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Asus UL80Vt: A CULV Laptop with Hybrid Graphics

The Asus UL80Vt is a 14″ laptop sporting Hybrid Graphics, the ability to switch between the Nvidia GeForce G210M discrete video card and Intel’s integrated GMA 4500MHD graphics. The efficiency of a low power CULV processor and a hefty 8-cell battery offer the rare combination of budget gaming performance and superb battery life.

December 31, 2009 by Lawrence Lee

Product Asus UL80Vt-A1
Manufacturer ASUS
Street Price US$800~$850

Our first experience with an Intel CULV (Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage) processor,
the Core 2 Solo SU3500, was an eye-opener. It was significantly faster than
the Atom N270 and its energy demands were not much higher. As a result, it made
a perfect base for the Gateway
EC1803h
, an 11.6″ ultra portable laptop with netbook-like dimensions.
Fast forward two months and the market is rife with slim, dual core CULV
laptops from a variety of companies like Acer, which recently updated their
entire ultra-thin Timeline series to dual core. Asus is also aggressively pursuing
this emerging market, releasing a whole line of notebooks ranging from 12″
to 15″ in size utilizing the new Core 2 Duo SU7300 1.3GHz processor.

The Asus UL line is interesting in that they are split into two families.
Those with the model number “A”, like the UL30A, are cheaper versions,
sporting integrated GMA 4500MHD graphics. Those with the model number “V”
have both integrated Intel graphics and a discrete GeForce G210M GPU which can
be turned on and off thanks to Nvidia’s HybridPower feature. When you need the
gaming prowess of a real graphics card, you can turn on the G210M, and when
you’re just surfing the web or watching video, you can switch back to Intel
graphics to save power. The “V” series also gives you the option of
overclocking the processor by bumping up the SU7300’s 800MHz front side bus
to 1066MHz, resulting in a final clock speed of 1.73GHz, which is just a touch
slower than a mainstream mobile Core 2 Duo. We’ll be looking at the UL80Vt,
a 14″ laptop that Asus claims can run for 12 hours — a lofty goal
even though the energy efficiency of a CULV processor and switchable graphics
is complimented by a hefty 5600mAh, 84Wh battery


The UL80Vt.

The exterior of the UL80Vt is as impressive as the hardware
inside. It has a very slender profile, just over one inch thick on average and
weighs just 2.17kg (4.77lb) on our digital scale — most 14″ laptops
typically weigh 5~5.5lb. The chassis is made of plastic and every visible surface
is glossy and thus partially reflective. The top cover is anodized brushed aluminum, so while it won’t accumulate any distinct fingerprints,
you will still get finger and thumb-shaped smudges.


From the back.

 

ASUS UL80Vt-A1 Specifications
Display
14″ LED Backlit LCD (1366×768)
CPU
Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300
(1.3GHz, 3MB L2, 10W)
Chipset Intel GS45 Express
Graphics
Intel GMA 4500MHD (integrated) + Nvidia GeForce G210M
512MB DDR3 (discrete)
Memory
4GB DDR3 (dual channel)
Storage
320GB 5400RPM HDD
Optical Drive DVD Super Multi
Networking 802.11n, Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth
No
Webcam
0.3 megapixel (640×480)
Card Reader
8 in 1 card reader (SD, MMC, MS, MS-Pro, XD, Smart Media,
mini SD w/ adapter, MS-Duo)
Trackpad
ELAN Multi-Gesture
Battery
8-cell 5600 mAH
Physical Dimensions
33.8 x 24 x 1.40~2.68 cm (W x D x H)
2.0 kg (with 8-cell battery)
Operating System
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

The rest of the hardware is rather standard: 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive,
802.11n, gigabit ethernet, memory card reader, multi-gesture trackpad. However,
the UL80Vt lacks Bluetooth and is equipped with a grainy, low quality 0.3 megapixel
webcam.

EXTERIOR & SCREEN


The UL80Vt measures 29 mm (1.14″) at the center and 31 mm (1.22″)
at the rear (including the feet). Most 14″ laptops are a bit fatter,
about 1.4~1.5″ at their thickest point. Microphone, line-out, VGA,
HDMI and two USB connectors are located on the left side as is the main
exhaust port.

 


The right side features the optical drive, memory card reader, RJ45 connector
and an additional USB port.

 


The speakers are located at the bottom just under the lip — like most
laptop speakers they sound tinny and are underpowered and their location
doesn’t help. Both the memory and hard drive are easily serviced from
the underside.

 


The LED backlit screen is comparable to the one found on the CULV-powered
Gateway EC1803h. It’s fairly bright but the contrast is not great, resulting
in a slightly washed out appearance.


The screen is glossy so reflections are clearly visible especially when
there is a light source emanating from behind.

 


The hinges are thick and of good construction, though they only allow
the screen to be tilted back by about 45 degrees past perpendicular.

KEYBOARD, TRACKPAD & BATTERY


The keyboard utilizes a full-size chiclet design measuring 30 x 11 cm.
The keys unfortunately do not generate enough resistance, resulting in
poor tactile feedback. There was also some noticeable flexing.

 


The trackpad has a large, dimpled surface which creates too much friction.
Below it sits a single, long rounded button, the edges of which are unfortunately
lower than the surrounding surface. This makes makes it difficult to press
down with your thumb. Like the keyboard, the palm rest had a bit of give
as well, particularly on the right side where all the stickers are located.

 


One of the UL series’ main selling points is its high capacity battery.
The UL80Vt’s battery boasts 84 watt-hours and weighs about a pound.

 


The AC adapter has an output of 19V.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Notebooks Compared:

Dell Vostro 1400:

Gateway EC1803h:

Asus UL80Vt:


CPU-Z screenshot taken at full load.

 


GPU-Z screenshot taken with discrete graphics enabled.

 


The UL80Vt we received contained a Seagate 5400.6 hard drive, Toshiba/Samsung
DVD burner and Atheros ethernet and WiFi adapters.

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Our first test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power
consumption at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel). To stress
CPUs we use either Prime95 (large FFTs setting) or CPUBurn depending on which
produces higher system power consumption. To stress the IGP, we use ATITool
or FurMark, an OpenGL benchmarking and stability testing utility.

Our second test procedure is to run the system through a video test suite featuring
a variety of high definition clips. During playback, a CPU usage graph is created
by the Windows Task Manger for analysis to determine the average CPU usage.
High CPU usage is indicative of poor video decoding ability. If the video (and/or
audio) skips or freezes, we conclude the IGP (in conjunction with the processor)
is inadequate to decompress the clip properly. Power consumption during playback
of high definition video is also recorded.

Lastly, we run a short series of performance benchmarks — a few real-world
applications as well as synthetic tests.

All nonessential pre-installed software is removed prior to testing, and certain
services and features like Indexing, Superfetch, and System Restore were disabled
to prevent them from affecting our results.

Real-world Benchmark Test Details

  • Eset NOD32: In-depth virus scan of a folder containing 32 files of
    varying size, several of which are archives with many files within them..
  • WinRAR: Archive creation with a folder containing 68 files of varying
    size (less than 50MB).
  • iTunes: Conversion of an MP3 file to AAC (48KHz, 256kbps).
  • TMPGEnc Xpress: Encoding a 1-minute long XVID AVI file to VC-1 (1280×720,
    30fps, 20mbps).

H.264/VC-1 Video Test Clips

H.264 and VC-1 are codecs commonly used in high definition movie videos on
the web (like Quicktime movie trailers and the like) and also in Blu-ray discs.
To play these clips, we use Cyberlink PowerDVD with hardware acceleration turned
on, naturally.


1080p | 24fps | ~10mbps
1080p H.264:
Rush Hour 3 Trailer 2c
is a 1080p clip encoded in H.264
inside an Apple Quicktime container.

 


1080p | 24fps | ~8mbps
WMV-HD:
Coral Reef Adventure Trailer
is encoded in VC-1 using the
WMV3 codec commonly recognized by the “WMV-HD” moniker.

 

x264/MKV Video Test Clips

MKV (Matroska) is a very popular online multimedia container
used for high definition content, usually using x264 (a free, open source
H.264 encoder) for video. The clips were taken from two longer videos —
the most demanding one minute portions were used. To play them we use Media
Player Classic Home Cinema, configured in the most suitable manner depending
on the GPU. For Intel/ATI graphics the player is configured to use DXVA
(DirectX Video Acceleration), for Nvidia graphics we use CoreAVC to enable
CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture) support, and for those that support
neither, CoreAVC is used with default settings, which renders using CPU
power alone.


720p | 24fps | ~11mbps

x264 720p: Undead Battle is a 720p x264 clip encoded from
the Blu-ray version of a major motion picture. It features a battle
between undead warriors.

 


1080p | 24fps | ~14mbps

x264 1080p: Spaceship is a 1080p x264 clip encoded from
the Blu-ray version of an animated short film. It features a hapless
robot trying to repair a lamp on a spaceship.

Flash Video Test Clip

Many users watch media online in Adobe’s Flash format on sites
like Hulu and YouTube. Now that the latest 10.1 beta version of Flash supports
GPU acceleration, only slower systems like those powered by a single core
Atom without a proper IGP struggle with Flash in HD. Our test clip is a
HD movie trailer from YouTube played in Firefox.


1280×544 | 25fps | ~2mbps

Flash HD: Iron
Man Trailer #1
is the first trailer from the feature film
of the same name. It’s a YouTube HD video, though technically it
is not quite 720p.

TEST RESULTS

All tests were conducted with WiFi enabled (unless otherwise noted) and screen
brightness to a reasonable level (44%). Oddly, we could not find a way to prevent
the UL80Vt’s processor from overclocking to 1.73GHz. There were clock options
in the BIOS of -5% to +5% but they did not actually affect clock speed. In addition,
none of Asus’ default power plans changed the effective CPU voltage, though
a couple of them locked down the maximum clock speed to idle levels (1.06GHz).
We used the Windows 7’s “Balanced” power plan, but set it so the screen
would not dim or turn off, and adjusted the plan when necessary to manually
activate the discrete graphics.

AC Power Draw

Test Results: System Power
Test State
Gateway EC1803h
Asus UL80Vt
GMA 4500MHD
GeForce G210M
Idle
(screen off)
9W
6W
10W
Idle
(screen on)
11W
8W
12W
CPU Load
21W
34W
37W
CPU + GPU
Load
23W
37W
53W

Running on AC power using Intel graphics, the UL80Vt surprised us with its
low power consumption, beating the SU3500-powered Gateway EC1803h by about 30%
despite being overclocked. On load however the UL80Vt’s dual core processor
pushed its energy draw 13~14W higher.

Using G210M graphics was much more demanding, using 4W more than the onboard
video when sitting idle. That will undoubtedly put a hurt on battery life, so
HybridPower was obviously a good choice. With a GPU load added, discrete graphics
comes at a heavy 16W cost. In theory, the 84Wh battery will last just over 90
minutes in this state. Despite the big battery, for games you’ll still want
to be plugged in.

Video Playback

Test Results: Video Playback
Test State
GMA 4500MHD
GeForce G210M
Avg.
CPU
System Power
Avg.
CPU
System Power
Rush Hour
(1080p H.264)
13%
14W
12%
19W
Coral Reef
(WMV-HD)
27%
17W
16%
22W
Undead Battle
(720p x264)
17%
17W
11%
25W
Spaceship
(1080p x264)
16%
18W
13%
26W
Iron Man
(Flash HD)
24%
15W
12%
19W

While both GPUs played high definition video fairly well, the G210M used less
CPU resources, but demanded more energy. We already discovered a significant
idle power difference but it seems that using the GPU’s hardware acceleration
capability makes it even less power efficient compared to GMA 4500MHD. On battery
power, we highly recommend sticking with Intel’s integrated graphics —
it can do the job almost as well, and the battery will last a lot longer.

Battery Life

To test battery life, we ran a series of tests to simulate real life web surfing
and movie watching. The critical and low battery actions were disabled, so the
system would simply shut down once the battery was exhausted as far as Windows
7 would allow (1%).

For the web browsing test we loaded three websites into Firefox
on separate tabs: Google News, Yahoo News, and CNN International. Using the
ReloadEvery
add-on, we set each tab to do a staggered reload every minute. This is essentially
one page reload every 20 seconds.

For video playback we used an XVID encoded AVI (1324kbps video, 448kbps AC3
audio) played with VLC Player and a x264 encoded MKV (720p, 7mbps video, 640kbps
AC3 audio) played with Media Player Classic Home Cinema (DXVA/CUDA enabled)
in a loop. WiFi was disabled during video playback.

Test Results: Battery Life
Activity
Gateway EC1803h
Asus Eee 1005HA
Asus UL80Vt
GMA 4500MHD
GeForce G210M
Web Browsing
6:09
8:18
9:11
6:42
Xvid Playback
4:24
6:34
7:19
5:39
x264 Playback
3:31
N/A
5:24
3:37

Using Intel graphics, the UL80Vt was a total workhouse, lasting more than 10%
longer than the Atom based 1005HA in both our web browsing and Xvid playback
tests. While Asus’ 12 hour claim didn’t come close to fruition, it may have
done better if we had managed to prevent the processor from overclocking. If
you prefer to use the GeForce G210M when running on battery power, you can expect
to loose quite a bit of run time. We recorded a loss of 2:29 when websurfing,
1:40 playing Xvid, and 1:47 playing x264 — that’s long enough for an entire
movie depending on the title. The G210M numbers were actually impressive if
you take them on their own — most Core 2 Duo laptops don’t last more than
6 hours, especially with discrete graphics.

Performance

Test Results: Benchmarks
Model
EC1803h (Vista)
Vostro 1400 (XP)
UL80Vt
(Win7 x64)
CPU
C2S 1.4GHz
C2D 1.4GHz
C2D 1.73GHz
RAM
3GB DDR2
2GB DDR2
4GB DDR3
GPU
GMA 4500MHD
GMA X3100
GMA 4500MHD
GeForce G210M
NOD32
11:14
9:50
8:46
WinRAR
5:38
5:14
3:35
iTunes
8:46
7:36
6:13
TMPGEnc
20:01
11:46
8:10
PCMark05
2214
2941
3656
4397
3DMark05
979
656
1393
6847
3DMark06
603
487
823
3460

The UL80Vt’s performance was as expected, beating out an old Dell Vostro laptop
powered by a 1.4GHz T5270 Core 2 Duo by a moderate amount in all our tests due
mostly in part to the SU7300’s overclocked speed of 1.73GHz. Using discrete
graphics of course resulted in much higher 3DMark scores.

Subjective Experience

When we first turned on the UL80Vt, it was disappointingly slow booting into
Windows 7. Once the operating system was fully loaded, we were not surprised
to see plenty of pre-installed software, with many of the usual suspects including
Trend Micro Internet Security (trial), Adobe AIR, Office 2007 (trial), and Cyberlink
Power2Go. Surprisingly, the origin of most of the applications was Asus,
with 14 separate utilities pre-loaded, more than all the third party vendors
combined. We found only three of them to be even remotely useful: “Express Gate”
which has been discussed before, “SmartLogon” which uses the webcam
to recognize your face allowing you to login without prompting for a password,
and “FastBoot” — an unusual utility that speeds up Windows 7
x64 boot time. With all nonessential software removed, it took 82 seconds after
pressing the power button before we got a usable Windows 7 desktop screen. With
FastBoot uninstalled, it required an additional 9 seconds.

Once booted up, the machine did not feel any slower a 2GHz+ Core 2 Duo laptop.
In addition the GeForce G210M delivered some pretty decent 3D performance. We
briefly played Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and on integrated graphics it
was only playable when we decreased the resolution down to 1024×768, and even
then we had to turn most of the extra details down. The experience wasn’t particularly
smooth either, lagging frequently, and bogging down severely during the most
demanding action sequences. Turning on the discrete graphics was like flipping
a light switch — the same settings ran smooth as silk. It was also fairly
smooth at 1366×768 with most of the details turned on and 2x anti-aliasing on
top. The G210M is a budget discrete GPU, but it is still a vast improvement
over GMA 4500MHD and plenty for gaming at the relatively low 1366×768 native
resolution.

It should also be noted that switching to the Nvidia GPU made the system pause
and the screen to go black for 8~9 seconds, while changing back to integrated
only required a 4 second delay.

Acoustics

System Noise @ 0.6m
Activity
GMA 4500MHD
GeForce G210M
Idle
20~21 dBA
Xvid Playback
20~21 dBA
x264 Playback
21 dBA
23 dBA
CPU Load
29 dBA
CPU + GPU Load
29 dBA
35 dBA
Ambient noise level: 11 dBA.

When idle and during Xvid playback, the UL80Vt remained very quiet by laptop
standards, between 20 and 21 dBA@0.6m, with the fan either off or spinning at
a low level — hard to tell which. The acoustic profile was very smooth
with just a soft hiss emanating from the exhaust port. x264 playback caused
the fan to spin up slightly resulting in a negligible noise increase on integrated
graphics and about 2~3 dBA extra on discrete graphics. When the G210M uses CUDA
to decode x264 playback it used much more energy than GMA 4500MHD utilizing
DXVA, and this in turn also results in more noise. Still, the acoustic character
at this level is fairly pleasant and if you’re watching a movie, no doubt the
speakers will be on high volume or you’ll have headphones on. Either way, it’s
hard to notice during actual use.

The machine only became loud when we pushed the CPU with Prime95, and it became
particularly jarring combined with FurMark when running on discrete graphics.
At 29 dBA and above, the noise level is of course, fairly high, but the pitch
of the fan is tolerable, though slightly on the whiny side.


UL80Vt idling at 0.6m.

One strange thing we noticed was a ultrasonic peak at well beyond the 10KHz
level, at a low enough level that no one is likely to be able to hear.

Thermals

System Temperatures
Activity
GMA 4500MHD
GeForce G210M
CPU Temp
HDD Temp
CPU Temp
HDD Temp
GPU Temp
Idle
28°C
33°C
40°C
35°C
48°C
Xvid Playback
40°C
34°C
40°C
35°C
48°C
x264 Playback
40°C
35°C
46°C
35°C
59°C
CPU Load
55°C
35°C
58°C
35°C
60°C
CPU + GPU Load
55°C
35°C
67°C
35°C
87°C
Ambient temperature: 19°C.

Throughout testing the underside of the laptop never got hot. The warmest sport
was the rear left corner and using a spot thermometer we found that it never
measured higher than 35°C. Simply put, you can leave it on your thighs all
day long without any discomfort — at least not from heat. Internally, the
CPU and hard drive remained fairly cool until discrete graphics were turned
on and the system was put on load.

Audio Recordings

Comparable System sound files:

  • Gateway
    EC1803h running on AC at 0.6m

    — fan off (18 dBA)
    — fan set to low (20 dBA)
    — idle (24 dBA)
    — during Xvid playback (26 dBA)
    — during x264 playback & full load (29 dBA)

FINAL THOUGHTS

On a typical laptop with discrete graphics, even if you only play games on
AC power, battery life is usually subpar compared to a model with integrated
video. The Asus UL80Vt, with its big battery and Hybrid Graphics, breaks this
long-held construct, allowing budget gamers to enjoy decent 3D performance without
cutting into battery life when they’re unplugged and using their notebook for
less stressful tasks. With the discrete GeForce G210M GPU enabled, the UL80Vt’s
run time is impressive in its own right, but switching to Intel’s integrated
GMA 4500MHD graphics results in astounding battery life, exceeding even that
of the Eee 1005HA,
an Atom powered netbook! It’s not quite the 12 hours that Asus claims but then
again, we weren’t able to run our sample at stock speeds, so perhaps something
closer to 10 hours is within the realm of possibility. The machine also runs
fairly cool and quiet and is lighter and thinner than most 14″ notebooks.
Spec-wise, the only thing you sacrifice choosing the UL80Vt over a comparably
priced mainstream laptop with discrete graphics is Bluetooth, and some processing
power (which is made up in part through overclocking).

While we were impressed with everything under the hood, the rest of the UL80Vt
could use some work. The amount of flex around the keyboard and palm rest (particularly
on the right side) indicates mediocre build quality — the only portion
of the laptop that really feels solid is the aluminum cover. The keyboard and
trackpad are also substandard — they both look great, but when put to use
they are lacking compared to laptops we’ve used in the past. The keys seem weak,
not providing enough resistance and springing back meekly after being depressed.
The touchpad surface while large is a little too gritty, and the one-piece button
is sunken down when it should be raised for easier access. The webcam is lousy
as are the speakers, but its rare to find a good set on any laptop. The screen
is adequate — bright and crisp, but colors don’t quite pop.

While the unit looks very sleek and professional and has an excellent combination
of hardware inside, it’s obvious they’ve cut a few corners and given little
thought to some of the peripherals, namely the keyboard and trackpad. If you
can overlook these weaknesses, the UL80Vt excels as a jack-of-all trades laptop,
something of a rarity. For those who don’t play games and have no need for the
overclocking feature, the “A” series with only integrated graphics
seems preferable as they are much cheaper, deliver enough performance for most
users and can play high definition video efficiently.

You may also want to consider a smaller machine if portability is an issue
— while the UL80Vt is slimmer than a typical 14″ laptop, we would hesitate
to casually throw it in a bag to take with us on vacation. Perhaps we’ve been
spoiled by netbooks, but a smaller unit closer to 3lb like the 12″ UL20A
is preferable in this regard, as long as you can live without an optical drive.

Our thanks to Asus
for the UL80Vt-A1 sample.

* * *

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* * *

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