The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to get the most feathers with the least hissing - Jeane Baptiste Colbert
Product: Asus UL50vs
System Specifications: Intel Core2 Duo Processor SU7300 1.3 GHz, Windows 7 Ultimate, Intel GS45 Express Chipset +ICH9M, DDR3 1066 MHz SDRAM 4GB SDRAM, 15.6-inch HD LED backlight display, NVIDIA GeForce G 210M, SSD 160GB, DVD Super Multi Drive, SD,MMC,MS,MS-Pro,XD, 0.3 Mega Pixel web camera, WiFi, Bluetooth Ethernet, Altec Lansing speakers, SRS Premium Sound, 4-cell battery, optional 8-cell battery available.
Price: £1,100 - research price
FALLING UNDER the Asustek superior mobility series is the UL50vs in its range of 15-inch notebooks, which boast 12 hours of battery life and great graphical abilities with unlimited possibilities, or so the marketing blurb reads.
The casing of the UL50vs is fairly attractive if you happen to like black, with its brushed black aluminium lid and black plastic shell, keyboard and palm rest. Black seems to be the latest favourite of computer manufactures, with the x600 model from MSI being a prime example with its key functions not really being all that dissimilar to the Asus UL50vs, but more on that later.
For a larger screened laptop its size and weight has been kept down. The UL50 is 386mm wide, 259mm deep and 264mm thick, and it weighs 2.1kg. It's no Macbook Air, but it's closer in screen size and overall dimensions to a Macbook Pro, which is 364mm wide, 249mm deep and 241mm thick and weighs 2.49kg. Like the Macbook Pro, this Asus laptop can be hauled around without causing back trouble.
The UL50vs has an Intel Core Duo 2 SU7300 1.3Ghz Processor, which isn't all that fast although it is a low power chip. Asus has added to the UL50 technology it calls Turbo 33 and we'll just call overclocking. Apparently it's possible to overclock this chip to get a little more out of it, with Asus claiming a 33 per cent overall performance gain - why, we don't know, because we didn't see that level of improvement. The UL50 has power settings that are separate from Windows 7, known as Power4Gear and that's where overclocking can be set to add 3 per cent CPU speed. In the BIOS we were manually able to set the UL50vs to the maximum 5 per cent overclock and that was stable enough to use so we never looked back. At first this struck us as an odd addition to a very consumer oriented notebook. We were surprised to see it, but the system seemed stable enough when overclocked and showed a bit better game play in the Batman Arkham Asylum Demo, so we deemed the UL50vs overclocking a good idea, but over-hyped.
The Asus UL50 uses the GS45 chipset, much like so many other laptops with their graphical abilities also all based around the accompanying Intel Graphics Media Accelerator GPU X4500. This GPU isn't particularly well known for its amazing ability, but Asus has added the discrete Nvidia GeForce G210M GPU, with 512MB of GDDR3 VRAM to the mix. This is switchable back and forth from Intel to Nvidia graphics, much like the settings on the MSI x600 we reviewed recently, which was based around the rival ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4300. As expected HD media struggled under the basic settings, but worked well with the NVIDIA G210M when it was engaged and even game play with Arkham Asylum was okay, all of which couldn't be done with the x600.
The screen on the UL50 is of good size, which is not always expected on laptops this light and thin. The 15.6-inch display is, however, let down by its lower than expected resolution of 1366x768, since it seems rather grainy on appearance, especially with a white background. Where the screen does excel is in its 16:9 format, which is one of the key selling points of the UL50. Widescreen video playback comes across very well indeed with this display ratio, almost as good as an actual HD ready TV screen. But one can't expect to get a lot of text on the display, from either websites or a Word document as a maximum we found viewable was around the 500 word mark. Not the most ideal form factor or resolution for a laptop, however if you are buying the device as a frequent media watcher then it works well enough in that role.
Asus has incorporated a nearly full desktop computer sized keyboard due to the larger size of the UL50, complete with number pad off to the right. We're not a big fan of the larger keyboards on notebooks as the keyboard is often skewed to one side of the screen, just as it is on the UL50. As a result you are not facing the screen dead centre whilst typing, instead you must look to the right to view the display. After sometime a crick develops in one's neck, which can take time to resolve and you're then left wondering to whom you should send the osteopath bill.
Asus has evenly spaced the keys on the UL50, with plenty room between them. As a result, this design prevents many keys being pressed at once whilst typing fast or haphazardly. Seeing that most people have not taken a touch typing course, this evenly spaced keyboard design is a good feature, as even the fastest two-finger typist can type fairly accurately without upsetting the spell checker. On one hand you are forced to stare at the screen at an angle, on the other hand the keyboard is great for the two-fingerists. It's hard to really fault something when there are underlying positives as well, which left us confused as to whether we liked the experience of using the UL50 keyboard or not.
There are some other good points to the UL50vs, from the memory down to the ports that are all worth a mention. Asus in its wisdom has bundled in 4GB of memory, not DDR2 but DDR3 for its faster transfer rates and lower power draw. Inclusion of both a VGA port and a HDMI port is welcome since, seeing as how the UL50vs can actually handle HD media, exporting that media to another screen is useful. Having an optical DVD writer seemed impossible we thought for the slim Asus chassis, but it has included one. The notebook's storage is a 160GB SSD and not an HDD. This boots up very fast as a result, and if it is not quick booting enough for your satisfaction there's also a utility for disabling programs that load early, which speeds up the start-up time.
The company claims that the UL50vs can last 12 hours between charges. At the highest possible power hungry settings, with everything enabled including the Nvidia GeForce G210M GPU, the 4-cell battery lasted two hours and thirty minutes. On the most power conservative settings, with everything possible disabled such as WiFi and Bluetooth and running the Intel GPU with screen at its dimmest, the UL50vs lasted five hours and forty-five minutes. Nowhere near the outlandish claims, although Asus does state that 12 hours is 'subject to system configuration'. An 8-cell batter is available, but we couldn't see any retailers selling this by default with the UL50vs.
The Asus UL series apparently stands for unlimited possibilities and it seems there are possibilities to the UL50vs although we doubt they're unlimited. On paper the larger screen and large keyboard with good graphics from Nvidia all appear to have the makings of a decent system. However in reality there are flaws to go with each of those, with the keyboard being off centre and the resolution of the screen not being anywhere near its potential. But we might just be very particular about what we define as a great system, as there are always positives and negatives where nothing is really 100 per cent perfect. The UL50vs is a good 15.6.-inch screen notebook with slight CPU overclocking capabilities, a nice aesthetic finish, and good graphical display capabilities that the majority of people will find acceptable. µ
Large screen, good Nvidia GPU, a bit of CPU overclocking.
Grainy display appearance.
Low resolution screen, keyboard off centre, high price.