Regardless of what you think of netbooks, the surprise success of Intel's Atom CPU has definitely had a positive impact on the mobile market. The popularity of sub-$400 Atom-based systems no doubt prompted the introduction of Intel's Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage (CULV) processors, pulling previously premium ultra-low-voltage CPUs into budget ultraportable territory. These CULV CPUs offer much better performance than Atom processors while staying within a reasonably modest power envelope. The chips have made their way into cheap 11.6" netbook killers, not to mention a slew of 13.3" notebooks, including an Asus UL30A that costs $750-$800 yet still offers nearly 10 hours of real-world battery life.
New ultraportables simply weren't available for around $800 a few years ago. In that price range, you were looking at 14-15" systems that were relatively short on battery life and not exactly thin or light. Thanks to the advent of CULV processors, that's no longer the case. Intel's latest ultra-low-voltage mobile CPUs are migrating to affordable 14" systems, bringing the promise of better battery life and slimmer enclosures to a segment of the market typically populated by portly, easily winded designs.
Asus' UL70Vt is one of the first 14" systems to feature a CULV processor. It also has the same eight-cell battery as the UL30A, but in a larger chassis with an optical drive and switchable GeForce graphics. Finally, here is a system with the potential to offer excellent battery life and play games.
CULV processors are typically paired with Intel's GS45 Express chipset, whose integrated Graphics Media Accelerator X4500MHD offers abysmal gaming performance and spotty compatibility. Fortunately, the chipset has 16 lanes of second-generation PCI Express connectivity, which the UL80Vt links to a GeForce G210M discrete graphics processor. The G210M sits at the bottom of Nvidia's mobile graphics chip lineup; it's a DirectX 10.1-class GPU with 16 SPs running at 1.5GHz. The rest of the graphics chip runs at 625MHz, and it has a 64-bit path to 512MB of GDDR3 memory clocked at an effective 1.6GHz.
Although Nvidia has the G210M fabricated using 40-nm process technology, the chip's thermal design power (TDP) is still rated at a healthy 14W. To put that into perspective, the UL80Vt's dual-core, 1.3GHz Core 2 Duo SU7300 processor has just a 10W TDP. Additional power consumption is a big drawback for discrete notebook graphics, but Asus has mitigated the GeForce's battery drain by allowing users to turn off the discrete GPU when it's not needed. Toggling between the GeForce G210M and GMA X4500MHD is as easy as switching between power plans, which can be done with the touch of a button located above the keyboard. The process isn't entirely seamless; the screen goes blank for a few seconds when you switch graphics modes. But that's not a terrible hardship to endure.
Rebooting isn't necessary to take advantage of the UL80Vt's switchable graphics, but you will have to restart the system to invoke its turbo mode. The SU7300 processor normally runs at 1.3GHz on an 800MHz front-side bus. However, a turbo button in Asus' Power4Gear Hybrid software pushes the FSB to 1066MHz, yielding a CPU clock speed of 1.73GHz. This turbo mode also kicks the memory bus from 800 to 1066MHz.
At the other end of the spectrum, the UL80Vt's battery-saving power scheme takes advantage of the SU7300's second P-state, which caps the processor speed at 800MHz. Entering battery-saving mode doesn't require a reboot unless you're switching out of turbo, making it easy for the user to shift into low-power mode on the fly.
|Processor||Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 1.3GHz|
|Memory||4GB DDR3-800 (2 DIMMs)|
|Chipset||Intel GS45 Express|
Integrated Intel GMA X4500MHD with 18MB
Switchable Nvidia GeForce G210M with 512MB GDDR3 memory
|Display||14" TFT with WXGA (1366x768) resolution and LED backlight|
|Optical||Samsung TS-U633A DVD+/-RW+DL|
|Storage||Seagate Momentus 5400.6 320GB 2.5" 5,400-RPM hard drive|
|Audio||Stereo HD audio via Realtek codec|
3 USB 2.0
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet via Atheros AR8131
1 analog headphone output
1 analog microphone input
|Expansion slots||1 SD/SDHC/MMC/MS/MSPRO/xD|
|Communications||802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi via Atheros AR9285|
"Full size" keyboard
Trackpad with multi-touch scrolling
|Camera||0.3 megapixel webcam|
|Dimensions||13.3" x 9.4" x 0.55-1.06" (338 mm x 240 mm x 14-26.8 mm)|
|Weight||4.4 lbs (2 kg)|
|Battery||8-cell Li-Ion 84Wh|
The rest of the UL80Vt's hardware looks about like what one might expect from a system in this price range. It's great to see 4GB of memory coming standard with these types of systems, and 320GB of storage space should be plenty for folks who don't need to carry around an extensive video library. Kudos to Asus for shipping the system with the x64 edition of Windows 7 Home Premium, too.
However, I'm less than impressed with the lack of Bluetooth support in the UL80Vt-A1 revision we have in for review. Bluetooth is listed as an optional feature, but none of the systems selling online appear to include it. 802.11n Wi-Fi is standard, at least, but the UL80Vt should really include both.