ASUS just keeps cranking out portable computers left, right and centre. The brand new N80V reviewed here looks like the N20A; however, this 14.1-inch laptop has a tantalising feature set for the cash (around £650), including an Intel Core 2 Duo T5800 (2.0GHz) processor, up to 4GB of 667MHz DDR2 memory, 320GB 5400rpm SATA hard disk drive (no SSD option), an LED backlit screen, nVidia GeForce 9300M GS graphics chipset, HDMI out and optional Blu-ray. This one’s sure to capture your attention.
Designed specifically for business executives and professionals in mind, the N80Vc’s main attraction is its glossy 14.1-inch WXGA (1280×800) LED display powered by a discrete nVidia GeForce 9 series graphics card with 512MB of VRAM. This is complemented by Dolby Surround decoding to deliver above-par sound quality. Just as important, the screen is great for kicking back and watching a HD movie after a hard day in the office. Having said that, I know there are plenty of users out there who hate the highly reflective surface of glossy screens. If you’ve never used one, perhaps you should visit your nearest PC World store and see what all the fuss is about.
Boasting a streamlined exterior with lovely metal-like inlaid patterns inspired by modernist art-deco, the N80Vc is not your typical ‘business’ laptop. Stylish but sophisticated, the machine is good looking but not overly so as to put off your clients. Those with confidential data on their machine will appreciate the built-in fingerprint reader and the ability to log-on to Windows Vista Home Premium through facial recognition. After spending a little time configuring the SmartLogon Manager software (entering a password and grabbing a mugshot using the 1.3-Megapixel Web camera in the system’s lid), the machine then detects your face automatically when booting and logs on without any intervention. Watching the machine locate and assess your face is guaranteed to impress! This system is also designed to learn the variations of your facial features and is even capable of performing detection in different lighting conditions.
Security junkies will further appreciate the N80Vc’s AuthenTec fingerprint sensor with TruePrint technology, which enables the sensor to reliably read your fingerprint almost every time. TruePrint technology uses small RF signals to detect the unique fingerprint patterns beneath the skin’s surface where the true fingerprint resides. For the most accurate reading, the AuthenTec fingerprint sensor scans fingerprint patterns from the live layer of the skin, bypassing many common skin surface conditions. Should you not want to use the face or fingerprint recognition, you can boot Windows with or without a password.
In addition to Windows Vista operating system, Express Gate enables ultra-fast boot up for access to a host of most commonly used features, including a proprietary Web browser, instant messenger, Skype, photo manager, music player and online gaming. Instead of waiting for the machine to fully load Windows in order to use one of these functions, you simply hit the quick launch button above the keyboard and in less than five seconds you are presented with a Linux-based environment. Express Gate, which is powered by Splashtop technology, is preinstalled on the hard drive and is a software-only solution that requires no additional hardware. A small component of Express Gate is embedded in the BIOS of the PC – that’s the part that runs as soon as you press the power button. Express Gate has similar networking capabilities to what you find in other operating systems. It can connect to networks over Wi-Fi, LAN, xDSL, and cable. WEP, WPA, and WPA2 wireless security standards are supported.
As I’ve already mentioned, the N80Vc is a very nice looking machine. ASUS has even made the effort to match the trackpad’s colour for a slick integrated look. The chrome mouse buttons look sweet too, but I would have liked this theme to have continued to the five shortcut and dedicated power buttons underneath the screen. Sadly, the system’s build quality is not as impressive – the hinge holding the display is flimsy and there is way too much flex in the keyboard. The mouse buttons are also very loud when clicked – a pet hate of mine.
Connectivity options are well-rounded and practical. These comprise five USB 2.0 ports, IEEE 1394, memory card slot (MMC/SD/MS) eSATA, HDMI, analogue VGA, Gigabit Ethernet and ExpressCard/54 (54mm wide, in an L-shape), as well as headphone and microphone jacks. Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi are also standard features. Spend a little extra and you can get a Blu-ray drive instead of the standard DVD+R DL burner. Audio is very good thanks to the built-in Altec Lansing speakers, although positioning them on the underside of the chassis at the front of the machine is impractical.
ASUS’s N80Vc is a long way from being either the best desktop replacement machine or corporate road warrior – for starters, its graphics and processor chipsets are entry-level and there are few system management tools – but it is very good value if you are looking for a good all-rounder that’s HD ready. It looks distinctive, is reasonably powerful, and has plenty of connectivity options. The 14.1-inch screen’s resolution of 1280×800 pixels is usable, but it is not the brightest or sharpest I have seen. Besides the awfully bouncy keyboard and noisy mouse buttons, the machine is comfortable to work on for long periods. And considering it’s almost as secure as Fort Knox, you can’t really go far wrong.