Review by Brandon:
EDIT: An updated and revised review of this laptop can be found at over at Expert Laptop Review: [...]
I recently went on a laptop buying rampage and have ended up with the Dell Studio 14z, HP dm3z (L625 + Radeon 4330), and the Asus UL80VT-A1 in possession all at once. The first part of this review will focus solely on the Asus UL80VT-A1 and the second part of this review will compare it with my experience with the Dell Studio 14z and the HP dm3z.
ASUS UL80VT-A1 DETAILED REVIEW
First and foremost, let me say that I ordered the UL80VT-A1 because I thought it was simply an awesome idea to have switchable graphics in a laptop because you get excellent battery life + excellent performance when needed. There were no reviews of the UL80VT out when I purchased it, so I purchased the UL80VT-A1 from [...], which has a 100 percent refund on purchases just in case things didn’t work out with me and the new lady.
While I was waiting to recieve the laptop in the mail, I read a review over at [...]. Oh boy, was I disappointed considering all the bad things the reviewer had to say about it (i.e. bad keyboard, bad track pad, horrible build quality, poor gaming performance). Needless to say, I had second thoughts about even opening up the Asus UL80VT-A1 because I didn’t think it was worth my time considering the all the problems the reviewer had with his review model.
So that morning I got my HP dm3z in the mail and was really excited about how incredibly beautiful the laptop was. It is definitely sexier (in my opinion) than every other ultraportable out there, including the Macbook Pro 13″ and HP Envy 13. I’ll get to the dm3z a little later… either way, my first impression led me to believe that I’d probably be keeping the dm3z and just returning the Asus. When the Asus came in the mail, I wasn’t even watching for it like I had been the dm3z. But I did take it upstairs and opened it up. (Unboxing video coming soon…)
My first impression was astoundingly contradictory to review I had read. I picked it up, squeezed it, pushed on the keyboard, which had minimal flex that wasn’t noticeable to me when typing. My other first impressions were just how well the trackpad worked. The two finger scroll worked flawlessly (though it isn’t as smooth of a scroll as Apple’s, it functions equally responsively and is just as useful).
GRAPHICS PERFORMANCE – Rating 9/10
Over the last view days, I’ve been taking the UL80VT-A1 out for spin in a series of gaming tests. The first game I tested was the ever popular Counter-Strike: Source. I was astounded by the computer’s ability to put out 150 FPS in the stress test at native resolution of 1366×768. I had been expecting to get closer to 80-100 FPS. I then tested it with 4x AA on, and it resulted in 99 FPS, which is phenomenal considering that AA usually cripple weaker graphics cards like the Nvidia 210M.
I was eager to test out the UL80VT’s performance in some of the latest games because of the previous review I had read that had denounced its ability to play modern games. I had recently purchased Batman: Arkham Asylum. I loaded it up with the default settings, which were set on Very High at native 1366×768 resolution. Game play was moderately smooth and playable, but it was also noticably choppy at times with those settings (26 FPS average in the video stress test), so I dropped the settings down to medium. This time the Asus got 40 FPS average in the video stress test, and the game play was perfectly playable and smooth.
I then downloaded Team Fortress 2. It has been known to give ultraportable gaming machines a tough time due to its high shader requirements. When playing, I averaged about 50-60 FPS at native resolution with everything on High with no AA. I noticed drops down to 30 FPS when in heavy action, but it was not too disruptive to game play. I don’t think it went below 30 FPS during the time I played.
After hearing claims that Asus UL80VT could not run Need For Speed: Shift well. I downloaded the demo to see if these claims were true. Fortunately, they were not. I was able to achieve playable frame rates, though it was a little choopy with the default settings, which had the screen at 1024×768 resolution and everything else up in detail. I tried changing the settings, but after changing the settings to lower the resolution to 800×600, the game repeatedly gave me an error and crashed right as the race was about to start. Unfortunately, I was not able to do a formal test, but it was clear that the game was getting at least 30 FPS at 800×600 resolution with texture settings on High. I would expect the game to be very playable as long as you are content with 800×600 (or maybe slightly better res) and medium settings.
I also managed to squeeze in a little play time in Protoype, another recent game that was released earlier this year. It played very smoothly at the default 1280×720 (which was the max res for some reason) and on the default medium settings.
Another game I was able to try was Call of Duty: World at War, which has identical specs to the latest Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. People will be glad to know that I was able to achieve 35-40 FPS constant at native resolution 1366×768 with texture settings on “normal” (except for “shader settings” which I set to “low”). I also turned off all of the extra graphical features, which didn’t make much of a difference in visuals anyway.
In conclusion regarding the gaming peformance of this ultraportable laptop, it has excellent performance and handles most modern games fluidly at native resolution.
BATTERY LIFE – Rating 10/10
Yesterday, I used the laptop for 3 hours early in the morning with wifi on and brightness up. Later that day, I used it for about 15 minutes running Batman: AA. I then used it about 7 hours more with brightness at about 20% (2.5 hours with wifi on and 4.5 with it off). In total the laptop lasted me 10.25 hours between a mixture of wifi, gaming, and note taking/paper writing. I was extremely happy to get this excellent of performance out of it. This was precisely what I was looking for in terms of battery life.
BUILD QUALITY – Rating 6/10
My initial impression was that the build quality was just average–not great, but nothing bad about it either, but now after having it for a couple days, I now agree with Charles’ review about some of the issues with build quality. Yesterday morning when I was typing, I noticed that when I pressed down on the front edge of the left palm rest it squeaked annoyingly (it hadn’t pressed down on this part of the laptop when it was on a hard surface yet because it had always been on my laptop up until this point).
I began squeezing the front edge and noticed that top part of the chassis isn’t cemented to the bottom part of the chassis very well so that when you put pressure on it (such as when you rest your palm on it) it made a noise. I tried placing about an inch long piece of scotch tape across the part that was sqeaking, and the squeaking went away completely. It was disappointing to find this because it was the first issue with the build quality. Also, I now understand what Charles meant when he said that when he pressed in the center of the laptop it causes the bottom of the laptop to touch the surface it is resting on…
It’s not if you press in the middle of the keyboard like I had thought Charles had said (my bad!!)… it’s if you press on the trackpad buttons (like Charles had really said), he was right that you can feel the laptop touch the surface it is resting on, but the thing Charles was wrong about is that it isn’t the bottom of the laptop touching the surface below it… it’s a little “support peg/foot” that protrudes from the bottom of the laptop about 1/10″ of an inch.
The overall chassis does flex a tad, but it is just the peg touching, and the peg is maybe moving 1/16″ of an inch tops (probably less). So yes, the chassis does flex just a hair, but not as bad as the review makes it sound (I think the review should be updated with this information personally).
I am thinking about putting a drop of super glue on the edge of the left palm rest to keep it from squeaking. I’m pretty sure it would work without a hitch unless you put too much glue and then tried to take the casing apart and wasn’t able to. I figure it wouldn’t void the 1 year accidental warranty but maybe the 2 year standard warranty if they figured out what I did. I’m not sure though… I figure you can always “cut through” the glue so that the chassis can be opened if you needed to send it in for repairs.
I also noticed that the entire surface (including the aluminum top) acquires fingerprints. I was disappointed that the aluminum top also was prone to oils from my fingers.
HEAT MANAGEMENT – Rating 10/10
The heat on this bad-boy is hardly noticeable. I think more heat is generated because it is restricting the airflow over your lap more than anything. Whenever my lap started to feel a little warm, I would feel the bottom of the laptop but the bottom of the laptop never got hot. It was always just the fact that my legs weren’t getting as much air to cool them down.
I was also able to play Batman:AA while on my lap just fine, though it was starting to be mildly uncomfortable by the time 30 mins rolled around. Still, as far as gaming on the lap goes, I think it would be doable, and far more doable than on any other laptop I have ever tried.
This laptop is by far the coolest running laptop I have ever owned (I’ve owned about 14 different laptops…). For this reason, I give it a 10/10 in heat management.
KEYBOARD – Rating 8/10
Overall, I find the keyboard to be a little above average. I do not like the fact that there are no keys dedicated to playing and pausing music. To access media controls, you must hold the FN button down and tap the arrow keys (down arrow = play/pause). I do not notice any flex when typing. The primary concern that I had was from the squeaky palm rest edge when typing. After I fixed that issue, the keyboard became quite pleasant to use.
TRACK PAD – Rating 9/10
I find the track pad to be the best track pad I have ever used on a PC. It does have a glossy surface, but I did not find that the surface was not nearly as sticky as the surface on many HPs (including the dm3z). I also found the trackpad to be responsive and that the multitouch gestures such as two-finger scrolling to work perfectly nearly every time.
The ELAN touch pad has configurable options to enable you to change the sensitivity of the two-finger scroll as well as enable you to use two and three finger taps to do customizable actions. I have my two-finger tap to do a right click and my three-finger tap to show my desktop.
My only complaint regarding the touch pad is that the uni-button. The uni-button looks like only one button, but has a left side and right side that makes up two buttons. When the uni-button was pressed towards the middle, it was very difficult to click, but if you pressed it near the ends the button became more usable. This was also the case with the Acer Timeline 4810t that I had owned for some time. I have found that the tap to click function is very usable, especially since I can just use two fingers if I need to right click. Therefore, I hardly use the button anymore anyway. My system works just fine.
OVERALL VERDICT – Rating 9/10
Despite its (fixable) flaws in build quality and poor touch pad button (again just use “tap to click” instead), I’m still impressed with laptop and can definitely recommend it to friends who aren’t particularly picky about build quality. The UL80VT-A1 will provide the performance most casual gamers want in a portable package that has a very long battery life and is inexpensive compared to similar models. [Oh, wait, scratch that... There has never been anything like the UL80VT-A1 to ever come out before... except maybe the Acer Timeline 3810TG that had switchable graphics, but that computer was only available in the UK. ]
COMPARED TO THE COMPETITION (DELL STUDIO 14Z and HP DM3Z)
I have now owned a Dell Studio 14z for about two months. I also purchased a HP dm3z, which I had originally planned on writing a review of but I don’t know if I’ll find the time. Maybe I’ll just do a video review…
Anyway, the HP dm3z initially impressed me tremendously with its fantastic metal looks and thin profile. However, two issues became immediately apparent that prevented me from considering the laptop further: the HP dm3z produced a tremendous amount of heat even while just idling (the bottom got roasting hot while playing games… though the palm rests stayed pretty cool) and I quickly became frustrated by track pad lag and malfunctioning two-finger scrolling. The problem with the two finger scroll is due to the fact that it does not always register that you are actually using two fingers, therefore, it thinks you only have one finger down and shoots your mouse all the way across the screen where you didn’t want it to go.
Beside the two-finger scroll I noticed minimal track pad lag (though there was lag). The track pad was definitely usable and should not prevent someone entirely from purchasing it for that sole reason, but after trying out the UL80VT’s track pad and comparing the two. It was night and day. The UL80VT’s was immediately responsive and the two-finger scrolling worked perfectly pretty much all the time. I have sorely missed two-finger scrolling since getting rid of my Macbook Pro a year ago. I am very glad that PCs are starting to make it standard on the majority of notebooks today. Unfortunately, the HP dm3z did not have good enough drivers to make the two-finger scrolling worthwhile.
One thing that I really liked about the dm3z is that it had an excellent keyboard with zero flex and it included media control buttons for the function keys (like Dell Studio 14z). I would definitely recommend the dm3z to people as long as you understand that it is going to produce a lot of heat (especially while watching video/playing games), the track pad is just going to be so-so, and you aren’t going to achieve the same battery life you would if you went with the UL80VT (unless you went with the intel version with integrated graphics).
I began searching for a new laptop shortly after I found paint chipping on my Dell Studio 14z. It was frustrating since I try to take excellent care of my laptops and chipped paint tends to bring the resale value of laptops down tremendously. All in all, I found my experience with the 14z to be a good one and would recommend the laptop to someone who has a strict budget and can’t afford a UL80VT.
With the dell, I was typically able to get about 3.5-4.5 hours of battery life (8-cell in windows 7) while surfing the internet-writing documents. The HP dm3z seems to get about 4.5 hrs of web surfing time. The Asus literally doubles the length of my time I am going to be away from the wall (with both the HP and the Dell…).
My primary complaints with the Dell Studio 14z were related to the build quality (paint chipping and noticeable keyboard flex that was causing me discomfort). I loved the back-lit keyboard and will miss that feature on the UL80VT, though I am a touch typist so it will make little difference in terms of actual functionality.
I love the fact that my UL80VT has a DVD-RW because I like to watch DVDs at Starbucks that I rent from Redbox. I couldn’t do that with the 14z because it lacked an optical drive, but I can do that with the Asus.
It should also be noted that the UL80VT has a better screen than both the Dell and the HP (in my opinion).
After I discovered the flex, I began contemplating switching over to a Macbook Pro 13″. So I went to my local Best Buy to compare sizes, keyboard, touchpad, etc… I got to the store and there was a bestbuy sales guy there that I got to know pretty well when I bought my Dell Studio 14z. I began explaining to him how the 14z hadn’t met my needs due to a sucky touch pad and paint chipping off for no reason, etc. I pulled my UL80VT out of my bag and explain to him the features of the laptop (i.e. switchable graphics, 10 hour battery life). I loaded up Batman Arkham Asylum and he was amazed that it played smoothly at native resolution. I showed him squeaky palm rest and explained to him I was considering getting a 13″ Macbook Pro. He responded pretty quickly that he didn’t think that apple would have anything that would be an upgrade from this so just recommended that I just stick with the Asus… (lol and he’s a sales guy that is supposed to sell laptops for best buy, not recommend for me not to buy them… lol)
I agree with the guy at Best Buy. Apple’s got nothing on the Asus UL80VT… except maybe better build quality, poorer performance, and a 0 dollar increase in price. Hint: get the Asus, unless build quality is of utmost importance to you.
I’m sorry that this review was so scatter-brained. I like to keep things more organized, but I also just wanted to get this review posted!!