ASUS UL80Vt: Nearly Perfect

We have already provided a first look at the ASUS UL80Vt. We didn't run all of our benchmarks in time for the initial article, so we will hopefully answer any remaining performance questions in this detailed review. We're going to skip most of the pleasantries and get right to the meat, so start with our first look if you need a primer.

ASUS UL80Vt-A1 Specifications
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300
(2x1.3GHz, 45nm, 3MB L2, 800FSB, 10W)
Overclockable to 1.73GHz/1066FSB (Turbo33)
Chipset Intel GS45 + ICH9M
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1066 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce G210M 512MB
(16SPs, 606/1468/1580 Core/Shader/RAM clocks)
Intel GMA 4500MHD IGP (Switchable)
Display 14.0" LED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)
Hard Drive(s) 320GB 5400RPM HDD
Optical Drive 8x DVDR SuperMulti
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
Atheros AR9285 802.11n
Audio HD Audio (2 stereo speakers with two audio jacks)
Battery 8-Cell, 15V, 5600mAh, 84Wh battery
"Up to 12 Hours"
Front Side None
Left Side Headphone/Microphone jacks
2 x USB
HDMI
VGA
Cooling Exhaust
AC Power connection
Right Side Optical Drive (DVDRW)
Flash reader (MMC/MS/MS Pro/SD/xD)
1 x USB 2.0
Gigabit Ethernet
Back Side None
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 13.5" x 9.6" x 1.1" (WxDxH)
Weight 4.8 lbs (with 8-cell battery)
Extras Webcam
86-Key keyboard
Flash reader (MMC/MS/MSPro/SD/xD)
Multi-touch touchpad
Brushed aluminum cover (glossy plastic LCD/bezel/palm rest)
ExpressGate OS (8-second boot)
Warranty 2-year global warranty
1-year battery pack warranty
1-year accidental damage
30-day zero bright dot LCD
Pricing ASUS UL80Vt-A1 starting at $809

There are several standout features for the UL80Vt, each of which contributes significantly to the value of the overall package. First, ASUS includes hybrid graphics, allowing users to switch on the fly between the integrated Intel GMA 4500 MHD and a discrete NVIDIA GeForce G210M GPU. The G210M isn't the fastest graphics card on the block, but it's capable of running all the current games we tested without difficulty, at native LCD resolution, though you will need to reduce the detail settings on most titles. Having that graphics performance is nice, but the discrete GPU does cutting to battery life quite a bit. In our tests, simply enabling the G210M appears to increase power draw by 3 or 4W at idle, and load power draw is up to around 8W higher. That might not seem like a lot, but if you're talking a difference of 10W to 14W, that's a 40% increase in power requirements - or 29% less battery life.

The second noteworthy feature is dubbed Turbo33 by ASUS, and it's a 33% overclock of the CPU when enabled. ASUS uses AC ULV processor, but while such CPUs are certainly fast enough for many tasks, there are still occasions where such a processor would bottleneck the system. For example, gaming and video related tasks are at times a bit sluggish running at the default 1.3 GHz clock speed. Enable Turbo33 in the clock speed jumps up to 1.73 GHz, which makes the CPU fast enough to keep up with the discrete graphics. Even better is that Turbo33 doesn't greatly increase power requirements, at least when you're not doing something that puts a heavy load on the CPU. At idle, Turbo33 only increases power draw by around 1W, although at full load the difference is significantly higher - we measured a 10W increase in power draw running the CINEBENCH 10 SMP test with Turbo33 compared to stock. Our only complaint is that you need to reboot the computer to enable/disable Turbo33; we're not sure why that's the case, considering desktops have had the ability to overclock on the fly for long time. It would be nice to avoid that ~60 second delay, which would make Turbo33 even more useful. Realistically, unless you absolutely need maximum battery life you can just leave Turbo33 enabled.

Finally, while the above two items enable great flexibility, allowing users to switch between reasonable performance and high battery life modes, what really cements the UL80Vt's position as a mobility champion is the inclusion of an 8-cell 84Wh battery. True, the battery does increase the weight of the system slightly, but we will gladly carry the extra ~4 ounces if it means 50% more battery life. We also like the fact that the battery fits well with the chassis; 84Wh is relatively large as far as batteries go, but this battery sits flush with the chassis and it really doesn't seem any bigger than most 6-cell batteries. We've seen larger options (i.e. 12-cell battery is from HP), but they looked cumbersome by comparison. With the high-capacity battery, the UL80Vt is able to provide over 14 (!) hours of mobility - we managed nearly 10 hours of heavy Internet surfing on a single charge.

Of course, 14 hours is a best-case scenario; enable Turbo33 and the G210M and then fire up a demanding 3D game and battery life drops to just 2.5 hours, but even that result is still three times longer than most "gaming laptops" can manage in a similar test. You will also want to use the ASUS Power4Gear utility to extract the most from your battery; you can tweak typical settings like minimum and maximum CPU performance, LCD brightness, and when the display and hard drive go to sleep, but those are all available in the standard Windows power options. What Power4Gear adds is the ability to enable/disable Turbo33, along with options to disable the webcam and DVD. The Power4Gear software is one more step in configuring battery life that we would prefer to avoid, but at least it works well.

Gallery: ASUS UL80Vt

In a nutshell, the UL80Vt is all about flexibility. At 14 inches, it's small enough that you can easily carry it but it's large enough that it can still provide a full-sized keyboard. The smaller UL30Vt drops to a 13.3" LCD/chassis, loses the optical drive, and weighs 1 pound less if you're interested in something a little smaller. Just make sure you get the 8-cell battery upgrade, as the UL30Vt can apparently come with either a 4-cell or 8-cell battery. Of course, then you're looking at around $950 versus $810. The remaining features are pretty much what you would expect of any laptop - USB ports, HDMI, VGA, WiFi, Ethernet, and a webcam.

That's the good news; so why is the UL80Vt only "nearly" perfect? Again, there are three areas where we have complaints. First, as we discussed in the preview article, the LCD is less than spectacular. It's plenty bright, but contrast is poor at only 200:1. We also would have liked a higher resolution LCD - 1440x900 would be great on a 14" panel; 1680x1050 might end up with too fine a pixel pitch for a lot of people. Of course, the G210M would struggle a bit more with gaming at 1440x900, so the lower resolution does have its benefits.

Second, the build quality of the UL80Vt has a bit more flex and twist than we would like. It's not bad enough that we have serious concerns, but we aren't convinced the laptop will endure rigorous use for several years without developing a lot of creeks and squeaks. The aluminum cover looks great, and we wish that style had been extended throughout the chassis design.

Finally, while we love the hybrid graphics and have praised NVIDIA in the past, the latest 195.62 mobile reference drivers from NVIDIA don't support hybrid GPUs with Intel IGPs. That means users are stuck running drivers provided by ASUS for the time being, although ASUS has informed us that they are working with NVIDIA to get this corrected in the next driver release. If this were a true gaming laptop, we would be very concerned, but the G210M isn't powerful enough that it needs or benefits from regular driver updates. Batman Arkham Asylum complained about using "out of date" drivers, but we were able to run the game without difficulty.

Detailed benchmarks are available on the following pages, but overall the UL80Vt gets just about everything right when it comes to thin and light laptops. Yes, it could be a bit thinner and lighter, and we mentioned a few areas that could be improved, but these are minor blemishes in comparison to the things that it absolutely nails. Not everyone needs a laptop that can last all day on a single charge, but it's great to finally have the option to get a laptop that can provide acceptable performance in virtually every area while still getting upwards of 10 hours of battery life when you need it. We've seen faster and larger notebooks, or smaller and slower netbooks, but we've never seen anything that can match the overall flexibility of the ASUS UL80Vt. About the closest you can get to this sort of mobility is the Apple MacBook Pro line, the cheapest of which will cost you $1200. Add in the hybrid graphics on a MacBook Pro and you're looking at the $2000 15" model: faster, larger, and over twice as expensive. For providing a truly innovative laptop, we are pleased to present ASUS our Silver Editors' Choice award for the UL80Vt.

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  • bennyg - Wednesday, December 16, 2009 - link

    I think you're not getting the whole picture

    Run it for an hour and then see the max temps then

    When mine arrives I intend to downclock below the 9800MGTX speeds ... for longievity.
    Reply
  • clarkn0va - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    You may want to blur that picture of the bottom of the second laptop. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    Ummm... oops! Thanks. Reply
  • Zero110 - Wednesday, December 16, 2009 - link

    YOU'RE TOO LATE!!! Just kidding. Reply
  • KikassAssassin - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    I'm one of those people who has complained on the internet about the viewing angles, and I think your assessment is spot-on, because I came from an older laptop that had a higher-quality, but much dimmer, display. I do like that the UL80Vt's display is so much brighter than my previous laptop's, but the fact that such low-quality displays are commonplace nowadays is really sad. Companies will do anything to cut costs, I guess, but it's unfortunate that it's being done with such an important component. I guess most consumers don't care that much about the display quality, though, or else they wouldn't be able to get away with it. It would be nice if laptop manufacturers would at least offer the option of upgrading to a high-quality display. I would seriously have been willing to spend $1000 on a UL80Vt with a display on par with, say, the Macbook Pro or Dell Studio XPS (throw in a matte finish, an all-aluminum chassis, and a backlit keyboard, and you'd have the perfect laptop).

    Also, I notice in this article you said the graphics switch time takes about five seconds. I guess your fifteen second time to switch to the nvidia GPU went away when you reinstalled the old drivers? I'm still curious what might've been causing that.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    I think it may have been either drivers or something else; at one point I broke the GPUs with updated Intel and NVIDIA reference drivers. (They altered the support list to explicitly exclude hybrid GPUs after that, I guess.) Anyway, it's working fine now. If you're running a 3D app when you try to switch, it will blank for a bit and then you'll get an exclamation point on the NVIDIA icon, which is maybe what happened before... worst I've seen that I can confirm worked was around 10 seconds.

    Agree on the LCD, finish, etc. I've got a Photodon cover for a 17" laptop that I'm going to test out in a little bit and see how that compares to running a native matte LCD.
    Reply
  • zorxd - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    What's the point of having a dedicated GPU in this laptop? It's too slow for gaming anyways. It's a thin and light laptop. Better to save 150-200$ to get a desktop computer to play games. The X4500MHD IGP will play 1080p movies just fine anyways. What else do you need? It's like people who want a dedicated GPU on an atom laptop or on their mac. Most of them will never make use of it. Reply
  • DominionSeraph - Wednesday, December 16, 2009 - link

    WTH? It's the discrete graphics that make the UL80Vt interesting. Without it, there's no reason for it to have anything more than an Atom.

    Too slow for gaming? Jarred mentions playing Batman and Fallout 3 for several hours each. Sounds to me as though he was deriving entertainment value. Bet it plays WoW just fine, too.

    With laptops, there's always tradeoffs between price, performance, portability, and battery life. The UL80Vt seems to hit a sweet spot.

    And, honestly, for non-portable gaming, save yourself $600 and get a console.
    Reply
  • zorxd - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    the UL30A is much more interesting Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    Someone asked me to run DXVA Checker on the G210M to see what it says. Here are the results for the interested:

    NVIDIA GeForce G210M
    ModeMPEG2_IDCT: DXVA2, NV12, 720x480 / 1280x720 / 1920x1080
    ModeMPEG2_VLD: DXVA2, NV12, 720x480 / 1280x720 / 1920x1080
    ModeMPEG2_A: DXVA1, NV12, 720x480 / 1280x720 / 1920x1080
    ModeMPEG2_C: DXVA1, NV12, 720x480 / 1280x720 / 1920x1080
    ModeVC1_VLD: DXVA2, NV12, 720x480 / 1280x720 / 1920x1080
    ModeVC1_IDCT: DXVA1/2, NV12, 720x480 / 1280x720 / 1920x1080
    ModeWMV9_IDCT: DXVA1/2, NV12, 720x480 / 1280x720 / 1920x1080
    ModeH264_VLD_FGT: DXVA2, NV12, 720x480 / 1280x720 / 1920x1080
    ModeH264_VLD_NoFGT: DXVA2, NV12, 720x480 / 1280x720 / 1920x1080
    9947EC6F-689B-11DC-A320-0019DBBC4184: DXVA2, NV12, 720x480 / 1280x720 / 1920x1080
    B194EB52-19A0-41F0-B754-CC244AC1CB20: DXVA2, X8R8G8B8, 720x480 / 1280x720 / 1920x1080

    For the record, DXVA Checker fails to get any useful information when using the GMA 4500MHD.
    Reply

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