Oct 192012
 

Both of these laptops are an amazing deal at under $500 with same latest 3rd generation Core i5 3210M Intel Ivy Bridge processor (or were recently at Best Buy in September and October 2012). They have several different perks that may make them more attractive to some consumers, but also some shortcomings as possible deal breakers for others. Although the 15.6″ glossy screens at the average 1366×768 resolution are nothing to brag about, the abundance of other features and processing power for such a low budget is quite impressive. Both machines have a similar battery life (6.5 hours advertised or around 5 hours according to my experience) and plenty of ports including USB 3.0, HDMI, VGA and Ethernet, but the Lenovo lacks dedicated jacks for microphone and headphones, having only one combined jack which by the way works great with Apple iPhone and similar headsets with integrated microphone. It also has two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports while the ASUS has one less USB 2.0 port. None has the dual band 802.11a (5 GHz) WiFi or Bluetooth, and ASUS also has significantly less RAM and disk space, which might not matter to those who wish to upgrade with an SSD and more RAM, but there’s several more subtle differences.

Lenovo P580-308725U

Pros

Keyboard – Lenovos are known for their best keyboards, which makes them ideal for writers, coders and any other professionals who type a lot. Having been badly impacted by horrible two years of typing experience on the ever fragile keyboard of my Toshiba Portege r705-P25, I’ve grown to appreciate a good keyboard almost more than anything else on a laptop, and this is THE laptop to have. I was quite disappointed when I saw that Lenovo has also moved to chiclet keyboards like the rest of the Apple-following lemmings of the laptop manufacturing industry, but this still feels much better than most laptop keyboards I tested so far.

Sound – Another amazing difference is the powerful sound of the Lenovo’s speaker system, light years ahead of the supposedly good Altec Lansing sound of the Asus and better than most laptops I’ve ever heard. Note, if you install Windows from scratch like I did once I upgraded to an SSD, make sure you copy the drivers section of the D: partition because without the factory driver the sound was totally mediocre, while with the drivers and Dolby applet enabled it blows me away with its loudness and quality. Having picked and chosen two different, lower end 15.6″ Lenovo machines with Pentium CPU for my family throughout the past year, I witnessed how loud (and sometimes annoying, if you don’t like the particular music or the video game noise) they can be with their speakers. This was the second main reason why I decided to return the ASUS and go for the Lenovo.

RAM – not only does it have 50% more memory at 6 GB of RAM (4GB and 2GB chips) but even without the second 2 GB chip, the 4GB Samsung memory chip is just a notch faster than the lone 4GB chip provided with the ASUS.

Disk space – 50% more HDD estate (750 GB vs 500 GB on ASUS)

Webcam – HD resolution (1280×720) compared to VGA (640×480) on the ASUS (note: the webcam on the Lenovo can be shut off with fn+Esc to save power when not in use)

Cooler bottom (no pun intended) – The laptop bottom feels noticeably cooler than of the ASUS or many others.

Easy upgrades – The two screws need to be removed completely and once they’re out, you can slide the bottom lid open for easy access to RAM, HDD and half mini-pci (WiFI) card slot. However, be careful if you want to upgrade the WiFi card to dual band because Lenovo is blocking many unsupported cards (it won’t even boot if you install one of those) and has a very restricted list of supported cards, which I still haven’t found for this particular laptop. Another reason why the bottom of the laptop feels cooler than on ASUS might be the metal foil (most likely aluminum) on the inside of the plastic bottom lid, which probably helps dissipate heat and evenly cool the entire area instead of allowing for hot spots by the HDD or CPU.

Cons

Numeric keypad – Definitely not your full size keypad like on your desktop keyboard. Just like the lack of the insert key on the ASUS laptops is the show stopper for me, this may be a deal breaker for an accountant or any other type of a professional who relies on the numeric keypad on the right a lot. It may at least take some time before getting used to the crammed layout. This wasn’t important to me, but I’d rather have a well made keyboard without the numeric pad than a “numeric keypad wannabe” like this. Still, the ASUS laptop has the same crammed show stopper for accountants.

Seemingly fragile screen/lid – The lid is very thin and great with aluminum back, but in the front it feels very plasticky and totally different than on the back. Whenever I open or close it, or just move the laptop lid, I hear cracks in the bezel like it’s separating from its back. Everything still works great in spite of these sounds, but I hope with time this doesn’t get much worse, and this is the only serious concern I have about this laptop.

Thickness – This machine feels a bit thick, but I’d rather have a thicker and cooler (but still relatively light) laptop, than a thin lap heater. It’s easier to carry the thicker and cooler laptop with me than the much thinner and hotter Toshiba Portege with a lap-pad/cooler, or even the little thinner but warmer ASUS.

Drivers Download – after replacing the existing HDD with a much faster SSD, I went on Lenovo’s support site to download drivers, only to discover that most of them don’t work right with this laptop. After calling support I was told that I should wait 24 hours and then try again, what didn’t change a single thing, but meanwhile I copied the drivers from the original HDD (residing in partition called LENOVO) and they work great.

ASUS K55A-BBL4

Pros

Instant-on – ASUS championed the instant-on technology and fast boot, so although the Lenovo laptop in reality showed to be just a tad quicker in my tests, these enhancements make ASUS subjectively feel like a faster machine.

Longer stand-by – ASUS is also a leader in the amount of time their machines can stay in standby without either hibernating or losing too much battery power. With full battery the standby state can last for over five days. However, if you enable this longer standby mode, you sacrifice wakeup on key or mouse press and have to press the power button to bring the machine back from sleep.

Slick design – This notebook is not really much thinner than its Lenovo counterpart, but its thinner edges make it seem like a thinner machine.

Sturdy lid – Although thin, the lid feels sturdy, or at least not as fragile as on the Lenovo.

Drivers Download – ASUS website offers great, correct drivers for the laptop and I didn’t waste any time there like I did with Lenovo.

Cons

Insert key – This laptop has the same major flaw as many other recent ASUS laptops. The standalone insert (Ins) key doesn’t exist, and in order to get to it you have to hold the function (fn) key and hit delete. Very bad design decision, at least for users like me who always use the alternate keyboard shortcuts for copy, cut and paste (Ctrl+Ins for copy, Shift+Del to cut and Shift+Ins to paste). I use those key combinations frequently, so in order to paste I have to hold the fn key, the Shift and Del key at the same time, which is very inconvenient and quite a moronic way to mess up an otherwise great laptop. When I discovered this, the honeymoon was over. I would have dealt with lower volume speakers, but this was the only real reason why I returned it.

Warm botom – Although cooler than my ultralight Toshiba Portege r705, it seems this laptop sacrificed a bit of cooling for good looks, so it looks slimmer but it runs noticeably warmer than the Lenovo.

Numeric Keypad – Very similar, crammed numeric keypad, just like on the Lenovo. Far from the full-size pad on your regular desktop keyboard.

Summary

Both laptops are an amazing deal, but although ASUS looks much slicker with thinner edges, the Lenovo is a keeper because it’s not only equipped with more disk space and memory, but it also runs cooler, while even a bit faster (unnoticeable by humans), and offers a much better typing experience with amazing sound and very bright screen.

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