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 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
|Input devices||Chiclet keyboard
Elan capacitive touchpad
|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|
|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|
|Audio||IDT codec||Realtek codec with 184.108.40.2069 drivers||Realtek codec with 220.127.116.1143 drivers||Conexant codec with 18.104.22.168 drivers||Realtek codec with 22.214.171.12486 drivers||Realtek codec with 126.96.36.19973 drivers||Realtek codec with 188.8.131.5224 drivers||Realtek codec with 184.108.40.20629 drivers||IDT codec with 6.10.6302.0 drivers||Conexant codec with 220.127.116.11 drivers||Realtek codec with 18.104.22.16872 drivers||Realtek codec with 22.214.171.12445 drivers|
|Graphics||AMD Radeon HD 6310||Intel GMA 4500MHD with 126.96.36.1992 drivers||Intel HD Graphics with 188.8.131.527 drivers||AMD Radeon HD 6250||Intel GMA 3150 with 184.108.40.2067 drivers
Nvidia Ion with 220.127.116.1112 drivers
|Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 18.104.22.1681 drivers||Intel HD Graphics with 22.214.171.1249 drivers
Nvidia GeForce 335M with 126.96.36.19996 drivers
|Intel HD Graphics with 188.8.131.529 drivers
Nvidia GeForce 310M with 184.108.40.20621 drivers
|AMD Radeon HD 6310 with 8.821.0.0 drivers||Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 220.127.116.116 drivers||AMD Mobility Radeon HD 4225 with 8.723.2.1000 drivers||Nvidia Ion with 18.104.22.16899 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:
- Firefox 3.6.9
- Adobe Flash 10.1.82.76
- x264 HD Benchmark 3.19
- 7-Zip 4.65 x64
- TrueCrypt 7.0a
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 1.7
- Far Cry 2 1.03
- CPU-Z 1.56
- The Panorama Factory 5.3 x64 Edition
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
|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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.