ASUS S56CA-WH31 15.6-Inch Ultrabook Review

ASUS S56CA-WH31 15.6-Inch Ultrabook

The ASUS S56CA-WH31 15.6-Inch Ultrabook is an interesting take on the Ultrabook concept. Although tending towards the lower end of the Ultrabook spectum, both in terms of price and specifications, it nonetheless offers some features that are absent – perhaps understandably – from its more powerful and expensive competitors.

Ultrabooks are supposed to offer reasonably powerful computing capabilities and good battery life in a small, lightweight, easily portable package. The ability to do real work on the move without the inconvenience of a huge, heavy laptop is the general idea.

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The Intel Core i3-3217U 1.8 GHz CPU driving this machine is more than adequate for most day-to-day computing needs, but, equally, it is undeniably less powerful than the CPUs found in higher-end Ultrabooks. It is supported by 4GB of RAM, which, again, is a reasonable amount for its expected uses, and can be expanded to a maximum of 8GB as needed.

Data storage is handled by a 500GB hard drive with a 24GB SSD along for the ride. This hybrid solution offers the far superior (but more expensive) speed of an SSD for the purposes of storing applications and the supplied 64-bit edition of Windows 8, cutting boot and application startup times to the bone, in combination with the much greater (but slower and cheaper) capacity of a conventional hard drive for storing your documents, movies and music, etc. As a compromise to boost speed and cut costs, this is a reasonable solution.

The 15.6-inch LED-backlit HD display is driven by Intel’s GMA HD graphics. Although unsuitable for demanding games, it should have no difficulty with productivity applications, casual games and HD video playback; again, by no means a top of the range option, but more than adequate for the intended purpose of the machine.

Pros :

  • Great laptop but mediocre Ultrabook
  • Hybrid SSD / hard drive
  • Has a DVD burner
  • Windows 8

Cons :

  • Graphics are underpowered for serious gaming

In other respects, this machine offers relatively standard features. An HD webcam makes it video-chat ready, internet connectivity comes through a wired ethernet port or 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, and an SD-only card reader makes it easy to transfer data from SD format memory cards.

There are two USB 2.0 ports and one USB 3.0 port for connecting external devices, a VGA port for connecting to an older monitor or projector, an HDMI port for connecting to an HDTV and combined socket for mic in / headphones out.

Slightly unusually for an Ultrabook-class machine, there is also an internal DVD burner – Ultrabook owners are often expected to furnish themselves with an external USB optical drive if they feel the need for one. Although a welcome addition for anyone who regularly wants to watch movies or install software – or burn their own data to disk – without needing to lug an extra device around with them, it does add somewhat to the bulk of the machine.

Measuring 14.9″ x 10.5″ x .83″ (W x D x H) and weighing 4.6lbs (including its 4-cell battery), this is neither the smallest nor the lightest nor the most powerful Ultrabook on the market, falling very much towards the lower end of the spectrum. If you absolutely need an Ultrabook-class machine, you may be better off considering some of the other computers in this category unless your budget is strictly limited.

On the other hand, if you are simply looking for a perfectly serviceable, reasonably powerful, fairly well equipped and not unduly difficult to carry laptop computer, and don’t care whether it’s described as an Ultrabook or not, this machine may well be for you.

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