Saturday, September 13, 2008

Asus Lamborghini VX3-A1 (yellow)

by Dan Ackerman

Price as Reviewed $3,079.00 - $3,099.99

Specifications: Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo (2.5 GHz); RAM installed: 4 GB DDR2 SDRAM; Weight: 3.7 lbs

The $3,299 Asus Lamborghini VX3 is a lap-based homage to the famous sports car of the same name, complete with a screamingly bright automotive yellow paint job. We've seen car-themed laptops before, from Acer's Ferrari to a Toughbook-like Hummer laptop, and their audience is usually limited to auto enthusiasts who don't mind paying a premium for what is essentially window dressing on a set of fairly standard laptop components.

That being said, if you're a fan of the car company founded by Ferruccio Lamborghini, you'll find a nicely put-together laptop, with excellent build quality and upscale touches such as a leather-clad wrist rest. Under the hood, it lacks that sports car DNA, eliciting middling performance from its standard Intel Penryn CPU. Still, we can't help but like the included sack of Lamborghini-branded accessories, including a leather mousepad and Bluetooth mouse.

The Lamborghini VX3 is similar in shape and size to the Asus U6S, another leather-accented ultraportable from the same company. The back of the lid has a glossy yellow finish with a prominent Lamborghini badge, and the leather wrist rest has a nice-looking stitched border, making for an overall smart, sophisticated look that's fairly light and portable.

The keyboard was a pleasant surprise, with solid, hefty keys that didn't wiggle under the fingers at all, and we're always pleased to see separate Page-Up and Page-Down keys--usually the first thing to get cut on an ultraportable keyboard. Like the similar Asus U6S, there are no quick-launch media-player or volume-control keys, but a button above the keyboard switches between several preset power-consumption modes.

Adding to the automobile effect, when powered on, the laptop briefly flashes the Lamborghini logo and plays a sound effect of a car engine revving--even if the speakers are muted in Vista.

The 12.1-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is standard for most 12- to 15-inch displays. The screen's high-gloss finish can cause some glare if it catches the light of a desk lamp or overhead light at the wrong angle.

We were pleased to see an HDMI output and four USB ports in this ultraportable system, along with Bluetooth and an ExpressCard slot--although for $3,000, we'd hardly expect anything less.

The Lamborghini VX3 is a fixed-configuration system, but we were generally pleased with the roomy 320GB hard drive, 3GB of RAM, and modest Nvidia GeForce 9300M GPU. Our review unit was from Europe, and it included a Sierra Wireless HSDPA mobile broadband antenna, but we don't expect mobile broadband to be offered in the U.S. version.

Even though it's named after a high-end performance car, there's not too much action going on under the hood of the Lamborghini VX3. Its 2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 is perfectly fine for everyday computing, but the system was slower than other high-end laptops with inferior CPUs, such as the MacBook Air and the Acer Ferrari 1100, in most of our benchmark tests. We expected better performance, but Asus runs a lot of proprietary applications in the background, and that can slow down a system.

Just like a luxury sports car that doesn't get too many miles to the gallon, the VX3 is also a bit of a gas guzzler when it comes to battery life. The default 3-cell battery gave us only 67 minutes of battery life on our DVD playback test--well short of what we'd expect from an ultraportable laptop. However, in anecdotal use, we got closer to 2 hours when surfing the Web and working on office documents. Still, the poor battery life was a major disappointment for a laptop you'll want to take down to the local coffee shop to show off.

Asus includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system, but finding support on the Web site is not as easy as it is with a mainstream retailer such as Dell or Gateway, thanks to a confusing site layout. Still, there is an online knowledge base and driver downloads, and several minutes of digging through links will eventually yield a toll-free telephone number of U.S. support.