The 15.6-inch Asus UL50Vt is a paradox, wrapped in an enigma, obfuscated by a cloud of contradictions. It's not designed for gaming, yet has two graphics cards. It has a low-power CPU designed to promote long battery life, yet it can be overclocked like a high-end desktop-replacement laptop. It's also large, yet not at all heavy. It's baffling, alright, so just who is this £700 mystery machine aimed at?
So hot right now
The UL50Vt is relatively large, yet, miraculously, its 386 by 26 by 259mm chassis weighs a mere 2.1kg, putting it on a par with much smaller laptops. It's beautiful to look at, too. Its glossy palm rest is exceptionally difficult to keep clean, but the black lid with its brushed-metal effect will give your fellow commuters cause to plot a jealousy-fuelled mugging. Unfortunately, Asus' global two-year collect and return warranty doesn't cover train robberies.
Cooler than most
The aforementioned palm rest is worthy of note not simply for its uncanny ability to get filthy, but also for its amazing knack of remaining cool even when the CPU is working overtime. The laptop's cleverly placed internal ventilation fans channel air away from the palm rest, meaning this area remains several degrees below body temperature, even after hours of use. We're pretty embarrassed to even bring this up -- lets face it, it's pretty sad -- but it works really well and means your hands remain comfortable even after long computing sessions.
If the ice-cold palm rest doesn't rock your world, the UL50Vt's twin graphics cards almost certainly will. The UL50Vt comes with an Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics processor that's designed to prolong battery life, but, at the touch of a button, and, crucially, without the need to reboot, you can switch to an Nvidia GeForce G210M GPU. The latter munches through battery reserves more quickly than its Intel cousin, but provides a great deal more power and comes in handy when you need to run high-definition video or 3D games.
Grand central processing
The UL50Vt's CPU gets some dual-mode loving, too. By day, it's a humble 1.3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300, designed primarily for light tasks and long battery life. By night -- or whenever you enable Asus' Turbo 33 overclocking software -- it becomes something of a beast, boosting performance by as much as 33 per cent. This feature plays pretty well with the laptop's 4GB of DDR3 memory and whatever apps you've decided to install on the 500GB hard drive.
The UL50Vt may appear pretty humble on the surface, but it's a machine you can easily live with from day to day. We found its chiclet-style, isolated keys very comfortable to use even when typing at high speed, and spreadsheet fans will appreciate the dedicated numerical keypad nestling to the far right of the chassis. The textured trackpad is also likeable, and it supports multi-touch gesture inputs, although only for vertical scrolling.
Sadly, the UL50Vt disappoints slightly with its 15.6-inch screen. It's certainly large enough, but its 1,366x768-pixel resolution is rather low for a display of this size. Most users won't be affected by this on a daily basis, but some extra desktop real estate would have been welcome -- especially if you're the type of user that likes to have loads of icons and application windows littered over your desktop.
The UL50Vt won't win any awards for its performance, but that doesn't mean it didn't impress us. It refused to run our PCMark05 benchmark test, but felt smooth and responsive during everyday activities. Its graphics abilities were commendable, too. Its integrated Intel graphics chip drove it to a paltry score of 872 in 3DMark06, but, when we activated the Nvidia GeForce G210M chip, it achieved a thoroughly respectable 3,627. With Asus' Turbo 33 feature enabled, this figure rose to 3,752, which indicates the machine will cope happily with 3D games, provided you don't ramp up the detail settings.
Battery life was awesome. With the Nvidia graphics card enabled, the UL50Vt lasted an impressive 4 hours in the CPU-intensive Battery Eater Classic test. With the standard Intel graphics chip running the show, the UL50Vt lasted a whopping 5 hours and 26 minutes, putting it in line with the best netbooks. You can expect this figure to rise to well over 8 hours with less intensive use.
The Asus UL50Vt is a fabulous laptop. It's gorgeous to look at, and, despite its mediocre specification, it's also fairly fast. Laptops like the MSI CX600 will give you more grunt for less money, but, if saving cash isn't a concern, the UL50Vt should definitely get your vote.
Edited by Charles Kloet