- Great screen and graphics
- Good port selection
- Remarkably low $799 pricetag
- Unattractive chassis design
- Ugly keyboard color
- Dismal speakers
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:
- Windows Vista Home Premium (SP1, 64-bit)
- Intel Core 2 Duo P7450 (2.13GHz, 3MB L2 Cache, 1066MHz FSB)
- 14.1” TFT Widescreen display with LED backlighting (1280×800)
- 4GB PC2-6400 DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz System Memory
- Nvidia GeForce 9600M GS 1GB DDR2 Memory
- 320GB 7200RPM SATA Seagate Momentus Hard Drive
- Dual Layer CD/DVD Recordable with LightScribe
- 1.3 megapixel integrated webcam
- Intel WiFi 5100 (a/b/g/n) Wireless
- Weight: 5.7 lbs.
- Dimensions: 14.3 x 10.4 x 1.4”
- Warranty: 1 year limited parts/labor
- 6-cell 11.1v 4800mAh battery
- Retails at Best Buy for $799
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 1280×800 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.
Performance of the X83 is pretty much par for the course. The processor’s fast enough to get things done and handle most tasks without issues, and since it’s a Penryn core and P series it has a lower 25 watt TDP, meaning it consumes less power and throws less heat.
The hard disk is also a big fat 320GB deal with a 7200RPM spindle speed – surprisingly rare at this price point and a welcome find. Performance there is solid if unexceptional; I have a feeling a Western Digital might be a bit snappier, but that’s splitting hairs.
The Nvidia GeForce 9600M GS is basically the same GPU as the desktop GeForce 9500 GT, but it’s crippled with DDR2 instead of faster GDDR3 memory. The 1GB of video memory just feels like a waste; the core itself isn’t powerful enough to use that much memory, and the low speed of the memory itself (being DDR2) pretty much guarantees the 1GB is a waste. It’s a marketing gimmick, and I honestly wish they’d just put 512MB or even 256MB instead given how badly the memory bottlenecks the GPU itself anyhow.
That said, the GPU is extremely overclockable. I got it up to the stock clocks of the 9700M GT, and most games run at native resolution just fine, with the crucial exception having been Far Cry 2. Far Cry 2 is a beast, and I get the sense that the slow DDR2 just hampers it too much. Anti-aliasing is not on the menu for the vast majority of games, though.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
|HP Pavilion dv4t (Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 @ 2.8GHz)||26.972 seconds|
|Toshiba Satellite E105 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 @ 2.26GHz)||33.961 seconds|
|Lenovo ThinkPad SL400 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 @ 2.26GHz)||34.628 seconds|
|ASUS X83Vm-X2 (Intel Core 2 Duo P7450 @ 2.13GHz)||36.500 seconds|
|Lenovo IdeaPad Y450 (Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 @ 2.0GHz)||38.125 seconds|
|Sony VAIO CS (Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 @ 2.0GHz)||38.314 seconds|
3DMark06 measures video and gaming performance (higher scores mean better performance):
|ASUS X83Vm-X2 (2.13GHz Intel P7450, Nvidia GeForce 9600M GS 1GB, overclocked)||5,378 3DMarks|
|ASUS X83Vm-X2 (2.13GHz Intel P7450, Nvidia GeForce 9600M GS 1GB, stock speed)||4,211 3DMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad SL400 (2.26GHz Intel P8400, NVIDIA 9300M GS 256MB)||2,211 3DMarks|
|HP Pavilion dv4t (2.8GHz Intel T9600, NVIDIA 9200M GS 256MB)||1,741 3DMarks|
|Toshiba Satellite E105 (2.26GHz Intel P8400, Intel 4500MHD)||1,030 3DMarks|
|Sony VAIO CS (2.0GHz Intel T6400, Intel X4500)||899 3DMarks|
|Lenovo IdeaPad Y450 (2.0GHz Intel T6400, Intel 4500MHD)||811 3DMarks|
|Toshiba U405 (2.1GHz Intel T8100, Intel X3100)||539 3DMarks|
Battery life is one area where ASUS notebooks have traditionally hopped aboard the S.S. Failboat (unlike their netbooks, which last an unbelievably long time). It’s a common sentiment on the forums here that it wouldn’t be an ASUS notebook without some kind of fatal flaw, but the LED-backlit screen on the X83 seems to at least mitigate things somewhat. I’ve been able to get about three hours of useful battery life out of this unit with the wireless on, a USB Bluetooth adaptor plugged in, and brightness dimmed nearly all the way. Remember, as I said before, even at 0% brightness the screen is still extremely legible.
Heat and Noise
Here’s one place where the X83 really excels. I can’t even quite figure out exactly how it handles heat so well, but sure enough it does. The only hot spot on the unit is where the processor and GPU are, but even at full bore the keyboard and palm rest don’t get very warm. The only place the unit gets outright hot is the surface near the vent on the bottom.
Noise levels are really low, too. When the fan is really kicking it has a VERY low hum, but generally speaking the computer is actually quite silent. Even the hard drive doesn’t thrash that loudly.
The ASUS X83 has a bunch of tiny little issues, but no deal-breakers, and for the money it’s practically a steal. If you’re like me and not at all a fan of the push to 16:9 computer screens (which are being basically forced on us whether we like them or not) then you’ll be happy to know the X83 still has a good old 16:10.
To me, there are just too many perks for the price to make it anything less than totally worth picking up if you need something portable that you can use for gaming.
- GeForce 9600M GS is fast enough to game comfortably
- Minimal heat and noise
- 7200RPM hard disk standard
- LED-backlit screen
- All modern ports, including eSATA
- Remarkably low $799 pricetag
- Chassis design may be a turn off for some
- Keyboard color scheme is dreadful
- Dismal speakers
- Bluetooth light without internal Bluetooth