Some time ago, we got acquainted with AMD’s new Brazos platform, or more specifically, its strongest incarnation, ASUS’ motherboard with the E-350 APU. The “E” in the APU’s name revealed that we were dealing with the Zacate APU, containing two Bobcat cores, and the stunning performance we witnessed at the time resulted in an Editor’s Choice award as well. In the meantime, ASUS has been working fervently at launching new notebooks based on the same platform. Although the Brazos platform is theoretically aimed at the netbook market, its nature and performance enabled it to be implemented in desktop and notebook computers as well. ASUS’ K53BY is the latest example thereof.
Models that used big chassis for netbook (Atom) configurations have been available up to now as well, “stretching” the predefined dimensions in order to increase productivity and comfort of use on a larger display. However, Intel’s Atom didn’t make for a very fruitful combo of the two, mostly because the performance of the platform as a whole is rather limited, even in the case of dual-core configurations. On the other hand, AMD’s Neo CPUs just weren’t competitive, both in terms of consumption (battery life) and heating, which has been a problem for AMD for a while now. The Brazos platform has raised the bar to a new level. GPU, as an integral part of the APU, has separate parts for video (editing and playback), while performance is several times better than the level previously offered by netbooks. Besides Full HD playback and playing less demanding games, this platform can easily cope with taxing multitasking, and all that on HD Ready displays (1366x768). ASUS’s latest K-series representative has this very goal in mind.
A 15.6” display has allowed for a full-size keyboard, containing the numerical section as well. The plastic lid has a piano finish, which gives this model a touch of elegance, but also collects fingerprints at the speed of light. The combination of a discreet pattern visible only under certain angles and the piano finish reveals that we’re clearly dealing with a pricier model. Unlike K53SV, this notebook has no aluminium elements, instead using a very high-quality plastic imitation, which has had its impact on the final price. The minimalistic design is recognisable the instant you’ve opened the lid. The keyboard section has a slight drop from the touchpad level, and besides the keyboard itself, the only extra element you’ll find here is the power button and the metal net stretching across the entire width of the notebook above the keyboard, concealing a marvellous Altec Lansing sound subsystem.
The keyboard is strengthened on the back in order to eliminate bending during typing, and the numerical section compromises the usual position of the cursor keys. From the usability point of view, this is definitely a compromise, one that had to be made in order to fit the entire numerical section and keep the design of the notebook intact. Although the keyboard is not of Chiclet type as usual, the design is taken from the N-series, which automatically means very comfortable work. Touchpad is barely recognisable from its frame, with only a small difference in colour tone, and is slightly moved to the left, which means that accidental palm actions on it and subsequent cursor “jumps” are inevitable. The keys themselves are large, shiny (chrome polish), but also very noisy. Since this is a test sample, and not the final retail version, we believe that this aspect of K53BY is going to be amended by the time it hits the retail shelves. Below the touchpad, closer to the edge, there are discreet LEDs, signalising basic computer actions (on/off, battery level, HDD, Wi-Fi, Caps and Num Lock).
Had we not already mentioned the sheer size of this notebook, you probably wouldn’t have guessed it was as large just from the aforementioned features. Don’t be fooled, though, ASUS’ engineers knew well how to use the room at hand; suffice to look at the number and layout of the available connectors: three USB 2.0, HDMI, VGA, LAN, audio in/out, card reader, and of course, the optical device. The display is rather standard-fare. It doesn’t deviate from the norm in any way, either positively or negatively. Viewing angles are solid, and the glare coating is in place, which means that you’ll have vivid colours at the cost of difficulty using the PC in strong sunlight. If the system configuration had been different, we might have minded the relatively low resolution for this display size, but this way, 1366x768 is just fine for this hardware base; to go above would require a stronger discreet graphics card.
AMD’s APU is backed by a more than decent amount of memory, as well as additional discrete graphics in the form of Radeon HD 6470M. The 500 GB hard disk won’t win any speed tests, but has an adequate capacity for the target niche of this model. As far as wireless communication is concerned, you have both 802.11n and Bluetooth 2.1 at disposal. One of our major concerns was dispelled with incredible ease - switching between the integrated and the discreet graphics is as smooth as possible - AMD has clearly done much in the drivers/application department. NVIDIA’s Optimus used to be untouchable in the ease-of-use segment, but AMD’s solution has raised usability to an even higher level. No more display resets and programs freezing for a good half a minute just to switch between graphics subsystems! As soon as you run an application which relies on the GPU for its performance, a Catalyst window will pop up asking you which GPU you prefer to use. Afterwards, all that you need to do is tick the “remember” option, and you’ll ensure that the GPU used is correct every time for each particular application. Advanced behaviour settings are available for individual applications as well, which makes the system very flexible and useful.
The discreet graphics offers up to 50% better performance compared to the integrated solution, but it seems to be too much for the relatively weak Fusion APU to handle, as obvious from the chart results (Resident Evil 5 and World in Conflict), which reflect the inability of the APU (CPU) to follow up to the GPU’s performance. Furthermore, the second Radeon makes the notebook considerably hotter, especially after demanding graphics tests, and particularly around the touchpad area. We believe that this case of affairs means better market success for the model without the discreet graphics and with a price lower by some 50€, as usability isn’t compromised too much that way, since it’s obvious that two Bobcat cores can’t match the requirements of the discreet HD 6470M GPU. The results we had when first testing this platform (admittedly, in its desktop version) have been confirmed yet again - 1080p video playback is a piece of cake for E-350. Thanks to the APU’s architecture, CPU load rarely passes the 50% mark, which means that multitasking while playing 1080p material is very much an option. This sort of performance greatly changes the usability of netbooks as a concept on the whole, while the addition of an HDMI connector now looks like something that manufacturers should never leave out on Fusion-based models.
|HD Tune 4.6, average read||54.4 MB/s|
|Battery Eater, min/max||2h 23m / 15h 02m|
|Cinebench R11.5 x64, CPU/OpenGL||0.61 pts / 7.59 fps|
|PCMark Vantage x64, score||2,358|
|PCMark Vantage x64, memory||1,776|
|PCMark Vantage x64, TV and movies||1,175|
|PCMark Vantage x64, gaming||2,356|
|PCMark Vantage x64, music||2,608|
|PCMark Vantage x64, communications||2,485|
|PCMark Vantage x64, productivity||2,010|
|PCMark Vantage x64, HDD||2,376|
|3DMark Vantage, CPU score||1,955|
|1366x768 0xAA 0xAF, AMD Radeon 6130 (int.) / AMD Radeon 6470 (discr.)|
|3DMark Vantage, GPU score||750 / 1,716|
|Street Fighter IV, high||23.7 / 34 fps|
|Resident Evil 5, DX10 med||13.2 / 15 fps|
|World in Conflict, med||8 / 8 fps|
The 6-cell battery is another feature in favour of this K-series model. Under maximum load and with discreet graphics on, it can provide no more than two and a half hours, which is still a good result for a “fifteen”. Decreasing brightness, turning wireless connections off and using integrated graphics in 2D mode, however, is an entirely different story, as the brilliant Fusion-platform squeezed out an entire 15 hours from the battery, which is a fantastic result.
The overall impression given by K53BY is very positive, and should ASUS iron out all the small drawbacks in the final version, such as much too noisy touchpad buttons, we’d have trouble finding reasons not to recommend this model. A good price/performance ratio makes this ASUS a perfect candidate for our Best Buy award, which it would’ve got until we were informed that, as we’ve already said, there would be a model without the discreet graphics and costing 50€ less. That way, the aforementioned ratio really reaches the perfect balance, raising the usability value of netbooks far above what we’ve grown accustomed to enjoy up to now, and bridging the gap between netbooks and notebooks. For now, K53BY will have to enjoy its other award, while we rest assured that one of its variants will be the absolute best buy in this class.
|CPU||AMD Fusion APU (Zacate) dual-core E-350 1.6 GHz|
|RAM memory||4 GB DDR3 1,333 MHz|
|Hard drive||500 GB, 5400 rpm|
|Optical drive||DVD RW|
|Graphics adapter||AMD Radeon 6310 + AMD Radeon HD6470M 1 GB DDR3|
|Display||15.6", 1366x768 pix, LED, glare|
|Connectivity||3 x USB 2.0, HDMI, VGA, LAN, audio in-out, card reader, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi 802.11n|
|Misc||0.3 MP Web kamera, Altec Lansing speakers, 6-cell Li-Ion battery|
|Size and weight||37.8 x 25.3 x 2.83-3.49 cm; 2.6 kg|
|Price||€ 390 (with 3 GB RAM)|