If you’re a PC hardware enthusiast, Asus is well known to you. A long history of making great motherboards and video cards has given the company a large amount of credibility and goodwill in the community. Asus has also been making PC products for other, more established brands for a number of years. However, to the average Joe, the Asus name doesn’t mean much, and it’s not the least bit sexy. Perhaps tired of working in this relatively cachet-free anonymity, Asus partnered with exotic super-car maker Lamborghini to produce a line of luxurious laptops.
While most folks haven’t heard of Asus, Lamborghini is an icon in the automotive industry, well known for not only the performance of its machines, but also their flamboyant style. An entire generation of now-30-something men grew up with a Countach on their bedroom walls. The pairing of PC and automotive brands might seem a little odd, but tech journalists have been abusing car analogies for years. Asus isn’t the only one aping super-cars, either; Acer has a line of Ferrari-branded notebooks, and Porsche has had a hand in notebook design, as well.
Of course, Asus hasn’t just slapped a Lamborghini logo onto one of its laptops and called it a day. Instead, the company has carefully crafted a high-end system wrapped in magnesium and leather, with remarkable attention to detail. The 12.1″ Lamborghini VX3 is also primed for performance with a Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB of memory, GeForce graphics, and both 3- and 9-cell batteries. Keep reading to see whether the VX3 lives up to the high expectations associated with the Lamborghini name.
Bringing luxury to your lap…top
Lamborghini doesn’t really have any low-end options. The Gallardo may be the cheapest bull in the range, but it still runs around $200,000. It should come as no surprise, then, that Asus’ Lamborghini VX3 costs a pretty pennyover $3,000, to be exact. That makes the system more expensive than most notebooks, including exotics like Apple’s MacBook Air, Lenovo’s X300, and HP’s EliteBook. The VX3 is more than just a notebook, though; it’s a luxury product whose overall ownership experience should transcend its component parts.
Before diving into those component parts, it’s worth taking a few moments to explore some of the VX3’s premium touches. Typically, when you get your new notebook home and crack open the box, the system sits in a cardboard or foam cocoon, flanked by the battery and power adapter, and joined by a few loose papers, the manual, and maybe a handful of software and recovery discs. This type of packaging isn’t terribly exciting, but it’s enough for most folks. Even Acer’s Ferrari notebook didn’t stray from the norm here.
Opening the VX3’s packaging is an entirely different experience. The box is jammed with thoughtful extras, each of which is branded with the Lamborghini logo. A sturdy, black display box with a swanky velvet interior holds the VX3, which itself is contained within a separate black velvet sleeve lined with Asus-embroidered satin. If you’re looking for a carrying case that’s a little more substantial than the minimalist sleeve, Asus also includes a stylish messenger-style bag that fits the VX3 perfectly.
A separate accessory box houses the VX3’s 3- and 9-cell batteries along with an AC power adapter, a meaty manual, and a set of restore discs. Laptops don’t usually come with two batteries by default, but Asus provides users with a couple of options here, for reasons that will become clear later in this review.
As if that all weren’t enough, the VX3 also gets a few additional accessories, including a Lamborghini story book, a wipe cloth to keep everything free of fingerprints, a Bluetooth mouse that includes batteries, a velvet mouse bag, and a velvet mouse pad. Surprisingly, none of these Lamborghini-branded extras come across as tacky or gaudy at first glance. They’re all tastefully done, with Asus smartly avoiding too many loud colors, instead sticking to a mostly black color scheme and a variety of textures.
Of course, the VX3 just wouldn’t be a Lamborghini without a dose of color. The system’s lid is painted in Lamborghini’s version of canary yellow, otherwise known as Giallo Evros. Asus fills out the rest of the system with titanium alloy trim in gunmetal gray, black leather palm rests with yellow stitching, and a relatively sedate black base. Automotive accents abound. The system’s lid has a cowling-like vent through which one can see status lights. The notebook’s hinge has detailing, too: the ends look like Lamborghini’s signature five-hole wheels. Form follows function at the hinge, which feels solid and secures the lid with tension rather than a latch.
The VX3’s construction is primarily metal rather than plastic, and a quick peek inside reveals lots of yummy magnesium. Our review unit has made the rounds already, but it was still creak-free, with everything fitting together nice and tightly. Recent Asus notebooksincluding even the budget Eee PCshave exhibited excellent build quality, so the VX3’s solid feel is no surprise. Asus apparently has confidence in the system’s robustness, too. The VX3 is covered by a two-year warranty that includes accidental breakage for the first year (you must register within 60 day of purchase to get the accidental breakage protection).
So the VX3 has a sense of style and solid build quality, but that won’t be enough to justify its lofty price tag. Fortunately, the system has a few other tricks up its sleeve.
|Processor||Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 2.5GHz
|Memory||4GB DDR2-667 (2 SO-DIMMs)|
|North bridge||Intel PM965 Express
|South bridge||Intel ICH8M|
|Graphics||NVIDIA GeForce 9300M G 256MB
|Display||12.1″ TFT with WXGA (1280×800) resolution and LED backlight|
|Storage||5,400-RPM, 320GB mechanical hard drive
|Audio||Stereo audio output
4 USB 2.0
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 Ethernet
1 RJ11 Modem
1 digital headphone SP/DIF output
1 analog microphone input
|Expansion slots||1 ExpressCard 54
Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR
|Input devices||“Full size” keyboard
Trackpad with scroll zone and circular scrolling
|Dimensions||11.9″ x 8.8″ x 1.2″ (305 mm x 220 mm x 31 mm)|
|Weight||3.7lbs (1.68kg) with 3-cell battery
|Battery||3-cell Li-Ion 2400mAh 11.1V
9-cell 7800mAh 11.1V
|Warranty||Two years, one-year accidental damage replacement coverage|
As one might expect from a 12.1″ notebook, the VX3’s dimensions are quite compact at 11.9 x 8.5 x 1.5 inches. The system weighs in at just under four pounds with the 3-cell battery, and the AC adapter adds about another pound to the VX3’s travel weight. So the VX3 isn’t quite as small or as light as some of the other ultraportables on the market, then, but as we’ll see in a moment, Asus makes good use of the extra size. There’s a satisfying density to the VX3, too, as if there’s very little free space within the chassis.
The VX3’s form factor is large enough to accommodate a 12.1″ screen with a 16:10 aspect ration and 1280×800 display resolution. This is a good resolution for a screen of this size; you might be able to squeeze in some more pixels, but that would probably cause the average user to squint a lot. An LED backlight illuminates the screen, providing excellent brightness that makes the VX3 quite legible in sunlight. The screen is very evenly lit, with good contrast and color saturation. Horizontal viewing angles are excellent, as well, but vertical angles succumb to inversion. There is some light bleed from the corners when displaying a solid black screen, as well. This effect will be most noticeable when watching a letter-boxed movie in a dark room or on a night flight.
Asus has outfitted the system with an excellent keyboard. Key travel is short, as one would expect from an ultra-portable notebook, but the feel is nicely dampened. You won’t encounter any strange key layouts here, either. The VX3 even has dedicated Home, PgUp, PgDn and End keys. To be fair, the VX3’s function keys are rather small, but that’s a minor price to pay for full-sized keys elsewhere. The VX3’s main keys measure 17.5 mmexactly the same size as those on my desktop keyboard.
The VX3’s touchpad is great, too, although its slightly trapezoidal shape takes a little getting used to. The touchpad’s surface is very smooth and the buttons are quite firm. Scrolling zones are supported, in addition to circular scrolling. Asus even throws in a fingerprint reader between the two touchpad buttons.
Intel’s Santa Rosa platform lies at the heart of the VX3, with a Penryn-based Core 2 Duo T9300 handling processing duties. The T9300 isn’t the most expensive CPU in Intel’s mobile lineup, but it comes clocked at 2.5GHz on a 667MHz front-side bus. The chip also features 4MB of L2 cache, and it’s rated for a 35W TDP. Given the VX3’s lofty price tag, one might expect to find an Extreme Edition or quad-core processor here. However, those chips carry higher TDPs and would be more difficult to cool within the VX3’s 12″ chassis. Asus puts the VX3’s CPU in a standard socket rather than soldering it directly to the motherboard, so you’re free to perform an engine upgrade on the Lamborghini by swapping in another Socket P processor.
Asus smartly specs the VX3 with 4GB of memory and a 64-bit version of Windows Vista that can make proper use of it all. Western Digital gets the call on the storage front, providing a 5,400-RPM hard drive with 320GB of capacity. The hard drive is a little low-rent given the VX3’s $3,000 price tag. We’d expect something spinning at 7,200 RPM on a premium notebook, or perhaps even a solid-state drive. Asus also includes a dual-layer DVD burner with label etching support, which is better than not getting an optical drive at all. But again, on a premium system such as this one, we’d expect a Blu-ray reader. The VX3’s WXGA resolution may only be good enough to display 720p content, but the system does come with an HDMI output and a discrete graphics processor capable of HD video playback acceleration.
That graphics processor is Nvidia’s GeForce 9300M G, whose PureVideo HD component can assist with Blu-ray decoding in hardware. The 9300M is a DirectX 10-class GPU with 16 stream processors, a 400MHz core clock, and an 800MHz shader speed. TurboCache allows the graphics processor to borrow system memory, but the GPU is also equipped with 256MB of local RAM running at 600MHz (an effective 1.2GHz) via a 64-bit interface. The 9300M is leagues ahead of the Intel integrated graphics solutions commonly found on notebooks of this size, and it can even handle light gaming with titles like World of Warcraft and Team Fortress 2. Even most newer games run nicely if you turn down the in-game detail levels.
The VX3 feeds its audio output through a ‘stereo speaker’ (yes, that’s right) whose playback is tinny and light with very little basstypical small notebook fare. Routing audio through the headphone jack improves sound quality, and the jack doubles as a digital S/PDIF output. It’s also possible to pass digital audio through the VX3’s HDMI output. On the input side of things, the VX3 features an integrated microphone and a dedicated mic input port.
Intel’s 4965AGN Wi-Fi chip provides the VX3 with 802.11a/b/g/n wireless compatibility. Reception and signal retention are very good. Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR support is also included, and tethered networking is available courtesy of a Realtek RTL8168 Gigabit PCIe NIC and an Intel HDA software-based fax modem.
True to Lamborghini’s reputation, the VX3 is a gas guzzler. Asus ships the system with two batteries: a 3-cell unit rated for 2200mAh and a 9-cell one good for 7800mAh. The smaller battery fits flush with the VX3’s chassis and looks good, but the mighty 9-cell sticks out substantially, like a Gallardo towing a giant gas tank. Naturally, we’d prefer not to have a battery sticking out the back of a laptop, but we’ll see in a moment just how long the 3-cell unit can keep the VX3 running.
If you’re not running on battery, the VX3 comes with a 90W AC adapter that’s a little large for a compact notebook. Here you can see it posed with a PlayStation 3 game for reference.
In addition to Windows Vista Ultimate x64, the VX3 is set up with a 90-day Norton subscription, WinDVD (a version not compatible with Vista x64, DOH!), a 30-day Office trial, and a slew of Asus utilities. Vista Ultimate is positively bursting at the seams with goodieswhen you run Windows Update, the amount of optional enhancements and widgets is staggering. However, it stinks seeing Norton trialware on a notebook in this class. If a full version is so expensive, why don’t PC makers deal with the smaller anti-virus firms like Avira?
Performance benchmarks are a touchy subject. Should a reviewer bench a product as it comes from the factory, or should a system be optimized first? Unfortunately, we didn’t have much choice with the VX3. Several of the benchmarking applications we use for testing just don’t work right with Vista x64, forcing us to perform a fresh 32-bit Vista SP1 install on the VX3. To this install, we added all the current Windows updates and Nvidia’s ForceWare 177.92 graphics drivers (using a modified .INF). 32-bit Vista won’t make the most of the VX3’s 4GB of memory, but given our selection of test applications, that shouldn’t have a major impact on performance.
We’ll kick things off with MobileMark 2007, which tests battery life and real-life application performance (Acrobat Reader 7.0, Illustrator CS2, Photoshop CS2, QuickTime 7.1, WinDVD 8, Flash 8, Office 2003 Pro, Project 2003, WinZip 10.0). MobileMark runs a batch routine that automatically closes and disables features for you so that every PC tested with the suite will be on an even playing field. The wireless reader test was omitted because it uses a version of Acrobat Reader that does not play well with Windows Vista.
The difference in run time between the VX3’s two battery options is much larger than one might expect in the DVD playback test, where the 3-cell unit barely lasts an hour but the 9-cell keeps running for more than three-and-a-half hours. The 3-cell battery didn’t last long enough to complete MobileMark’s productivity test, which is a little odd considering that we squeezed just over four hours of battery life from the 9-cell in that test.
WorldBench is up next, probing system performance with a full suite of application tests.
We don’t have a comparative reference here, but the VX3 generates an overall WorldBench score of 103. That’s similar to what we’ve seen from a full-sized desktop system running a Core 2 Duo E7200 processor and a GeForce 8800 GTX graphics card, which isn’t too shabby at all.
Next up we have a collection of 3D performance and gaming tests, starting with 3Dmark06. We’ve ran these tests with the VX3 plugged into a wall socket and also on battery power to illustrate the performance impact of clock throttling with the latter.
As you can see, switching to battery power takes a big chunk out of the VX3’s 3DMark score.
We’ll finish things off with a couple of real games: Call of Duty 4 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. Call of Duty automatically set a display resolution of 1024×768 with most in-game effects turned on. We also ran our custom timedemo with a lower detail setting, disabling all of the extra in-game effects and dropping the texture quality to low. Quake Wars automatically set an 800×600 display resolution with high in-game detail levels. That title was also tested with low in-game graphics settings. You can find screenshots detailing our in-game detail level settings in the image gallery associated with this review.
The VX3 was able to run Call of Duty 4 at reasonable frame rates, but only with much lower detail levels than what the game set automatically. Quake Wars is a little less demanding, and there isn’t as big of a gap between performance with the detail levels we used for testing. However, in both games, frame rates are well below a playable threshold when running on battery power.
While battery-powered gaming doesn’t look like much of an option for the VX3, it’s possible to disable the power-saving features that sap the system’s performance when it’s unplugged from a wall socket. With those options disabled, I was able to play Quake Wars for almost 170 minutes before the VX3 shut down. Nearly three hours of gaming in an airport waiting for a late flight sounds better than reading the newspaper.
During testing, the VX3 did a great job of managing heat. Even after gaming on battery power for almost three hours, the VX3 was still a comfortable temperature for lap-top use. These days, that is rather uncommon. While plugged-in and running a combination of the rthdribl HDR lighting demo and Prime95 for two hours, the maximum temperature we recorded on the VX3 was 118°F (48°C), measured on the bottom of the system near the left-side vent where hot air is expelled. Despite moving a lot of air, the fan is barely audible; you would need to be in an absolutely silent room for the fan to become a distraction.
Asus’ Lamborghini VX3 notebook is unabashedly expensive, and that seems to be the point. An item can’t be exclusive if it can be bought at a mainstream price point. Lamborghini car owners want to own something uncommon, and they’re probably not too concerned that the Nissan GT-R can lap the famous Nürburgring Nordschleife course quicker for a quarter of the price. Likewise, it seems, Asus doesn’t think VX3 owners will be fazed by the fact that you can get a similarly equipped (at least in terms of core hardware components) systems that offers equivalent performance for much less.
That’s fine, but put on your ‘consumer of fine goods’ hat for a moment and ask yourself whether a Lamborghini-branded Targus bag would be appealing. While the VX3 chassis is all class, the accessories are not quite in the same league. The illusion disintegrates as soon as you spy the Targus label on the messenger-style notebook bag included with the VX3. There are plenty of little leather goods factories in Italy that could have produced something suitable while retaining a made-in-Italy tag for the label-conscious consumer.
Getting past the VX3’s premium nature, the system’s battery life is another issue. The 3-cell battery may mount flush, but with less than an hour of DVD playback time, the VX3 really isn’t all that portable without its portly 9-cell unit. And the 9-cell battery sticks out the back quite a bit, ruining the VX3’s lovely lines and making it impossible for the system to sit in its fancy box. With seemingly so much invested in the VX3’s design, its battery seems like an afterthought.
Gaming apparently wasn’t an afterthought for the VX3, whose discrete GeForce 9300M graphics processor delivers passable (at least when compared with the Intel integrated graphics processors that dominate the 12″ notebook market) frame rates with recent games, provided you turn down in-game detail levels. More importantly, the GeForce should be free of the compatibility and image quality issues that we’ve seen plague Intel’s IGPs. The 9300M can accelerate Blu-ray playback, too, although Asus fails to exploit this capability by equipping the VX3 with a high-def DVD drive.
The lack of a Blu-ray drive highlights what may be the biggest problem with the VX3: the system isn’t nearly as decked out as one might expect given its $3,000 street price. With only a 5,400-RPM hard drive, a 2.5GHz processor that’s a few speed grades below the top of the line, and no integrated WWAN connectivity options, the VX3 doesn’t deliver as luxurious a punch as it could. It seems Asus has elected to spend more on the VX3’s cosmetic accents and bundled accessories than beefing up the underlying hardware.
So the VX3 isn’t perfect, and it’s not cheap. Obviously, value-conscious buyers should steer clear. However, the system does offer a solid and compact chassis, a great screen, full-sized keys, GeForce graphics, and a couple of battery options. It also looks pretty hot, and more importantly (to those concerned with Lamborghini branding, at least), retains the exclusivity if its namesake.