An Ultrabook that can play DVDs

- December 12th, 2012
Asus S56C Ultrabook

Asus S56C Ultrabook. (Supplied)

An optical drive seems like a largely unnecessary accessory these days. You can easily download most programs or media you want from the Internet or transfer what you need from one computer to another with a USB key or memory card.

Still, I’ve always be reticent to pick up a computer without one. I’ve stayed away from purchasing an Ultrabook mainly for that reason. Because despite the impressive power, speed and light weight of the Intel specification, there could be the odd time, I would want to listen to a CD, watch a DVD or need to install software from a disc.

But with the Asus S56C, I don’t have to make that compromise, as it comes with a Super Multi-DVD drive so I can watch movies to my heart’s content. As long as it’s plugged in as the 4-cell 2950 mAh drains quickly when the optical drive is in use. Best Buy’s site promises a battery life of up to 5.5 hours. But in practice, it’s closer to two.

But the S56C also comes with many other features that makes it a desirable purchase.

The specs for the laptop are what you’d expect from an Ultrabook. The model I tested came with a 1.7 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 3317U processor, Intel HD 4000 graphics, a 15.6-inch 16:9 backlit LED screen, an HD webcam and 6 GB of RAM. (A slower Core i3 and faster Core i7 models are also available.)

The speed varies somewhat. Many Ultrabooks run exclusively on solid state drives which load programs faster than the same programs installed on the more standard hard disk drives found on desktop computers and other laptops. But the S56C uses a combination of a 24 GB solid state drive (which Windows 8 is installed on) and a larger amount of standard hard disk space. (Storage space varies from model to model.)

So the machine can turn on in less than two seconds and you can perform other Windows tasks quickly. But other programs you install yourself won’t run as fast.

It’s a trade off to get more storage space. Solid state drives are more expensive than standard hard disk drives and generally have less storage capacity. The model I tested came with a whopping 750 GB. And the computer itself is fast enough that I didn’t spend a lot of time waiting for programs to load.

The screen provides a sharp image as well. It has a resolution of 1,366 pixels x 768 pixels which only provides a 720p image, not 1080p, but the colours are rich and the animations are smooth.

Asus S56C Ultrabook

The Asus S56C is 38 cm wide, 26.6 cm deep, 2.10 cm high and weighs 2.3 kg. (Supplied)

At 2.3 kg, it’s a little heavy for an Ultrabook but at  38 cm wide, 26.6 cm deep  and only 2.1 cm high, it’s slender enough to feel comfortable in your lap. And like with other Asus devices, only a small amount of heat emanates from the S56C so it’s easy to work without your legs overheating.

When it comes to typing, it’s a matter of preference. Asus opts for the chiclet (or island-style) keyboard where the keys are flat and spaced apart, like on a calculator. And it is quite responsive despite the slender keys. But personally I prefer a typewriter-style keyboard, with the raised dome-shaped keys that are pressed together. But if you’re used to the chiclet design as many Mac users are, for example, typing on this device may be a breeze for you.

Asus S56C Ultrabook touchpad

The Asus S56C has a chiclet keyboard and a touchpad with mouse buttons built into it. (Supplied)

The touchpad is a little odd, though. In attempt to maximize space and reduce overall size, the pad has no buttons. You simply press down on the left side of the pad for left-click and the right for right-click. But because the pad tilts when you press down on it, you can’t press down both “buttons” at the same time, which on most laptops works as a substitute for the middle-click. So for a better experience, it might be worth investing in a mouse.

Another reason to get a mouse is that Windows 8 installed isn’t very touchpad-friendly. The operating system is clearly designed with a touchscreen in mind and the S56C doesn’t have one.

You can compensate with various keyboard shortcuts or by switching to the Asus desktop screen, which is designed to emulate the look and behaviour of older versions of Windows. But the gestures used to control the Windows 8 Live Tiles interface are clearly designed to be done with a finger on the screen.

For example, to close an application, you have to drag the window down and off the screen. This is an easy task if you’re able to simply place your finger on the top of the window and swipe down. Or if you have a mouse, you can likely remove it easily as well. But it’s much more difficult to drag a window off screen using a touchpad, especially one where the buttons are built into it.

But ultimately it’s a pretty reliable device. And I didn’t have any major problems with everyday use.

The Asus S56C is available at most major electronic retailers and starts at $649.

Subscribe to the post

Leave a comment

 characters available