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January 25, 2011

Hands on with the razor-thin, runs-forever ASUS U36Jc

Last year I wrote about the ASUS UL30vt, a 13” ultraportable that gets 12+ hours of battery life.  It was my go-to travel machine and I once said that I loved it so much, I felt like I was cheating on my wife.  So you can imagine how excited I was when I learned that ASUS was revving the lineup with the new U36Jc.  It sounded almost too good to be true – redesigned super-thin 13” chassis, full-voltage Core i5 processor, NVIDIA GeForce 310 graphics with Optimus AND 10 hours of battery life for $999?  I ordered one the day I heard about the announcement and when it arrived I put it straight to work.


Look and Feel

ASUS has been on the cutting edge of industrial design lately – witness last year’s U43 Bamboo and the highly unconventional NX90 David Lewis entertainment PC (which I showed off at our Holiday PC Showcases) – and the U36Jc stays true to that legacy.  It’s not radically different than the UL30 and to me feels more like a welcome evolution rather than a massive redesign.  For example, it features the same ultra-glossy screen, which I find to be beautiful in low light but a tad shiny in very bright sunlight, and a very typing-friendly keyboard.  ASUS has improved the trackpad with a softer, more responsive finish and introduced more flexible buttons that take much less effort to click.  That’s a lot of little improvements that make a much more usable, comfortable PC.


The chassis itself is the most noteworthy change as it’s been refinished with a matte, semi-rubberized finish that is highly fingerprint resistant. It’s a more enterprise-y feel, but I like it as it’s a different approach than brushed aluminum, which is beautiful but starting to be overplayed.  And at 19mm thin and about 3.5lbs, it’s one of the slimmest, trimmest laptops on the market.  I particularly liked the extended battery, which by virtue of some clever contouring on the underside and strategic use of raised feet, doesn’t feel that extended at all. It sits virtually flush with the base of the PC and doesn’t protrude more than a few millimeters beyond the standard battery.  Overall, the ASUS U36Jc  feels solid despite it’s slight profile, and has a look that can be dressed up for business use or down for everyday recreational use.



Unlike the UL30vt which was powered by a ULV Intel processor, the U36Jc has a full-voltage, full-power Core i5 processor, which gives it the horsepower of a much beefier laptop despite its skinny design.  I’ve been using the U3Jc6 as my primary, domain-joined laptop for the last week and I’ve found performance to be very good across the board.  Fundamentals are good, although sleeping does take a bit longer than other laptops in this class that I’ve tested.  Fortunately, when you sleep a PC, you’re done using it, so the extra few seconds doesn’t really matter!  Wake time is much more important, and there, the U36 delivers a very fast 2.5 second time.  Full fundamentals data is below:

  • Startup (cold boot to desktop): 34.5 seconds
  • Shut down (No apps open, button press to power off): 18 seconds
  • Sleep (lid close to power off): 11 seconds
  • Wake (lid open to desktop): 2.5 seconds

For everyday tasks like writing blog posts in Windows Live Writer, checking my email in Outlook, and using my regular “other” apps like Zune, Windows Live Mesh & Messenger, and Seesmic Desktop 2, the U36Jc performed admirably.  The combination of a Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM and a fast, huge 500GB 7200rpm drive were more than enough to keep all of those apps open simultaneously, and the NVIDIA GeForce 310 graphics let me play 3 videos in Internet Explorer 9 at the same time without any stuttering.  That same video load struggled a bit when Optimus kicked in and dropped graphics to the integrated Intel HD GPU, but I was still able to play 2 videos side-by-side in IE9 using Snap.  Which should be more than enough…how often do you watch more than 1 video at a time, anyway?


Battery life was one of the most intriguing specs for me.  ASUS claims 10 hours of battery life using the extended 8-cell battery (which my U36Jc has, as I noted above), which puts it on par with my original UL30vt.  Under normal workloads (i.e., working in the aforementioned apps, watching occasional video clips on sites like YouTube and, and browsing the web), and using ASUS’ “Power4Gear” software’s “Battery Saving” power scheme, the best I could coax out of the U36Jc was 8 hours 10 minutes.  That’s nearly 20% shy of their on-paper claim of 10 hours, but it’s still a really, really impressive number, especially when you consider how diminutive the U36Jc is.  It is one of the few laptops in my inventory that can pass my “New York” test – basically, can I make it from Seattle to New York, while using in-flight Wi-Fi, without running out of battery?  The answer here is unquestionably “yes.”

Final Thoughts

The ASUS U36Jc is a worthy successor the the UL30vt and an excellent example of a PC that doesn’t  force it’s owner to compromise between power, size/weight, and battery life.  If you’re a road warrior like me, it should be near the top of your list when looking for a new PC.

Have a question about this or any other PCs?  Post a comment, hit me on Twitter, or Ask Ben Anything via email.  Your question might appear in my monthly Ask Ben Anything Q&A column!