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Asus UL80Vt Thin-And-Light Notebook Review
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Date: Nov 25, 2009
Section:Mobile
Author: Shawn Oliver
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Introduction and Specifications

The first thing that came to mind when we tore the Asus UL80Vt from its box was this: "Hmm, this seems familiar." Turns out, the UL80Vt isn't all that different on the surface than the 13.3" UL30A that we reviewed back in September, but just because Asus' latest is another model in the expanded UL range doesn't mean that this machine is just another me-too option. In fact, we'd argue quite the opposite. While many computer manufacturers are trying to force consumers into certain segments (netbooks, gaming notebooks, ultraportables, etc.), Asus is opting to broaden the spectrum and provide more "middle ground" choices. The UL80Vt is a perfect middle ground machine; it splits the difference between a 11" to 13" ultraportable and a 15" to 16" multimedia machine. But just because it's designed for a segment of consumers in dire need of more options, is it really one worth buying?




The CULV boom is still happening, despite the fact that new Intel (and AMD) platforms are expected to land in early 2010. CULV processors allow machines to provide adequate power for playing back multimedia and handling most basic tasks with the minimal drain on a battery, and in most cases, that's plenty for consumers. CULV chips aren't designed for heavy data crunching (video editing, let's say) nor gaming, but it's clear that with just a 14" panel here that Asus never intended buyers to game heavily on this machine. That said, the dual GPU setup in this machine provides a nice extra for those who like to fire up a game from time to time but find themselves using their machine to work on in most cases. There's an Intel GMA 4500MHD integrated GPU in there for when you don't need serious graphical horsepower (or would just like to save your remaining battery), yet a 512MB NVIDIA GeForce G210M (discrete) GPU is also onboard for times when L4D just can't be ignored.



The specifications list below explains that this machine really is splitting the difference between an ultraportable and mainstream multimedia machine. You'll find a CULV CPU (one that can be overclocked to 1.73GHz via Asus' Turbo33 technology) and an integrated GPU for great battery life, yet there's 4GB of RAM and a discrete GPU for power users. In a way, it's the best of both worlds. Even the 14" screen falls perfectly in between the typical 13.3" display on an ultraportable and a 15" panel on a "standard notebook." Have a peek at the innards and then follow us through the pages to come to see how it stacks up in real-world use.

Asus UL80Vt CULV Notebook
Specifications and Features (as tested)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 @ 1.30GHz, 533MHz FSB; 512K Cache (1.73GHz with Turbo33 enabled)
  • 4GB of DDR3 RAM (1066MHz)
  • 14" LCD (1366x768 resolution); LED backlight
  • Intel GMA 4500MHD integrated graphics + 512MB DDR3 NVIDIA GeForce G 210M discrete graphics (switchable)
  • 320GB (5400RPM) Seagate Momentus 5400.6 Hard Drive
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • DVD Super Multi Drive
  • 0.3 megapixel webcam
  • VGA and HDMI Outputs
  • USB 2.0 x 3
  • RJ-45 (Ethernet 10/100/1000)
  • Headphone / Mic Input Jacks
  • SD / MMC / MSPro Multimedia Card Reader
  • Stereo Speakers
  • Gesture-Enabled Multi-Touch Trackpad
  • 4.4 Pounds (with 8-cell battery installed)
  • Removable 8-Cell Li-ion Battery (Up To 11.5 Claimed Hours of Computing)
  • 13.5" x 9.6" x 1.1" (Dimensions)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium
  • Price (street): $823

 




As you can see, there's an awful lot here for just over $800, and we think you'll be hard pressed to find an equal amount of specs for much less anywhere else. But even though it's a bargain on paper doesn't necessarily mean that it's a winner--read on to find out whether or not this one makes the cut!
 

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Design and Build Quality

Most of what we would normally say here was well covered in our review of the UL30, but we will point out a few of the UL80Vt's primary design attributes again for good measure. For starters, Asus has given this machine its typical glossy black paint job on the inside, and the right side of the palm rest is covered almost entirely by stickers. We're not big fans of stickers being plastered on our machines before we even buy them, but hey, it is what it is.


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There's also a traditional dimpled trackpad (which has a texture that we're not too fond of), but unlike some of Asus' previous machines, this one does have a multi-touch surface. That means that two fingers rubbed down together on the pad can pull a webpage down, while two fingers moving to the side moves pages horizontally. This is an awesome addition, and in our opinion, should be on every computer that ships today. Having a multi-touch pad easily increases productivity on a notebook, and when some of Asus' own netbooks have one, there's no excuse for any other machine to skip out.




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The hinge and build quality both mimic that of the UL30, which is to say that both are top notch. The lid holds where you place it, and the overall feel of the machine is sturdy. The full-size "chicklet-style" keyboard is fantastic. Typing was a real joy, there was little to no flex present, and we experienced very few typos in adjusting to it. Frankly, it's one of the best keyboards we've seen on a sub-15" notebook.


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Around the edges, you'll notice a DVD Super Multi Drive, which is something you likely won't see on a 13.3" machine (or smaller). There are also three USB 2.0 sockets, Ethernet, an SD/MMC/MSPro card slot, VGA/HDMI outputs, audio in/out and an AC socket. Not too many ports, but just enough to consider it well-specced.


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There's also the 14" glossy display, which manages to capture a great deal of reflections, particularly in sunlight. The real stunner on this machine, however, is the cool-as-ice top lid. It's a sleek aluminum, dark in color, and amazingly smooth to the touch. Frankly, it oozes class, and we think it's one of the nicer lids we've seen on any machine in recent memory.


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Software and Accessories

Asus is clearly trying its best to ensure that the price tag on this CULV machine remains reasonable despite a nice set of innards, and that means only a few accessories and software titles are included. Within the box, you'll find just the machine itself, a few install discs, an Express Gate user guide (that's an Instant-On operating system pre-loaded onto the UL80Vt, by the way), a battery, a UL30 user guide, an AC adapter and an AC power cable. No carry case or mouse is included.


Asus UL80Vt Accessories; Click To Enlarge

On the software front, our test unit was loaded with Windows 7, CyberLink's Power2Go disc burning software, a suite of Asus utilities, the previously mentioned Express Gate Instant-On OS, Trend Micro Internet Security, Adobe Reader 9, a 30-day Microsoft Office trial and that's about it. Nothing too earth-shattering here, and we'd actually prefer if Trend Micro came only on a disc so it wouldn't pester those who didn't want it every time they booted up (until they uninstalled it, of course).


Asus UL30 Desktop; Click To Enlarge

The biggest software difference between this machine and the smaller UL30 that we handled a month ago is the OS. The UL80Vt is shipping with Windows 7, and that makes a world of difference. The overall feel is far snappier on Win7 than on Vista; the same CPU is in use here as was on the UL30, and the machine just feels as if it is carrying a much lighter load. It's amazing how much more nimble Windows 7 is compared to Vista.

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User Experience

It's really refreshing to hit this point in a review now that Windows 7 is out. Without question, Win7 makes life so much more enjoyable on a PC. It simply takes better advantage of the hardware at your disposal, and in the UL80Vt's case, even the 1.3GHz CULV processor feels like plenty to push through most basic tasks within the operating system. On Vista, 1.3GHz always felt underpowered; it's incredible what a difference Win7 makes.


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As you can probably imagine, we enjoyed our time with the UL80Vt. Largely thanks to the new operating system, most everything was snappy and responsive. Only during hardcore multi-tasking did applications take more than a second or so to load, and even then we can imagine things being even quicker if you swapped a 7200rpm hard drive or SSD within the machine. The 5400rpm drive is roomy (320GB), but the sluggish spin rate definitely hinders performance overall and in some benchmarks.


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The overall feel of the machine is fantastic. It's light (just 4.4lbs.), thin and honestly, it feels like an ultraportable. Yes, it has a 14" screen and a nice full-size keyboard, but you'd hardly know it. Asus has done a great job in slimming down the chassis, and it's easily one of the sleekest machines out to have a dedicated discrete GPU, 4GB of RAM, HDMI out and a full-size keyboard.


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Below you'll notice the difference a real GPU makes. The lower Win7 Experience score was garnered while using the integrated GMA 4500MHD chipset, while the higher score came with the 512MB NVIDIA GeForce G210M GPU enabled.


Using integrated GMA 4500MHD graphics; Click To Enlarge



Using discrete G210M graphics; Click To Enlarge

Typing on the keyboard was a real pleasure. Asus keyboards have been hit-and-miss for us in the past, but this one is a surefire hit. There's nearly no flex anywhere on the board, each of the "chicklet" keys has a great texture, and each are perfectly spaced out. It felt just like typing on our main workhorse, a 15" notebook, even though it's just a 14" machine. That's an accomplishment. The trackpad is typical Asus; it's a dimpled pad with a solid silver click bar that has left and right click movements. We've never been a big fan of the dimples--the just create too much friction, and we always feel like we're having to press really hard and drag just to move our cursor. On the plus side, this pad is multi-touch enabled, so two-finger gestures and scrolling are fully supported. Hooray!


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The 14" display has a resolution of 1366x768, which is the exact same as the 13.3" panel in the UL30. So really, you gain no extra screen real estate here, but you get a better keyboard because of it, much less heat generation thanks to extra space to move the air and a screen that looks a lot less squished. The panel was bright and crisp, though as always, we would've rather seen a matte display instead of the highly glossy one that is included. Viewing angles are impressive, but the glossy nature makes this one tough to work with outdoors.


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We should mention that multimedia playback is stellar here. Both 1080p and 720p clips played back without so much as a hiccup (with the G210M enabled, mind you), and overall things just felt amazingly smooth. The same videos that won't even play on netbooks cruise along find here, even though there's just a 1.3GHz CPU at the helm.

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Test Setup and 3DMark 06 CPU


 
  
HotHardware's Mobile / Desktop Test Systems
Covering the bases
Asus UL80Vt

Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300
(1.3GHz)

4GB DDR3

Intel GMA 4500MHD +
512MB
NVIDIA G210M GPUs

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x320GB Hard Drive          
5400 RPM SATA

Windows 7 Home
Premium (64-bit)

14" LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)

Asus UL30A-A1

Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300
(1.3GHz)

4GB DDR3

Intel GMA 4500MHD GPU

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x500GB Hard Drive          
5400 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Home
Premium SP1 (32-bit)

13.3" LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)
Toshiba Satellite A305-S6845

Intel Core 2 Duo T8100
(2.1GHz)

3GB DDR2-667

512MB ATI
Mobility Radeon HD 3650

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

2x200GB Hard drives (non-RAID)
5400 RPM / 4200 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Home
Premium SP1

15.4" WXGA Display
(native 1280x800)



 Performance Comparisons with 3DMark06
 Details: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/

The Futuremark 3DMark06 CPU benchmark consists of tests that use the CPU to render 3D scenes, rather than the GPU. It runs several threads simultaneously and is designed to utilize multiple processor cores.



No surprises here; the 1.3GHz CULV processor can't hold a candle to the full-fledged Core 2 Duo chip in the Toshiba (even with Turbo33 enabled, as it was for all of our benchmarks), but it actually fared pretty well when you consider that the Asus machine is significantly cheaper and has a chip that's far slower. Most interesting, however, is the difference between Asus machines. Both the UL80Vt and UL30 had a 1.3GHz SU7300 CPU and 4GB of RAM, yet the UL80Vt smoked the UL30. Why? Windows 7--most likely. Here's a look at the full 3DMark 06 score:


Asus UL80Vt 3DMark 06 CPU Score; Click To Enlarge

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Futuremark PCMark Vantage

We ran the Asus UL80Vt through Futuremark‚Äôs latest system performance metric built especially for Windows 7, PCMark Vantage. This benchmark suite creates a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. We like the fact that most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, in order to exploit the additional resources offered by multi-core processors.



There's no doubt that the UL80Vt is the weakest performer of the bunch here. Most netbooks and the like can't even handle this test, and honestly, the scores here aren't that bad considering that a 1.3GHz CPU (though Turbo33 was enabled, as it was for all of our benchmarks) is powering things. For a machine that claims upwards of 12 hours of battery life and costs less than $1,000, hanging with some of these quad-core desktop chips is commendable. You'll notice that it wasn't too, too far behind the Studio XPS 16, a larger, hotter and far more expensive gaming machine that you'd think would just smoke a lowly PC like the UL80Vt.


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SiSoft Sandra Benchmarks


Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2009
Synthetic Benchmarks

We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2009, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant.  We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks). All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running with Turbo33 enabled along with 4GB of DDR3-1066 RAM running in dual-channel mode.

 
CPU Arithmetic Test; Click To Enlarge


CPU Multimedia Test; Click To Enlarge


Memory Bandwidth Test; Click To Enlarge


Physical Disc Test; Click To Enlarge

All of these tests were conducted with the 512MB NVIDIA GeForce G210M GPU enabled. You can see that in most situations, the UL80Vt hung tough with its closest rivals, though the CPU did lag behind the most potent platforms. Though, the CULV processor enables the machine to last longer on a single charge, and really--in real world scenarios--we didn't feel as if the CPU was that slow.
 
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Gaming Performance

 Performance with Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Gaming Performance

To touch on gaming performance, we chose two games that draw moderately on system resources, Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. We then ran a pre-recorded demo of each at a resolution of 1280x800 and also at a higher resolution of 1366x768 (the panel's maximum). The resulting performance achieved is indicated in frames per second in the graph below, and for comparison with machines that are able to play are far higher resolutions due to more dense panels, we're providing a link to our chart from the Asus G51J review. All benchmarks were achieved with the 512MB NVIDIA GeForce G210M GPU and Turbo33 enabled.



Granted, neither of these titles put Crysis-level strain on a system, but the GeForce G210M was never designed to handle Crysis with any level of poise. What this GPU can do, however, is play some of yesterday's best titles with ease. Even at the machine's native resolution of 1366x768, both of these games played back well. Both games were playable even at native res. It's sort of amazing to think that a 1.3GHz CPU is at the helm here, but that discrete GPU is obviously picks up the slack (and it's doing a great job of it). We wouldn't suggest using this as a hardcore gaming machine, but it's more than capable of handling most non-bleeding edge titles with ease.

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Battery Performance

Asus rarely publishes actual battery life expectations for its machines. If you've paid attention to some of our previous reviews, you'll notice that Asus typically reports battery life when a machine is expected to perform really well in that department. A select few of the company's Eee PC netbooks have official battery life figures posted, and naturally, all of them are very high. It seems Asus is always eager to share lofty figures, but on machines with paltry battery life (such as the G51J-A1 that we recently reviewed), it won't even tell consumers a range to expect. Due to the CULV chip, integrated GPU option and massive 8-cell battery, Asus is happy to report that this machine could get up to 11.5 hours on a single charge. Of course, Asus' own tests and our tests often result in very different figures, and yet again that's exactly what happened.


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Per usual, we utilized BatteryEater Pro in order to best represent the demands put on a machine during heavy use. This program runs a graphical sequence as it measures the amount of life that drains away, and it keeps the machine taxed during that process. This is a much better indication of worst-case battery life than an idle test, which is generally what is presented by most PC makers who claim wild battery life figures for their machines.

You'll notice two entries in our chart below for the UL80Vt; one is with the 512MB NVIDIA GeForce G210M GPU and Turbo33 (overclocked to 1.73GHz) enabled during the testing, while the other is with only the integrated GMA 4500MHD graphics enabled and Turbo33 disabled. Naturally, the integrated GPU sucks down less power than the discrete NVIDIA GPU (not to mention the savings from a lower clocked CPU), so that explains the delta between the two. We had Wi-Fi on and screen brightness at 90% during the entire test.


The battery life figures listed here are pretty great. We achieved nearly 3 full hours of usage (before Windows 7 forced itself into hibernation, just so we're clear) with the discrete GPU enabled. That's pretty impressive, in our eyes. That means that you could use your UL80Vt as a gaming rig or to watch multimedia for nearly 3 hours without needing a recharge. With the integrated GPU enabled, we saw the figure shoot up to 4 hours and 2 minutes, and remember, this is with Wi-Fi on and the screen on for the entire test. In other words, you could count on four solid hours of life even if you were working for all four of those hours without stopping. Needless to say, you could easily stretch that figure to 5 or even 6 hours by taking a few breaks, nixing Wi-Fi, turning the screen brightness down, disabling the optical drive, etc. But at the end of the day, we see no reasonable way to get 10, 11 or 12 hours from this as Asus claims. You'd have to basically force it to stay awake, yet not use the machine at all, to get that kind of result.


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Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: In our SiSoftware Sandra tests, the UL80Vt trailed the reference systems in the CPU benchmarks, but managed to match up well against rivaling components in other areas. Even though the benchmarks were somewhat low in the CPU specific tests, never felt slow during real-world use, thanks partially to the resource-friendly Windows 7 OS.  We would have liked to have seen a 7200rpm hard drive or an SSD in the system over the 5400rpm drive that is included, but we understand the need to keep costs down. The decision to insert 4GB of RAM really helped out, as switching between applications was never an issue in our testing. It even handled gaming with poise, as the switchable 512MB NVIDIA GeForce G210M put up rather nice frame rate results considering the relatively low-speed CPU (1.3GHz SU7300 CULV) it was working in tandem with. Though, having the ability to overclock to 1.73GHz via the Turbo33 technology was certainly a boon in benchmarks. The integrated GPU handled all basic 2D/Aero tasks with ease and allowed for the 8-cell battery to last a lot longer.



For those in the market for a notebook that's somewhat larger than an ultraportable, yet smaller than a full framed 15" or 16" multimedia notebook, the UL80Vt strikes a great balance. It'll handle 1080p movie clips without issue, it can be switched to use integrated graphics to save battery life (without needing a reboot), it'll handle light / medium-duty gaming, and the keyboard is amazing.


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The UL80Vt isn't perfect though. While the keyboard was stellar and the multi-touch aspect of the trackpad were a plus, we still aren't into the dimpled pad and the glossy LCD. For those working outdoors, this screen could potentially be a major nuisance. Also, the relatively low 1366x768 resolution is nothing to write home about, and the slower 5400rpm (320GB) hard drive isn't all that quick when it comes time to boot or load applications for the first time. Still, we think the positives far outweigh the negatives when all things are considered. For just over $800, this is a really well-rounded machine. It'll handle everything except hardcore gaming, and it costs just a fraction of those gaming / multimedia notebooks that weigh more and have much worse battery life. The UL80Vt strikes a nice balance, without too much compromise.


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  • Windows 7 Runs Buttery Smooth
  • Great Value At $800-900
  • Switchable GPUs
  • Good Keyboard
  • Great Battery Life
  • Ultra Quiet And Cool
  • Well-Rounded
  • Built-in DVD Burner

 

  • Glossy Display
  • Low Resolution Panel
  • Lackluster Trackpad
  • Overload Of Palm Rest Stickers
  • Only A 5400RPM HDD

 



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