by Dustin Sklavos
As a company, ASUS has had a strong history of fitting dedicated graphics into its laptops in a fashion other notebook suppliers have been less apt to do. Yours truly owns a 14.1” ASUS laptop with a dedicated Nvidia GeForce 9600M GS, remarkably robust hardware for the size, and a jaunt over to Newegg’s notebook section will reveal a healthy number of other ASUS machines with dedicated graphics that run head and shoulders above their peers.
Over the past couple of years, the push by ASUS into the retail space, particularly at Best Buy, has allowed users looking for some portable gaming to get their fix at some very nice prices. Knowing they’re entering a very competitive market, ASUS has been fighting hard, and the laptop I’m reviewing today is another shot in that salvo.
The G51VX is a refresh of the older G50 line, and in some ways another shot across the bow of Gateway’s 17″ FX series gaming laptops that have been very attractive finds in retail.
This unit can be found on the floor of many Best Buys at a respectable $1,049 (though sometimes available for under a grand, depending on sales), and its looks are just a little understated compared to the bright orange of some of its predecessors.
Of course, you’re not hugely interested in its looks yet. You want to know what it’s packing. If I may…
- Windows Vista Home Premium (SP1, 64-bit)
- Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 (2GHz, 3MB L2 Cache, 1066MHz FSB)
- 15.6″ TFT Widescreen display with LED backlighting (1366×768)
- 4GB PC2-6400 DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz System Memory
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 260M 1GB GDDR3 Memory
- 320GB 7200RPM SATA Seagate Momentus Hard Drive
- Dual Layer CD/DVD Recordable
- 1.3 megapixel integrated webcam
- Intel WiFi 5100 (a/b/g/n) Wireless
- Weight: 7.3 lbs.
- Dimensions: 14.8″ x 10.4″ x 1.6″
- Warranty: 1 year limited parts/labor
- 6-cell 11.1v 4800mAh battery
- Retails at Best Buy for $1,049
Of course, before you get too excited, it bears pointing out that the processor can seem a little anemic compared to the graphics hardware, but that the graphics hardware is actually more anemic than it seems. In a bid to confuse the consumer and push a chip that’s basically entering its second year of life as something brand new, the GeForce GTX 260M is actually just a rebadged desktop GeForce 9800 GT (itself a rebadged GeForce 8800 GT) and not the vastly more powerful GeForce GTX 260M. That said, at the modest resolution the G51VX’s screen runs at, that shouldn’t be an issue.
Build and Design
I found myself pretty pleased with the build quality of the G51VX; strong in all the right places, and featuring the same kind of respectable access that I’ve come to expect from ASUS.
Looking at the bottom, the G51VX definitely has the family resemblance of its predecessors in the G50 line, with a large vent over the primary cooling fan as well as the obscene number of screws required to remove the equally obscene bottom panel.
Of course, when you do pop it open you’re greeted with the usual suspects as well as a particularly nice find: a second drive bay. I’m not entirely sure how easy it would be to securely mount a second drive in there, but at least the G51VX has some room to grow.
Speaking of which, the more daring user will see that just about everything in this laptop is upgradeable, though the processor and graphics can’t be changed without voiding the one-year warranty, and upgrading graphics in a laptop is generally a fool’s errand anyhow.
There’s a fault here that’s worth mentioning, though, and that’s the cooling system. While it seems for the most part sensible at first glance, I want you to pay attention to how the heatpipes are routed to the single cooling fan. The first carries heat from the chipset and the processor itself, and then the second lower one carries heat from the GeForce. If you’ll notice how these heatpipes are ordered in front of the fan, though, you’ll see the problem: the processor has a TDP of 25 watts, so the heated air from it and the chipset is what gets blown over the GeForce’s heatpipe, a chip that dissipates fully three times that much wattage in heat. I’m not 100 percent sure this is the most efficient way to keep the insides of the unit cool, and as you’ll see later on, it raises a couple red flags. At least it vents to the left side instead of the right.
The rest of the build is a bit less exciting. The sides, bottom, and logo glow the same way the G51VX’s predecessors did, and the white lid with the “mechanical” accents is somewhat ostentatious without being too over-the-top. Overall, the build of the machine is pretty solid.
Screen and Speakers
The G51VX sports an LED-backlit screen at a questionably low resolution of just 1366×768. I know 16:9 aspect screens are the in thing on laptops these days, but I just want to be clear on something: customer demand wasn’t exactly driving this change. 16:9 displays are cheaper to produce than 16:10s, but I’ve found them to trim just a little too much off the top. A higher resolution screen might not be so bad, but 768 pixels vertically is just punishingly short for any kind of real productivity.
I will say that the low resolution of the screen does make it a fine pairing with the GeForce GTX 260M inside the unit, assuring it some longevity. The 260M can handle higher resolutions to be sure, but the low resolution of the screen ensures you’ll be able to juice the eye candy as far as it can go for a long time. By all means, crank up the anti-aliasing.
Although it’s easy to get excited about the screen being LED-backlit, it bears mentioning that while the viewing angles are alright and the brightness is solid, color saturation is still pretty poor. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still breakfast. You can have a gun-toting Alaskan run for vice president, but she’s still going to shoot a moose. And you can give a mediocre panel an LED backlight instead of the usual CCFL, and it’s still going to have middling contrast and color. Of course, the price of the notebook is also pretty low, so you’ll want to weigh that as a mitigating factor.
Laptop audio has been, at least in my experience, a joke of the universe usurped only by anyone insane enough to listen to music on their phone. The G51VX doesn’t do a whole lot to remedy this, with average speaker quality and poor speaker placement.
Keyboard and Touchpad
In a move sure to please a lot of users, ASUS has opted to outfit the G51VX’s keyboard with an adjustable backlight that features three levels of illumination in a clean white-on-black coloring. Given the target audience for this notebook is largely gamers, and gamers spend a great deal of time in the dark, frightened by bright lights and ready to scuttle away come sunrise like cockroaches, being able to see the keyboard in the dark is welcome. (Author’s note: Author plays a LOT of computer games.)
Unfortunately, the chiclet-style keyboard that’s becoming so popular these days may not sit well with some users. I also noticed a decent amount of flex with it, but overall I was able to get used to it fairly quickly.
One excellent touch is the rubberized texture on the palm rest which makes using the keyboard a lot less of a hassle. The surface of the touchpad was also easy to use, and the buttons weren’t too clicky but felt just right.