Day-to-day with an all-day notebook
When I first booted the UL30A, I was surprised to see that it comes pre-loaded with Windows Vista Home Premium x86. Asus went through the trouble of outfitting this configuration with 4GB of RAM, but it settled on an operating system that won't take full advantage of that amount of memory. Fortunately, the UL30A qualifies for a Windows 7 upgrade. You should be able to step up to an x64 flavor of Microsoft's new OS, although you'll probably have to do a clean installin-place x86-to-x64 upgrades don't appear to be supported.
If Windows isn't your thing, the UL30A also has a nearly instant-on OS in the form of ExpressGate. This alternative desktop has only limited functionality, but you can browse the web, play music, view photos, access IM networks, and run Skype. Personally, I'd rather wait a minute for a fully functional Windows desktop configured just how I like it.
As one might expect, Asus has packed a healthy dose of extraneous trialware and other applications onto the UL30A. The volume of bloat isn't as obscene as what's been infecting Acer systems of late, but there's plenty of fat to trim. Do keep Asus' Power4Gear Hybrid software, though.
This app defines four power-saving profiles that one can easily cycle through by hitting a button just above the top left-hand corner of the keyboard. Users have a measure of control over each profile's display brightness, enabled devices, processor clock speed, and even things like the gadget bar and desktop background. The slider that controls the maximum processor state isn't nearly as effective as one might hope, though. Setting it to run at 100% works, clocking the UL30A's SU7300 processor at 1.3GHz with a 6.5X multiplier and 800MHz front-side bus. However, anything below 100% produces an improbable 1.6GHz clock speed via an 8X CPU multiplier, still on an 800MHz front-side bus, at least according to the latest version of CPU-Z.
It turns out that CPU-Z is correctly reporting the CPU multiplier and front-side bus speed. Asus says the UL30A uses "N by 2 tech" to halve the output of the system's clock generator before applying the CPU multiplier. With the clock generator outputting 200MHz, dividing by two and multiplying by eight yields an 800MHz core clock.
I've asked Asus for some additional clarification, but it looks like you really only have two options for the CPU: let it run up to full speed and have SpeedStep handle throttling or lock it down to 800MHz. The latter option is the default configuration for the UL30A's Battery Saving mode.
I spent a lot of time with the UL30A in Battery Saving mode, and even though the system feels noticeably slower with its clock speed capped, it's still far more responsive than an Atom-powered netbook, especially when multitasking. Our sample's dual-core processor certainly adds a dose of creamy smoothness, even if it isn't running at full speed, but a single-core config may be less forgiving.
These performance impressions matter, because every time someone asks me about whether they should buy a netbook, I have to prime their expectations by explaining the attached limitations. That isn't much of an issue with CULV hardware that has ample horsepower for much more than just basic web surfing, word processing, and video playback.
The Intel platform's only real shortcoming is with gaming, where the GMA 4500MHD can't push pixels fast enough for fluid frame rates in
non-casual, er, real games. You know, stuff like Left 4 Dead, Call of Duty, and GRID.
In fact, even MMOs are a bit of a stretch. With little on-screen action, World of Warcraft is sluggish at native resolution with low detail levels. Drop to 800x600 and gameplay is smooth enough to be playable, although again, that's just wandering around where the demo dumps new players. Massive raids will probably bring the GMA to its knees.
Lego Batman is just tolerable for me at 800x600 with low details. Games don't typically offer lower resolutions with 16:9 aspect ratios, so most titles are going to end up looking squished on the Ul30A's screen.
Even Geometry Wars has to be run at a relatively low 800x600 resolution. Of course, this title was designed for the Xbox 360, which is a different league than any Graphics Media Accelerator in terms of graphics horsepower. Heck, the Wii probably spits out pixels faster than the 4500MHD.
At least the UL30A can run Audiosurf with the second-highest detail levels at native resolution. That's enough to keep me entertained for good while, so it's even better that the game remains playable in Battery Saving mode.