The market for competitively priced Windows 8 laptops keeps getting better. Case in point, ASUS' latest laptop, the $699 VivoBook V451L, features a touch-screen display along with a solid array of components, spearheaded by a Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive with a 24GB SSD as a fast-booting sidekick. ASUS also throws in a DVD drive for those who still want to play (or burn) discs on the go.
The V451LA's design is handsome enough but not exactly thrilling. The laptop features a brushed aluminum, gunmetal-gray lid with vertical striations. We felt a lovely tingling sensation while running our fingers horizontally across the surface. A slim ridge protrudes from the top of the lid, creating a small lip, and there's a glossy ASUS logo in the center.
The interior of the notebook consists of a solid slab of silver aluminum. There's no recess in the deck for the keyboard. Instead, the keys float amidst the agate deck. The bottom of the V451L is made of black plastic.
A shiny power button in the top left corner of the deck and the chrome-lined touchpad provide the only notes of flourish in an otherwise plain design. We prefer the aesthetics of the IdeaPad U430 Touch's silvery aluminum chassis, which is both lighter and easier on the eyes.
Measuring 13.7 x 9.5 x 1 inches, the V451LA is on the thicker end of the scale, surpassed only by the rather chunky Dell Inspiron 14R (13.62 x 9.65 x 1.1~1.3 inches). The Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch and the Toshiba Satellite E45T are the slimmer alternatives at 13.1 x 9.1 x 0.82 inches and 13.4 x 9.2 x 0.8 inches, respectively. However, all of the above systems lack the ASUS' optical drive.
The V451LA is also a somewhat heavy 4.8 pounds, outweighing the 4-pound Lenovo and the 4.4-pound Toshiba. The Dell is slightly heavier, at 5 pounds.
The VivoBook V451LA's 14-inch display is a bit of a dim bulb, averaging a meager 148 lux on our light meter. This reading falls woefully short of the 210-lux thin-and-light average. The Satellite E45t didn't fare any better, at 149 lux. The U430 Touch and the Inspiron 14R delivered 163 and 172 lux, respectively.
The V451LA, Inspiron 14 and E45t come equipped with 1366 x 768-resolution screens. The U430 Touch is outfitted with a 1600 x 900 panel.
Even though the V451LA comes equipped with ASUS Splendid Technology, which allows users to adjust the screen's color temperature, we found the display's hue intensity lacking in many cases. For example, a photo of macaws that should have been an explosion of color was instead a weak fizzle. The blues looked old and faded, and the reds were somewhat rusty.
That pattern of drab color continued during the 1080p "Guardians of the Galaxy" trailer, where Gamora's normally emerald-green skin took on an olive tone. Star Lord's coat looked more maroon than red, and Groot's bark-like exterior looked ashen. The panel delivered passable detail, showing off the intricate ridges making up the markings crisscrossing Drax's physique.
The V451LA's display does have a few bright spots. The touch screen was quick to respond and accurate, particularly when we performed pinch-zoom or switched among open apps. The panel also offers wide viewing angles that can comfortably accommodate two people.
The V451LA's speakers, which are embedded with a SonicMaster HD codec and Waves MaxxAudio 3, nest along on the front lip of the laptop. They also get a software-based boost from AudioWizard, which you can access via the ASUS VivoBook Windows 8 tile.
When we listened to "Happy" by Pharrell, the sound was somewhat hollow and barely filled our small test room. The keyboard sounded blown out, while the vocals, particularly the harmonies, sounded distinct. The bass was barely there, leaving anemic snares to make up the bulk of the percussion.
AudioWizard has several presets, including Music, Movie and Gaming. We found that Gaming provided the best overall listening experience, while Movie accentuated vocals and Music sounded generally weaker than the other two. Turning AudioWizard off made anything we listened to sound unpleasant.
On the LAPTOP Audio Test, which measures decibel output at 23 inches from the laptop, the V451LA reached 73 dB, which is well below the 82 dB thin-and-light average. This reading is on a par with the E45t, which also notched 73 dB. However, the Inspiron 14R and U430 Touch hit 81 and 90 dB, respectively.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The V451LA has a full-sized, island-style keyboard with generous spacing among the keys. The keys themselves are large and flat with springy feedback. They were a little shallow, but we achieved a fairly good 58 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test. That's better than our usual 55 wpm rate.
We did encounter an issue with the first unit ASUS sent us. The keyboard deck was bowed towards the center, making some of the keys difficult to strike. ASUS assures us that our second machine, which didn't suffer from this issue, represents what consumers will experience.
We had plenty of room to perform two-finger scroll and pinch-zoom on the notebook's 4 x 2.75-inch touchpad. As is the case with most ASUS notebooks, the VivoBook V451L uses the company's Smart Gesture control panel to configure multitouch movements. In practice, both multitouch and Windows 8 gestures were smooth and precise.
The bottom corners of the touchpad are competent fill-ins for dedicated mouse buttons, and delivered firm feedback when pressed.
During the Laptop Mag Heat Test, in which we stream a video on Hulu for 15 minutes at full screen, the touchpad measured a chilly 82 degrees Fahrenheit. The spot between the G and H keys registered 85 degrees, while the bottom of the laptop hit 89 degrees. Each of those measurements fell well below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
The V451L's HD webcam captures video and stills in 720p using the preinstalled Windows 8.1 camera software. The camera produced an impressive amount of detail, capturing the knit pattern in our gray sweater. However, our test shots also revealed drastically altered color. Our neon-green headphones appeared yellow in the shots.
The V451LA features a tray-loading DVD player, a USB 2.0 port, SD Card reader and a combination headphone/microphone jack on the right. The left side houses HDMI, Ethernet, Kensington lock slot and power jack ports, along with a pair of USB 3.0 ports.
You can rely on the VivoBook's 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-4200U processor with 6GB of RAM when you need to crunch numbers, watch videos or write a report or two. The notebook had no problems streaming a full-screen episode of "House of Cards" on Netflix, with 8 open tabs in Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer, all while running a full-system scan.
The laptop scored 2,782 on PCMark7 test, which predictably blew by the 2,417 scored by the Dell Inspiron 14R's 1.7-GHz Intel Core i3-4010U CPU. However, the ASUS got trounced by the Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch and Toshiba Satellite (both powered by 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-4200U CPUs), which scored 3,785 an 4,316, respectively.
The V451LA's 500GB and 5,400-rpm hard drive was also slow on the draw, taking 33 seconds to load Windows 8. That lags behind the category average and the E45t, with its 750GB 5,400-rpm hard drive and 32GB mSATA SSD (both 23 seconds). Powered by 500GB and 5,400-rpm hard drives, the Inspiron 14R and the U430 Touch booted Windows 8 in an even faster 17 and 16 seconds, respectively.
During the File Transfer test, the V451LA duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 3 minutes and 38 seconds for a transfer rate of 23 MBps. That's slower than the E45t (28MBps), U430 Touch (29MBps) and Inspiron 14R (30 MBps).
On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the VivoBook paired off 20,000 names and addresses in 5 minutes and 18 seconds. That's on a par with the E45t (5:20) but slightly behind the U430 Touch (5:11).
Thanks to the Intel HD Graphics 4400 GPU, users can play all the browser-based "Candy Crush Saga" they can stomach on the ASUS VivoBook V451LA. More graphically taxing fare such as "Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2" is pretty much out of the question.
The laptop scored 31,215 on the 3DMark IceStorm Extreme test, beating the 30,311 average. The Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch and Dell Inspiron 14R, which both have Intel HD Graphics 4400 GPUs, achieved 21,339 and 20,836, respectively. The Toshiba Satellite E45t, with its Mobile Intel HD Graphics GPU, notched 23,907.
When we ran the "World of Warcraft" benchmark, the VivoBook yielded 42 frames per second on autodetect at 1366 x 768. That score is well above our 30 fps playability threshold and the Satellite E45t and Inspiron 14R (36 and 34 fps, respectively). The U430 delivered 35 fps at 768p and 29 fps at 1600 x 900, its native resolution.
At maximum settings, the V451LA's frame rate dropped to 22 fps. The E45t delivered 17 fps, while the Dell fell to 14 fps. The U430 Touch hit 14 fps (768p) and 13 fps (900p), respectively.
The ASUS VivoBook V451LA lasted 6 hours and 54 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery test (continuous Web surfing via Wi-Fi), falling just short of the 6:56 average. While this runtime is decent, all of the VivoBook's closest competitors lasted at least an hour longer. The Toshiba Satellite E45t clocked in at 8:06; the Lenovo IdeaPad U430 lasted 8:26, and the Dell Inspiron 14R was the last laptop standing, at 8:57.
Software and Warranty
ASUS preloaded a modest suite of helpful utilities with the VivoBook V451LA. There's the ASUS Installation Wizard that lets users cherry pick which apps and drivers to install. Splendid Technology allows you to adjust the hue and saturation of the display.
The notebook also offers the VivoBook tile; from this portal, users can open the Control Panel and My Computer. In addition, you can view system information, change brightness and volume, and more, but most of the functions offered by VivoBook can be accessed elsewhere in fewer steps.
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The Power 4 Hybrid utility enables users to create custom power settings, dependent on whether the notebook is plugged in or running off the battery. MyBitcast helps you sync notes with your ASUS WebStorage account. Speaking of cloud storage, heavy multimedia users should appreciate the three years of free 32GB of cloud storage courtesy of ASUS WebStorage.
Third-party apps include Netflix, Fresh Paint, Music Maker Jam, Kindle, Adobe Reader X and a 30-day free trial of Microsoft Office 365.
The ASUS VivoBook V451LA comes with a One-Year Accidental Damage Protection warranty. See how ASUS fared in our Best & Worst Brand Report.
The $699 ASUS VivoBook V451LA is like a Nissan Sentra. It'll get you where you need to go, just without any remarkable amount of speed or fun. The laptop's understated aluminum exterior belies an Intel Core i5 processor that does a serviceable job on most productivity tasks, while the integrated graphics deliver a surprising amount of pep. The notebook also offers solid battery life (though less than its competition) and runs cool.
For the same price, however, you can pick up the Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch, which offers a brighter display with a higher resolution and longer battery life, all in a more eye-catching chassis. Overall, the V45iL is a good middle-of-the-road choice for mainstream users who want to do a little bit of everything -- especially those who want a DVD drive. But it's not our top choice.