Editors' note: This review is part of our Holiday 2008 Retail Laptop Roundup, covering specific new configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
With its brown lid with a woven gold graphics pattern, the Asus X83VM-X1 might be mistaken for some sort of Gucci-branded laptop. (Hey, it makes about as much sense as Asus partnering with Lamborghini on previous laptop efforts.) And, indeed, this retail laptop offers a luxurious feature set, highlighted by an Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 processor and an Nvidia GeForce 9600 GS graphics card. It's built on the same chassis as another Asus laptop you'll find in Best Buy this month, the similarly named X83VB-X1 (that's VM vs. VB, in case you missed it). The X83VM-X1 costs $200 more but adds a faster processor on the Centrino 2 platform, a better graphics card, a larger hard drive, and a better keyboard. Unfortunately, the mouse buttons are the same stiff, loud buttons as on the other model, and the lack of multimedia shortcut keys and Bluetooth is lame on a laptop north of a $1,000. But like the lower-end model reviewed previously, the Asus X83VM-X1 scores points in delivering outstanding performance for the price.
|Processor||2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400|
|Memory||4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz|
|Hard drive||320GB, 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Intel GM45 Express|
|Graphics||1GB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GS|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium 64-bit|
|Dimensions (width x height)||13.4 x 10 inches|
|Thickness||1.3 to 1.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.7 / 6.6 pounds|
Whether you like the brown and light gold design is a matter of taste, but this reviewer does not find it offensive. The lid is a glossy brown, with thin gold lines woven throughout, and a red Asus logo in its middle. The keyboard deck is a light gold--Asus calls it khaki--which fades at the back edge of the keyboard to brown. The touch pad features the same Gucci-like brown-and-gold design as found on the lid. On the whole, it's a more subtle look than the piano black and dark gold color scheme of the lower-end Asus X83VB-X1. The laptop uses a plastic chassis, but it feels very solidly built. The middle of the lid flexes somewhat, but the wrist rest feels rock solid. It has a nice feel, with gently sloping, rounded edges and glossy, smooth finish.
The keyboard isn't my favorite--it's no ThinkPad keyboard or my recent favorite found on the Sony Vaio NR403--but thankfully it does away with the glossy finish on the X83VB's keyboard, which I found not to have the best feel. The keys on the X83VM feel heavier and more substantial, too; they're less clacky, on the whole. And where the symbols on X83VB's keys are dark gold and had to see in low light, the X83VM's keys have much easier to read khaki-colored symbols.
Above the keyboard is a row of five buttons. We'd rather these control the volume and offer media transport functions--play/pause, RW, FF--but instead they let you choose among various power management, screen, and wireless settings. Maddeningly, there is a button to turn Bluetooth on or off, but this laptop does not feature Bluetooth.
The touch pad is roomy--much larger than the touch pad on the 14-inch HP Pavilion dv4-1125nr--and features vertical and horizontal scrolling regions. The mouse buttons are large but much too stiff. I found that it required a bit too much force and effort to depress each--you'll find yourself making very determined mouse clicks. The Asus X83VB-X1 has room for a larger touch pad than the Pavilion dv4-1125nr for the simple fact that it's larger, despite both models having 14.1-inch screens. The Asus is a hair wider and a half inch longer from front to back, while also being 4 ounces heavier.
The display is attached by two wide, sturdy hinges that keep the display from wobbling. The display itself features a standard native resolution of 1,280x800. The screen features LED backlighting, which results in a very bright image. The screen's glossy finish finds a good balance, helping make colors look vibrant but with only a small degree of distracting glare and reflections.
For a pair of small, integrated stereo speakers, the X83VB-X1's speakers provide surprisingly passable audio. It helps that they're located on the front edge of the laptop, where they can better project out than if they had been located along the back edge.
Three vents are located on the bottom of the laptop along with a large vent on the right edge. The vents keep the laptop cool and running quietly. Even when the GPU's cooling fan engages to push air out the right side, it does so with barely an audible hum.
|Asus X83VM-X1||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI, Webcam||VGA-out, S-Video, Webcam|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||5 USB 2.0, FireWire, eSATA, multiformat card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Modem, 10/100 Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The Asus X83VB-X1 boasts a healthy collection of ports, including some along the back edge. The laptop's five USB 2.0 ports are spread out among three sides of the laptop: one on the left, two on the right, and two in back. Also in back are HDMI, eSATA, and Ethernet connections. The battery is located under the front right corner of the laptop instead of its usual spot along a laptop's back edge. The media card reader turns up in an unusual spot, too: on the back of the left edge, right above the DVD burner.
The Asus X83VM-X1 features a 2.26GHz Core 2 Duo P8400 processor, 4GB of 1066MHz DDR2 RAM, and a 320GB hard drive. It runs 64-bit Vista, which is able to make use of all of the memory (32-bit Vista cannot address more than 3GB). It's a fairly typical feature set for a laptop at this price, but the Asus X83VM-X1 also includes a 1GB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GS graphics card.
Like the Asus X83VB-X1, the VM model excelled in the labs among laptops in its price range. On CNET Labs' application benchmarks, the Asus X83VM-X1 bested models from HP and Toshiba that cost $50 and a Sony that costs $250 more (though a chunk of Sony Vaio FW270's cost goes toward a Blu-ray drive and a large 16-inch display). Of the laptops at Best Buy that cost just over $1,000, the Asus X83VM-X1 delivers the best application performance. And when you look at its scores next to those from the $849 Asus X83VB-X1, you will see that the X83VM-X1 enjoyed a 13 percent advantage on our multitasking test, a 19 percent edge on our Photoshop CS3 test, and a 24 percent edge on our iTunes test. We suspect a big part of the performance discrepancy between these two Asus laptops is that the higher-end X83VM is operating on the Centrino 2 platform, with a faster processor running on a faster 1066MHz frontside bus. The lower-end X83VB laptop is based on Intel's previous Centrino platform, with a Core 2 Duo T5800 chip and an 800MHz frontside bus.
The X83VM also delivers better 3D performance than the cheaper X83VB model. Running Unreal Tournament 3 at its native resolution of 1,280x800 (with AA and AF turned off), the Asus X83VM-X1 and its 1GB GeForce 9600M GS graphics card produced a very playable 42 frames per second to a choppy 17 fps from the X83VB and its 512MB GeForce 9300M GS card. 3DMark06 is not part of our standard suite of system benchmarks, but we ran it on these two laptops to get a sense of the difference in 3D graphics capacity. The Asus X83VM scored a 4,189, more than double the X83VB's score of 1,837.