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

CULV Notebooks: The Premium Netbooks

For many, 10.1" netbooks (and even the slightly larger 11.1" and 12.1" models) are woefully inadequate for any sense of real productivity. So, when it comes to shopping for notebooks, you say the word "netbook" with derision--and that is perfectly understandable. It is hard to look beyond the compute and graphics horsepower limitations, and even when you do, the dinky form factor seriously cramps your style. High-bit rate 1080p video files just aren't the same on a 10.1" screen. Typing can be a tear-your-hair-out experience that seems to accelerate the onslaught of carpal tunnel syndrome. Suffice it to say, netbooks are not for everyone.

I maintain that netbooks are good in limited cases (read our 2010 Fall Buyer's Guide), and their value really only revolves around a low price tag compared to more fully-featured notebooks. If you went ahead and added another $300 dollars to bottom line, we'd rather be talking about better-equipped systems armed with faster components.

While prices are always a moving target, netbooks generally fall in around $300. If you are willing to go one generation back, there are some excellent sub-$200 deals. Just make sure you understand that whatever your motivation is for purchasing a netbook, they are designed as companion devices. You are supposed to do your heavy lifting on a desktop or workstation.

Netbooks often take a lot of abuse in reviews for this very reason. Everyone generally agrees that the compact little form factor wasn't designed to host a primary computer, but people don't want to have to deal with two machines with different purposes. They seem to want one stationary machine and one convenient mobile system capable of doing the same things. It's  hard enough for true power users to maintain a single archive of documents and media files on one PC. Netbooks make you juggle two (or come up with a smart cloud-based sharing solution). This is where we hit an impasse that consumer ultra-low voltage (CULV) notebooks are able to address.

Historically, Intel is the key proponent of this form factor, which hasn't been strictly defined. Why? Remember that netbooks were the mobile PCs that brought mobile prices down to the ground. This put pressure on notebooks in every other category--specifically the ultra-thin-and-lights. Looking back, why would you spend more than $1500 for a thin-and-light (like some of Sony's older Vaios) when you could purchase a dirt-cheap netbook? The form factors were similar, and the netbook was only handicapped with a slower processor. But it sold for less than one-quarter of the price. In this economy, that budget purchase looks far more attractive.

Conventional notebooks cost $300-$400 dollars more than a netbook. This leaves a huge gap. What can you get spending $150-$300 more than the price of a netbook? CULV notebooks compete in this space. Their dimensions and performance profiles were never strictly defined because they were intended to offer more attractive performance than netbooks, at conservative price points compared to faster notebooks.

Netbook performance is expected to improve significantly thanks to the introduction of AMD's Zacate and Ontario APUs. So, you can think of CULV notebooks as the "one-up" option ahead of netbooks, but "one/two-down" from mainstream notebooks. This means you get a more powerful CPU, GPU, and a roughly 12.1" screen. Whereas netbooks are most often based on Intel's Atom CPU, you're more likely to see CULVs driven by Core 2 Duo or a low-voltage Arrandale-based processor. Without question, those chips are nowhere close to as powerful as a modern mobile Core i5 or Core i7. But you get a smaller, thinner, cheaper, and more power-friendly form factor in return. This is why we consider CULV notebooks to be "premium netbooks," or perhaps "budget ultra-thin-and-lights."

  • one-shot
    Why get this outdated tech when more powerful Sandy Bridge based laptops are already out and more with even better battery life are on the horizon within the next few months. Here is a link from Anandtech that shows a i7 2820QM 4Core/8Thread CPU getting almost 7 hours of battery life (416 minutes) surfing the web with heavy flash.

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4084/intels-sandy-bridge-upheaval-in-the-mobile-landscape/9

    These CULV were great a year ago, but not anymore. This is old tech and purchasing any of these is a poor use of your money if battery life and performance are what you are after. If you want shorter battery life and weaker performance, then by all means this is for you. Sigh...
    Reply
  • acku
    We will have our Sandy Bridge mobile up story up shortly, but that is a i7-2820M. It is meant for DTRs. CULVs are a different beast. Brazos is more applicable comparison if you read our conclusion.

    And "heavy flash" is somewhat of a misnomer. Its still single-threaded. It doesn't matter what video you happen to be playing. And if you read our Flash article then you know H.264 Flash video has very little overhead on current GPUs (including Sandy Bridge), because they all use hardware decoders. This is going to naturally translate into more battery life. This doesn't just go for Intel. It goes for Ion2, Nile, etc...

    Andrew
    TomsHardware.com
    Reply
  • runswindows95
    That RLU benchmark is a really useful benchmark! I for one would buy a netbook or any system just to do word processing, the internet, and mp3's all day. You should also include it when comparing lower-end desktops as well because not everyone buys a computer to run high-end graphics all day. It really made me look at these netbooks better, and I can make a better decision based off that one benchmark alone.
    Reply
  • acku
    9508126 said:
    That RLU benchmark is a really useful benchmark! I for one would buy a netbook or any system just to do word processing, the internet, and mp3's all day. You should also include it when comparing lower-end desktops as well because not everyone buys a computer to run high-end graphics all day. It really made me look at these netbooks better, and I can make a better decision based off that one benchmark alone.

    Honestly, that is probably the first compliment we have received on it. But I'm glad to hear you like it. Feel free to drop suggestions for improving it or possible permanent names.

    I'm glad at least my many hours of programming weren't useless. But we plan to use it in our (many) upcoming mobile system reviews as well.
    Reply
  • How did you guys update the Ion2 drivers on the 1215n?
    Reply
  • acku
    Uninstall everything, then install Intel driver first, then install Nvidia driver.
    Reply
  • braneman
    I think the appeal of these netbooks is more if you have to carry them around with you, also they are 500$ cheaper, smaller, and probably several pounds lighter than a sandy bridge notebook, trust me if you have to carry it around with books you will notice the difference between this and a 15-17 inch laptop.
    Reply
  • super_tycoon
    inaphasiaHow did you guys update the Ion2 drivers on the 1215n?you should try using nvidia's drivers from their website, for a long time I couldn't get any installer to work and had to resort to windows update (I reinstalled windows to x64 ultimate). However, I tried again with the 266.35 installer and that worked perfectly, even with the gpu 'off'.

    I just want to add that if you're going to rip open your 1215n, swap the wifi card. I replaced the stock bs with an intel 6200 (the 1215n only has one antenna, so overkill, yes) and it's amazing. A situation where a cheap abs case is actually beneficial.

    I also don't recommend upgrading the hdd to an ssd. They're expensive, and the platform in general, whether it was ram or cpu, held me back further than I would have expected. The only real advantage is power savings. In the end I put the ssd back in my desktop to live it's horrible life as my swap drive.
    Reply
  • frederico
    one-shotWhy get this outdated tech when more powerful Sandy Bridge based laptops are already out and more with even better battery life are on the horizon within the next few months. Here is a link from Anandtech that shows a i7 2820QM 4Core/8Thread CPU getting almost 7 hours of battery life (416 minutes) surfing the web with heavy flash. http://www.anandtech.com/show/4084 andscape/9These CULV were great a year ago, but not anymore. This is old tech and purchasing any of these is a poor use of your money if battery life and performance are what you are after. If you want shorter battery life and weaker performance, then by all means this is for you. Sigh...
    Great review, very pleased with it.

    To address the above, all is very well and easy when you don't have to take weight and portability into account.

    I own a half dozen laptops and several PCs, I am a pretty hardcore gamer, but the one that gets the most use is the little portable netbook. Its 'evolved' all by itself into the most useful piece of tech I have. Can travel with it, watch tv and order stuff online, even sit out in the sun and watch a movie.. so many uses..

    Yet, so many limitations, this is where something like the 1215n comes in..

    Perfect screen size - really, 11.6 or 12.1 is absolutely spot on, as 10 is too small and anything else takes away from the portability

    Just enough processing power - its not a desktop machine, but not a titsy little single core atom either, it can run whatever you want, not at lightspeed, but thats not want we need, just decent speed.

    HD, HD, HD - It can play movies, flash, etc that other little netbooks can't, I am not a videophile, but I cannot stand stuttering, try a .mkv on the old atom 270 - just doesn't work

    ION - I won't game on the netbook, but the nerd inside me likes the fact that it can handle them, even recent titles, quite admirably.

    Battery - this is key in the balance, its gotta be close to 6 hours, which really is the magic number, I know this will get 5 and a bit, so its not bad.

    Price - hits the magic 500 dollar/euro mark

    Those are called "criteria" - your ultraportable has to have a good combination of all of the above. A quadcore can have all the battery it wants, but if it don't fit the above then it isn't really fit the category, or the price.. or the weight.. or the portability.. etc etc

    Reply
  • grooveboss
    I am going to be simple here. Netbooks running linux are great to check email and browse in bed when using a good trackball, also for video conferencing and Google voice calls and maybe some flash gaming or retro gaming. For Typing you really want an accessory keyboard, but it does not need a stance to hold its screen up when using it for word processing and the netbook can be easily hooked up to an external monitor. In my opinion since you are saving the money in the core of the system itself might as well spend the extra cash of a usual budget for buying a computer on more practical peripherals to increase productivity and still have an ultra portable machine. I think that covers for netbooks from me.In conclusion they are slow but in the future hardware will be smaller and ultra portable machines are going to be awesome.
    Reply