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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  • crydee - Wednesday, December 16, 2009 - link

    From reading other forums it sounds like the UL30VT has a nicer LCD and build quality. As soon as they start selling those and with the same battery as the UL80VT the price should be lower for an overall smaller laptop and no dvd-rom. That sounds like the laptop I'd want. 13" will be easier to handle the smaller resolution. Reply
  • duffmann - Wednesday, December 16, 2009 - link

    On my ASUS UL30a (which also has a SU7300) there is an option to do a 1-5% overclock in the BIOS. By default it was set to a 3% when I recieved the system effectively making it 1.339GHz. Is this option also present on the UL80Vt and if so, do the "stock" numbers in the article correspond to 1.3GHz? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, December 16, 2009 - link

    I did not check in the BIOS (and the laptop is on its way back to ASUS), but CPU-Z/Intel TAT showed a clock of 1.30GHz at stock and 1.73GHz overclocked, so if there is a BIOS overclock option it was not enabled. Reply
  • rubbahbandman - Wednesday, December 16, 2009 - link

    I got the Lenovo Ideapad Y550 over the holidays and think it should be considered as well if you're looking for a budget gaming laptop.
    For $820 (not including tax) I got:

    *Intel Core 2 Duo P8700 (only 25watt processor) vs i7 720QM (45watts for similar performance, and costs far more)
    *4GB DDR3 (pretty standard)
    *Nvidia Geforce 240M (23watt videocard) vs 260M (75watts)
    *320GB HD (5400 RPM, my worst part, but at least it's low power, quiet, runs cooler, and doesn't vibrate as much as a 7200)
    *HD LED 1366x768 native resolution doesn't seem like a disadvantage to me. It's comfortable for the eyes and doesn't require as beefy a videocard, uses less power too I'd imagine than 1920x1080. While the 240M offers far less powerful than the 260M, it good enough to play most games at 1366x768 with high settings and doesn't draw nearly as much power or produce as much heat as the 260M.
    *and it comes with bluetooth, wireless N, nice 'laptop' speakers (w/a tiny sub), win 7 64bit, hdmi, dvd writer, eSATA, 6 lbs, (no TV-tuner though).
    *with only a 6-cell battery I can surf the web for 4hrs 15min with my setup. gaming on the other hand is about 90min-2hrs, which is still very good compared to most.
    Reply
  • bennyg - Thursday, December 17, 2009 - link

    There's budget midrange gaming and there's budget highend gaming, you're comparing quite different categories here Reply
  • rubbahbandman - Thursday, December 17, 2009 - link

    "ASUS G51: Affordable Midrange Gaming"
    FTA
    I'm just pointing out there's affordable midrange gaming at less than $900 for laptops versus the $1400-1500 price tag for the G51. Neither of the computers in this article would be considered "high-end" for laptop gaming.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, December 17, 2009 - link

    The only thing significantly faster in laptops would be something sporting dual GPUs (for now). GTX 280M laptops are about 20-30% faster at most in gaming, which isn't much considering the majority of such laptops will cost well over $2000.

    Mostly, I call this "Affordable Midrange" because I consider $1500 to be the top of the midrange laptop market in terms of cost. The GTX 260M is about twice the performance (slightly more) of the GT 240M: 96 vs. 48 SPs, and clock speeds that are marginally faster, with 256-bit vs. 128-bit memory interface. Also, if you're going to quote 23W for power on the GT 240M, the GTX 260M would only be 38W -- 82W is the difference I measured between system idle and gaming load, which is going to be split between the CPU, RAM, GPU, etc. (I also only show a 31W difference between 100% CPU load and gaming load, which corroborates that 38W figure from NVIDIA.)

    Of course, the GT 240M is going to be around 2.5 times the speed of the G210M in the UL80Vt, so you'll be able to run any game as long as you're willing to drop the details. Where the GTX 260M is able to run games at 1080p with medium to high detail, the GT 240M will be limited to 900p at ~medium detail.
    Reply
  • Hulk - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    The flex results from the torque applied to the screen. Reply
  • Wesleyrpg - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    As well all know Asus underclocked the GTX 260M in the G51J from the defaults of 550/1375/950 to 500/1250/800 for heat management issues, but im wondering how much extra performance can be squeezed out of the system by 'overclocking' the GPU to its default speeds and beyond. I'm also curious to know how this affect the systems temps!

    Can the Asus G51J take advantage of faster RAM like DDR3-1333 or DDR3-1600 modules? At what point does the machine start to gain/lose performance because of extra bandwidth/latency of the faster modules?

    Reply
  • Wesleyrpg - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    ok so i did some testing and got some very interesting results, i ran 3dmark06 three time and here are the average results!

    10069 (500/1250/800)
    SM2.0 4417
    SM3.0 4036
    CPU 3179
    Temp min/max 64-91

    and now for the GPU running at 550/1375/950

    10983
    SM2.0 4854
    SM3.0 4559
    CPU 3191
    Temp min/max 64-92

    Thats it......a 10% improvement for a 1C in temp? Maybe im not getting the whole picture here or maybe Asus are downclocking for longevity reasons?
    Reply

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