Slim design with DVD drive; Strong overall performance; Loud and clean audio; Speedy boot time; Runs cool;
Keyboard somewhat mushy; Below-average battery life;
A sleek design, good speakers and zippy Core i5 performance make the ASUS S56CA a solid 15-inch Windows 8 Ultrabook.
The ASUS S56CA-DH51 is a Windows 8 Ultrabook that's ready for some multimedia fun. It sports a sleek design with an aluminum lid and deck, a fast Core i5 processor and SonicMaster-powered speakers for some audio oomph. Plus, the 24GB SSD lets you get back to enjoying those Windows 8 apps almost as soon as you open the lid. With a price of $649, is this the 15-inch Windows 8 machine to get?
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The power button sits in the top left hand corner. The area around the keyboard is sunken, so the keys sit a few millimeters lower than the power button and the touchpad. Six indicator lights are on the left side of the lip.
At 14.96 x 10.47 x 0.83 inches, the ASUS S56CA is slimmer but wider than the Acer Aspire V5-571-6869, which measures 15 x 10 x 0.9 inches. At 5 pounds, the ASUS is just an ounce lighter than the 5.1-pound Acer. Overall, this is fairly thin and light machine for a 15-inch notebook.
When watching the trailer with the ASUS S56CA positioned 45 degrees to the left and right of us on our desk, colors did not wash out often. When they did, only dark hues were affected.When they did wash out, the reflective nature of the glossy display was somewhat distracting, but not enough to keep us from watching.
The ASUS's display notched a brightness rating of 159 lux, which is below the Acer Aspire V5's mark of 171 lux. Both scores are substantially below the 15-inch notebook average of 232 lux.
The ASUS S56CA sports a pair of hardware-optimized SonicMaster speakers nesting inside a horizontal bar. The bar is lodged within the top of the deck and situated in between the display's hinges. When we listened to "Rico Suave" by early '90's sensation Gerardo Mejia, we were pleased with the richness of vocals, wind instruments along with drums. When we listened to "Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns N' Roses, guitars, drums and vocals all sounded accurate. At maximum volume, we noticed no distortion and the speaker filled our test room with music admirably.
At 4.2 x 2.8-inches, the touchpad built into the S56CA's deck is large and provided an accurate pointing experience. Windows 8 gestures worked well, including swiping in from the right to activate the Charms menu and swiping in from the left to switch apps. Two-finger scrolling in both directions also worked well. The integrated button in the touchpad provided just the right amount of resistance.
After running a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the S56CA's touchpad, underside and space between the G and H keys registered temperatures of 85, 83 and 88 degrees Farenheit, respectively. We consider anything above 95 degrees to be uncomfortable.
The S56CA wields a low-voltage 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 6GB of RAM and a 750GB 5,400-rpm hard drive paired with a 24GB SanDisk SSD. It earned a PCMark 7 score of 3,130, which easily tops the 2,576 category average as well as the Acer Aspire V5-571-6869's mark of 2,417. The V5-571-6869 has the same processor, RAM and a smaller 500GB hard drive that spins at 5,400 rpm.
The S56CA took a mere 21 seconds to boot to the 64-bit version of Windows 8. That slays both the 51-second category average (comprised mainly of Windows 7 notebooks) and the V5-571's 53-second Windows 7 Professional boot time. Overall, Windows 8 boots much quicker than Windows 7, though the ASUS no doubt got an assist from its solid state drive.
In our OpenOffice Spreadsheet Test, where we task the machine with matching 20,000 names with their corresponding addresses, the S56CA did so in 5 minutes and 58 seconds. That trails the category average by three seconds (5:55) but still bests the V5-571 by 17 ticks (6:15).
Both the ASUS S56CA and the Acer V5-571 use integrated Intel HD 4000 Graphics GPUs. In our 3DMark11 test, the S56CA scored 627, which is almost half the 1,100 category average but comparable to the Acer Aspire V5's grade of 594.
When we ran "World of Warcraft" on the "Good" setting at 1366 x 768, the S56CA averaged 32 frames per second. That's playable but less than half the 68 fps category average. The V5-571 averaged 50 fps on the same settings, although it was tested before a major update to the game. When we cranked the eye candy to "Full" and kept the resolution at 1366 x 768, the ASUS struggled to the tune of 16 fps.
Windows 8 and Software
The S56CA-DH51 is one of ASUS's first Windows 8 machines, so you'll have to get accustomed to the new OS' tile-based Modern UI, which is where you're placed every time you boot the machine. However, the Classic UI is still intact, save for the all-important Start menu. Getting the hang of the OS and switching between the two UIs will definitely take some time, but we appreciated being able to personalize the Start menu with Live Tiles and receive updates on email, news and more without having to open the apps.
ASUS' warranty consists of one-year parts and labor, one-year accidental damage, a 30-day zero bright dot guarantee along with two-way free shipping. See how ASUS fared in our Best & Worst Brands report and Tech Support Showdown.
MORE: Top 25 Windows 8 Apps
The S56CA-XH71 gets a 1.9-GHz Intel Core i7-3517U processor, but the RAM count gets knocked down a peg from 6GB to 4GB. This version of the S56CA also doesn't ship with Windows 8, opting to come loaded with Windows 7 Professional 64-bit. TigerDirect is currently offering the S56CA-XH71 for $849.99. Keep in mind that Microsoft offers anyone who purchases a machine with Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional or Ultimate an upgrade to Windows 8 Professional for $14.99. This discounted upgrade offer expires Feb. 28, 2013.
We also found a sibling that's cheaper than the S56CA-DH51. Dubbed the S56CA-WH31, it sports 4GB of RAM and a 1.8-GHz Intel Core i3 3217U. It can be had for $599.99 from Newegg.
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|CPU||1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U|
|Operating System||Windows 8|
|RAM Upgradable to|
|Hard Drive Size||500GB + 24GB SSD|
|Hard Drive Speed||5,400rpm|
|Hard Drive Type||SATA Hard Drive|
|Optical Drive||DVD+/-RW/+R DL|
|Optical Drive Speed||8X|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Touchpad Size||4.2 x 2.8 inches|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI-out|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Ethernet|
|Ports (excluding USB)||DC-in|
|Ports (excluding USB)||VGA|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Combo Headphone/Mic Jack|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Kensington Lock|
|Card Slots||SD memory reader|
|Size||14.96 x 10.47 x 0.83 inches|