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Asus UL20A: Intel's Ultra-Low Voltage Core 2 Duo

Quick Look At Asus' CULV Notebooks: The "Premium Netbooks"

Aside from the low-voltage options based on AMD and Nvidia core logic, there are alternatives based exclusively on Intel's CULV hardware. Many of the newer Intel CULV notebooks feature ultra-low voltage Arrandale-based processors.

But these notebooks often cost an extra $150 or $200. The more budget-oriented offerings center on ULV Core 2-based parts. Asus' slightly older UL20A is a better example of what to expect from a notebook based on Intel's CULV portfolio. Even though Core 2 processors have been on the market for some time, they still are worth considering if you aren't willing to go pony up the extra cash it'd take to get a notebook based on Intel's Nehalem microarchitecture.

Asus's entire UL-series focuses on the thin-and-light segment. At roughly 1" thick, the UL20A follows this theme with an eye toward business users. The top of the display lid is made of brushed aluminum, which translates into high durability and strength. The lip of the lid has a small portion made of what seems to either be ABS or polycarbonate, as it houses the wireless antenna. Extending the brushed aluminum edge-to-edge isn't possible due to EMI reasons. The bottom of the notebook is covered by ABS molded plastic. The only strange design cue is the access panel to the hard drive and memory slots, which is made of stamped aluminum with a black epoxy finish.

Open up the notebook and you'll notice the black piano finish around the display. While Asus designed this notebook to be more business-centric, it oddly chooses a design that favors limited overhead lighting. Meanwhile, the casing on the wrist-rest, integrated touchpad, and around the keyboard all have a high-gloss finish, which is a major disappointment. 

High gloss around the keyboard isn't really a problem so much as it is on the wrist-rest and integrated touchpad. These two areas involve a lot of physical interaction, so the physical build-up of skin oil changes the sensation. It's particularly problematic on integrated touchpads because it makes for a poor tracking experience, unless you have Pledge wipes handy. Asus tries to solve this problem by making small pits in the touchpad's surface before applying the glossy finish. This provides more texture, but it feels as unnatural as the raised dimples on MSI's Wind U160's touchpad. There are better ways to design an integrated touchpad, and we have seen this on the 1005PE. Hopefully, future UL-series notebooks are designed with this shortcoming in mind.

The keyboard is full-sized, as the 12.1" form factor has space to spare. But this particular keyboard suffers from slightly poor support around the O, L, K, and semicolon keys because of a hole in the aluminum backing. As a result, there is a bit more depression around these four keys. Ideally, the aluminum backing would be more uniform so that the typing experience is consistent. 

While we have misgivings about the integrated touchpad, the clicker bar is, for the most part, a win. It is noticeably smaller than the one on the 1215T/N (2.5" versus 3.375"), but it doesn't suffer from middle-click confusion. There is no actual way to click in the middle, as it refuses to depress. You must be at least 40% to either the left or right side to perform a click. Even though the plastic clicker bar has a high-gloss finish, we don't see it as a detractor from the tactile feedback. Another plus is the fact that it is rounded, becauses it raises the profile of the clicker bar slightly above its recessed trench. This allows for your clicker and tracking fingers to be level, and it makes for a better ergonomic experience.

For anyone willing to dive under the hood, the UL20A offers easy access to the hard drive and memory slots from the bottom panel. Beyond that, there is little access unless you are willing to break Asus' warranty.

The keyboard can be easily removed for cleaning, but the aluminum backing and the silver portion of the casing come off as one piece. This means that full access to the CPU fan and heatsink is nearly impossible without breaking the warranty seal. This isn't all too different from the 1215T and 1215N, except that you are allowed to access the hard drive without any coverage penalty.

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