Asus M51 Review

by Jerry Jackson Reads (122,047)

by Jerry Jackson

Asus might have become a household name recently thanks to the Eee PC, but this innovative company still makes a variety of traditional form factor laptops. The Asus M51 series notebooks are 15-inch laptops offered with a range of Intel Core 2 Duo processors, dedicated graphics, and enough extras to keep most students or families happy. We gave the M51 an in-depth review to see what makes this laptop worth a second look.

The Asus M51 (starting at $1,029.99 MSRP) is available with a range of Core 2 Duo processors. There is only one 15.4" screen offering, a 1280×800 WXGA glossy display.

Our review unit of the Asus M51Sn-B1 has the following specifications:

  • Windows Vista Home Premium (32-bit)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo processor T5550 (1.83GHz, 2MB L2 Cache, 667MHz FSB)
  • 15.4" WXGA Glossy Widescreen Display (1280 x 800)
  • 3GB DDR2 System Memory (supports up to 4GB)
  • Nvidia GeForce 9500M GS dedicated graphics (512MB)
  • 250GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive
  • Optical drive: Dual Layer CD/DVD Recordable
  • 1.3 megapixel integrated camera
  • Sound: Two Altec Lansing speakers
  • Modem, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g, Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR
  • 6-cell battery
  • Weight: 6.89 lb. including battery
  • Dimensions: 14.2" x 10.5" x 1.1-1.6"
  • Price as configured: $1,029.99

Build and Design

The Asus M51 is a traditional form factor 15-inch laptop with a glossy display lid and palmrest area. The overall chassis design is a combination of smooth, rounded lines on the top and sharp angles on the bottom. In short, the M51 looks nice, but the design isn’t exactly going to turn any heads.


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The build quality of the M51 is a bit of a mixed bag. The glossy imprinted surfaces look nice but the plastics feel thin and there is considerable flex to the chassis when pressure is applied. I’m sure the M51 will hold up just fine as a desktop replacement if it’s sitting on your desk all day, but if you transport your laptop to and from classes every day you can expect the plastics to show some wear in short order.


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The M51 lid uses a latch to hold it closed, but the hinge mechanism works well and firmly holds the lid in place. There is almost no flex to the screen. Weighing in at more than six and a half pounds with the battery, the M51 does feel a little thicker and heavier than most current generation 15-inch consumer notebooks, but the chassis does pack a few interesting surprises inside.


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Asus is known for included free accesories with most of their laptops. Even the cheap Eee PC comes with a free slipcase. M51 owners can look forward to a free laptop bag and USB optical mouse. While neither of these accessories are overwhelmingly impressive, it’s nice to get a free case and mouse with your purchase.


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Performance and Benchmarks

The M51 has plenty of performance for a full range of multimedia entertainment needs thanks to the range of Core 2 Duo processors that are available. Even the entry-level 1.83GHz T5550 packs more than enough punch for most average consumers who need a general use laptop. The real story here is the new dedicated Nvidia GeForce 9500m GS. People looking for a nice budget gaming laptop will probably be very interested in the M51. As the 3DMark 06 benchmark suggests, the Nvidia 9500M GS offers a considerable performance boost over previous generation Nvidia cards.

Additionally, the 250GB hard drive in the M51 is more storage than most consumers are likely to need in a laptop. Sure, if you download tons of music, movies, and TV shows then you’ll quickly fill the 250GB hard drive in a few months … but that’s what external hard drives are for.

With the basics out of the way, let’s jump into the performance benchmarks.

wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, the advantage of this program is that it is multi-threaded and can use both processor cores at once, thereby giving more accurate benchmarking measurements than Super Pi. (Lower numbers mean better performance.)

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Asus M51S (Core 2 Duo T5550 @ 1.83GHz) 46.293s
Lenovo IdeaPad Y510 (Core 2 Duo T5450 @ 1.66GHz) 50.184s
HP Pavilion dv6700t (Core 2 Duo T5450 @ 1.66GHz) 50.480s
Dell Inspiron 1525 (Core 2 Duo T7250 @ 2.0GHz) 43.569s
Dell XPS M1530 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)
37.485s
Portable One SXS37 (Core 2 Duo T7250 @ 2.0GHz) 41.908s
Sony VAIO NR (Core 2 Duo T5250 @ 1.5GHz) 58.233s
Toshiba Tecra A9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 38.343s
Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.299s
HP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 40.965s
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz) 76.240s
Zepto 6024W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 42.385s
Lenovo T61 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.705s
Alienware M5750 (Core 2 Duo T7600 @ 2.33GHz) 38.327s
Hewlett Packard DV6000z (Turion X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 38.720s
Samsung Q70 (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2.0GHz) 42.218s
Acer Travelmate 8204WLMi (Core Duo T2500 @ 2.0GHz) 42.947s
Samsung X60plus (Core 2 Duo T7200 @ 2.0GHz) 44.922s
Zepto Znote 6224W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2.0GHz) 45.788s
Samsung Q35 (Core 2 Duo T5600 @ 1.83GHz) 46.274s

 

3DMark06 comparison results for graphics performance (higher scores mean better performance):

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Asus M51S (1.83GHz Intel T5550, Nvidia 9500M GS 512MB) 3,749 3DMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y510 (1.66GHz Intel T5450, Intel X3100) 543 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv6700t (1.66GHz Intel T5450, Nvidia 8400M GS 256MB) 1,556 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100) 545 3DMarks
Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100) 504 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB) 4,332 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT) 2,905 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,408 3DMarks
Samsung Q70 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and nVidia 8400M G GPU) 1,069 3DMarks
Asus F3sv-A1 (Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz, Nvidia 8600M GS 256MB) 2,344 3DMarks
Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB 2,183 3DMarks
Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi 1526 (1.66GHz Core Duo, nVidia 7600Go 256 MB) 2,144 3DMarks
Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI X1700 256MB) 1,831 3DMarks
Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB) 1,819 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks

PCMark05 measures overall notebook performance (higher scores mean better performance):

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Asus M51S (1.83GHz Intel T5550, Nvidia 9500M GS 512MB) 4,649 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y510 (1.66GHz Intel T5450, Intel X3100) 3,749 PCMarks
HP Pavilion dv6700t (1.66GHz Intel T5450, Nvidia 8400M GS 256MB) 3,386 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100) 4,149 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB) 5,412 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT) 4,616 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 4,591 PCMarks
Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100) 3,283 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 4,153 PCMarks
Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,987 PCMarks
Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB) 4,189 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks
Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 3,487 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks
Sony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400) 3,646 PCMarks


HDTune results:


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Screen

The 15.4" WXGA glossy screen on the M51 isn’t ideal for HD video, but it does offer sharp contrast, excellent color, and very even backlighting. On the plus side the 15.4" 1280×800 pixel display on the M51 doesn’t suffer from "graininess" and both the straight-on and horizontal viewing angles were good. Likewise both vertical viewing angles were good or average. The screen itself didn’t suffer from ripples or stuck pixels.


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One minor issue I want to mention is that Asus recently began their "HD Vision" promotion on multiple laptops. Even the M51 with its 1280×800 display has a "HD Vision" sticker on the palm rest. While I think it’s great to draw attention to laptop screens that offer full 1080p resolution, this laptop screen does not. Sure, 720p is still technically considered "HD" … but most people think of the 1080p standard when they see something labeled "HD."

Keyboard, Touchpad and Other Input Buttons

The mostly full-sized keyboard on the M51 is reasonably nice with a dedicated number pad for those who like that sort of thing. Key presses are deep with good travel and cushion and the keys aren’t loud when pressed. Still, there is considerable flex across the entire keyboard surface.


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The touchpad is nice and large and features a durable surface that is also covered in the same glossy finish as the rest of the notebook chassis. Unfortuantely, the surface isn’t particularly responsive and my fingertip didn’t exactly glide over the touchpad. The touchpad buttons have shallow feedback and produce loud clicks. All things considered, the touchpad works, but you’re better off using the cheap optical mouse that Aus includes free with purchase of the M51.


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The M51 also features dedicated buttons above the keyboard for media center, power management, touchpad disable/enable, display adjustment, and Internet Explorer. These buttons are nice, but there are no dedicated media buttons on the M51 series notebooks. If you want to control media (such as pause a movie or skip a music track) you have to press the function key and one of the arrow keys at the same time … this isn’t convenient.


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Input and Output Ports

There is a reasonable selection of ports on the M51 with just about every port the average consumer is likely to need (or want) on a 15-inch notebook. The complete list of ports includes:

  • ExpressCard/54 slot (also supports ExpressCard/34)
  • Four USB 2.0
  • IEEE 1394 Firewire
  • TV out (S-video)
  • 8-in-1 digital media card reader
  • Microphone in
  • Headphone out
  • RJ-11 (modem)
  • RJ-45 (LAN/Ethernet)
  • DVI out
  • VGA out
  • Antenna connector

Let’s take a quick tour around the port offerings of the M51:

Front side: Wireless on/off switch, lid latch release, microphone in, headphone out, USB, and 8-in-1 media card reader.


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Back side: Power jack and two USB ports.


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Left side: Security lock slot and optical drive.


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Right side: ExpressCard slot, USB, FireWire, antenna connector, S-Video, DVI, VGA, modem and Ethernet.


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Although I was glad to see at least four USB ports on the M51, I found the placement to be a little odd. One of the ports is located on the front edge which is nice for USB flash drives but not much else. Additionally, two of the ports are located on the back of the notebook which makes them difficult to reach. On the bright side, Asus includes a full-sized DVI port for connecting the M51 to an external display.

Audio

The built-in Altec Lansing stereo speakers located above the keyboard are quite good. The built-in speakers produce a full range of high and middle frequencies, and even do an acceptable job with low bass for a laptop without a subwoofer. Clarity and loudness are also very good. The only negative issue with the built in speakers is that they are located very close to one another and don’t offer very good separation for stereo sound.


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There is, of course, a headphone jack located on the front edge of the notebook for people who like to plug in earbuds or external speakers. This location is great for headphones but isn’t the best for external speakers since you have to stretch the cord around the front of the notebook.

Webcam

I don’t typically make special note of the webcam on most notebooks. The reason for my lack of commentary about webcams is because most webcams are pretty much the same. They’re great for video conferencing and not much else. The reason I’m drawing your attention to the webcam on the M51 is because Asus was nice enough to include a rotating webcam.


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While the webcam itself isn’t anything special, the mount inside the display lid rotates 180 degrees so that the webcam can be pointed in the opposite direction. This is great for students who need to record a professor’s lecture or business professionals who might need to brodcast live video footage while on location.

Heat and Noise

The M51 runs extremely quiet and in general pretty cool to the touch. The fan remained on most of the time when the notebook was plugged in and turned on frequently while the notebook was on battery power. There was a fair amount of warmth coming from the bottom of the notebook near the main heat sink and exhaust. That said, the heat coming from the bottom of the notebook shouldn’t be a problem for most people who want to use the M51 as a "laptop."

Below are images with the temperature readings listed in degrees Fahrenheit:


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Battery

The M51 is available with the standard 6-cell battery which delivers reasonable battery life. With the screen brightness set to about half, wireless on, and the "Power4Gear" power management application set to the "battery saving" setting, the M51 powered down after 2 hours and 24 minutes. Clearly the 6-cell battery will provide enough power short term use, but most consumers will find this battery life to be unacceptable while traveling.

One other item of note regarding the battery is that the 6-cell battery did not fit snug inside the notebook when locked into place. I thought this was worth mentioning since more and more consumer notebooks from other companies seem to have loose batteries. A battery shouldn’t wiggle and rattle around when locked inside a laptop.

Conclusion

The Asus M51 is a nice consumer notebook with good performance, decent port selection, and a solid graphics card option for gaming. Asus has clearly risen to the challenge of creating an attractive general use laptop in an attempt to attract a wide range of consumer laptop shoppers.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that the M51 is lacking something. Build quality could have been better, there are no dedicated media buttons, and the display doesn’t offer a high enough resolution for a 15-inch laptop in 2008.

In the end, if you can live with the lower resolution of the screen and cheap plastics the Asus M51 is an impressive notebook with more than enough power and features for most users.

Pros

  • Nice built-in speakers
  • Convenient power management
  • Solid dedicated graphics performance
  • Excellent webcam design
  • DVI port for external display
  • Good value for light gaming

Cons

  • Poor battery performance
  • Bad touchpad and touchpad buttons
  • Too much keyboard flex
  • A little heavy compared to competition
  • Display not very "HD" despite "HD Vision" sticker
  • No dedicated media buttons




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