The U38DT is Asus’ affordable ultraportable (note that I did not say “Ultrabook”) that comes with all the stylings of a premium offering – in fact, it bears remarkable resemblance to the first ZenBook, barring the circular pattern on the lid, and it being slightly chubbier. Still, the grey shell keeps the whole setup classy, and should fit with your fashion choices.
The reason I said that this was an ultraportable and not an Ultrabook is because the “Ultrabook” term belongs to Intel, and this… does not run on an Intel solution. Instead, the U38DT runs on the Trinity AMD APU, a best-of-both-worlds approach that combines a processor and a proper GPU into a single chip. The U38DT is powered by an AMD A8-4555M, which is a quad-core solution with Radeon 7660 graphics. That’s not all, as there is also a dedicated GPU hidden within the chassis (AMD Radeon HD8550), that should provide you with some decent gaming opportunities at modest configurations. A 500GB hard drive is used in lieu of an SSD, which should get you by just fine, since Windows 8 is snappy enough on its own. What is baffling is the amount of RAM provided – a paltry 2GB. In an age where 4GB is the norm to match increased memory requirements, 2GB of memory simply won’t do, and in fact the machine seemed to crawl when multi-tasking.
On the bright side, the U38DT did not skimp on build quality. The backlit keyboard is comfortable to type on, but does suffer from minor flexing as you access the keys in the middle. The trackpad is large and responsive, and the 13.3-inch display (at 1366 x 768 pixels) is matte, at the expense of touch capability. Granted, there are matte displays that are touch-sensitive, but I’m willing to overlook that, since that option was found on a Toughpad (the FZ-G1 I reviewed not too long), and I’m pretty sure that it would cost a pretty penny. Bang and Olufsen ICEpower leave their mark on the U38DT, with speakers that should satisfy the mobile media aficionado.
In PCMark 05, the U38DT managed to produce some decent numbers, though as mentioned, the rather limited RAM hampered its performance slightly, as seen in the Memory Score.
In PCMark7, the ultraportable also did well, particularly in the Computation and Creativity scenarios. Sure, it may not match the raw power of Intel chips, but it holds up on its own.
Battery life is actually not bad, clocking in at just 8 minutes short of 4 hours when tested in Powermark and it’s “Balanced” preset. Sure, power-saving measures can extend it further, but this puts AMD’s solution up there with a lot of mainstream Intel offerings.
To test the discrete graphics chip, I fired up the recent Tomb Raider reboot with moderate settings, with anti-aliasing and filtering turned down. At “Normal”, you can get about 30fps, which is playable. You should have no problems playing recent titles on the U38DT.
Unfortunately, there are several flaws with this ultraportable, one of which is the limited RAM given. If you can, find a variant with 4GB, or if you want to be a little hands-on, upgrade it yourself. Bear in mind that it only has a single DIMM slot. The other gripe is the fan. It doesn’t make a peep when you’re typing or doing some light work, but launch a graphics-heavy game and the cooling system will whir audibly. So take note of that when you purchase this unit.
Asus is rather generous with connectivity options on the U38DT, with a trio of USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and mini-VGA connectors. They have also bundled USB-to-RJ45 and mini-VGA-to-VGA adapters in a small pouch, which is much appreciated.
To sum up, the U38DT is a great ultraportable – just get some extra RAM.