ASUS K53E: Enter Sandy Bridge Man

Last week, we looked at one of our final Arrandale laptops in the ASUS U41JF, a worthy follow-up to the U-series’ legacy. Today we have another ASUS laptop, this time one of the first dual-core Sandy Bridge systems to grace our test bench. The K53E comes to us via Intel, and they feel it represents what we’ll see on the various other dual-core SNB laptops coming out in the near future. Unlike the Compal quad-core SNB notebook we tested back in January, this notebook is available at retail, and it comes with very impressive performance considering the price, but there’s a catch.

Intel has taken the stock K53E and fitted it with a faster i5-2520M processor, which should be a moderate performance bump from the K53E with i5-2410M and a healthy upgrade from the non-Turbo i3-2310M model. The i5-2520M runs at a stock clock speed of 2.5GHz with Turbo modes running at up to 3.2GHz; in contrast, the i5-2410M checks in at 2.3GHz with a 2.9GHz max Turbo, and the poor i3-2310M runs at a constant 2.1GHz. There are a few other changes as well, depending on which model you want to take as the baseline. The K53E-B1 comes with 6GB standard and a 640GB HDD, while the K53E-A1 comes with 4GB and a 500GB HDD; our test system has a 640GB HDD and 6GB RAM (despite the bottom sticker labeling it as a K53E-A1). Intel also installed Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit instead of the usual Home Premium 64-bit, which means there’s no bloatware on the system—and ASUS’ standard suite of utilities is also missing.

If you want a ballpark estimate of cost for a similar laptop, the Lenovo L520 has the same i5-2520M CPU, 4GB RAM, and a 320GB HDD with Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, priced at $826. Intel’s pricing on the i5-2520M is $225, so around $800 total for the K53E would be reasonable, but like most OEMs ASUS gets better pricing for the i5-2400 series parts and thus chooses to save money there. For most users, the stock K53E-B1 will be more than sufficient, as the extra 10-15% performance increase from the CPU upgrade won’t normally show up in day-to-day use—you’d be far better off adding an SSD rather than upgrading the CPU. Here are the specs of the laptop we’re reviewing.

ASUS K53E (Intel Customized) Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5-2520M
(2x2.50GHz + HTT, 3.2GHz Turbo, 32nm, 3MB L3, 35W)
Chipset Intel HM65
Memory 1x4GB + 1x2GB DDR3-1333 CL9 (Max 8GB)
Graphics Intel HD 3000 Graphics (Sandy Bridge)
12 EUs, 650-1300MHz Core
Display 15.6" WLED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)
(AU Optronics B156XW02 v6)
Hard Drive(s) 640GB 5400RPM HDD
(Seagate Momentus ST9640423AS)
Optical Drive DVDRW (Matshita UJ8A0ASW)
Networking Gigabit Ethernet (Atheros AR8151)
802.11bgn (Intel Advanced-N 6230, 300Mbps capable)
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR (Intel 6230)
Audio 2.0 Altec Lansing Speakers
Microphone and headphone jacks
Capable of 5.1 digital output (HDMI/SPDIF)
Battery 6-Cell, 10.8V, 5.2Ah, 56Wh
Front Side Memory Card Reader
Left Side 1 x USB 2.0
Gigabit Ethernet
AC Power Connection
Exhaust vent
Right Side Headphone/S-PDIF Jack
Microphone Jack
2 x USB 2.0
Optical Drive
Kensington Lock
Back Side N/A
Operating System Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
Dimensions 14.88" x 9.96" x 1.11-1.37" (WxDxH)
Weight 5.84 (with 6-cell battery)
Extras 0.3MP Webcam
102-Key keyboard with Numeric Keypad
Flash reader (MMC, SD, MS/Pro)
Warranty 2-year standard warranty on some models
1-year standard warranty on others
Pricing K53E-B1 (i5-2410M): Starting at $719
K53E-A1 (i3-2310M): Starting at $625

Like the U41JF, outside of the CPU we’ve already covered most of the items here. One new addition is the 640GB 5400RPM Seagate Momentus drive (previously we usually received 500GB models). With a higher areal density, sequential transfer rates will go up, but the random access speed is still going to be horrible. Also like the U41JF, there are quite a few missing features: USB 3.0, eSATA, FireWire, and ExpressCard are not here, so if you want any of those you’ll need to go elsewhere. The DVDRW, LCD, audio, and other items all typical features; the 0.3MP webcam makes the sacrifice of resolution in order to work better in lower light conditions.

There are a lot of similarities to the ASUS X72D/K72DR we looked at in October, though we’re running an Intel CPU and using a 15.6”-screen chassis this time, and there’s no discrete graphics option. Of course, the HD 5470 is no performance beast, so Intel’s HD 3000 actually posts similar results (albeit with perhaps less compatibility across a larger selection of games). Also interesting is that ASUS is using a 56Wh battery in place of the 48Wh units that have been so common; hopefully that will be the case on all of their midrange laptops going forward, though we’re still partial to the 84Wh batteries in the U-series.

The real purpose of this laptop is to get dual-core Sandy Bridge out there for the lowest possible cost. While the notebook as configured would probably need to sell for around $800, the K53E-B1 with i5-2410M is going to perform very similarly and will set you back $720. Because Intel performance a clean OS install, we also skipped out on the regular set of ASUS utilities. Power4Gear is about the only one we usually find useful, with the ability to power off the optical drive usually boosting battery life a bit relative to other laptops. Since we’re not looking at a stock K53E, though, we decided to just run the system as configured on both the hardware and software fronts.

ASUS K53E Impressions and User Experience
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  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    I spent almost half the conclusion talking about exactly this. I'm not sure what you want me to say more, other than you'd love for me to sing the praises of AMD and decry Intel has too expensive? Seriously:

    $300 to $500: Brazos C-50 or E-350 are hard to beat. If you want more performance with less battery life, Athlon/Turion/Phenom II are also available. Or wait a month for Llano and see how that compares.

    Above $600, right now there's no way I would recommend Brazos. There's also no way I would recommend a 15.6" Brazos laptop, just like I would laugh at a 15.6" Atom-based system. Brazos E-350 is about twice the CPU performance of Atom, but then CULV was already three times as fast as Atom. I bashed on Atom a lot, and I continue to do so; it's far too easy to beat Atom and thus the real target has to be Pentium and Celeron at the very least. I'm going to see if I can get an Arrandale Pentium or Celeron just to see how it compares, because I expect about 2x the performance of Brazos on the CPU with slightly slower graphics. Well, actually a lot slower, but Bobcat is the bottleneck.

    If anyone has $600 to spend on a laptop, they really shouldn't be looking at Brazos. Heck, even $500 is probably too much these days, considering all the options in that price range, unless you want small size and good battery life. If you can stomach the keyboard, Acer has the 1430Z (Pentium U5600) and the 1830T (i3-380UM) that are certainly viable alternatives to E-350.
  • krumme - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    With a house full of Intel computers, i am not here to judge Intel as expensive and AMD as cheap. I think the consumers know what they should pay for the benefits if fthey get it presented in a balanced way. And i dont disagree with you recommandations personally.

    My point is. People can decides for themselves what is good enough for them. They are experts on their own life. If they buy a brazos and dont complain afterwards its fine for me. I have seen so many people getting disapointed by Atom for reasons we all know - no hd youtube and slow surfing. When someone less informed reads this review - perhaps by chance using google - and look at the bottom of the charts - they migt get the impression brazos is the same stuff as Atom. And judged by their standards - their measurements intruments - brazos is very different from Atom. So it would be a wrong assessment from their view.

    And yes - right now the oem is ripping of brazos customers because of limited suply, - and because they can. But it just shows how brilliant the product is mm2 vs profitability. And yes AMD positioning this like pentium/celeron perf. is not just bs, but plain stupid for their long time brand building, as is the low performance parts eroding the brandvalue. But this is just AMD marketing performance as usual.
  • floersch - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    Your General Performance charts identify the CPU of the Apple MBP13 2011 as an i5-2415M but your Gaming charts identify it as an i5-2515M. Are these two different machines or does one set of charts incorrectly identify the CPU?
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    It's the 2415M... I'll correct the charts that have the wrong model number.
  • floersch - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    Thanks, Jarred, for the quick reply and for all of your excellent work. I always look forward to your analyses.
  • vol7ron - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    I think it's coming pretty close to a decent price point for performance.

    I'd like to see these laptops ship with a free HD extender/docker. It shouldn't cost the company much and when swapping out that big ol' 5400 for a SSD, it'd be nice to have the device immediately, to dedicate it to backups/storage.

    What do you think?
  • veri745 - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    Why drop the E-350 from the comparisons when you get to medium settings? I would expect it does a lot better relative to HD 3000 when you start bumping up the graphics settings.
  • silverblue - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    Not really, because HD 3000 will have access to much more bandwidth than Brazos.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    Because our medium settings typically run 25 to 50% slower than our low settings. Brazos manages to hit 30FPS in zero of the eight current games we're testing; do we need to show that it performs even worse at medium? Anyway, I actually did run MSI X370 at Medium settings. You can see the comparison (like many others) in Mobile Bench:
  • silverblue - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    Think about it... even if Brazos is supposed to be priced much lower than low-end Sandy Bridge laptops, it doesn't follow that it will always work out that way. You shouldn't ever be paying more than $500 for a Brazos machine unless it's a sufficiently high quality build but right now that doesn't seem to be the case all of the time.

    Toms just made a comparison between three diffferent Brazos laptops ( ) and they came to the conclusion that chopping $50 off the price of a lot of these machines could really make Brazos stand out.

    What AMD should be doing is advertising Brazos as the true Atom competitor that it should be, at the very most CULV Celerons, instead of falsely positioning it as a competitor to Pentium setups.

    Just because such articles highlight overcharging and the advantage of spending not a huge amount more on something far more powerful, that doesn't make it an incorrect assessment. I expect that once there's more Brazos offerings on the market, manufacturers will have to lower prices in order to compete, and then there really will be a gulf in price between Brazos and Sandy Bridge, like there should be.

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