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.

Index ASUS G51: Affordable Midrange Gaming
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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    I'm curious to see how it works as well. I'm thinking CULV + 9400M would have accomplished much the same thing, but perhaps not. Stay tuned.... Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    Here's hoping it comes with a quality display! ;) Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, December 16, 2009 - link

    One word: NOPE!

    Okay, more than one word: When you boot up a laptop for the first time and the black background of the Windows loading screen looks more like dark gray, you know the contrast ratio is crap. Bleh.
    Reply
  • Ditiris - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    I finally switched my HTPC over to Windows 7 and noticed that it had a mind of its own with regard to power settings.

    power settings, change plan settings, change advanced power settings, expand Sleep and Allow wake timers, Disable any that are there

    That fixed all my issues, even though I didn't have any sleep/wake timers, but disabling the ability seems to be important.

    I haven't had any issues with my Vista machines (FWIW I'm using High Performance and I specifically went into the Advanced screen and disabled all sleep options).
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    The wake events are already disabled, unfortunately. Some laptops exhibit the problem less than others (driver related perhaps), but my best guess is that somewhere there's a rogue line of code that gets invoked on occasion. I've actually fooled around hacking the registry on my personal laptop in order to keep the problem from reoccurring, but that was neither fun nor recommended for the faint of heart! Reply
  • mczak - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    Again I have to wonder what the point of the OC CULV chip is. There's a ~10W difference (at full cpu load) between OC and non-OC, which means it is almost certainly also overvolted, but more importantly, that difference is larger than the TDP difference between CULV parts and (slightly faster) LV parts.
    Looks to me like using a LV part instead of OC CULV would be both a bit faster plus actually offer slightly more battery life (unless, of course, you use stock setting of the CULV).
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    It's pretty much giving users the ability to run with long battery life and when desired get better performance. If it were an on-the-fly setting, it would be a lot better. Anyway, even overclocked the SU7300 in the UL80Vt idles at what appears to be 2W, where something like the P8600 appears to idle at close to twice that (4-5W). It would be interesting to see some of the LV CPUs in a similar system, certainly... SL9600 anyone? Or maybe ASUS should grab an SL9380 and enable the same Turbo33 functionality. 1.8GHz stock and 2.4GHz overclocked. That would be the equivalent of P8600 (with 6MB cache) but hopefully allow lower power at idle. Reply
  • kagey - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    BTW - Nice reviews!

    I may have missed this so slap me if I did but It would be helpful including some sort of standard about these two in the evaluation of a laptop. I feel these two points are just as important as performance and battery life.
    Both are subjective but should be able to be measured while web surfing, gaming, and full load.

    Noise factor of the fans. I hate it when you start doing something on the laptop and all of sudden the fans kick in and sound like a jet taking off. It would be nice if you could come up with some standards in the way of noise.

    Heat - the palm rest when typing, touchpad / mouse area, underneath i.e. (keeping your legs nice and warm - yeah I know not the most optimal position for a laptop), and exhaust areas.

    Thanks for listening.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    I didn't mention either, but I did think about them during the review process. For the record, the UL80Vt is very quiet and cool running. When the fans kick up to higher speeds, it still remains a lot quieter than most laptops... maybe around 37-40 dB max, and it doesn't happen unless you put a heavy load (100% CPU or running games) on the system.

    The G51J gets louder, but it's not as bad as the W870CU. For most tasks it will stay under ~35dB, but gaming will bump it up to around 39-41dB. Heat was not an issue on the G51J in my experience; the palm rest gets warm, perhaps up to 90F, and the bottom is the same except for the top-right corner (directly under the CPU/GPU "circle") which gets over 100F for sure.
    Reply
  • Wesleyrpg - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    hey guys, love the asus g51j, had one for a few days myself!

    only problem is the mic on my one makes me sound like im in a subway (tried all the settings i could think of!).....have you guys had a chance to test your mic on livemessenger/ventrilo???
    Reply

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