Asus’ K53E dual-core Sandy Bridge notebook

Our first brush with Sandy Bridge in its mobile incarnation—or rather, the first vessel for it that entered our labs—was a 17″ Compal review platform, a great big hunk of a laptop fast enough to put most folks’ desktop PCs to shame. At its heart lay Intel’s Core i7-2820QM processor, whose ample 45W thermal envelope is a testament to the raw might of its four cores. In such a chunky desktop replacement system, that chip is right at home.

In anything substantially smaller and thinner, however, less grandiose alternatives are required.

Today, we’re getting our first crack at one of those alternatives: the Core i5-2520M, which numbers among dual-core mobile Sandy Bridge variants that have started pouring into 15″, 14″ and 13″ laptops recently. We’re also taking a look at a member of that new breed of laptops, the Asus K53E, which plays host to the i5-2520M as well as a 15.6″ LCD panel and a run-of-the-mill six-cell battery. By running the K53E through our mobile test suite, we’ll get a feel for the kind of performance and unplugged run time you can expect from an everyday Sandy Bridge laptop—the kind you might find at Best Buy for well under $1,000.

We’ll also get a sense of the Asus K53E, which, unlike the 17″ Compal review unit we studied in January, is an honest-to-goodness retail system (though the exact configuration we’ll be testing doesn’t appear to be available for sale right now). K53E models with slower Sandy Bridge CPUs and less exotic specifications can be nabbed for as little as $624.99 at Amazon right now. If the system’s battery life, performance, and build quality are what they should be, the K53E could be a sweet deal.

Before we get our hands dirty, we’d do well to give the Core i5-2520M a more thorough introduction. Looking at Intel’s mobile Sandy Bridge lineup gives us the feeling that this is very much a middle-of-the-pack offering. Probably because it’s sandwiched between two quicker dual-core variants and two slower ones, all of which fit into the same 35W power envelope. Just like its siblings, the Core i5-2520M has two cores, four threads, 3MB of L3 cache, and an Intel HD Graphics 3000 integrated graphics component (boy, is that name awkward). With a 2.5GHz base speed, a 3.2GHz top Turbo speed, and an integrated GPU that’ll run as fast as 1300MHz, this particular model edges out slower ones without getting too close to faster alternatives.

This isn’t the first time we’ve looked at a dual-core Sandy Bridge processor, of course. In early January, while tackling desktop implementations of Intel’s new architecture, we benchmarked the Core i3-2100. Much like the Core i5-2520M, the i3-2100 squeezes two Hyper-Threaded Sandy Bridge cores into a tighter thermal envelope and a lower price point than its quad-core brethren—it’s just designed with desktops in mind. We’re curious to see if the i5-2520M is palpably slower than the i3-2100, and how the spread between dual- and quad-core offerings translates to the mobile arena, where the quad-core chips are more thermally constrained than on the desktop.

New silicon aside, Asus’ K53E doesn’t look all that different from other 15″ laptops. It’s thin, but not too thin. It’s light enough to use on the couch, but probably a little too bulky for an economy-class airline seat. Asus hasn’t done much trailblazing as far as the rest of the specifications go, either:

Processor Core i5-2520M 2.5GHz
Memory 6GB DDR3-1333 (2 DIMMs)
Chipset Intel HM67 Express
Graphics Intel HD Graphics
Display 15.6″ TFT with 1366×768 resolution and LED backlight
Storage Seagate Momentus 640GB 2.5″ 5,400 RPM hard drive

Matshita UJ8A0ASW DVD-RAM

Audio Stereo HD audio via Realtek codec
Ports 3 USB 2.0

1 HDMI

1 VGA

1 RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet via Atheros AR8151 controller

1 analog headphone output

1 analog microphone input

Expansion slots 1 MMC/SDHC
Communications 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi via Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6230 controller

Bluetooth 2.1+EDR

Input devices Chiclet keyboard

Elan capacitive touchpad

Internal microphone

Camera 0.3-megapixel webcam
Dimensions 14.9″ x 10.0″ x 1.1-1.4″ (378 x 253 x 28-35 mm)
Weight 5.73 lbs (2.6 kg)
Battery 6-cell Li-ion 5200 mAh, 56 Wh

The configuration we received from Intel has 6GB of RAM, more than we’re used to seeing on systems like this, and Bluetooth, which is conspicuously missing from many of today’s notebooks. However, the display has the same old 1366×768 resolution as every other 15.6″ notebook panel, the built-in hard drive has a pokey 5,400-RPM spindle speed, and there are no USB 3.0 or external Serial ATA ports to be found along the laptop’s edges. Discrete graphics aren’t even on the menu.

In the interest of full disclosure, we should point out that Asus’ website doesn’t list the Core i5-2520M as an option for the K53E. Rather, the company offers versions of the system with slower Core i5-2410M and Core i3-2310M processors. The former runs at 2.3GHz with a top Turbo speed of 2.9GHz and a top IGP speed of 1200MHz, while the latter is limited to 2.1GHz for the CPU and 1100MHz for the graphics component. We’re not talking about huge differences by any means… just keep in mind that even the nicest variants of the K53E selling in stores might not match the performance of the system we’re testing today.

In a nutshell, the K53E has the makings of a budget workhorse. Sure, it’s not quite as cheap as some of the similarly outfitted Core 2010 notebooks on the market. Once the novelty factor dissipates and Sandy Bridge laptops knock their predecessors off retail listings altogether, though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see systems just like the K53E selling closer to the $500 mark. For now, you can think of the K53E as a premium alternative to today’s $500 systems—it’s probably a bit faster, and it certainly looks a little bit nicer. (The design is tasteful, and we’re also fond of the relative lack of glossy surfaces. Nobody likes a palm rest or display lid full of smudges.)

Enough rambling. Let’s crack this puppy open and start picking and probing.

The display and the controls

As we said earlier, the K53E features a 15.6″ 1366×768 LCD panel very much like the one found on, oh, virtually every other 15.6″ laptop out there:

The color reproduction could be worse, but the narrow viewing angles betray an average-quality TN panel. The screen-door effect that comes from stretching 1366×768 pixels across a relatively large surface area is unmistakable. It’s a bit like sitting up close to a 720p LCD TV.

Moving down to the keyboard reveals a chiclet layout very much like the one we’ve seen on past Asus notebooks like the N82Jv. Here, Asus has made use of the K53E’s ample horizontal span by throwing in a numeric keypad. Excel junkies will no doubt appreciate the addition, even if the keypad’s keys are fairly narrow. As you can see in the table below, the alpha keys didn’t need to go on a diet to make way for their numeric cousins:

Total keyboard area Alpha keys
Width Height Area Width Height Rough area
Size 278 mm 103 mm 28,634 mm² 167 mm 53 mm 8,851 mm²
Versus full size 97% 94% 91% 97% 93% 90%

Yep, we’re looking at a keyboard that’s very close to full size. The keys on the numpad are about 3 mm narrower than the alpha keys, but they’re still usable.

In terms of tactile feedback, the keys feel reasonably comfortable to type on, but they’re not particularly crisp or springy, and there’s quite a bit of flex in the center of the keyboard. That’s a common pitfall of chiclet keyboards in general, and a flaw we’ve seen on a few Asus notebooks. The sturdy metallic palm rest is a nice touch, though. (No pun intended.)

South of the keyboard, the rather broad touchpad is an ElanTech capacitive design with a smooth finish that feels rather nice, albeit perhaps a little tacky, to the touch. Two-finger scrolling is supported, as are pinching and rotating gestures, just like you’d expect from any self-respecting touchpad these days. Tap-to-click users will be happy to know that right-clicking can be accomplished with a three-finger tap.

I’ve often expressed a preference for touchpad buttons closer to the edge of a system, and I stand by that. However, the K53E’s touchpad buttons are raised high enough that you don’t need to push down your thumb at a weird angle to depress them. The buttons are pleasantly easy to click as a result. Overall, I’ve definitely seen much worse.

Connectivity and expansion

We’ve already discussed the K53E’s relatively spartan connectivity options, but let’s have a look at how Asus lays things out along the sides of the machine. On the left, we have an exhaust vent, the DC power port, and Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, and USB ports.

The right side plays host to the Kensington lock slot, the tray-loading DVD burner, a couple of additional USB ports, and 1/8″ headphone and microphone jacks.

I’m a little puzzled to see the power port so close to the front of the system. The connector on the power adapter is L-shaped, so if you run the cable toward the front of the system, the Ethernet port will be blocked. Run it toward the rear, and you’ll be obstructing part of the exhaust vent. This problem could have been avoided had Asus simply placed the power jack in that big empty space to the left of the vent.

Next, setting the K53E belly-up lets us take a peek at its bottom surface, which is reasonably smooth and mercifully free of fan intake or exhaust vents that would make couch use awkward.

Asus lets you pop off the battery, of course. Undoing a pair of screws will also grant you VIP access to the 2.5″ hard-drive bay, the Wi-Fi adapter, the two DDR3 memory slots, and the memory card reader’s naughty bits.

This is normally the place where we’d invite you to turn to the next page for a look at the laptop’s pre-installed software and startup performance. We’re going to skip that this time around, for the simple reason that the K53E unit we received from Intel came with a (mostly) clean installation of Windows 7 Ultimate containing drivers and a handful of benchmarks. Since that’s not representative of what Asus will be preloading onto the system, let’s head directly to our testing methods section and then on to the results.

Our testing methods

As in our HP Pavilion dm1z review, we’re going to present you with all of the benchmark data we’ve collected across our latest round of notebook reviews. However, we’ll be graying out unrelated offerings in our bar charts to keep things readable. Those unrelated offerings—as far as we see it, anyway—are netbooks and ultraportables tuned for mobility at the expense of performance.

We’ll also compare the performance of the Core i5-2520M processor inside the Asus K53E to that of desktop CPUs benchmarked as part of our latest processor review. Doing this will give us an idea of how much performance you’re sacrificing by squeezing Sandy Bridge into a laptop.

Before we go forward, we should talk as we always do about the handful of machines we tested in multiple states. The N82Jv, U33Jc, Eee PC 1015PN, and T235D were all tested using special “battery-saving” profiles, and the N82Jv, U33Jc, and 1015PN were run in “high-performance” mode, too. With the N82Jv, we recorded our battery-saving results with Asus’ Super Hybrid Engine on, which dropped the CPU clock speed from 2.4GHz to 0.9-1GHz depending on the load. The U33Jc also has a Super Hybrid Engine mode, but we didn’t enable it for testing. On the U33Jc, the high-performance profile included by Asus raises the maximum CPU clock speed from 2.4 to 2.57GHz. On the N82Jv, the same profile leaves the CPU running at default speeds, i.e. up to 2.66GHz when Turbo Boost kicks in. Finally, with the Eee PC, the low-power profile limited the CPU to about 1GHz and disabled the Nvidia GPU, while the high-performance profile raised the CPU speed by a whole 25MHz.

With the exception of battery life, all tests were run at least three times, and we reported the median of those runs.

System AMD Zacate test system Acer Aspire 1810TZ Acer Aspire 1830TZ Acer Aspire One 522 Asus Eee PC 1015PN Asus K53E Asus N82Jv Asus U33Jc HP Pavilion dm1z Intel Core i7-2820QM 17″ review notebook Toshiba Satellite T235D-S1435 Zotac Zbox HD-ND22
Processor AMD Zacate engineering sample 1.6GHz Intel Pentium SU4100 1.3GHz Intel Pentium U5400 1.2GHz AMD C-50 1.0GHz Intel Atom N550 1.5GHz Intel Core i5-2520M 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-450M 2.4GHz Intel Core i3-370M 2.4GHz AMD E-350 1.6GHz Intel Core i7-2820QM 2.3GHz AMD Turion II Neo K625 1.5GHz Intel Celeron SU2300 1.2GHz
North bridge AMD Hudson FCH Intel GS45 Express Intel HM55 Express AMD Hudson FCH Intel NM10 Intel HM67 Express Intel HM55 Express Intel HM55 Express AMD Hudson FCH Intel HM67 Express AMD M880G Nvidia Ion
South bridge Intel ICH9 AMD SB820
Memory size 4GB (2 DIMMs) 3GB (2 DIMMs) 3GB (2 DIMMs) 1GB (1 DIMM) 1GB (1 DIMM) 6GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 3GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type DDR3 SDRAM DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 667MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz
Memory timings N/A 5-5-5-15 6-6-6-15 N/A 6-5-5-12 9-9-9-24 7-7-7-20 7-7-7-20 9-9-9-25 11-11-11-30 6-6-6-15 7-7-7-20
Audio IDT codec Realtek codec with 6.0.1.869 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.6043 drivers Conexant codec with 8.41.0.0 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.6186 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.6273 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.6024 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.6029 drivers IDT codec with 6.10.6302.0 drivers Conexant codec with 4.127.0.60 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.6072 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.5845 drivers
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6310 Intel GMA 4500MHD with 15.17.11.2202 drivers Intel HD Graphics with 8.15.10.2057 drivers AMD Radeon HD 6250 Intel GMA 3150 with 8.14.10.2117 drivers

Nvidia Ion with 8.17.12.5912 drivers

Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 8.15.10.2321 drivers Intel HD Graphics with 8.15.10.2189 drivers

Nvidia GeForce 335M with 8.17.12.5896 drivers

Intel HD Graphics with 8.15.10.2119 drivers

Nvidia GeForce 310M with 8.17.12.5721 drivers

AMD Radeon HD 6310 with 8.821.0.0 drivers Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 8.15.10.2246 drivers AMD Mobility Radeon HD 4225 with 8.723.2.1000 drivers Nvidia Ion with 8.17.12.6099 drivers
Hard drive Crucial RealSSD C300 128GB Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB 5,400-RPM Toshiba MK3265GSX 320GB 5,400 RPM Toshiba MK2565GSX 250GB 5,400 RPM Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB 5,400-RPM Seagate Momentus 640GB 5,400-RPM Seagate Momentus 7200.4 500GB 7,200-RPM Seagate Momentus 5400.6 500GB 5,400-RPM Hitachi Travelstar 7K500 320GB 7,200-RPM hard drive Intel X25-M G2 160GB solid-state drive Toshiba MK3265GSX 320GB 5,400 RPM Western Digital Scorpio Black 500GB 5,400 RPM
Operating system Windows 7 Professional x64 Windows 7 Home Premium x64 Windows 7 Home Premium x64 Windows 7 Starter x86 Windows 7 Starter x86 Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Windows 7 Home Premium x64 Windows 7 Home Premium x64 Windows 7 Home Premium x64 SP1 Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Windows 7 Home Premium x64 Windows 7 Home Premium x64

We used the following versions of our test applications:

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Desktop versus mobile

To compare desktop and mobile performance, we’ve inserted numbers for both the K53E and Intel’s 17″ Sandy Bridge review notebook into charts containing desktop CPU results. Those desktop results are grayed out.

The K53E is outfitted with slower memory than the Core i7-2820QM review notebook, which probably explains the difference in memory bandwidth. Even with slower RAM, the K53E’s Core i5-2520M doesn’t do too badly.

Nothing much to report on the latency front, where the K53E’s slower memory causes it to fall behind slightly once again.

By the way, we used a different formula to calculate the latency for both the Core i5-2520M and the Core i7-2820QM. With the desktop parts, we grabbed the latency number in cycles from CPU-Z and divided it by the peak Turbo clock speed to obtain nanoseconds. Using that formula with the mobile Sandy chips yielded clearly skewed numbers, and after further investigation, we found that the latency test didn’t push either chip beyond its base clock speed. So, we used that number as part of our equation instead of the peak Turbo speed.

What about application performance? Let’s start with 7-Zip’s built-in compression and decompression benchmarks:

The Asus K53E’s Core i5 trails the dual-core desktop Core i3-2100, although not by a whole lot. That’s pretty much what we’d be inclined to expect given the former’s lower clock speed (at least when Turbo Boost isn’t kicking in).

The gap between the mobile CPU and its desktop cousin widens in video encoding.

Meanwhile, in this image processing test, the gap narrows. The dual-core mobile chip also keeps up with AMD’s Phenom II X4 840, which has two extra cores and a higher base clock speed.

Overall, it doesn’t look like you’ll be breaking any speed records with a notebook like the K53E. You will, however, be getting a very respectable level of performance. Keep in mind that there are quicker mobile Sandy Bridge duallies, too—like the Core i7-2620M.

Application performance
Now that we’ve seen how the K53E’s mobile Sandy Bridge dually stacks up against desktop processors, let’s see how the system does versus some actual notebooks.

SunSpider JavaScript benchmark

The SunSpider JavaScript benchmark has become a staple of browser testing around the web, usually serving to highlight differences in JavaScript execution speeds between browser revisions. Today, we’ll be looking at SunSpider performance with the same browser (Firefox 3.6.9) across multiple notebooks.

By the way, we are aware that Firefox 4 is out. We covered the launch and everything. However, the point of this benchmark is to compare web browsing performance across multiple systems, and we can do a good job of that now that we’ve accumulated a few months’ worth of samples. Updating our test suite to Firefox 4 might lower numbers across the board, but we’re not convinced it would necessarily alter the relative differences between them. Also, the update would make competitive comparisons more difficult, since we’ve had to ship back almost all of the laptops we’ve reviewed, and therefore can’t test them again.

The K53E might be beaten by desktop CPUs, but put it next to notebooks with previous-gen Core i3 and Core i5 processors, and it does rather well. Very well, in fact.

Looking at the rankings above, I’m guessing SunSpider doesn’t benefit from more than one or two cores and doesn’t cause Turbo Boost to kick in much. That would explain why the K53E sped ahead of the quad-core review notebook, whose Core i7 CPU has a lower base speed, and possibly why the U33Jc and N82Jv made it to the top of the podium with their “high performance” modes enabled.

7-Zip

We then ran 7-Zip’s built-in benchmark and jotted down the results for both compression and decompression.

Another strong showing from the K53E, which is second only to the quad-core system this time.

TrueCrypt

Next up: file encryption. Because who wants any two-bit thief to have access to his sensitive data? We ran TrueCrypt’s built-in benchmark and averaged the results for all of the different encryption schemes.

x264 video encoding

Last, but not least, we took our notebooks through the x264 high-definition video encoding benchmark.

In our encryption and video encoding tests, the K53E lags behind the Core i7-2820QM machine by a fair margin. That’s to be expected given that the Asus rig is working with half as many CPU cores. Even when their core counts are similar, none of the previous-gen systems we tested can match the new kids on the block.

Gaming

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Infinity Ward’s first Modern Warfare title is growing somewhat long in the tooth, but it still has a strong following in multiplayer circles. More importantly, it’s a good representative of the type of game you might want to play on a notebook that lacks first-rate GPU horsepower: not too old, but not too new, either. We tested Call of Duty 4 by running a custom timedemo, first at 800×600 with the lowest detail options, then again at 1366×768 with everything cranked up except for v-sync, antialiasing, and anisotropic filtering, which were all left disabled. (With the Eee PC, we opted for the 1024×600 native resolution instead of 1366×768.)

Far Cry 2

Ubisoft’s safari-themed shooter has much more demanding graphics than CoD4, so it should really make our notebooks sweat. We selected the “Action” scene from the game’s built-in benchmark and ran it in two configurations; first at 1366×768 in DirectX 10 mode with detail cranked up, then at that same resolution in DX9 mode with the lowest detail preset. Vsync and antialiasing were left disabled in both cases. (Again, the Eee PC was run at 1024×600, since that’s the highest resolution its display supports.)

Considering the Core i5-2520M and Core i7-2820QM feature similar graphics components running at the same speed, the results above aren’t too surprising.

This bodes well for any owner of a full-sized Sandy Bridge notebook, of course. Intel HD Graphics 3000 IGPs with 12 execution units and 48 ALUs are standard across Intel’s new mobile lineup, with only relatively minor differences in top GPU clock speeds differentiating the lowest-end 35W offerings. (17W and 25W ultra-low-voltage parts are clocked substantially lower.) On the desktop, by contrast, low-end Sandy Bridge CPUs feature HD Graphics 2000 integrated graphics with only 6 execution units and 24 ALUs, so they’ve got a considerable handicap.

Off the beaten path

Since the K53E offers similar graphics performance to the quad-core Sandy Bridge notebook we reviewed a few months ago, we won’t repeat the subjective gaming testing that we did with that system. However, we were curious to see if game compatibility had improved with Intel’s latest HD Graphics drivers. We tried two games we had trouble with last time and then threw in some Bulletstorm just for fun.

Unfortunately, Left 4 Dead 2 still crashes when vsync is disabled and film grain is enabled. Graphical glitching is still visible at high or very high shader detail settings, as well. You can see that glitching in the screenshot above: the gun in the bottom right corner of the screen shouldn’t have an overly shiny, almost untextured finish.

We had better luck with the Mafia II demo. While it refused to run with Intel’s older graphics drivers, the game chugged along happily on the K53E with the latest ones installed. In the first part of the demo, the system managed around 16-27 FPS at 1024×768 with all of the detail options turned down. Gameplay was a little choppy but playable overall.

Finally, we tried Bulletstorm‘s first Echo section, where the K53E had no trouble hitting 16-34 FPS at 1366×768 with low detail settings. Frame rates could have been smoother at a lower resolution, but the game was playable enough (and enjoyable, I might add) at these settings. Not bad for Intel integrated graphics, huh?

Video playback

We tested video decoding performance by playing the Iron Man 2 trailer in a variety of formats. Windows Media Player was used in full-screen mode for the H.264 QuickTime clips, while Firefox was used for the windowed YouTube test. In each case, we used Windows 7’s Performance Monitor to record minimum and maximum CPU utilization for the duration of the trailer. The latest version of Flash was used for the YouTube test.

CPU utilization Result
Iron Man 2 H.264 480p 7-30% Perfect
Iron Man 2 H.264 720p 0-27% Perfect
Iron Man 2 H.264 1080p 0-26% Perfect
Iron Man 2 YouTube 720p windowed 8-28% Perfect

Not surprisingly, the K53E’s dual-core Sandy Bridge processor and HD Graphics 3000 tag-team make short work of even Flash video playback.

Battery life

We took our laptops through two battery life tests—but not before taking care to condition their batteries by cycling them twice. For the web browsing test, we used TR Browserbench 1.0, which consists of a static version of the TR home page that cycles through different text content, Flash ads, and images, all the while refreshing every 45 seconds. Then, we tested video playback in Windows Media Player by looping an episode of CSI: New York encoded with H.264 at 480p resolution (straight from an HTPC).

We attempted to keep the display brightness consistent across all four systems, choosing levels correspond to a readable brightness in indoor lighting. A 40% brightness setting was used on the K53E, as well as the Intel review notebook, the Acer 1810TZ, HP Pavilion dm1z, Toshiba Satellite T235D, Asus N82Jv, and Eee PC 1015PN in its “Super Performance” mode. We used a 50% setting on the Eee PC 1015PN in “Battery Saving” mode, since disabling the Nvidia GPU seemed to reduce brightness, as well as on the U33Jc.

The K53E did well in our battery tests, serving up close to six hours of web browsing and 4.5 hours of video playback. Its run times were actually shorter than those of the quad-core system, however. What happened there?

What you’re witnessing is a very average dual-core Sandy Bridge notebook with an equally average six-cell, 55-Wh battery. The quad-core review notebook came with a much beefier 71-Wh battery that allowed it to maintain decent run times despite a faster, more power-hungry processor.

There’s an interesting comparison to be made between the K53E and HP’s Pavilion dm1z ultraportable. The Pavilion couples a similar battery with a smaller display and a much more power-efficient AMD Brazos platform, yet its run times aren’t all that much longer than those of the K53E.

Surface temperatures

How hot to the touch does this notebook get during an average surfing session? We let the system run TR Browserbench 1.0 for about an hour before measuring surface temperatures using our IR thermometer.

26°C

78°F

24°C

75°F

27°C

81°F

25°C

78°F

24°C

76°F

24°C

74°F

26°C

78°F

30°C

86°F

25°C

76°F

25°C

77°F

Sandy Bridge isn’t exactly known for guzzling power, and the K53E stayed accordingly cool during our simulated web browsing session. (In case you’re wondering, the K53E remained nice and quiet while this particular test was running, though its fan did spin up when we put the system under heavier loads.)

Conclusions

First, let’s talk about the Asus K53E for a minute, since it’s the real star of this review. This Asus machine might not be the slimmest, lightest, or most compact laptop around, but it’s put together quite well, and it sure packs a punch. More importantly, performance comes without compromising battery life—quite the contrary.

Considering the excellent performance demonstrated by the Core i5-2520M, I’d have no trouble recommending the slightly slower K53E variant listed on Amazon. For only $624.99, that machine serves up a still-speedy Core i3-2310M processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive. The Core i3-2310M doesn’t have Turbo Boost, but with a 2.1GHz base clock speed, it ought to be fast enough to keep up with Core 2010 offerings while offering superior graphics performance and battery life. If you’re in the market for a chunky 15.6″ notebook, the K53E definitely deserves to be on your short list.

Now for a few more general words about Sandy Bridge’s dual-core mobile incarnation. Here, Intel appears to have struck a balance between low power use, relatively low cost, solid CPU performance, and excellent graphics performance—at least, as excellent as integrated graphics gets with Intel CPUs. I like that balance quite a bit. Once full-sized Core 2010 notebooks fade into obscurity, their replacements will all have graphics on par with last year’s entry-level discrete GPUs. That’s quite the leap, wouldn’t you say?

We may see a similar jump from AMD later this year, when the company’s Llano accelerated processing units start hitting notebooks and mainstream desktops. AMD has hinted that Llano will have better integrated graphics than Sandy Bridge, though it might not keep up in raw CPU benchmarks. Either way, if folks can enjoy the latest Xbox 360 games like Bulletstorm on run-of-the-mill laptops, perhaps PC gaming is due for a renaissance.

Comments closed
    • napobm43
    • 9 years ago

    I like what I see here though the tested configuration doesn’t seem available anywhere. I’m having trouble deciding between the K53E-A1 mentioned in the review and a Toshiba Satellite L655-S5161. If anyone has an opinion on which is better, I would certainly appreciate. Love this site!

    • indeego
    • 9 years ago

    I can’t tell a damn thing different about ASUS laptops. They all blend together. On one hand I can’t stand marketing, but on another, is there really a market out there that says [i<]I MUST HAVES ME A K53E NOW![/i<]?

    • link626
    • 9 years ago

    it looks cheaply plasticky. you sure these are built solidly ?

    at 5.7 lbs, i can’t see how this is any different from any other generic looking laptop.

    • Norphy
    • 9 years ago

    How do you get 6GB on two DIMMs? Is there RAM built into the motherboard on this thing?

      • Ushio01
      • 9 years ago

      Easy, one 4GB module and one 2GB module not my preferred way but quite a few notebooks come with that configuration.

    • NeelyCam
    • 9 years ago

    This thing kills zacate dead. 2-8x performance for 50% more cost… no brainer.

      • haugland
      • 9 years ago

      Only if size doesn’t matter…

        • NeelyCam
        • 9 years ago

        You could shoehorn this into a smaller laptop – that’s not a problem.

          • BlackStar
          • 9 years ago

          Apple tried with their latest MBPs; they failed: shorter battery life, worse video performance, increased fan noise and overheating, compared to the previous generation.

            • NeelyCam
            • 9 years ago

            Yeah, they failed because they tried to shoehorn a power-guzzling AMD graphics chip into the same package. SB would’ve been fine by itself.

            • BlackStar
            • 9 years ago

            Wrong again.

            The new SB 13.3” MBPs have shorter battery life than the previous Core 2 + Nvidia combos. No Ati cards here.

            • NeelyCam
            • 9 years ago

            Wrong again.

            [url<]http://www.anandtech.com/show/4205/the-macbook-pro-review-13-and-15-inch-2011-brings-sandy-bridge/15[/url<] The new 13" MacBook pro has better battery life overall (with an exception of "light browsing"). Clearly SB one is more power efficient.

            • BlackStar
            • 9 years ago

            Did you even read the review you linked? From its final words:

            “Even without the discrete GPU enabled, in the hands of a multitasker the new 15-inch MacBook Pro can easily burn through its 77Whr battery quicker than last year’s model. While our worst case numbers don’t look much lower than the 2010 model, the chances of you getting less than 2.5 hours out of the new 15 are much higher than they were last year.”

            Clueless indeed.

            • NeelyCam
            • 9 years ago

            Clueless indeed. Did you forget your coffee this morning? 15″ models have powerhungry AMD GPUs in them – that’s why their battery life sucks.

            But we were talking about the [b<]13" model[/b<], remember? Here's a quote on that: [i<]"The new 13 is a bit less finicky. It's either going to offer you similar or better battery life than last year's model."[/i<] So, could you please read the article and think before posting?

            • BlackStar
            • 9 years ago

            “Even without the discrete GPU enabled, in the hands of a multitasker the new 15-inch MacBook Pro can easily burn through its 77Whr battery quicker than last year’s model.”

            >> Even without the discrete GPU enabled
            >> without the discrete GPU
            >> without

            You fail reading comprehension forever.

            • NeelyCam
            • 9 years ago

            You fail comprehension in general.

            If you read the battery life section in the article, you’ll notice that the multitasking test shows significantly higher battery life on the 13″ version than on the 15″ version. Why would that be? What are the difference between the two…? 1) screen, 2) [b<]the discrete GPU.[/b<] The CPU is largely the same, and the 13" version is a battery life champ. The comment you're quoting is a bit misleading. Sure, a quad-core can burn through a battery faster if you load it to the max, but it'll also do more. Ever heard of 'task energy"? Did you notice this paragraph: "Under light to moderate workloads the 15-inch will [b<]likely do better than the 2010 15-inch MBP[/b<], while the 13-inch is roughly the same as its predecessor. [b<]It's only under heavy use that the new 15-inch will actually do worse than last year's model.[/b<] You will have to keep an eye on what you're doing with the machine because the new 15-inch MBP has the [b<]ability[/b<] to use a lot more power than last year's model. The [b<]bigger issue actually has to do with the dGPU.[/b<] If you use Chrome or any of the other applications that will trigger the dGPU to turn on, kiss your battery life goodbye. [b<]Even light usage suffers if your discrete GPU is active.[/b<]"

            • BlackStar
            • 9 years ago

            In other words, worse battery life if the dGPU is active and worse battery life if the dGPU is [b<]inactive[/b<] and you multitask a lot. Great showing.

            • NeelyCam
            • 9 years ago

            You’re hopeless. This conversation is over.

            • BlackStar
            • 9 years ago

            Glad to see you admitting you were wrong.

      • BlackStar
      • 9 years ago

      Way to miss the point. Zacate is a low-power Atom killer that powers 10” and 11” netbooks.

      Why don’t you compare Sandy Bridge with Atom next time?

        • NeelyCam
        • 9 years ago

        Atoms are crap. Not worth anybody’s time, except maybe in tablets.

        Zacate is AMD’s only low-power laptop chip, and these SB chips just destroy them on every level, including power efficiency. The only difference is cost, but I personally would be happy to spend that extra 50%.

        Whenever Llano finally comes to the market, we can re-evaluate, but I seriously doubt it can beat SB in anything except graphics.

          • BlackStar
          • 9 years ago

          >> Zacate is AMD’s only low-power laptop chip, and these SB chips just destroy them on every level, including power efficiency.

          DirectX 11; OpenGL 4; video decoding; GPU driver stability; idle, full and aggregate power consumption. Zacate wipes the floor with SB on these points.

          Also, do recall that the cheapest quad-core SB is priced at $378, more than a complete Zacate system.

          In short, you are completely and utterly clueless.

            • NeelyCam
            • 9 years ago

            You’re the clueless one. GPU driver “stability”? I don’t remember the last time an Intel IGP driver has blue-screened. Do I have to remind you how “stable” ATI HD5870 drivers were? Stuttering, freezing, with giant mouse pointers… Just google “HD5870 driver issues” And it’s sooooo important to have DirectX 11 on a small laptop, right? BTW, check out those gaming benchmarks against dm1z in this article.

            Power consumption: dmz1 lasts just a little bit longer on web surfing or movie playback – neither very demanding. But when you move into more intensive tasks, SB finishes it quickly and goes idle, while Zacate keeps chugging, 3-4 times longer. That’s power efficiency.

            [url<]https://techreport.com/articles.x/20188/16[/url<] Unfortunately I haven't seen this sort of testing done on Zacate and mobile SB, but you get the point, though... right? (If you don't know what a kilojoule is, though, you probably shouldn't be having this discussion.) And if you really want to whine about idle power, you'd choose an Atom, but as I said Atom performance sucks. Zacate sucks just a bit less - having a tiny edge on idle power just isn't worth it. Price. Dmz1 is about $400. This one is about $600. 50% more for 2-8x more performance. Definitely worth it. And show me a Zacate system that's less than $378. Those C-series systems are 1) not Zacate, and 2) even slower than Atom systems. People always look blindly at CPU prices alone, forgetting that there's a lot of other stuff around them that add to the total cost. Getting a 2x faster CPU for 3x the price is often a winning proposal because it might increase the overall system cost by only 50%.

            • OneArmedScissor
            • 9 years ago

            “But when you move into more intensive tasks, SB finishes it quickly and goes idle, while Zacate keeps chugging, 3-4 times longer. That’s power efficiency.”

            No, that’s you twisting facts to further your agenda. You posted a link to desktops doing 3D rendering. That isn’t even a good test for desktops, as that’s a workstation/server job. I need the world’s largest *rolls eyes* emoticon.

            “More intensive tasks” for ultraportable laptops are pretty much limited to playing HD movies. We can see that here for ourselves, thank you very much.

            • NeelyCam
            • 9 years ago

            I looked for such benchmarks for laptops but couldn’t find them. I posted the desktop ones to give an idea of what I meant… no fact twisting was intended.

            I’m not claiming your usage needs are somehow less valid than mine. If HD video is all you do with your ultraportable, I’m sure Zacate is enough for your needs.

            • JumpingJack
            • 9 years ago

            [quote<]Price. Dmz1 is about $400. This one is about $600. 50% more for 2-8x more performance. Definitely worth it. And show me a Zacate system that's less than $378. Those C-series systems are 1) not Zacate, and 2) even slower than Atom systems.[/quote<] Only via HP direct, in retail it is about the same price as this SB to slightly cheaper... [url<]http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/B004IN85QQ/ref=dp_olp_new?ie=UTF8&qid=1301707823&sr=8-1&condition=new[/url<] I have seen the DM1Z at BB for 550, Fry's for 559, and Ultimate Electronics (now going BK) for 599. Only a fool would buy anywhere but HP direct.

            • NeelyCam
            • 9 years ago

            I had no idea.

            Is it AMD who’s trying to extract every penny of profit out of these, or is it HP? Either way, it sounds like Zacate is [i<]not[/i<] the value proposal that everyone thought it would be.

            • BlackStar
            • 9 years ago

            “You’re the clueless one. GPU driver “stability”? I don’t remember the last time an Intel IGP driver has blue-screened. ”

            Just to point out how wrong this is: [url<]https://techreport.com/articles.x/20728/5[/url<] "The Intel IGP appears to do well here, but it cheated—by repeatedly making Left 4 Dead 2 crash when we set the "shader detail" setting to "high" or "very high." We had to settle for the "medium" setting, which is less taxing." Intel still can't write drivers.

      • anotherengineer
      • 9 years ago

      If you have that 50% extra. I can’t afford 300, let alone 600 🙁

        • derFunkenstein
        • 9 years ago

        That’s 100% more. :p

        • NeelyCam
        • 9 years ago

        What university did you go to for your engineering degree..?

      • UberGerbil
      • 9 years ago

      Lots of people don’t need 2-8x the performance and don’t have 50% more to spend (or would rather spend it on something else).

      For a big chunk of the market, Zecate is fast enough (whereas Atom was not, and was hobbled by other limitations as well) and it has price on its side. Its biggest technical weakness will probably be power consumption.

      Until we see Sandy Bridge showing up in sub-$400 machines, Zecate has nothing to worry about.

        • NeelyCam
        • 9 years ago

        Yeah – there are different speed/price points available for consumers to pick from. Ontario < Atom < Zacate < Core2 CULV < SB.

        If you don’t need (or want) the increased performance for extra cost, you can always go cheaper on that sliding scale. People’s needs are different. I tend to look for sweet spots for my needs (which is why I’m typing this on a $400 CULV ultraportable), and for me Zacate is not it. I understand it can be for a lot of people.

          • abw
          • 9 years ago

          For whatever reason, Brazos are overpriced.
          I suspect the manufacturers are gaining from strong demand
          and AMD s unability to supply enough chips.
          Here i can get one for 320 euros, which would translate to about
          350$ in the US given Europe s higher retail prices…
          No doubt s SB s CPU perfs are way better, but considering
          GPU perfs it s a disaster , moreover if you think that it is
          backed by a powerfull CPU..
          A 160sp Llano X2 will trounce it in this respect, and we all know
          the importance of a good GPU in notebooks..
          Have you a S3 graphics old laptop somewhere in a trash bin?….

            • BlackStar
            • 9 years ago

            High demand and production is still ramping up. AMD is booking whole TSMC factories at a time to meet demand – the market should normalize soon enough.

            • NeelyCam
            • 9 years ago

            My guess is that AMD is happily reaping the margins now that they can.

            I find it funny how people think AMD cares about its customers but Intel doesn’t. Neither of them cares about their customers – they both care about profits. Now AMD has a low-end product that’s cheap to make but performs adequately. Surely they’ll price it based on performance instead of cost.

    • bimmerlovere39
    • 9 years ago

    Bless you guys for giving a direct comparison to desktop speeds! This makes making the call between a laptop and a desktop far less of a guessing game.

    The 2520M seems quite respectable, if not fast. I’m quite impressed by the 2820M in this context, though.

    • nagashi
    • 9 years ago

    The quarter on the keyboard photo is always very useful for perspective. Perhaps for future reviews of 15.6″ laptops with 1366×768 screens you can include a penny next to the screen so we can compare it to the pixel size. Or you can just refuse to review such an absurd machine.

    • maroon1
    • 9 years ago

    Why the laptop use 6 GB ram ? They should use 4 or 8GB

    6GB ram in single channel is going to have a negative impact on performance

    • flip-mode
    • 9 years ago

    [quote=”Cyril”<]Either way, if folks can enjoy the latest Xbox 360 games like Bulletstorm on run-of-the-mill laptops, perhaps PC gaming is due for a renaissance.[/quote<] Er, so it's the hardware holding back PC gaming?

      • Cyril
      • 9 years ago

      I’d say the prevalence of systems with slow, inadequate Intel integrated graphics has hurt PC gaming some, yes. I’m not the only one who thinks so. 😉

      [url<]https://techreport.com/discussions.x/14313[/url<]

    • Farting Bob
    • 9 years ago

    Im going to need a new laptop soon, and have owned a 10″ netbook but think that i might as well move up to 13″, cant wait for some SB models to start showing up in that area here (havent seen any available yet).

      • fent
      • 9 years ago

      Toshiba’s updated Portege series is out now. 13″ and sandy bridge in a slim package.

      [url<]https://techreport.com/discussions.x/20638[/url<]

    • sweatshopking
    • 9 years ago

    pc gaming coming back? NOPE. here’s why:
    it never left. the market just changed. we have more people playing farmville that ANY OTHER GAME EVER. pc is still the biggest market, you’ve just got to figure out how to tap it. 60$ games are not the way. why buy counterstrike when i can play a similar game free?

    that’s the issue. it’s the same thing that the music industry couldn’t figure out. the market has evolved, and they simply havent

      • anotherengineer
      • 9 years ago

      CS:S can be had for 5 bucks on the steam sale days.

      I think part of the problem is most people have HP, dells, etc, and in their stock form can’t really run crysis, metro, etc.

      I think if games had less demanding requirements would probably help PC gaming.

        • sweatshopking
        • 9 years ago

        well, i used CS as an example. the fact is, there are MANY free games, and it’s really irrelevant. My point is just that more people are playing pc games then ever before. they’re just playing different kinds.

        • TrptJim
        • 9 years ago

        In general, games today are far less demanding than what was around five years ago. Today, you can throw a $150 video card into a stock pc and play pretty much every game released.

    • BlackStar
    • 9 years ago

    >> 15.6”
    >> 1366×768

    No sell.

      • esterhasz
      • 9 years ago

      seconded. people bitch about apple machines being expensive and, hell, they are. but why isn’t it possible to spend $150 more and get the exact same asus machine with a matte 16×10 or 16×9 panel? and asus doesn’t even have a pro line they need to protect (or do they? this would at least explain things). grrr!

        • OneArmedScissor
        • 9 years ago

        “why isn’t it possible to spend $150 more and get the exact same asus machine with a matte 16×10 or 16×9 panel?”

        Because Asus’ target market isn’t customizable business laptops. You’re looking at the wrong company and there are actually plenty of good options out there.

      • TitanArch
      • 9 years ago

      Certainly the price point, processor, RAM, and hard drive are all attractive options.

      But given a 15.6″ form factor, all they offer is 1366×768 resolution? At this size there seem to be plenty of 1920×1080 choices (which, at 15.6″ is about as ridiculous as 1366×768). Why aren’t there more at 1600×900 (or even 1680×1050)?

    • bdwilcox
    • 9 years ago

    The issue that still prevents me from buying or recommending Asus or Acer laptops is the support factor. In the past, their support has been abysmal.

    • UberGerbil
    • 9 years ago

    Actually, for a lot of consumers It’s probably enough that mobile SB can play WoW and Sims acceptably. That’s a pretty big market right there. XBox ports and whatever else are gravy.

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