Asus U46E-BAL7 review

Asus U46E-BAL7 notebook
I purchased a new notebook about a week ago and I’m really liking it quite a lot.  I was leaning strongly toward a Dell XPS 14z, but I spotted the Asus U46E-BAL7 for a reasonable price at Best Buy and decided to go with that instead.  What attracted me most was its sleek brushed aluminum platinum-colored case.  It almost looks like a 13″ Macbook Pro.  Excellent specs for its price and the Asus name sealed the deal for me.  I’ve built a number of desktop pc’s in the past and Asus is arguably the best motherboard maker out there.  I have no doubt that their notebooks are built with the same level of quality and reliability.

Specs

  • Intel 2nd Generation i7-2640M 2.8GHz dual-core processor with 4MB L3 cache and Turboboost (up to 3.5GHz)
  • Intel HD 3000 Integrated Graphics Processor (sandy-bridge), 12 EU’s, 650-1300MHz
  • HM67 chipset
  • 8GB 1333MHz DDR3 memory
  • 750GB 5400RPM Seagate Hard Drive
  • Double-layer DVD±RW/CD-RW Optical Drive
  • Wireless-B+G+N and 4G WiMAX
  • 14″ LED-backlit widescreen TFT-LCD display (1366 x 768 res)
  • Chiclet-style keyboard and large touchpad
  • 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet LAN port
  • 1 USB 3.0 and 2 USB 2.0 ports
  • HDMI and VGA ports
  • 8-cell Li-Ion battery
  • built-in multi-format flash card slot, 0.3MP webcam, headphone and mic jacks
  • power jack is on back, out of way of other ports
  • Outside Dimensions:  1.1″ H x 13.1″ W x 9.6″ D
  • Weight: 4.9 lbs
  • 65w power adapter
  • Windows 7 Home Premium, 64-bit

A large part of my motivation to get a new notebook was to launch myself back into creative writing. I’ve sort of been loathe to sit at my desktop pc – it tends to make me feel like I’m still at the office not to mention it reminds me too much of my old gaming routine. My previous notebook, an Alienware Sentia, was going on 8 years… the wireless wasn’t functional anymore and the wrist area had some stubborn sticky remnants from some labels that wore off. I think I paid like 2 grand for that damn thing. My how things have changed. For $830, my pretty new Asus U46E-BAL7 has put a big smile on my face and given me some added enticement to get busy with writing. The specs exceed what I need by a lot but it’s nice having the extra performance on tap if I ever need it for something like video editing. There’s no discrete graphics card but that’s probably for the best. I don’t want to fall off the wagon and turn it into a mobile gaming platform.

I read some customer reviews on Best Buy’s website before buying and I noticed some complaints about a single small speaker, which I found rather funny. I mean, plug in some freakin ear-buds for Pete’s sake. Really, who wants power-sucking high fidelity external speakers on a notebook? Light weight and battery life make a lot more sense. I can easily go a couple of 3 hour sessions on a single charge. One minor little detail I really like is a function button that toggles the touchpad on and off – the screen even flashes a graphic in acknowledgment.

I couldn’t help running some benchmarks, just for fun. Hey, I’m an engineer after all.

System Benchmarks

  • PCMark 7 score (default settings): 2576 PCMarks
  • Sandra Lite 2012: 2.97 kPT

CPU Benchmarks

  • Cinebench 10 (single-CPU): 5576
  • Cinebench 10 (multi-CPU): 11472
  • 3DMark Vantage CPU Score: 10150

Gaming Benchmarks

  • 3DMark06 1280×768 (DirectX 9 benchmark): 5001 3DMarks
  • 3DMark Vantage 1280×1024 (DirectX 10 benchmark): P2107 3DMarks*

*using the “freeware” version of 3DMark Vantage… which only allows running the more graphically intense Performance Preset as opposed to the Entry Preset that is intended for notebooks.  Lame, right?

Impressive CPU performance and surprisingly passable performance in DirectX 9 games for the integrated Intel HD 3000. Anandtech posted an interesting article about Sandy Bridge, if interested, while Intel has gone through the trouble of compiling a list of games considered “playable.”

I only have a few minor quibbles about the notebook so far. First, while I love the feel of the chiclet keyboard, back-lighting would have been a sweet enhancement for low light conditions. Second, the inclusion of an HDMI out port is nice, but why bother with it if the DVD drive is not a Blu-ray one? Next, I don’t understand the integration of a low-res (0.3 Megapixel) webcam. Other notebooks I’ve seen with built-in cameras are typically over 1 Megapixel. I wish the Asus folks had skipped the camera altogether in favor of a Blu-ray drive. Oh well, you can’t expect perfection at $830. Lastly, there were no recovery DVD disks included in the box. Took me just over an hour to make a set of 3 dual-layer DVD recovery disks, so not a big deal. I deleted a few programs, ran Windows Update, and installed MS-Office and a couple other programs before making the disks. So, the minor inconvenience worked out for the best. None of these shortcomings mattered that much to me.

Overall, the Asus U46E-BAL7 is an incredible little powerhouse of a notebook – awesome speed, storage, connectivity, and long battery life, wrapped in a gorgeous little package.

9/10

Scott Stein at Cnet did a review on the nearly identical Asus U46E-BAL6 in Nov 2011. That earlier model used the 2.7GHz i7-2620M processor with same 4MB L3 cache, same 8GB of DDR3-1333 memory, and oddly, a better webcam (1.3 Megapixel). The BAL7 would have a very slight performance boost over the BAL6. He ran some video creation and encoding benchmarks that showed some impressive scores. It highlights the Sandy-Bridge/Intel HD 3000 graphics chip’s advantage over discrete graphics cards in that arena since it shares the CPU’s on-die cache memory.

Meanwhile, in late Oct 2011, Jarred Walton at AnandTech did a very thorough review of the Dell XPS 14z, which is a very similar attractive notebook and the one I initially considered for purchase. However, it has lower specs compared to the Asus U46E-BAL7. For an equivalent price, the base XPS 14z model is equipped with a weaker i5-2430M 2.4GHz processor with 3MB L3 cache, 6GB of RAM, and a 500GB HD. Oh, but it has a backlit keyboard and it’s a tad thinner. That might be worth a hit on performance to some people. Me, I decided to go with the Asus.

21 thoughts on “Asus U46E-BAL7 review

    • Why do you need two speakers to hear Windows sound effects? That’s really the only use I can imagine for an external speaker(s) on a notebook. If you want to listen to music while you’re working (and you don’t have some type of iPod or variant at hand), you can get great fidelity by plugging in some ear-buds… or use a headset if you want to use Skype or Ventrilo. Heck, I used a headset on my desktop back when I was gaming a lot and my wife thanked me for it :lol:

  1. Great post, with this you convince me of going to with this great laptop, and i have no regreats it was a great deal, the only question i have is if there is a good compatibility with Linux Os??

  2. I just bought a i5 macbook pro with 4gb ram running OS 10.7 Lion and I am not impressed. My first Mac and it seems…. well… whack.

    I had asus before and I am seriously considering picking this one up. I can do it and an iPad for $100 more than the macbook.

    Thoughts?

    • Nerdy Nurse, switching to a Mac is definitely an adjustment if you’re a long time Windows user. But it sounds like your first Mac might have been defective? I’m still loving my Asus notebook – no problems or complaints of any kind so far :)

  3. hey very nice read. i am looking for both a work and gaming laptop. i won’t be playing ridiculous games on this laptop, just starcraft 2 and diablo 3. i understand that this computer apparently doesnt have dedicated video memory, so how does this computer handle these sort of games?

    other than that, i feel like this computer is great for the money, thanks for the post!

    • I wouldn’t recommend this notebook for those games. The HD3000 IGP should be able to run them at low graphic settings but I’m not sure what kind of frame rate you would get. Really, if you want to game, a desktop with a big screen and a dedicated gaming card seems much more suitable.

    • I bought this recently and have Skyrim running well on medium settings with several mods. GTA 4 is a problem and might be over the limit but nearly everything else works. The ones that don’t seem to be the result of Microsoft’s Windows 7 hit or miss backwards compatibility. I can’t get System Shock 2 to work or Diablo 2. The idea of sticking XP in the machine alongside 7 is a last resort. Those cheap 10 to 14 dollar small USB plug in speakers that you can find at radio shack work very well. My only problem is trying to shut off the annoying small white blinking lights next to the mouse buttons. Unnecessary.

  4. Even though the computer seemed to work fine and I do like the keyboard, it might not be worth it. The screen had a crack (seems to be from inside) only after about 5 months of use. I never dropped the computer. I saw two other people reporting a similar monitor problem without them dropping the laptop. Bestbuy told me that ASUS will blame me for damage. I called ASUS, one person told me that if there is a crack, then it’s must be me who caused the damage and it will not be covered by the one year warranty that came with the purchase. Another one told me to send it in. I am afraid that after I spend money to send it in, their will tell me that it is not covered. I never seen this kind of problem before.

    • Sorry to hear of your problem. However, I doubt that the monitor would just crack on its own. I suggest bringing it in to Best Buy and ask one of their geeks to review the damage. They could probably determine what caused the crack. Kinda makes you wish like you’d purchased a Best Buy service plan doesn’t it? They’d have probably replaced your notebook no questions asked. I usually try to save money and avoid those pricey plans, but in your case it would have been good to have it.

  5. Hey, i was wondering if there was a way to upgrade the graphics card on this unit. I don’t need a massive upgrade, but i would like to play a couple games on my computer at a decent graphics rating. Is there a list of graphics cards that i can choose from to install myself into this computer?

    • I’m pretty sure you can’t “add” a graphics card. The case just isn’t designed to fit one or handle the extra heat. The Intel HD3000 IGP actually performs pretty well for DX9 games. You’ll probably have to lower settings and play at lower res to achieve a playable framerate, though. Check on Asus’s homepage to see if they offer an upgrade option. They might, but I highly doubt it. Decent gaming laptops usually cost about 2X, compared to this one.

  6. After reading the very positive review on PCmag.com about how the U46E-BAL6 had a quad core processor, and was great for editing video, I decided to have a look around and saw the U46E-BAL7 on Best Buy Refurbished for $629. About a minute after I got my bank card confirmation e-mail I saw this article and started reading to find that this is actually a dual core.

    I do hope to edit video and will be needing a lot of power for that. I was wondering if anyone has done any video editing with Sony Vegas or similar on this? If so how was your experience?

    • Although I haven’t actually done any video-editing on this notebook myself yet, it’s pretty capable in that department. The U46E-BAL6 had a dual-core i7-2620M processor, btw. The more recent U46E-BAL7 has a dual-core i7-2640M.

      Image processing and video-editing/rendering is a processor dependent operation. RAM is key too. This notebook has the muscle on both fronts. I expect you will have a very good experience with Sony Vegas or other video editing apps using it. :)

  7. I bought this computer recently on clearance($613) and I love it. for those wanting to some gaming, this computer doesnt completely disappoint! It runs emulators for n64 and ps1 like a dream(I enjoy playing games from these systems since I grew up with them) Games like Tribes:Ascends works fine on lower graphic settings. If you want to play games like Skyrim, buy and xbox 360 or ps3! THis computer is one of the best for it’s price and gets work done. And it handles video editting quite well, especially since I relied on my measely i3 desktop with a lot less power before I bought my Asus.

  8. I bought my laptop primarily for its memory and processing power, and have to say, i’ve been quite disappointed with it actually. It does run quickly, has an excellent startup time, and I’ve never had it freeze on me. However, I have had this laptop just over a year and have already had to replace the screen because the casing started to come apart at the hinge, which, needless to say, was not covered. Additionally, about half the time, the speakers lag behind the rest of the computer on boot up. Sometimes they don’t turn on at all until i reboot the laptop. Lastly, I have had numerous problems with the network adapter having hardware/driver issues, which is a bit of a problem on a primarily wifi campus.

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