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.
Like our look at ASUS’ X202E, I didn’t plan on doing too much benchmarking here. The simple fact is, while the S56C does have a nice (for the price-range) CPU, this not going to be a notebook used by those who need performance. Expect to use it for “normal” tasks, like Web-surfing, editing documents and images, watching movies and so forth.
Gaming-wise, much like the X202E, don’t expect to do too much. Current block-busters are out of the question unless one happens to be real modest. Browser-based games and most aged games run with little issue, but just don’t be surprised if you need to decrease the graphical detail. For any sort of gaming on the go, I’d never choose to do it on an integrated GPU.
In normal use, I found the S56C to be a bit snappier than the X202E. Part of the reason could be the Turbo-enabled CPU, but it could also have to do with the slightly-faster DDR3 memory (DDR3-1600 versus DDR3-1300). There is also the fact that this notebook includes a 24GB SSD for caching, although it’s hard to say with certainty if that was the lone benefit, because the notebook felt quite responsive right from the beginning.
Like the X202E, I could playback good bit-rate (20Mbit/s) 1080p content without issue, so while not a power-house, the S56C still delivers what most people should be looking for. This is a ~$630 Core i5 15.6″ notebook, after all.
Features-wise, while I found it painful to have no touchscreen (what on earth has happened to me?), it delivers on most fronts. It sports an optical drive, USB 3.0 (though more than one port would have been preferred), a 720p webcam, an easy-to-type-on keyboard, a touchpad that’s easy to use for many hours on end and SSD caching – a perk we don’t see too often.
One area where I found the S56C fell a little flat was with the audio. I knew from the get-go that the notebook included “SonicMaster” audio (ASUS’ own technology) like the X202E did, but I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t have quite as much punch and clarity. As it turns out, the solution here is actually called “SonicMaster Lite”. The audio is not bad by any stretch, but after hearing what the X202E was capable of, I guess I’ve become spoiled.
On the battery-life front, the S56C dipped below an unimpressive 2 hours for entertainment use, but it delivered an acceptable 4h 20m in our productivity test. Not the most impressive battery-life around, but it’s hard to expect much more for this price-point.
Speaking of pricing, at $630~$660, the S56C is spec’d quite well. While it’s impossible to compare all notebooks out there, I hit up the most popular locations to see what else was out there. The most comparable offering I could find was Lenovo’s U510, at $699. It boosts the CPU to a Core i7-3517U and the RAM to 8GB, and aside from that, the specs align extremely well.
The most equivalent model from Dell, Inspiron 15z, costs $699. It has a weaker processor, no SSD for caching, and a smaller hard drive (500GB versus 750GB). It’s not exactly an attractive model specs-wise compared to either this ASUS or the Lenovo.
Priced at $630, ASUS’ notebook looks to have the better value-to-dollar ratio over the Lenovo, but at $660, that gap shortens to the point where both notebooks are even. At that point, it depends on whether or not you feel $40 or $70 is worth it for the processor upgrade and extra 2GB of RAM (ignoring the fact that the design of the notebook is different).
On this sort of notebook, I’m inclined to believe that it wouldn’t be worth the extra cost for most people. As mentioned earlier, while these dual-cores are capable, they are not meant to be workhorses – and thus, who will use them as such (aka: who will actually use the entire 6GB, much less 8GB, or notice a 200MHz boost on the CPU)? If the delta was more like $20, the decision would be easier to make.
That said, ASUS delivers a great offering here for the price. If you’re in the market for a larger notebook that won’t break the bank, it should definitely rank up high on your considerations list.
Good dual-core processor, abundance of RAM.
Handles 1080p high-bitrate (<20Mbit/s) content like a breeze.
Great touchpad and keyboard.
Built like a tank.
Priced right ($630~$660).
Realistic gaming is out.
An Ethernet jack towards the front of the notebook?
Audio system is not quite as good as what we saw on the X202E.
Sometimes it is really easy to swipe the touchpad so that it brings up the Start screen or Charms bar.