Monday, 27 August 2012

ASUS U36SG Review / Setup

After 2 years 11 months I decided it was time to upgrade my aging Macbook Pro to something a bit newer and less Appley (no ethernet port on a "pro" laptop - are they having a laugh?! Bring back Steve!). I bought the ASUS U36SG from Amazon. I had free money to spend on Amazon, and it was  £120 cheaper than ebuyer! The other reason I had to upgrade now was the fear of being shoved in the direction of the hideous monstrosity that is Windows 8. Yeah I'm a Linux user, but if I'm forced to buy a Windows COA you can be damn sure it aint going to be for Win8.

This had everything I was looking for (except a backlit keyboard, but still...)

The packaging was shoddy, I guess I've been too spoilt by Apple. It came in a messy looking box, and inside was just some wonky brown cardboard holding it all together. Two things I noticed that I liked, and two that I didn't:

1. Hard drive LED! We buy Lenovo at work, and the lack of a HDD LED bugs me
2. You can make the "restore DVDs" straight to ISO, no need to waste real life discs (who uses them anymore?) - again, Lenny doesn't offer this feature. Before someone goes "Herp derp Y U make restore discs when you use linux LOL!!!!11111oneone" - in case I sell it in the future. in case it needs to be sent back under warranty.

And the bad stuff:

1. The damn stickers! stuck all over the thing. Protective plastic. spam stickers. ugh. Luckily they all came off OK. There were sneaky ones on the underside of the hinges I didn't spot first time round:

2. As with my last ASUS (EEEPC900A - a netbook, remember those?!) there's no indicator LED to say the battery is finished charging. You've actually got to start it up and check in the OS. I don't get why they would miss off something as simple as that. The manual says when its on green and solid, its at least nearly fully charged - well thats useful.... NOT

Anyway, after making the restore discs (5 DVD ISOs - yep, that's (compressed) 17GB of crap they pile on to these things), it got flattened and a clean Windows 7 x64 installed. Seemed daft not to dual boot, in case there's a game I want to play that WINE doesn't like or something.

I like the ASUS driver page, they give the downloads meaningful names (*cough* TAKE NOTE DELL *cough*)

After taking a disk image, it was time for Linux. Arch went on without issue. Notes below. The only thing that took a little set up was the dual graphics card nvidia Optimus thingy using 'Bumblebee'. It worked first time though.

Arch installation:
loadkeys uk
cfdisk /dev/sda
mkfs.ext3 /dev/sda2
mount /dev/sda2 /mnt
pacstrap /mnt base base-devel
pacstrap /mnt grub-bios
genfstab -p /mnt >> /mnt/etc/fstab
arch-chroot /mnt
    nano /etc/hostname
    nano /etc/hosts
    nano /etc/vconsole.conf
    nano /etc/locale.gen
    nano /etc/locale.conf
    mkinitcpio -p linux
    grub-install --recheck /dev/sda
    pacman -S os-prober
    grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg
    passwd root
umount /mnt
cpupower lm_sensors wireless_tools yajl
alsa-utils alsa-oss alsa-plugins
netcat mpg123 wget
    gpasswd -a USERNAME network
    /etc/rc.conf    DAEMONS= dbus wicd
(I had to install dhclient - wicd seemed unhappy with the Arch default of dhcpcd)

Fix the grub error message:
# cp /usr/share/locale/en\@quot/LC_MESSAGES/ /boot/grub/locale/
Installed Xorg and stuff:
xorg-server xorg-xinit xorg-server-utils mesa mesa-demos xf86-input-synaptics xf86-video-intel openbox rxvt-unicode feh
    exec openbox-session
Installed yaourt to get bumblebee:
$ wget
$ wget
$ tar xvzf package-query.tar.gz
$ tar xvzf yaourt.tar.gz
$ cd package-query
$ makepkg
# pacman -U package-query-1.0.1-x86-64......
$ cd yaourt
$ makepkg
# pacman -U yaourt-blahblah......
Installed bumblebee and stuff, tested with glxgears:
yaourt -S bumblebee
yaourt -S nvidia-utils-bumblebee nvidia-bumblebee
    /etc/rc.conf   DAEMONS=bumblebeed

optirun glxgears
Installed bbswitch to save power and turn off the nvidia card when not in use:
yaourt -S bbswitch



    options bbswitch load_state=0 unload_state=0

# rc.d restart bumblebeed

nvidia_card_enable() {

  stat_busy "Enabling NVIDIA GPU"

  if [ -w ${BBSWITCH} ]; then
    echo ON > ${BBSWITCH}

add_hook shutdown_poweroff nvidia_card_enable

chmod +x /etc/rc.d/functions.d/nvidia-card-enable
Rebooted, and tested the power saving (it's off when it shows rev as FF)
lspci|grep VGA
    (rev ff)
optirun glxgears
lspci|grep VGA
    (rev a1)
Installed laptop-mode-tools to stop the drive from using whatever power saving settings it has as default (which makes it click every few seconds as it's too aggressive):
    /etc/rc.conf    DAEMONS= laptop-mode
        # Power management for HD (hdparm -B values)
...and that was it really. I'm yet to test suspend and bluetooth, but they should just work.


  1. Hi Steven,

    Have you encountered any excessive heat/noise problems with this notebook?



    1. Hi Marcin,

      Nope, it's very quiet. I can only hear the fan when gaming/video processing/etc - and even then I've heard much louder laptops.

      The hard drive makes an annoying head park ticking noise with the default APM/AAM settings, but QuietHDD/hdparm takes care of that nicely.

    2. Thanks for reply. And have you found the gt610m a bottleneck? I'll do some demanding rendering, perhaps not an overkill, just something that my current integrated SIS somehow makes do with, however I'm looking for a GPU that will do it more efficiently. You've mentioned video processing, so I assume that I could also create animations quite smoothly with it? I'll also run Linux on it - some RedHat's clone.

  2. Hi,I'm Asus lover and bought this notebook to replace an Asus UL30A which I had for several years and loved (my daughter is now using it). The only drawback of the old notebook was that it lacked the power to do heavy duty video editing using Adobe Premiere. I saw that the U36SG had dual core with hyper threading, double the base clock speed, and an additional turbo mode that adds another 25% or so with turbo mode, and finally 2 GB more memory (option to go to 8GB). Well, let me tell you this small, lightweight notebook is awesome! I am now able to create video/slideshow compositions with no hesitation, even as we travel. No more waiting until we get home. I am getting about 9 hours on battery using the recommended power settings and could probably squeeze out another hour by fine tuning. The best part is that I only paid about $50 more than I did for the older notebook....a great value. I absolutely recommend this notebook for travelers who want a lightweight but powerful do everything personal computer that is very close to the size and weight of an iPad. thanks all!
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