If you're after a slim and light laptop for some work on the go but don't quite want to stretch your wallet for the Asus Zenbook UX31, then the Asus U46SV may be a suitable alternative.
It's a portable machine, packing powerful components that are just itching to tackle all your office work. With a dedicated graphics card, it will happily take a stab at 3D gaming too.
The U46SV-WX044X model we reviewed is available now for around £700.
Design and build quality
Those who crave the lightest, slimmest laptop for working on the go will no doubt be seriously eyeing up an ultrabook like the Asus Zenbook UX21. If you're on a more modest budget and you want a machine that will sit firmly at a desk throughout the working day, the Asus U46SV is a great compromise.
At just over 2kg, it's sat at the top end of the ultra-portable scale, but it's easily light enough to carry around for a while without feeling too much strain on your shoulders. At around 25mm in thickness, it's nowhere near as slim as the razor-sharp Zenbook, but you'll have no problem sliding it into most cases and bags and carting it off to your exciting destination.
On the underside of the machine, the battery sticks out by about 10mm. Some people might find this annoying but it helps to raise the back end, providing a slight slope to the keyboard that makes typing particularly satisfying.
This means that the U46SV is perhaps best suited to business tasks at an office desk rather than sitting on a stylish knee in a fancy coffee house. This makes more sense as it's been bundled with Windows 7 Professional, rather than the Home edition.
The lid is encased in aluminium that's been given a rough circlular texture that we're keen on. We can't agree on whether we like textures normally, but the general consensus was that this one was rather attractive. Our model had a yellowy-grey colour (Asus calls it 'Champagne'). It's a very welcome change from the usual black or dull grey colours on most laptops.
The metal shell makes the whole body feel very secure. We prodded and poked like it was going out of style and were pleased to find very little flex in either the shell or the hinge when we opened the lid. Rest assured then that when you take this thing off on your adventures, it will put up with a whole heap of abuse.
The lid's hinge is set slightly forward from the rear of the machine. This means that there's extra body space at the back. It feels more sturdy when you're opening it and it provides a secure footing when sat on a desk.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard uses square, isolated keys that are very easy to press, without feeling flimsy. They're spaced well apart. Together with the minimal flex offered by the metal keyboard tray, this provides a very comfortable typing experience. If you're lumbered with a late night working at your desk typing out those long reports everyone hates, at least your fingers won't suffer too much -- even if you did miss the office drinks at the pub.
The keys sadly aren't backlit so if you're wanting to work at night -- or simply stalk your friends on Facebook -- you're going to have to make the ultimate effort to get up and turn a light on.
The trackpad is a decent size and it's very responsive. Fast clicking around a web page is no hassle. The buttons beneath feel a little too flimsy for our liking but at least they're big and easy to press.
The U46SV packs a 14-inch screen with a resolution of 1,366x768 pixels. We're disappointed that Asus hasn't squeezed in a few more pixels. Asus' own Zenbook UX31 packs 1,600x900 pixels into a 13.3-inch screen so a similar effort here would have been welcome.
The screen is very bright although colours are sometimes a little washed out due to the strong backlighting. Small text and icons are sharp and it's not at all uncomfortable to stare at for long periods of time. Its glossy coating does result in reflections -- especially under bright light -- so consider wearing a mask if you can't stand looking at your own face all day.
Under that metal shell you'll find an Intel Core i5-2410M processor running at 2.3GHz, teamed up with 4GB of RAM. Those are pretty decent -- albeit not mind-blowing -- specs for a portable machine so we had our hopes set on a decent performance.
We booted up the PCMark05 benchmark test and were given a score of 7,629, which we were very pleased with. It easily beat the performance of the Asus U36JC -- another slim and sturdy machine that we were rather fond of. It didn't quite match the feats of the Acer Aspire Ethos 5951G, which returned 8,103 on the same test, although the latter packs double the RAM.
We were very happy with the swift performance of the U46SV; boot-up times were quick and programs were able to load without much delay. Although it has only 4GB of RAM -- which is very average for machines of this price -- it handled multi-tasking well. It didn't show any signs of slowing down when we opened up numerous video streaming tabs in our web browser.
If you've got a whole pile of work to get through then the U46SV will happily let you run various programs at once without arguing. It won't complain too much if you load Photoshop for editing some holiday snaps -- just don't expect it to to be your friend if you try and open up raw files outputted from the Canon EOS-1D X.
You also get an Nvidia GeForce GT 540M with 1GB of VRAM to tackle the polygons in fancy 3D games. We ran the 3DMark06 benchmark test and were given a score of 8,807, which is extremely good for an ultra-portable machine. The Asus U36JC only managed to achieve 3,466 on the same test.
We booted up the slightly twisted game Bioshock 2 and went for a walk around the under-water city. At full screen, the U46SV could maintain 40 frames per second on average but this number climbed up to around 50fps in certain areas. Even in intense moments -- such as when we rammed our massive drill arm through someone's face -- the frame rate only dropped to around 30fps, which was still very playable.
We're very impressed with the U46SV's gaming ability, especially considering it isn't a dedicated gaming machine. Bioshock 2 may not be the most processor-intensive game available but it's far from lightweight; it shows that this machine will tackle most mid-range games well. If you're wanting to run the latest triple-A titles such as Battlefield 3 then you'll definitely need to reduce the settings, but you should be able to get a few headshots in, at least.
To see how long the U46SV will survive away from a plug socket, we threw our battery test at it. The Asus kept running for around 2 hours and 15 minutes, which is pretty good. Our battery test is very demanding of a poor laptop so you'll find that you can get a much, much better time with cautious usage.
If you don't make heavy use of wireless networks and video playback, you should be able to get most of a working day out of it. If you only have to do a spot of word processing, you won't need to worry much about plugs and cables.
The Asus U46SV may not be as slim and light as the Asus Zenbook UX31 ultrabook, but it's far from bulky and its design will be as welcome in the office as it is in the cafe.
It has enough power to rip through that pile of work you've got to do and will tackle all but the most high-end games when you need to relax. If you need a laptop for work that's both portable and powerful, the Asus U46SV is an excellent choice.