by Dustin Sklavos
If you're in the market for a 14-inch laptop with enough processor power to handle just about anything then there are dozens of options to choose from. Unfortunately, if you want a 14-inch laptop with powerful graphics your options are few and far between. That's where ASUS comes to the rescue with their budget-friendly X83Vm-X2 notebook.
ASUS has habitually bundled decent dedicated graphics in their laptops for as long as I can remember, and their push into the retail space (specifically Best Buy) has forced their prices down and made them a very hungry, very aggressive competitor.
Essentially a retail version of the older Asus N80 line, the X83Vm-X2 ditches the more robust ASUS warranty, Bluetooth, and Nvidia GeForce 9650M GT in favor of a slightly tackier/more interesting (your mileage may vary) chassis design and a ridiculously low price: $799 for the specs listed below is the kind of deal you'd expect to be screamed at you in an infomercial.
ASUS X83Vm-X2 Specifications:
I'll be honest. Losing the Bluetooth didn't hurt that much (a USB adaptor can be had for $15 or less if you know where to shop), and the GeForce 9650M GT ... is still basically here. The 9600M GS easily overclocks to 9650M GT speeds, and actually even faster as I'll get to later.
Build and Design
The X83's build is for the most part quite stable and well-thought out. It's actually one of the more solid ASUS units I've held, and the hinge problem I've seen consistently with older ASUS machines is for the most part ancient history. I still would like them to be a bit firmer, though; I shouldn't be able to pick up the unit and shake the lid all the way open.
The battery also locks securely into the bottom compartment of the notebook, but the real breadwinner as far as this thing's construction is concerned has to be the two HUGE panels on the bottom of the notebook along with all the easily identifiable retaining screws. Put simply, this thing is an absolute delight for freaks like me who love tweaking their hardware.
“But, Dustin,” I hear you say, “won't that void the warranty?” Well, that's a good question, Billy. And the answer is: it depends on what you tweak. The only screw inside that has a warranty void sticker on it – that I can see at least – is the heatsink on the processor. The video card appears to be user-replaceable (careful ...), and of course you can change out the memory and hard disk. The wireless card can also be removed, and it's pretty clear this thing is designed to accommodate a specific Bluetooth module and no one here seems to know the model number.
The video card's upgradeability does seem suspect, though, as it doesn't look like the MXM-II cards on eBay. Also keep in mind that the 9600M GS in here is pretty much the best you're going to find anyhow (at least, overclocked). So do not DO NOT buy this notebook expecting to upgrade the video card later.
There are some issues I need to address about the overall build, though. The speakers are down under the bottom lip of the notebook and very easily muffled. The primary heat exhaust is also at the top of the right side, perilously close to where my mousing hand is. And personally I just don't like having a single small slot-based battery as opposed to one that slides into the back, as it precludes getting an extended life battery for the notebook. Lastly, the optical drive has that same irritating issue a lot of notebook drives do, where when you pick up the unit, if you grip under it you feel like you're squishing it into the system – it just feels loose.
Screen and Speakers
The X83 sports a mind-bogglingly, retina-searingly bright LED-backlit screen. In terms of sheer brightness, I run it plugged in at maybe 50% brightness; on the battery I take it all the way down, though occasionally kick it up a whole step. This screen at 0% brightness is in the neighborhood of 50% brightness on other laptops I've seen.
Unfortunately, in keeping with the low price of the unit, contrast and viewing angles are a big bottle of "meh." It almost feels as though the panel itself isn't quite good enough to take advantage of the LED backlighting, as it tends to just wash out.
Some users will probably gripe at the 1280x800 screen resolution, but between the price of the unit and the horsepower of the GPU, I'd have a hard time asking for a higher resolution.
The speakers are pretty poor, and I've resigned myself to this fact. Even by laptop standards these aren't very good, and that's due in large part to their placement under the front lip of the laptop. On any surface except a solid flat one these get horribly muffled.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Keyboard flex is minimal, but it's somewhat pronounced on the left side. It's not too noticeable and isn't bothersome enough to detract from regular use, and keep in mind that when typing I beat my keyboards like they owe me money. The color scheme for the keyboard, however, is decidedly not good. With the dark brown keys, light brown lettering, and especially the dark red lettering on the function keys ... you might as well be using Das Keyboard (a keyboard without letters) in low light.
The nice thing about the keyboard, though, is that the keys don't quite have the irritatingly glossy finish that Toshiba seems to be hellbent on ruining its notebooks with; that same irritatingly glossy finish is used on the lesser retail model of this unit, too.
As for the touchpad, I've learned to pretty much just tap on it instead of using the mouse buttons whenever possible. The buttons are remarkably stiff and click fairly loudly.
Ports and Features
This is one of the things I absolutely love ASUS for: The X83 is a downright cornucopia of features.
The front of the unit features the speakers and a now ancient infrared port. I don't even know what to use these for anymore, but to hell with it, it's got one.
The left side of the unit features the DVD burner with LightScribe and a 4-in-1 memory card reader above it. To the right is the ExpressCard54 slot and just below that, a USB 2.0 port, a 4-pin FireWire, microphone jack, and headphone jack.
The right side of the unit features two USB 2.0 ports and a remarkably small cooling vent.
And the rear of the X83 finishes off the boatload of features. The modem port is blocked off – no loss there – but there's an ethernet port, an eSATA port, an HDMI port, a VGA port, and two more USB 2.0 ports, bringing the grand total up to five USB ports.
None too shabby.
What bothers me is that the unit still has the indicator light for Bluetooth even though no internal Bluetooth is present. This is common to the line, but it's still lame to have a light for something you don't even have.
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