When it comes to slim 13- and 14-inch laptops, there are currently a lot of options worth considering. The Asus UL80JT-A1 is certainly thin and even manages to pack a DVD-burning drive into its compact 14-inch-screened frame. It also manages to fit some dedicated graphics in, too, offering up an automatically switching Nvidia Optimus-powered GeForce 310M GPU.
There are drawbacks, however: at $860, this laptop isn't cheap. And, most unfortunately, the Core i3 CPU that's included is misleading: it's actually a lower-speed Core i3-330UM ultralow-voltage processor that performs more slowly than a normal Core i3. And the Nvidia Optimus graphics technology, which switches on the fly between a dedicated Nvidia GeForce 310M GPU and integrated Intel graphics, is supposed to greatly enhance battery life--and yet, the UL80JT-A1 didn't do significantly better than other standard-voltage Core i3 laptops in our testing.
Sure, for its size this might be an appealing laptop for some. However, the price-to-performance ratio factored in with so-so battery life make this a disappointing package from Asus. (Note: in our back-to-school retail laptop roundup we reviewed the Asus UL80J-BBK5, a nearly identical retail version of this laptop which was slightly less expensive.)
|Price as reviewed||$860|
|Processor||1.2GHz Intel Core i3-330UM ULV|
|Memory||4GB DDR3 RAM, 800MHz|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce 310M + Intel GMA HD|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.0 x 9.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.7/5.5 pounds|
The Asus UL80JT-A1 is part of a family of slim Asus laptops that we've generally liked quite a bit since their inception, going back to the UL30A. Crisp angles and a combination of black plastic and aluminum give this laptop a sharp but smudge-collecting profile.
The thin brushed-aluminum lid has glossy plastic on its interior surrounding the inset screen. The keyboard area is decked with brushed-metal-like smooth black plastic. Two separate chromed plastic buttons on the top left and right of the keyboard create a bit of confusion as to which is the actual power button: the left one boots up Asus' Quick Start OS, the right boots Windows 7.
While the raised keyboard is efficiently laid out and has good key spacing, there's some major flex during typing. It doesn't severely affect typing quality, but the flexy feel is jarring enough to put us off the UL80JT-A1 as a serious typist's machine. It's particularly surprising since we haven't encountered this level of flex on other Asus UL-series laptops before.
The medium-sized multitouch touch pad is a bit small for the available space, but the textured grid makes for better finger traction than on its very similar retail cousin, the UL80J-BBK5. On the other hand, the chrome rocker button bar is a bit narrow, and we prefer discrete buttons.
The 14-inch wide-screen LED-backlit display offers a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, standard for 14-inch laptops. Brightness and sharpness on the display were above average in quality, but we found the viewing angles to suffer when tilting the screen to share a video with others. It's suitable for movies and games, but we didn't find it exceptional.
Stereo Altec Lansing speakers situated below the keyboard on a front angled edge projected sound well and had fair range, although they couldn't hold a candle to the speaker system on the Alienware M11x. They didn't live up to the branding hype. A 0.3-megapixel Webcam does the job for basic chat, but it wasn't exceptional, either.
|Asus UL80JT-A1||Average for category [Midsize]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
Although thin, the UL80JT-A1 manages to fit a good standard collection of ports, including HDMI-out and 3 USB 2.0 ports, along with making room for a DVD drive door. There isn't an ExpressCard slot, however, and the system lacks Bluetooth.
The UL80JT-A1 comes with 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive, both of which are at the upper end of basic mainstream offerings. However, while that used to seem special a few months ago, it's fast becoming standard.
We've seen previous iterations of a very similar Asus laptop design, using last-gen processors and graphics. The Asus UL50VT-RBBBK05 had a Core 2 Duo ULV processor and physically switchable Nvidia graphics, and at the time we lamented that the machine didn't have better performance for its size. Sadly, even though Asus has upgraded to a new Intel Core i3 ULV processor, the UL80JT-A1 isn't significantly different in terms of performance from its Core 2 ULV predecessor--in fact, by our benchmarks, it's slower.
That's because, as we mentioned, the included i3 processor is actually an ultralow-voltage variant that runs at half the speed of standard-voltage Core i3s. But, it's actually a bit worse than that. A "Turbo 33" mode can be toggled via an Asus widget to overclock the performance of the CPU up to 1.86GHz and increase the RAM speed up to 1,066MHz. We did see gains in this mode: 1,406 seconds improved to 1,106 seconds in our multimedia multitasking test (lower time scores indicate better performance). Unfortunately, that only brought the UL80JT-A1 up to speed with the standard performance we saw on the identically specced UL80J-BBK5 (it performed the same multitasking test in 1,122 seconds), which lacked a "Turbo" mode but was equally fast. Even though Turbo feels like a feature, it's really just a way of hobbling the system speed further when unused.
The speed gap shows up clearly on our benchmarks, where the UL80JT-A1 simply doesn't offer as much as any other equivalent Core i3 laptop, as well as lagging behind its Core 2 ULV predecessor. Admittedly, the UL80JT-A1 is still functionally fine for video streaming and handling nearly all everyday tasks we could think of: it just feels more sluggish and can't handle multitasking as adeptly. We particularly feel it's misleading because the sticker on the front of the laptop boasts "Core i3" without specifying that it's in fact a slower-functioning variant.
On the other hand, the included graphics perform well. The included Nvidia GeForce 310M GPU amounts to entry-level graphics, but it at least allowed for some playable gaming. Unreal Tournament 3 ran at 63.9 frames per second at native 1,366x768-pixel resolution with graphics settings set to medium, bumped up to 77.2 frames per second in Turbo mode. The Asus UL80JT-A1 also has Nvidia's Optimus graphics-switching technology, which seamlessly switches between the GeForce 310M GPU and integrated Intel graphics to conserve battery life. That's a great idea in theory, but we still didn't find the Asus UL80JT-A1 to have great battery life