At $650, Asus’s ViviBook S400CA might seem like a lot, but when you factor in its 32GB of online storage, superior performance and accidental damage warranty, it comes out as a bargain.
Because the S400CA does without a CD drive, it can be squeezed into a case that’s only 0.9-inches thick, making it one of the thinnest budget machines available. On the other hand, you’ll hardly miss not having the optical drive and it is one less thing to break.
The black and silver case qualifies as an Ultrabook, has rounded corners and a soft finish underneath that makes it hard to accidentally slip out of the hands. At 13.3- by 9.4-inches, there’s plenty of room for papers and books on the typical school desk. If that’s too big or too small, Asus makes similar systems with 13.3- and 15.6-inch screens that range from $550 to $700.
But, instead of a five-or six-pound system, the S400CA weighs in at 4-pounds, putting it on a par with an executive class notebook. Add in its 9-ounce power adapter and you have a 4.5-pound travel weight, although the AC adapter requires a three-prong plug.
The center of attention is the system’s 14-inch touch-screen that can show 1,366 by 768 resolution images. It uses Intel’s HD Graphics video along with 32MB of dedicated memory, but can use up to 1,632MB from RAM for a total of 1,664MB of video memory.
Bright and sharp, the display can respond to 10 independent finger inputs and consistently interpreted complex finger gestures. The display tilts to about 30-degrees versus 45-degrees for other touch-systems, but can’t be folded flat onto a tabletop for working above the screen. On the other hand, the screen wobbles too much when it’s pressed or tapped.
The S400CA is powered by a third-generation Intel third-generation Core i5 3317U dual-core processor. It normally runs at 1.7GHz, but can speed up to 2.6GHz for demanding work. The system comes with 4GB of RAM, can hold as much as 8GB of RAM and the S400CA can be ordered with a Core i7 processor; that option raises the price tag to over $700.
Rather than a conventional hard drive, the S400CA has a hybrid drive that combines a 500GB rotating hard disc with 24GB of solid state flash memory that acts like a cache to wake it up quicker from sleep mode. Asus adds 32GB of free online storage for three years, so little or anything will have to be deleted at the end of the school year.
Around its edge, the S400CA has a good assortment of ports, including both VGA and HDMI; by contrast, the similar HP Pavilion TouchSmart 14z only has an HDMI connector. It also has a single USB 3.0 port as well as a pair of USB 2.0 ones, an SD card slot and an audio jack. To help it communicate, the system comes with Bluetooth, 802.11n WiFi and a fold-out wired LAN. Unfortunately, it uses an Atheros WiFi radio so it can’t take advantage of Intel’s Wireless WiDi video system.
With large speakers that fire out of the system’s sides, the S400CA sounds a lot better than other budget notebooks and gets quite loud. The keyboard has volume control keys as well as a handy mute when it gets too loud.
Asus has created a top performer that will satisfy any teacher or student and likely be one of the most powerful systems at school. It scored a 1,332.9 on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 8.0 suite of benchmark tasks, 50-percent faster than a similar Core i3 system.
The system’s 4,000 milli-amp hour battery pack was able to power the system for 3 hours and 51 minutes, or 50-minutes short of the TouchSmart 14z’s battery life. It should be plenty for a day of stop and go computing that includes charging the system when it’s not being used. On the downside, the S400CA is a sealed unit that lacks the ability to swap batteries.
The S400CA comes with a standard 1-year warranty that has a big bonus. Its inclusion of accidental damage that includes damages such as drops, spills, and electrical surges can mean a little of well-needed peace of mind. Top performance, reasonable battery life and the assurance that these systems won’t fall apart add up to a great choice for outfitting an entire class or a group of teachers.
+ Thin design
+ 32GB of online storage
+ Hybrid hard drive
+ Accidental damage warranty
- No WiDi