When closed, the Asus UL50Vt looks very impressive, with a brushed aluminium lid and a relatively subtle (for Asus) logo embedded in it. It's an illusion that's a little shattered when you open it up and realise that the rest of the bodywork is a cheap glossy plastic. It's one of our pet peeves, but the Asus UL50Vt's use of piano black does mean that it's a model that looks OK on a store shelf, but quickly becomes a smudge magnet in actual use.
The Asus UL50Vt features a full keypad including number pad, which gives it some utility to the business crowd. The compromise here is a common one amongst full sized notebooks, in that the cursor keys are squished in against the number pad, making them much less distinct and easier to mistype in use.
The laptop also sports two power buttons. The right-hand button performs an ordinary boot into the operating system installed, while the left-hand one is used to quick-boot into a simplified Linux OS when the system is powered down, and to switch between the integrated Intel graphics solution and the discrete Nvidia NV G210M 512MB option.
The UL50Vt fits into the same thin and light ultra low power notebook family as products like Acer's Aspire Timeline 4810T. They're not meant to be heavy performance machines rather than long-term workhorses with good battery life. Asus' claims in this department are even more hyperbolic than Acer's, with a claimed "up to" 12 hours battery life from the 5600mAh 84Wh battery. Part of how the UL50Vt tries to achieve this lofty goal is with use of a low power Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 chip. By default that's a 1.3GHz part, but Asus allows for a mild modicum of overclocking through its in-built Power4Gear utility up to 1.7GHz. By default that's the state that the UL50Vt ships in, so if you do need a little extra battery life, stepping it down may be advisable.
Processor aside, the UL50Vt comes with 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, Windows 7 and a switchable graphics solution. You can either pick the low performance Intel GMA4500MHD chip, or the higher performance Nvidia NV G210M 512MB chip at the cost of some battery life.
The UL50Vt's display is a 15.6-inch 1366x769 LCD. That's not that great a resolution for a screen this size, although if you were keen on it from a business perspective it would perform acceptably.
On the networking side, the UL50Vt supports gigabit Ethernet and 802.11n wireless networking, as well as Bluetooth. A super-multi DVD burner sits on the right-hand side along with Ethernet and VGA out, while the left-hand side features a media card reader, HDMI, audio and two USB ports.
The UL50Vt's chiclet style keyboard brings almost automatic comparison to the MacBook Pro, and the UL50Vt's black style almost makes it look like an evil, but considerably cheaper MacBook Pro model. In use though the keyboard's not as good, with a rather flat response and the aforementioned cramped cursor keys making it less compelling. The multi-touch trackpad features a textured finish that some users will love and other find irritating. It certainly makes it easy to identify without having to look down while using the UL50Vt.
We couldn't get the UL50Vt to run PCMark05, but based on our previous experience with Intel's CULV parts, you should expect good but not great performance out of the UL50Vt. Fine for web surfing, email and plain business tasks, but this is in no way a video rendering platform. If you're willing to sacrifice a little bit of battery life, it could, however, be a serviceable gaming machine. With the Nvidia NV G210M 512MB chip activated, we managed a solid 3441 3DMark06 score. Using the integrated Intel solution, we achieved a paltry 805.
Battery life is really where these thin and light machines sell themselves, and we're sure that Asus' 12-hour battery life figure involves disabling integrated graphics, ratcheting the processor down and not actually using the system much at all. It's a suspicion borne out by our standard DVD playback test. With screen brightness set at full and all power-saving features disabled, the battery on our review model lasted four hours and 18 minutes. Certainly, DVD playback this way is pretty brutal and you could get a fair bit more out of the UL50Vt with less power hungry applications. It's still a stark contrast to the 12-hour claim, though.
With a two-year warranty and an asking price of AU$1499, the UL50Vt offers pretty good value as long as your needs are only modest.