Research PhaseAfter some extensive research and comparison shopping, I decided to share my thought process. It's been a couple of years since I had a laptop (an IBM Thinkpad), and hopefully this ASUS laptop will serve me better.
Official photo (scroll down to see more photos)
My Specific Needs...There are some in depth reviews out there already for the ASUS S56CM-SH51-CB. But, my review is a bit different, since it's based on what I felt was important to my specific set of needs.
Main needs and features...
- Play some games smoothly (i.e. Starcraft 2) on lower graphics settings
- Doesn't cost too much ($500-600 range)
- Physically looked good, preferably thin and light too
- Reliable brand name
- Windows 8: I wanted to try out the new OS
- SSD hard drive (or a hybrid): Fast startup is always a big plus
- RAM memory: 4GB would have been enough
- CPU: A dual core CPU is likely enough for anything I would need
- Monitor resolution: 1920 x 1080 is always nice but not needed
- Battery life: Not planning to use it on the road, so not important for me
ASUS Ultrabook S56CM-SH51 FeaturesWhile some other laptops got much more attention on Black Friday with bigger discounts, I was pleased to find the ASUS ultrabook at $599 (with a coupon). Here are the specs:
- 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U
- 750GB HDD + 24GB SSD
- NVIDIA GeForce GT 635M (N13P-GLR) dedicated video card
- Nice looking, thin and light
- Windows 8 (64 bit)
- 6GB DDR3
- 15.6” HD with LED backlight
- 1366 x 768 resolution
- Optical drive
What I Liked...The NVIDIA GeForce GT 635M video card was key for me. While not a gaming powerhouse by any means, at least it can play Starcraft 2 and even Skyrim on lower settings with a good framerate.
Physically, I like the look of it. The aluminum casing gives it a sleek look and feel. At 15.6" it's not a small laptop (which could be a deal breaker for people who want to carry it around a lot) it has some size to it even though it is pretty light and thin. The speaker was also much louder than I expected which I thought was nice.
The SSD Hybrid hard drive, 6GB of RAM and Windows 8 were all welcome features. Also, the optical drive (which does look quite delicate, but similar to the DVD drive I had in my old Thinkpad) was useful to have around, and I used it right away by installing Starcraft 2.
What I Liked Less...These things were not on my list of "must haves", but it's still good to know what I was ready to trade off.
The i5-3317U CPU is a dual core processor. If you need a more powerful quad-core CPU laptop, then this won't work for you. For me this did not matter, since I don't plan on using CPU intensive tasks. For gaming the video card is typically the bottleneck not the CPU.
The touchpad was disappointing as it wasn't as responsive as I'd like. The multi touch gestures just don't work very well. Luckily, I'm a mouse user.
Battery life is not the greatest. I plan to use it at home mostly and not on the road so it's less of an issue. But, the short battery life will definitely put some people off, since it only has about a 3 hour battery life in the time I've been using it.
The display resolution is just 1366 x 768 and that can be a deal breaker for some people—however, keep in mind that this is normal in this price range. It really depends what you need it for. I'm just not that picky about the display; but anyone who is used to a better display will likely feel let down.
ConclusionOverall, not too shabby for a computer in this price range and form factor. In the end, I felt happy with the trade offs that I made for a dedicated video card, a slim form factor, Windows 8 and hybrid SSD hard drive. The low screen resolution and short battery life is what will turn potential buyers away. However, the relatively low price tag of $599 cannot be ignored and was a big factor in my purchase.
An ASUS laptop (their laptops score well for reliability last time I checked) that can be used for some light gaming, looks good and a good price point was the winner for my needs. At the time, there was nothing else on sale that came close to this setup. That may change in a month, but if it can prove to be reliable for a few years then I will be very satisfied. Right now I'm a happy ASUS laptop user.
ASUS S56CM-SH51 PhotosAsus laptop unboxed
Top view of laptop with chiclet keyboard
Angled view of laptop
ASUS S56CM-SH51-CB ultrabook thickness
UPDATE: Three years later...It's three years from purchase, and the laptop is still running pretty well. It's used every day and still boots up pretty quick. Installed Windows 10 on it and it's still a solid laptop for everyday web surfing, watching videos and home theatre uses. Gaming is mostly limited to Hearthstone these days.
I'm kind of surprised that laptop specs these days don't seem to be that much better than this one in the same $600 price range (before taxes). Just browsing the usual major retailers around here like Best Buy and Staples, and I didn't see any laptops under $600 with an SSD drive like this one has. I'm guessing that it might be the Canadian dollar that's really making laptops more expensive than they should be these days.