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
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


View All Comments

  • tpurves - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    14" monitor and only 768 vertical pixels? what the hell is up with that?

    my WXGA 12" laptop has 800 vertical pixels and would still be usable with even slightly higher DPI if it was possible.

    What is the point of carrying around the extra pounds and inches of a 14" screen if you have fewer useful pixels if you are not doing at least better than wxga.

    I already think wxga at 13" (like on macbooks) is a waste of space.

    A 14" should be at least 1440x900 (or the HD aspect-ratio equivalent) or what's the point of hauling that much computer and screen around?
  • iamezza - Wednesday, December 16, 2009 - link

    One business I installed a new PC at a while back complained they couldn't read the new 19" screen. Once I showed them how to change the resolution they changed the res to 800x600. Reply
  • iamezza - Wednesday, December 16, 2009 - link

    One business I installed a new PC at a while back complained they couldn't read the new 19" screen. Once I showed them how to change the resolution they changed the res to 800x600. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    Ah, youth... ;-)

    Do you know how many 40+ people I've had COMPLAIN to me when I set a laptop to the native resolution? There are competing views on LCD resolutions. Older users with less than perfect eyesight prefer larger pixels, in which case the 1366x768 14" LCD is a good compromise. Younger enthusiasts often prefer crazy pixel pitch like 1600x900 in a 14" LCD.

    Heck, I did some work for a dentist building PCs and gave the receptionists 22" 1680x1050 displays. Guess what they run them at: 1280x800! Ugh.... Anything higher than that and they complain that it's too hard to read.

    For reference:
    1366x768 14" is .227 pixel pitch
    1280x1024 14" is .217 pitch
    1440x900 at 14" is .209
    1600x900 at 14" is .194

    Personally, I'm good to about .200 pixel pitch, but older folks will often want more like a .250 pitch. On desktops, 1920x1200 on a 27" LCD is fine (.300), on a 24" it's "okay" (.270), and native resolution on 30" requires me to use magnification or set a higher DPI in windows (.252).

    Of course, I'd also be happier with 16:10 aspect ratio displays on laptops instead of 16:9 (or possibly even 4:3, though that's debatable). First, though, give me a contrast ratio that doesn't suck.
  • fabarati - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    1440x900 is quite nice on a 14" screen. I'd even like a higher resolution.

    But the displays used on old Asus 14" laptops (I've had a A8Js and i presently use a F8Sa) leave a lot to be desired. Though you should know that, as you tested the A8Js a few years back.

    On the other hand, you do get used to it. It's only when you see better displays (like my brothers SR Macbook pro or our old FSC Amilo 1437g - not to speak of the very nice S-IPS displays at my summer job) that you feel dissapointed.
  • pkkevin - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    I second that, I remember my dad always adjusting his native 1360*768 13.3 inch laptop to a resolution of 800X600... it is all distorted and blurry to me, but he like it that way just so he can see clearly.

    Great review by the way, Great informations.

  • darwinosx - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    What a hunk of plastic junk. The current laptop i7 is a joke as is the cheap plasticky Asus. Editors choice? You have got to be kidding me. Reply
  • The0ne - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    I really have to say that most of you speaking about quality have little to no clue what you're actually referring to or talking about. I've worked in various engineering discipline to know that most of the "opinions" of this subject matter is in fact a personal one.

    At least do some research and/or go out and TOUCH the materials before making such comments. There's Walmart and Best Buy almost everywhere so it shouldn't be too difficult.

    Yes, I realize that ingrained perceptions are very difficult to overcome but man, so people are just dense.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    Which of course is posted by a Mac fanboy. Thanks, darwinOSX for being so open to other options.

    Would I prefer a nicer aluminum body? Sure I would! But that would also increase costs substantially. I would rather have a better LCD first, then a better construction. At that point we're looking at $1000, just like the aluminum MacBook, but it would still have substantially faster graphics and better battery life when you want it. Anyway, that's why the UL80Vt is a Silver and not a Gold.

    As it stands, I have looked at dozens of laptops during the past year and these are both far better than competing models (i.e. similar pricing). We've praised MacBooks plenty, and they still have a place for anyone buying a laptop. If you don't want to run OS X, though, Apple has little to offer. "DUAL BOOT! And get 30% less battery life under Windows because we don't think anyone should even consider something other than OS X!" Thanks but no thanks.
  • darwinosx - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - link

    I'll take the MacBook in a heartbeat over this. I've seen the aluminum MacBook at $1049 at MacConnection and the plastic Macbook at $849. No contest over this cheapo Asus. Reply

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