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ASUS S56C 15.6-inch Ultrabook Review
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by Rob Williams on March 1, 2013 in Mobile

The “Ultrabook” term is often associated with super-small notebooks, but ASUS is here with a model to remind us that 15.6-inch models can be included, too. We’re taking a look at the S56C, a Core i5-3317U-powered offering that includes 6GB of memory, a 24GB SSD for caching, and is built like a tank.

A Look at the S56C's Software

All of the software that ships on the S56C also ships on the X202E, so for the sake of not writing the same thing twice, there will be a rehashing of what was said in our X202E review. If you want to blame something, blame the fact that I copy and paste like a wizard.

Alongside the release of Windows 8 came the need for companies like ASUS to re-think the way they manage software on their products. Take bundled software, for example. It’s hardly been atypical to see vendors load the desktop up with shortcut icons for applications it believes you should notice right away, but with Windows 8, the desktop is no longer the focus, and the clean aesthetics of the “Modern UI” simply don’t favor such clutter. We’ll talk about what can result from this in just a short bit.

Also changed is the way companies are able to handle restoring the PC to a factory-fresh state. Previously, companies would employ their own, sometimes not-so-elegant solutions. However, because Windows 8 includes similar functionality, some companies, including ASUS, have merged the two recovery solutions together. The result is a recovery solution that runs through Microsoft’s Windows 8 solution, but is tweaked for ASUS’ purposes – aka: to install the bundled software and drivers.

For the purpose, this particular notebook has three partitions sitting next to the other two that are for personal use. These consist of a 300 MB “EFI” partition and dual “Recovery” partitions – one weighing in at 600 MB, the other at 20 GB. The price we pay for being able to recover our PCs the easiest way possible.

Behold: the S56C’s start screen:

ASUS S56C - Windows 8 Start Screen

ASUS S56C - Windows 8 Start Screen

Note that the Start screen and desktop background are customized here because I logged into my Microsoft account. A fresh install without logging into a Microsoft account would look a little bit different (no doubt with a picture of an ASUS notebook on the desktop, not F1 cars).

Let’s peak at the “All Apps” screen:

ASUS S56C - Windows 8 Start Screen

There are less apps pre-installed on the S56C versus what we saw on the X202E; the main omissions being Smart Gesture and Instant Connect. Most everything else is here, however, including ASUS Tutor, the app I raved about in our X202E review. Allow me to recap.

To me, ASUS Tutor represents what Microsoft itself should have included with Windows 8.

ASUS X202E - ASUS Tutor

It looks simple, but looks can be deceiving. I’ve been using Windows 8 since October, and despite being experienced, I originally decided to humor myself and go through the tutorial here to see if I could learn anything new. I did. The tip shown above shows you how to access a menu by putting your mouse to the bottom left-hand corner of the screen and then right-clicking. This menu has many different shortcuts to various parts of the system, including Programs and Features, System, Device Manager and so on. To access these things before, I’ve had to go to the Start screen, type in a few letters, click on “Settings” and then the program. Yet – here’s a method that’s about 5x quicker that Microsoft itself couldn’t even be bothered to tell people.

Microsoft, take note.

Let’s take a look at the other software, shall we? One sticking point for me across all of the software was with the “Live Update” tool. This tool automatically starts after a fresh install and downloads updates from the Internet – it’s completely typical for any pre-built PC. This one, however, manages to hang definitively – something I’ve experienced on both the S56C and X202E.

ASUS X202E - ASUS Live Update

You’ll note the pop-up box in the shot above – it tells you to click “OK” to reboot the system whenever the updates are finished. The problem is, these updates never managed to finish for me. The shot you see above was actually captured after an hour of it sitting on that exact spot. The kicker: the updates actually are applied, as a reboot will continue on with the next one. For some reason, the software doesn’t cleanly wrap one update up to go onto the next. I’m willing to bet that this is an issue that will be remedied in time.

ASUS has long prided itself on its power-efficient products, and a popular stature for its notebooks has been “Power4Gear”. This is in effect a simplified power manager tool, though the profiles created have been fine-tuned by ASUS itself. You’re able to fine-tune them further with the Power Options tool in Windows, or adjust simple things with ASUS’ tool.

ASUS X202E - Power4Gear Hybrid

It’s important to note that Power4Gear overrides the default power options in Windows, so if you need anything specific changed, you’ll need to edit the special Power4Gear profiles and not those defaults (Performance, Balanced, et cetera). If you choose one of the standard Windows power modes, Power4Gear will simply default back to its own after a reboot. Thus, if you use Power4Gear, you must stick with it.

“ASUS Installation Wizard” speaks for itself. It lists all of the official software that ships with the notebook and allows you to both uninstall or install any and all of it. From what I can tell, this is not an updater – those duties would be left to the Live Update tool mentioned above.

ASUS X202E - ASUS Installation Wizard

In addition to the software mentioned above, ASUS ships two pieces of “bloatware”; Microsoft Office 2010 and McAfee Internet Security. Office remains quiet until you open a compatible document up, but McAfee will never shut the heck up until you A) activate and purchase it or B) uninstall it. If you like sporadic pop-ups, you’ll love McAfee.

Page List:
Top

1. Introduction
2. A Look at the S56C's Software
3. Final Thoughts


  • ou

    When it works it works great but mine initially had sudden shut downs for no apparent reason. Help line and dealing with Best Buy was a disaster as they never resolved the problem. Neither seemed to care. Luckily it stopped doing this after a few months. ASUS used to be a great company but salespeople tell me this has changed a lot in last 18 months. Too bad I bought it based on the still good reviews. It is light and travelled with it all over Europe in backpack and never felt its presence. Did lose wifi for no reason but refreshing Win8 did the trick. Unfortunately installing any kind of new software seems to create havoc and another refresh of Win8. Maybe it is more the os than the computer causing problems? Anyway next time I will do the unthinkable – get an extended warranty.

    • http://techgage.com/ Jamie Fletcher

      From what I’ve seen with ASUS Transformer related forums, a lot of the issues suddenly pop up during Windows updates. A friend of mine had their Transformer almost bricked after an update; it was caught in a perpetual boot-loop. Fortunately, there’s restore options and such, but the fact remains there is something off with the updates and the hardware. Blame could go either way, so it’s not safe to point fingers. While that was a Transformer, and this is an Ultrabook, the problems might be transferable and related.

      What might be wise is to set Windows update to manual, then update a week or two after patches are released. The other thing might be to see about what ASUS based software can be safely disabled, as those extra power management services might be interfering. One final thing is to check the memory integrity – bad RAM can cause all kinds of funky problems.

      • ou

        Thanks Jamie for those insightful comments.

        You probably are way closer to true solutions. I think that you are unto something huge especially when you talk about ” something off with the updates and the hardware ” as possibly being at the source of my problems. I have refused so far to upgrade to Windows 8.1 from fear of more problems (Heard of loss of wifi etc). But since the release was months ago maybe I should consider it now though I read the differences are not that noticeable to the regular user (Start up button not an issue for me).

        I have wondered about the use of some of these ASUS software programs. RAM sure could be another one. I am going to look into your suggestions.

        Anyway thanks for the reply.

  • Ajay

    I have been using the S56C for a year and a half now, its just amazing. Previously I was using an HP gaming series laptop, it put me off everytime i switched it on. Asus is awesome, its ice cool technology and the 2 sec instant on and good speed performance, and I also manage to play some good graphics games like Crisis, NFS hotpursuit 2 etc… so beautifully crafted into a mere 21mm chassis. Lovely one from Asus.