- Review Price: £1749.97
Around a year and a half ago we looked at the Asus Lambourghini VX2 and we were pretty enamoured with it. For a start, it gave us some actual justification for the usual TR habit of populating our reviews with more car analogies than a Bugatti Veyron has horsepower. Moreover, while the styling didn’t really pay homage to the Lambo’s namesake, it was still distinctive enough to persuade us it would appeal to supercar aficionados.
As any supercar owner knows, there’s always the risk of a new, more powerful, spec coming out and supercar name-sharing notebooks are no different. In this case more horsepower is equated with a faster processor, more RAM and a bigger hard drive. Better yet, while the VX3 is eminently going to be faster than its predecessor, it manages to do so while not also carrying an inflated price.
Of course a direct comparison isn’t really fair because the VX3 is also a much smaller Lamborghini than the VX2 was. While the older model sported a 15.4in screen, this system has a smaller 12.1in panel. That’s not a bad thing, though. As the success of the Sony Vaio TZ and, more recently the Eee PC, has proved, small, light, sleek notebooks (and netbooks) are the new black – so to speak.
Also importantly, while it’s still the case that Acer and its Ferrari line of laptops did the whole “performance-car, performance laptop” name-share thing first, that company hasn’t really stayed true to its routes. The Acer Ferrari line isn’t anything special these days. The systems look okay, and the performance is acceptable but there’s no longer the same air of about them. Asus, thankfully, hasn’t fallen into the same trap.
Despite its relatively small size, the VX3 is still a very shouty notebook. The lid is the same glossy, piano lacquer yellow as the VX2 and features the same black “grille” near the display’s hinge. Likewise the Asus logo usually predominant on the company’s laptops is relegated to the lower left corner to make way for an “Automobili Lamborghini” badge, rampant bull and all. Understated, it is not and that’s exactly what we’d expect to see – so it’s nice to see Asus hasn’t been tempted to dull down the aesthetics to appeal to a wider audience. Of course the U2E is there for those customers now.
Opening the lid up and it’s a similar situation. The touchpad isn’t shaped to match the screen, like just about any other notebook, but in this case, it’s trapezium shaped. It’s not going to help with usability, but it does look rather cool. Even the keyboard isn’t content to look normal and instead has keys made from a sparkly and slightly glossy black plastic. Again, just because it looks good.
Below the keyboard and surrounding the touchpad is a leather wrist-rest trimmed with yellow thread. It’s a small, nearly-unnoticeable touch but, when you do spot it, it’s the kind of attention to aesthetic detail that really shows just how much Asus has thought about the aesthetics of the VX3. Sadly the leather is spoiled by the addition of various “Windows Vista”, “Graphics by nVidia” and “Intel Inside” stickers, which when removed leave a slight sticky residue. They’re a small blemish on an otherwise flawlessly good-looking chassis, though.
The Lamborghini VX3’s 12.1in LED-backlit screen features a glossy coating, which makes colours suitably vivid and blacks deep. Unfortunately it also has the downside of increasing the display’s susceptibility to glare. The probable buyers of the VX3 aren’t likely to be using it in an office environment, so perhaps this won’t be e problem, but it’s worth noting that Sony has perfected this type of screen, with the latest TZ range sporting arguably the finest notebook screens out there. The resolution is a slightly disappointing 1,280 x 800 which is made all the more so when you remember the smaller U2E has a 1,366 x 768 panel. However, it does help keep costs down and many users will prefer the larger pixels, which do make text and icons easier to read.
Viewing angles are, frankly, pretty poor. For a single user that isn’t a problem and at least there’s no chance of anyone reading over your shoulder. As already mentioned, Sony has been providing far superior LED-backlit screen for a while now, so it would be nice if Asus could catch up sometime soon. Luckily the webcam embedded above the screen has been angled so that when you do have the panel angled to its optimum position said camera is pointing at your face. Good news for potential VX3 buyers into their web-conferencing.
Asus includes a software suite, triggered by an Fn hotkey, which switches between different screen modes, changing the gamma levels, colour profiles and so forth. Given that all but the Normal mode look awful, though, I’d recommend leaving that feature well alone. It’s a perfect example of value-add software that doesn’t really add anything.
Overall though, when angled correctly the screen is absolutely fine. A quick play of the latest office-favourite trailer, Tropic Thunder, saw lush green jungle foliage, vivid reds and yellows from the numerous explosions and blood spatters and good black levels. For occasional film watching and office work – what we consider the VX3’s likely principal diet – it’s more than adequate.
Looking below the screen, the lower half of the chassis houses a button at each side (by the display’s hinges), a tiny hole labelled as the built-in microphone , and a set of blue LED indicators in the centre – power, battery, WiFi on/off, hard drive activity and numlock. The rightmost button controls power while the left button controls Asus’ Power4Gear software, switching between power states. These include, Performance, Battery, Quiet Office and Entertainment. Asus isn’t the only manufacturer to offer this functionality, but we certainly appreciate the addition and having a dedicated button at least adds some symmetry if nothing else – and I’m a sucker for a pretty fascia.
Speaking of buttons, it seems prudent to discuss the keyboard, which for a small system is perfectly acceptable. All the important keys are a decent size, the left Control is in the correct place, to the left of the Fn key and while there are a few half-sized keys, notably the apostrophe and right shift, they aren’t a hindrance as they still rest in a good position to get up a decent touch-typing pace.
The keys’ feedback is good too, with a decent amount of travel, no sponginess and while there is some aural feedback it isn’t clackity. As well as looking very elegant, the leather wrist-wrest is also very comfortable to use and is large enough that unless you have god-like hands you’ll be able to find a typing position to suit you.
As with previous models of the VX-series Asus again bundles a wireless, Bluetooth mouse decked out in Lamborghini livery with the VX3. A quick look on the base reveals that this is in fact made by Logitech and thus should be pretty good. Unsurprisingly it is, if maybe a little small for some tastes. Coupled with the (also bundled) leather-clad mousepad it makes the prospect of using the VX3 at a desk for longer periods of time that much less daunting a proposition. Of course, we’d almost always recommend using a ‘real’ mouse over a touchpad – the fact that this one matches the chassis is just a bonus.
The Asus Lamborghini VX3 continues to impresses with its connectivity. Starting at the back we find the battery slot flanked by a VGA output on the right and a Gigabit Ethernet and modem port to the left. Running down the left hand side we see the power connector, the VX3’s one and only air vent, an impressive three USB ports, an HDMI output, an ExpressCard slot and, finally, a hardware WiFi switch.
On the right a fourth and final USB port is housed, alongside a microphone input and an S/PDIF out. Further along this edge is the VX3’s DVD-RW drive just above which sits card reader slot. This will read SD, miniSD (with an adapter), MMC, MS, MS-Pro, MS-Duo and MS-Pro Duo (again, via an adapter). In other words, save for CompactFlash and xD, if your camera uses it, your memory card can be read by the VX3.
Speaking of formats, the DVD drive is, unlike the VX2, not a Litescribe model, but otherwise it is still fully able to take near enough every DVD disc, be it single- or dual-layer, under the sun, up to and including DVD-RAM.
Internally Draft-N wireless and Bluetooth are also featured. It’s worth noting that the hardware switch kills both of these, so if you wish to use a Bluetooth device but disable WiFi you’ll want to use the wireless Fn hotkey instead. The real piece de la resistance of the VX3 when it comes to connections, though, is the built-in HSDPA module. Removing the battery reveals a SIM card slot, which will accept a SIM from any network. Connecting is then just a matter of launching the pre-installed 3G Watcher software and typing in the right connection details.
Reception was surprisingly good. Even in the TR office, which is notoriously bad for celular coverage (or is that just because Riyad and I have iPhones?) I managed to get a perfectly acceptable 1,314Kb/s down and 328Kb/s up using an Orange SIM. Obviously depending on where and with which network the VX3 is used signal strength is going to vary, but unless you’re living in a lead-lined fallout shelter, you’ll probably be fine.
The speakers on the VX3 are one area where I can’t be so complimentary. In fact, speakers, plural, is an overstatement because the VX3 features but a single tiny speaker at its front. In kindness I suppose it does look slightly like an air intake grille, which fits with the overall theme of the system, but by no means does the VX3 sound like a Lamborghini. The one exception to that rule being when you first power the system on, whereupon a ‘revving’ sound is blasted out for all nearby to hear – which gets old pretty quickly. You can disable this in the BIOS, but that’s not exactly a novice option. It’s worth turning this off as soon as possible though, unless you really want to look like a plonker in public.
No matter how good it looks, a supercar (and by extension a supercar-styled notebook) is nothing without a decent engine under the bonnet so it’s lucky for Asus that it has supplied the Lamborghini VX3 with just that. Unlike the Vaio TZ and Asus’ own U2 which feature ultra-low-voltage Intel chips, the VX3 packs a fully-fledged Intel Core 2 Duo T9300. A 45nm dual-core, Penryn CPU running at 2.5GHz on an 800MHz front-side bus, complete with 6MB L2 cache and a 35W TDP. As we all know by now, being Penryn-based means that while the VX3 should have oodles of
horse processing power, it shouldn’t draw obscene amounts of battery charge in the process – although inevitably power draw is going to be fairly high with such a CPU.
Complementing the punchy processor is 4GB of 667MHz DDR2 RAM. Sadly although Vista Ultimate Edition is provided on the laptop, it is of the 32-bit flavour so you’ll only actually be getting closer to 3.25GB of usable memory. Not that that makes the Lamborghini slow by any means. Far from it, in fact!
Unlike the U2E which boasts a 64GB SSD, the VX3 packs in a 320GB conventional hard drive. Given the cost and the high-end pretentions we’d have preferred to see solid state drive in the Lambo (just like we’d prefer carbon-ceramic brakes on our sports cars) but the larger capacity is arguably more favourable for everyday use (again, just like carbon brakes which revel on the track, but take an age to warm up on the road – it’s amazing how far these motoring analogies stretch).
In contrast to the otherwise high-end specs Asus has opted to go with a low-end graphics chipset – the nVidia GeForce 9300M G. With 16 stream processors, a 400MHz core clock, an 800MHz shader clock and 256MB of GDDR RAM on a 64-bit interface running at 600MHz. Gaming is not the forté of such a GPU, but nonetheless Trackmania (our preferred notebook gaming benchmark) delivered an average of 44fps at the medium detail preset. Spore’s Creature Creator ran with no noticeable slowdown at fairly good detail settings which leads me to conclude that the full game will play just fine, too – brilliant!
This impression translates into the benchmark results which are suitably impressive. Given the processor in the VX3 is a smidgeon over twice the clock speed of the Vaio TZ and the Lenovo X300 it’s hardly surprising that it’s about twice as fast in our in-house benchmarks. Although the X300’s brilliantly fast SSD appears to help with VirtualDub. By using a fully fledged mobile CPU as opposed to a low-voltage chip, Asus has ensured that it has the fastest small notebook going. In doing so battery life takes a noticeable hit but since when was fuel economy a concern to a supercar owner? (since super-unleaded topped £1.30 per litre – ed.)
Asus supplies two batteries. A small, but more aesthetically pleasing three-cell flush-fitting option or a larger nine-cell. Our tests were run with the larger of the two and, as you can see, Asus has successfully countered the disadvantage of its higher power-draw processor by supplying a larger battery with the VX3. The Lenovo X300 and Vaio TZ do offer their operating periods without unsightly oversized batteries, but given the near-2Kg weight of the VX3, it’s not exactly the weapon of choice for road warriors anyway.
The VX3, like a ‘real’ Lamborghini, isn’t cheap at £1,800-odd. If you step down in size (and up in screen resolution) slightly the U2E and VAIO TZ rear their heads, and come some £400 cheaper, while offering considerably better portability at the expensie of raw performance. Asus also has a similar system in the form of the U6S, at a much lower price, although that model omits a DVD drive. If you’re looking for a high-performance system that’s going to attract attention you really can’t do better than the Lamborghini VX3, but you’re paying a premium for the priviledge of owning one.
Love it or hate it, the Asus Lamborghini VX3 undeniably has style by the boatload. Add the impressive specification and performance besting it’s similarly priced rivals and you’ll have to agree there’s a lot to like. If the Sony Vaio TZ is a Lotus Elise – small, light, good looking, decent performance – then the VX3 really is a Lamborghini Gallardo – powerful, expensive and, of course, great to look at.
Yes the VX3 is pricey, even overpriced, but what does that matter? It’s a Lambourghini for goodness sake! There’s nothing out there you can buy that’s quite the same. (But I’ll still have a Porsche 911 GT3 RS instead thanks – ed.)
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