In December, we reviewed Plextor’s PX-B320SA combination Blu-ray reader/DVD burner and found it a worthy product for the dual purpose of writing DVD discs and watching Blu-ray movies. But that internal drive does little good for folks who do all their computing on a laptop. For them, Asus’s SBC-04D1S-U combo drive could be the answer.
The SBC-04D1S-U external drive is not only slim and stylish, but also very portable, measuring approximately 5.5x6x1 inches and weighing less than 1.5 pounds, and it takes up little room on a desktop when perched vertically in its included stand.
Unfortunately, despite its conveniences, the SBC-04D1S-U doesn’t sport quite the same performance muscle as its internal counterparts. The SBC-04D1S-U, which connects to a PC using a dual-head USB 2.0 cable (included with the drive), is capable of writing to DVD+/-R at 8x—the internal combo drives we’ve tested, Plextor’s included, are rated at 16x. Put into real-world terms, Asus’s drive wrote 4.38GB of data to a DVD+R in 10:46 (min:sec) compared with the Plextor’s time of 5:20. With double-layer media, the Asus drive is rated at 4x while the Plextor drive is rated at 8x—the Asus took 29:36 to write 7.96GB of data to a DL disc, while the Plextor took just 16:58.
We're not sure if the same holds true in the U.S. market, but in Taiwan, Asus-branded LCD monitors are flying off the shelves, and at a rate faster than all the competition, DigiTimes' "industry sources" say.
More specifically, Asus nabbed 20 percent of the LCD monitor market in Taiwan in 2009. It was a tie for second place between Chimei and Acer, each of which nipped at Asus' heels with 18-19 percent of the market. Viewsonic came in third with 14-15 percent, and BenQ controlled 10 percent of the LCD monitor market.
Despite falling prices for larger screen monitors, 19-inch widescreen models continued to be the most popular in Asus' lineup. It probably helped that Asus slashed prices on 19-inch models before everyone else, marking them down to about $125.
Netbooks might never become full-blown notebook replacements, but they do keep inching towards powerful companions capable of more than just basic Web surfing and emailing. Nvidia's Ion platform is largely to thank, and come April, Asus said it will have an Eee PC ready built around Nvidia's second-gen Ion platform, Ion 2.
The upcoming Eee PC will probably sport an Intel Atom N450 processor, currently the newest Atom on the block. And so will most other netbooks, as Intel's Atom N270 and N280 chips start to disappear from the limelight, with models built around those two chips starting to be phased out of the market place.
Asus will also tap into AMD's Congo platform with 12-inch Eee PCs. These should start shipping next month, though it's unclear if that includes the U.S. market.
Asus isn’t a huge player in the router market, but the company has come up with a few noteworthy models in the past few years. We’d happily count the RT-N13U as one of them if it delivered reasonable throughput or decent range.
This was the only router we tested that was capable of sharing a USB printer, and while Asus claims it can support multifunction devices, it guarantees compatibility only with the ones the company has tested. We plugged in an Epson Stylus NX515 and could print documents, but we couldn’t get the scanner function to work. (You’ll find a list of supported printers here). The RT-N13U was also the only router we tested that was capable of hosting a USB hard drive, but the router permits only FTP access to that storage.
Worried that Asus might start to turn a blind eye to the motherboard market as it shifts focus to netbooks, e-books, and other Eee-devices? Don't fret, the company has no intention of abandoning mobos, not anytime soon, anyway.
On the contrary, Chewei Lin, VP of Asus' open platform business, says he expects his company to ship 25 million motherboards in 2010. That's a lot of boards, 20 percent more than the 21 million units Asus shipped in 2009.
Asus expects to ship 5 million motherboards in the first quarter alone, driven largely by recovering demand from Europe and the Lunar New Year demand from China. In the second quarter, Asus expects to do a little better and ship 6 million boards, giving the company a total of 11 million units for the first half of the year, leaving 14 million to be shipped in the second half.
Relatively few of these will be equipped with USB 3.0, however. The reason? High costs, Lin says.
Asus announced a ton of new laptops at CES 2010, but many were surprised to find things pretty quiet on the e-book reader front, especially with all the rumors of a multi-display touch enabled device that was expected in late 2009. Interestingly enough, those rumors were started by the Times Online UK, and the same publication is now claiming Asus has tipped them off with details of their new DR-570 planned for release later this year.
Assuming the Times Online has the straight goods this time, the DR-570 will sport a 6-inch OLED color display, along with Wi-Fi and 3G connections. Of course, a 6-inch OLED display would be wasted on books alone, so Asus is reportedly working on flash support, along with over 122 hours of battery life in "real world conditions". Asus has a pretty solid reputation as a budget electronics maker, but it will still be very interesting to see how this unit will be priced. Sony charges as much as $2,000 for an 11" OLED TV, so clearly the screen is going to be a pretty significant cost in the manufacturing of the device.
The DR-570 isn't expected until later in the year, so perhaps Asus is hoping prices will drop between now and the end of 2010. If they do pull it off however, it could end up being as game changing to the e-book reader market as the EEE PC was to the netbook market. Would you buy an OLED color e-book reader? And more importantly, what would you be willing to pay?
Life is full of decisions, and for Asus, the big dilemma is which of Google's OSes would be the best fit for its upcoming smartbook, Android or Chrome.
"You still have some trade-off between Android and Chrome," said Jonney Shih, Asus' chairman. "With Android you might have the timing advantage, but Android is originally more for the smartphone, for the smaller screen. For Chrome, the original design objective is for a bigger screen -- it has multi-windowing, and is...maybe more suitable."
The decision has perplexed Asus so much that Shih admitted to having a prototype Android device in its lab "for quite a while," but has held off on launching it. In the meantime, the company is currently working on Chrome prototypes.
It's not just the OS that has Asus weighing the pros and cons. The company also wonders how many people would be willing to give up application compatibility in Windows in favor of a lower-cost subnotebook running Linux on an ARM chipset.
"With the current Wintel-based Eee PC, the advantage is you still enjoy the [application] compatibility," Shih said. "The smartbook is usually based on ARM -- then you will have some advantage in the cost. This will further push the original design of the netbook."
High-end laptops are lucky to squeeze 3 hours of run time out of a single charge, and if you're looking for ultra long battery life, your best bet is a netbook. Or is it?
Asus had on display at CES a performance-oriented laptop the company hopes will redefine the high-end genre. The UL80JT, as it's currently called, can switch back and forth between a high-end Nvidia GeForce 310 and Intel's lowly GMA graphics. Combined with a Core i7 CPU capable of re-clocking itself on a second-by-second basis and other micromanagement tricks, Asus claims users can expect up to 12 hours of run time.
Even cooler, the whole process is transparent to the user, meaning you don't have to fiddle with power settings. The laptop decides for itself when to clock the dual-core Core i7 chip up or down and when to switch between graphic chips, and while we're skeptical we'd actually see 12 hours of run time, we would expect the UL80JT to run a lot longer than a typical high end notebook.
CES is the time of year when companies are all too happy to unveil upcoming product releases, so it would stand to reason that Asus would at least offer a sneak peek of its upcoming e-book reader, if not a product announcement. But despite the buzz, Asus chairman Jonney Shih said his company is taking a patient approach to both smartbooks and e-book readers, and doesn't plan to showcase either one.
A curious decision for sure, given all the attention e-books are receiving as of late. But Shih says finding the right content suppliers is a major task, not just for Asus, but for every e-book reader. Because Asus is still weighing their options, the company felt it best not to display these devices, even though Shih said the hardware is pretty easy.
On the smartbook front, Shih pointed to a lack of compatibility with most software as a major roadblock, citing how poorly his company's Linux-based Eee PCs sold compared to more expensive Windows-based models.
Stop us if you've heard this one before - Asus is hoping to release its Eee Keyboard...Wait! On second thought, never mind how many times you may have heard this in the past, because Asus is totally serious this time (we'll see) and promises to release its Eee Keyboard PC sometime next month for between $500 and $600.
That's about the same price we've heard every other time there's been an Eee Keyboard PC announcement, which most recently came in November, 2009, when word of a delay hit the Web. Asus said it planned on using the temporary setback to its advantage by beefing up the hardware.
According to reports, the plank-PC will come equipped with an Intel Atom N270 processor rather than the newer Atom N450, a single DIMM slot with 1GB of DDR2 memory and no way to upgrade to 2GB, a 16GB SSD with the option to upgrade to 32GB, a built-in battery that lasts up to 4 hours, and Windows XP Home.
The keyboard will also sport a 5-inch touch display off to the side, along with VGA and HDMI connections.
All told, it's a pretty nifty device, but will consumers be willing to shell out five or six Benjamins for what amounts to a last-gen netbook (hardware-wise) and very limited upgrade options? If all goes to plan, we'll find out in another month.