ASUS U6V Review

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$1649

Pros: Fashionable design; Respectable graphics performance; Huge hard drive; Fast boot time; Excellent warranty package

Cons: Below-average battery life; Low volume; Lacks mobile broadband option

Verdict: This leather-clad ultraportable packs solid performance, security, and multimedia muscle for a reasonable price.

Let's face facts. Not everyone can pull off carrying a leather notebook. But if you want to stand out in the crowd without sacrificing performance, the Centrino 2-powered ASUS U6V is certainly a temptation. This 3.8-pound ultraportable offers very good productivity punch for people on the move, along with above-average graphics performance, and it boots in less than 50 seconds. The $1,649 price is also quite reasonable given that ASUS includes a whopping 320GB hard drive and a generous two-year warranty. However, you'll need to spend more for the nine-cell battery option if you want to do a lot of work away from an outlet.

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Design

It would be ignoring the obvious to start anywhere else than the U6V's excellent design. Measuring 11.7 x 8.6 x 1.2 inches and weighing 3.8 pounds, the U6V has a hair more girth than the 11.1-inchU2E, which measures 10.9 x 7.6 x 1.0 inches and wieghs 3.4 pounds (with a nine-cell battery). With the larger body, however, comes a bigger 12.1-inch display, which will satisfy those who prefer more on-screen real estate in their ultraportables.

The outside of the machine features a rich, mocha brown Shimmering Fiber paint job, and sturdy hinges that are neither too stiff nor too loose. Upon lifting the lid, your eye is immediately drawn to the palmrest, which is overlaid with premium brown leather. Not only does it have classy appeal, but it feels good to the touch.

Keyboard and Dedicated Controls

The spacious flex-free keyboard has very nice tactile feedback; touch typists should be right at home on this machine. A decent-size touchpad and two small (but responsive) mouse buttons let us navigate the desktop with ease. Nestled between the mouse buttons is a biometric fingerprint reader for keeping sensitive data away from prying eyes.

Above the keyboard are a number of status indicator icons and three buttons: Lifeframe 3 (a multimedia application that lets you shoot photos or video with the murky 0.3-megapixel webcam and add effects), Power4Gear (which let us cycle through various power profiles), and the power button. The perimeter of the machine is packed with ports: three USB 2.0, HDMI, VGA, eSATA, Ethernet, headphone, and microphone, and an 8-in-1 memory card reader and ExpressCard slot.

Display and Audio

A crisp, bright, 12.1-inch (1280 x 800) glossy display looked great when we popped in our Hulk DVD. Colors popped and the blacks were very rich. On-screen images looked good from all but the most extreme angles, so watching a movie with a friend is quite doable. Audio wasn't nearly as impressive; even when we turned the volume up full blast, the sound was clear but low.

CPU, GPU, and HDD Performance

Packing a 2.2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 processor and 4GB of RAM, the ASUS U6V produced a very nice PCMark Vantage score of 3,285, which is more than 500 points higher than the category average (but more than 300 points lower than the 2.4-GHzLenovo ThinkPad X200). Windows Vista Business booted up in a very swift 46 seconds, which is far below the 68-second startup average. The 320GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive offered plenty of space, and performed adequately on the LAPTOP Transfer Test, copying 4.97GB of multimedia files at a decent 18.7 MBps, more than 5 MBps faster than other notebooks in this class. Unlike the U2E, ASUS offers no solid state drive option.

Despite being tagged as a business machine, the U6V has some graphics power. Its Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS card (with 256MB of video memory) scored 5,308 and 1,851 on 3DMark03 and 3DMark06, respectively, which makes the system suitable for light gaming. The graphics card is superior to the Lenovo ThinkPad X200's integrated Intel GMA X4500 HD chipset, which produced rather pedestrian scores of 2,475 and 929. The GPU averaged 54 frames per second while running F.E.A.R. in autodetect mode (800 x 600-pixel resolution), but it chugged along at just 17 frames per second when we bumped the resolution up to 1024 x 768. Still, the U6V had enough graphics muscle to handle World of Warcraft; it ran at a smooth 59.6 fps at 1024 x 768-pixel resolution.

Facial Recognition Software

In addition to a fingerprint reader, the ASUS U6V features the company's SmartLogon facial recognition technology, which uses images snapped with the webcam to build and maintain a database of approved users for the system. On our testing, SmartLogon was easy to set up and use. We simply launched the SmartLogon Manager, selected the user account that we wanted to add a photo (which is backed up by a password), and snap a photo for the database. Whenever we logged into Windows, the SmartLogon utility quickly recognized our faces and let us into the system.

Wi-Fi and Battery Life

The 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi radio moved data along at a brisk pace. We saw speeds of 19.9 Mbps when the machine was positioned 15 feet away from our access point, which dipped slightly to 18.5 Mbps when moved to 50 feet out. Those scores outpaced the 16.7-Mbps and 13.5-Mbps averages seen in the typical ultraportable, and we had no playback issues when watching The Taking of the Pelham 1, 2, 3 on Hulu, or streaming tunes from Slacker. Too bad you can't order the U6V with integrated mobile broadband to avoid hotspot hunting.

On our LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the system's six-cell battery lasted a meager 3 hours and 11 minutes on a charge--well below the average for ultraportables. Fortunately ASUS also tosses in an extra three-cell battery that is rated to provide an extra 1 hour and 33 minutes of juice, and a nine-cell battery is available for $118. When we enabled Battery mode (which lowers the power settings to achieve longer endurance), using the aforementioned Power4Gear software, the ASUS U6V lasted 3 hours and 18 minutes on a charge--an increase of only 7 minutes.

Software and Warranty

ASUS includes a slew of its own homegrown applications, including ASUS Splendid Video Enhancement Technology, ASUS Copy Protect (used to prevent someone copying data to a removable storage drive), ASUS DVD, as well as a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office. Unfortunately, the system lacks some of the higher-end security features found in the Lenovo ThinkPad X200, such as vPro, though it does contain TPM circuitry. The system is covered with a robust warranty: two-year global, one-year accidental damage, 30-day Zero Bright Dot (which protects against dead pixels), and 24/7 toll-free tech support.

ASUS U6V Verdict

Priced at $1,649, the ASUS U6V is a dependable and stylish ultraportable that has enough oomph to keep things running smoothly, whether you're blowing through spreadsheets or engaged in light gaming. Although we would've liked more business-minded security features and a 3G connection, the U6V is a compelling option for the business traveler who wants a fashionable, well-rounded machine. Just be sure to charge that second three-cell battery or splurge for the optional nine-cell battery if you want to do work from coast to coast.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 2.2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400
Operating System MS Windows Vista Business
RAM 4GB
RAM Upgradable to 4GB
Hard Drive Size 320GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 12.1
Native Resolution 1280x800
Optical Drive DVDRW
Optical Drive Speed 8X
Graphics Card Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS
Video Memory 256MB
Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.0
Ports (excluding USB) eSATA
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
USB Ports 3
Card Slots ExpressCard
Card Slots 8-1 card reader
Warranty/Support Two-year global, one-year accidental damage, 30-day Zero Bright Dot/24/7 toll-free phone
Size 11.7 x 8.6 x 1.2 inches
Weight 3.8 pounds
Company Website http://usa.asus.com