the laptop. Over the course of 60 minutes, I measured a 121mW/min drain on the battery. With a fully charged battery holding just about 47000mWh, that gives us a 6:28 runtime under these conditions.

Under Entertainment mode, I watched an episode of House M.D. at standard resolution (480p), with Wi-Fi on and the screen once again set to around 2/3rd brightness. Over the course of 43 minutes, the laptop averaged a power drain of 165mW/min. That translates into a runtime of 4:45. Not bad. That’ll get you through two movies of average length.

It’s hard not to make the comparison with the HP Mini 311. That netbook is very similar in size and weight to the UL20A. However, it stresses nearly the opposite performance paradigm  compared to the UL20A, packing a relatively powerful graphics solution (NVIDIA ION) with a weak CPU (Atom N270). In everyday use, battery life of the two ends up being similar, with the UL20A having a bit of an edge, by approximately an hour in productivity scenarios. However, I can get far more done with the UL20A in the same amount of time, since multitasking is actually possible with the dual core processor.

The result? The UL20A makes the right trade-offs for my use cases, giving me better battery life and performance with the applications I use most often.

Heat and Noise

In one sentence, both are nearly non-existent. Working on this review in bed, with the laptop resting on the covers, blocking all ventilation ports, the laptop barely warms up. The fan does not turn on, under these usage conditions (browsing the net, word processing). Considering the power consumption is around 7W for this scenario, one can see why very little heat would be radiated. There’s simply not much power that could be turned into heat here.

Under stress, the fan does turn on, producing some noise. However, the laptop stays cool to touch. The underside of the laptop towards the left-hand side  is the only region that heats up to anything significantly more than room temperature. The palm rests get barely warm, even under load.

Wireless

The ASUS UL20-A1 comes with an Intel Pro/Wireless 1000 802.11b/g/n card. This half-height mini-PCI-e card has only single-band Wireless-n support. Signal quality seems average to good. I have not noted any dropped wireless connections over the course of 3 weeks of use.

The laptop does not come equipped with Bluetooth. A bummer for sure, and there’s no easy to add it. You’ll probably need to remove the keyboard to get access to the Bluetooth connector.

Conclusion

ASUS Z71V. Dell XPS M1330. ASUS UL20A-A1.
15.4″. 13.3″. 12.1″
6.8lbs. 4.2lbs. 3.2lbs.
$2000. $1500. $600.

That’s not a bad way to sum things up. Over the years, I’ve gone from a hulking desktop replacement down to a lightweight ultraportable. My needs have changed. Would I say the ASUS UL20A is any better than the previous laptops? No. In fact, compared to the Z71V, I’ve gone backwards in both screen resolution and graphics performance. However, I’ve gained significantly in the areas I need more of, portability, battery life, and cost.

At $599, the ASUS UL20A is a fantastic purchase for users who need ample performance for productivity workloads and a long battery life. Combined with good build quality, nice keyboard, and the use of some nice materials, like the aluminum lid, it simply gets the job done. Unlike the Dell XPS M1330, I simply throw the UL20A in my bag without thought of which battery I should bring, the 6 or 9 cell. The standard battery, which fits flush, gets me through an entire day of use, yet weighs less than 3.5lbs.

Buy this if you’re a lightweight traveler, looking for an attractive, small, ultraportable that will do most any productivity workload. Do not buy this if you’re looking for a desktop replacement or the absolute cheapest solution that will get your work done.

Pros
Light (3.2lbs)
Price
Brushed aluminum lid (looks great, solid build)
Firm keyboard
Good battery life
Performant (enough)

Cons
Not the cheapest in its class
Graphically limited (Intel IGP)
Loaded with bloat by default

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!

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