ASUS PL80J notebook

ASUS PL80J review: A slim, light and well featured ASUS laptop that's perfect for users on the go

ASUS PL80J
  • ASUS PL80J
  • ASUS PL80J
  • ASUS PL80J
  • Expert Rating

    3.75 / 5

Pros

  • Light, stylish design, fingerprint reader, Turbo33 feature works well, excellent touchpad

Cons

  • Optimus technology doesn't provide enough of a performance boost, finish gets easily tarnished by fingerprints

Bottom Line

The ASUS PL80J is suitable for anyone who wants a slim and relatively light mid-sized laptop. It's comfortable to use and it has good battery life and performance. We're not sold on its implementation of NVIDIA's Optimus technology though: we think there isn't enough of a performance difference between the integrated Intel adapter and the NVIDIA adapter, but it still offers a decent boost for popular games such World of Warcraft and StarCraft 2.

Would you buy this?

With plenty of style, a thin frame and a built-in DVD burner, the 14in ASUS PL80J is a good purchase for anyone who wants a notebook that's easy to carry but doesn't sacrifice features. Add good battery life and performance into the mix and you've got yourself a laptop that can be used for almost any task at home, in the office or on the road.

ASUS PL80J: Design and ease of use

The PL80J weighs just under 2.2kg and is 33mm thick at its thickest point. It feels reasonably light but solidly constructed. Even though it doesn't have a heavy base, you can open the lid with one hand without the base lifting up off the table. It's a comfortable notebook to type on: its keys feel solid, there aren't any in awkward positions (although the right Shift key is small) and the notebook has an ample palm rest. We particularly love the touchpad, which feels very smooth and is super-responsive — it quickly recognises two-finger gestures for scrolling and zooming, too.

Nestled in between the left and right buttons of the touchpad is a fingerprint reader that you can use to log in to the notebook as well as access Web site accounts with a swipe of a finger, rather than always having to enter a password. To take advantage of this, you have to set up the preinstalled DigitalPersona software. The webcam built in to the screen can also be used in conjunction with SmartLogon Manager to allow you to log in via face recognition.

We like the 1366x768-resolution screen, which has a matte finish and enough brightness to be used outdoors; you won't want to use it in the sun though, as the screen will be hard to view and the black base will absorb a lot of heat. But it's definitely a laptop you can use outdoors and while on the go: it's light and it has good battery life. The 84 Watt-hour battery lasted 3hr 5min in our battery rundown test, during which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video file.

ASUS PL80J: NVIDIA Optimus technology

The PL80J uses NVIDIA Optimus technology, which automatically switches between the laptop's integrated Intel HD graphics and the discrete 1GB NVIDIA GeForce 310M graphics adapter. The Intel adapter is activated when the laptop is used to run applications that don't require 3D processing; the extra grunt of the NVIDIA adapter is there for applications that do require more GPU power.

However, the difference between the Intel and NVIDIA adapters when it comes to processing 3D graphics is not huge. In 3DMark06, the Intel adapter recorded a score of 1087, while the NVIDIA adapter recorded a score of 3230. You'll only get a smidgin more performance out of it when running games. You can use the PL80J to run games such as World of Warcaft and StartCraft2, but it will struggle with 3D-heavy shoot 'em ups.

ASUS PL80J: Specifications and performance

The light weight and fingerprint reader seem like business-focussed features, but the notebook also has a turbo function (this is in addition to the Turbo Boost feature that is built in to the CPU). This feature gives mixed signals as to the target market of the notebook, although there is a lot of crossover between home and business notebooks these days. We're sure that many business users, in addition to home users, will get a kick out of being able to extend the notebook's battery life slightly by switching off the turbo, and switching it on when they need a little more power. It actually did give a decent performance boost during our tests.

The standard configuration of the ASUS PL80J is a 1.06GHz Intel Core i5-520UM CPU, which has two cores and Hyper-Threading; you also get 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM and a 500GB, 5400rpm hard drive. In the Blender 3D rendering and iTunes MP3 encoding tests, the PL80J recorded times of 1min 27sec and 1min 24sec respectively. In our DVD encoding test, in which we use AutoGordianKnot to encode a DVD file to a 1.5GB Xvid file, the laptop took 1hr 36min. These times are slow even when compared to typical Core i3 notebooks such as the 13.3in Samsung Q330-JS03AU, but that's because the Core i5-520UM is an ultra-low-voltage CPU with a much lower frequency than a regular processor.

The Turbo33 feature gives the notebook a decent performance boost of over 10 per cent in some instances. In Blender 3D, for example, without Turbo33 enabled, the laptop took 1min 42sec to complete our test, which is 15sec slower than with Turbo33 enabled. This extra CPU speed will definitely come in handy for encoding and compression tasks.

Conclusion

All up, the PL80J is a light, nice-looking notebook with good build quality and plenty of features. Security features, such as the fingerprint reader, make it a decent choice for business users in addition to home users. We're not fans of the Optimus technology in this notebook though: we don't think the NVIDIA graphics adapter provides enough of a performance boost compared to the integrated Intel graphics.

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