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 - Saturday, April 9, 2011 - link

    Brazos C-50 starts at $325, so it's within spitting distance of the Atom N550 (dual-core), and it still has a substantially better IGP -- though it's mostly useful for video as opposed to gaming on the C-50. C-50 is also a lower power and better battery life option, though it may not match the best Atom netbooks. Still, I'm not sure most people need more than 10 hours of battery life, which is what we're talking about at this point.

    AMD's E-350 is better/faster, but it's also more expensive. I'd be quite surprised if Atom netbooks offered better audio latency. Only thing really missing is a good ASUS equivalent of the 1001P, only with C-50. Right now, the only 10.1" C-50 (or Brazos) netbook comes from Acer, who doesn't have the best reputation. If you're interested, though, the Acer Aspire One 522 is on sale for $300 at Micro Center right now.
  • krumme - Sunday, April 10, 2011 - link

    Have you ever tried an Atom? - if i would say you are a very patient man :)

    There is absolutely none in my family, with very patient female computer users i tell you, who havnt complained about the speed for basic task like surfing and office use.

    In my entire life i have met one person who didnt complain - all other - who thought all computers were the same - have complained. Atom just showed them - who did forget about the old age and windows 95 on 8Mb ram, that computer actually can be different.

    What i am pretty comfident about is, that all those user would have been pretty sattisfied with an e350, and stayed in their beliewe there was no difference.

    I think it just underlines that Intel and AMD have trouble for the future. The cpu/gpu is just fine as they is now. Then there is just the fight for cost, and it means lower earnings on the traditional markets.
  • strikeback03 - Monday, April 11, 2011 - link

    I was perfectly happy with the one Atom system I have used extensively - the carputer I built in my last car was based around an Atom 330. with 1GB RAM and a 200GB 7200 RPM HDD the only time there was ever any delay running the Centrafuse front-end interface was when a module was first loading after a restart. So for limited uses Atom is fine, so long as the software and experience are designed for that level of performance.
  • krumme - Monday, April 11, 2011 - link

    Yeaa, and my atom stream audio fine, and does not feel slow as long as i do not touch it.

    Atom was not build for anything but tv boxes, competing with arm. And therefore it does not work when anandtech, promotes sb at the expense of bobcat, because it indirectly leads the consumers to tv box computer power. And that is the unintended effect of theese articles.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, April 11, 2011 - link

    So Atom running a custom OS will be much better, obviously. Heck, even Atom chips (by PC standards) are going to be twice as fast as the best smartphone chips -- not on the GPU side, though, but that's a different story. But if you were to go out and buy a laptop for use as a Windows PC, there's still a big gap between $400 laptops and $700 laptops -- more than a 2X increase in performance for less than double the price.

    My experience is that given the choice (i.e. money not a consideration), no one would want less performance from their laptop. SNB dual-core should be good enough to fit in 13.3" laptops that weigh around 4 lbs., and priced at around $800 (or less) that's a great portable PC. Bobcat will go into smaller devices and offer slightly better battery life, but it's still slower (too slow) on some tasks -- e.g. video transcoding, Flash browser games, and anything else that's computationally intensive will be much better on SNB. So again, Brazos is basically for those who value price more than most other areas.

    On a related note, I'd be shocked if any major business tried to replace current generation Arrandale laptops with Brazos laptops. Heck, they wouldn't even replace Core 2 Duo laptops with Brazos. Businesses want a balanced laptop, generally speaking, and right now Intel gives you more performance with good battery life for a reasonable price. AMD competes on the desktop and laptop with lower prices, but when productivity is money, why would you save $150 only to have your employees waste hours of time over the next year? (Well, they'll waste time regardless, but they'll waste even *more* time waiting for a slow computer.)

    Long-term, it will be very interesting to see what happens with Windows 8. Windows 7 can run on Atom, but it's clearly a different experience than Win7 on even something like CULV or Brazos. ARM-based SoCs are sort of Brazos, except they're even slower on the CPU side of the fence (and slower on GPU as well). Win8 will need some major changes relative to Win7 to make it viable on tablet and laptop devices running such SoCs.
  • krumme - Tuesday, April 12, 2011 - link

    IT is not a strategic subject for top management anymore.

    A few years back, they would spend time talking TCO, cost outsourcing, but today is different.
    They just dont want to hear about it, and spend valuable time on it. For good reason.

    SAP is running for everyone and his brother, the oursourcing is in place. Who cares if its a Dell or HP machine except in IT.

    And the IT director, who ofen is an economis, hardly knows what a CPU is. It matters so little no one cares just a few stop up the chain.

    The replacement of computers is just done regulary say every 3 years, and what Dell/HP chooses to put in their computers is their business.

    If something is interesting about the computers today its screen, keyboard, battery and foremost quality.

    The cost differences for a brazos compared to a sb is so slim, it doesnt matter. But lets say the next brazos 28nm q4?, have nearly double the batterylife and a solid turbo, then i think there is a chance we will se a lot of ultra portable business laptops with them.

    Except for 10% of the business users i think we are waiting for the HD not the cpu. Therefore i think we will se more cheap ssd and even more noise and battery friendly cpu/gpu in the next generation - standard roll out - business leasing deals.

    But as said, for the professional side its just mostly TCO today, and for the consumer side its just more and more cost, cost, cost. Perhaps they are saving for an IPAD3 ? :)
  • tomycs2007 - Monday, April 11, 2011 - link

    "15.6" WLED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)
    (AU Optronics B156XW02 v6)"
  • TegiriNenashi - Monday, April 11, 2011 - link

    As long as its display has puny vertical 768 pixels resolution. Please bring back 16:10 aspect ratio!

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