- Responsible looking design
- Great build quality
- Good gaming performance
- Limited WXGA resolution
- No Blu-ray decoding software
The N61VN is a new 16-inch gaming and multimedia notebook from ASUS designed to compete against systems like the HP Pavilion dv6t and Dell Studio XPS 16. It includes a built-in Blu-ray player and NVIDIA GeForce GT 240M graphics meaning it can handle the latest HD movies and newest games. Just how well does the N61VN stack up against the competition? Read our full review to find out.
ASUS N61VN-A2 Specifications:
- Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
- Intel Core 2 Quad Q9000 (2.0GHz, 1066MHz FSB, 6MB Cache)
- 16″ WXGA HD LCD display at 1366×768
- NVIDIA GeForce GT 240M 1GB GDDR3 memory
- Atheros AR9285 BGN Wireless, Bluetooth
- 4GB PC3-8500 DDR3 SDRAM (2GB x 2)
- 320GB Seagate 7200.4 Hard Drive
- Blu-ray/DVD SuperMulti
- 1.3MP Webcam, Included Slipcase
- 90W (19V x 4.74A) 100-240V AC Adapter
- 6-cell 48Wh 10.8v 4400mAh Lithium Ion battery
- Dimensions (WxDxH): 15.4 x 10.6 x 1.5
- Weight: 6lbs 6.6oz
- 2-Year Global Warranty/1-Year Accidental damage
- List Price: $1,299
Build and Design
The ASUS N61VN has a rather inconspicuous outside appearance that doesn’t really hint at the multimedia and gaming beast housed within. I actually prefer this semi-professional look since it gives the impression you could be typing an essay or surfing the web instead of actually killing zombies or battling other online gamers. The contrasting textures inside and outside the N61VN are great in both form and function. The outside shell is finished with a glossy paint and a very subtle zen garden style design. The interior switches to an almost rubbery finish similar to the outside paint on a Lenovo ThinkPad. To your wrists it feels soft and it still retains traction even if your hands aren’t dry. The finish also resists fingerprints and most smudges which helps to keep it looking clean longer than a glossy finish. The only time you really start to notice marks on the rubbery paint is when oil from your hands start to build up in spots you frequently touch. This cleans off well with a microfiber cloth.
Build quality is excellent with a solid chassis, durable paint, and strong screen hinges. The glossy and rubbery paint resists most wear and tear very well. It was no problem keeping the notebook looking brand new after wiping down the glossy front and palmrest every few days. The notebook body is constructed in such a way to prevent most flexing and creaking sounds when carried. On a flat desk surface the palmrest has basically no flex at all and the keyboard only shows minimal movement from the tray itself under strong pressure. The thick screen bezel protects the display from front or rear impacts and doesn’t show any screen distortions from strong pressure on the back side. Even the screen hinges feel strong, requiring two hands to open the display. When close they have enough tension to keep the screen snug against the body without falling forward if you have the notebook standing up vertically.
Users looking to upgrade components will find it no problem with the complete access ASUS provides. The hard drive, system memory, wireless card, processor, and heatsink are all replaceable with the two access panels removed. Usually most systems only give a glimpse of the processor or heatsink through the main access panel, requiring you to fully disassemble the notebook to reach those parts. To save space ASUS used an integrated graphics card soldered to the motherboard instead of the MXM-standard which is sometimes user upgradeable. The only component with a “warranty void if removed” sticker is the processor which is normal for the majority of notebooks. Another item worth noting is the unused mini-PCIe slot has no header soldered to the motherboard. This means users thinking about adding a WWAN card or other device won’t be able to.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The ASUS N61VN offers an island style keyboard with four-row numberpad. The wide 16” chassis gives plenty of room for non-condensed keys while still maintaining a good border around the perimeter of the keyboard. The keyboard is very comfortable to type on and once you get used to the Chiclet-style keys it is very responsive. You can notice some minor flex under strong pressure but it was only the tray moving, not the underlying structure. Individual key action is smooth with a quiet “clack” emitted when fully pressed. Multimedia keys are limited to mute, volume up and down, and play/pause. Another thing missing from this notebook is a backlit keyboard which seems to be standard on most ASUS models in this pricerange.
ELAN touchpads have come a long way since I first started to see them introduced in popular notebooks. The first generations had trouble with lag and finger tracking, but now they are on par with the latest Synaptics touchpads. The ASUS N61VN includes a multitouch enabled ELAN touchpad that is very intuitive in use. It supports two-finger scrolling, zooming, rotating, as well as three-finger magnifying, swiping, and window selection. The ELAN utility also supports multi-finger clicking to emulate a middle-button click and pop-up menu by default. These can be changed to other options including (but not limited to) start menu access and return to desktop. Lag is minimal at worst and only noticed under very fast repetitive motions. Touchpad sensitivity is excellent but it can’t be adjusted through the software interface. Below the touchpad is a single rocker-style button for left and right click. It has shallow feedback and gives off a solid “click” when pressed.
Screen and Speakers
ASUS includes a WXGA resolution screen with this configuration of the N61VN. This is very disappointing given the built-in Blu-ray player and gaming nature of this notebook. At a minimum for the 16” screen size they should have offered a 1600×900 panel… especially with its $1,299 price tag. The display rates average in terms of color saturation and contrast. Viewing brightness was adequate in our bright office but with an all-glass style screen cover outdoor viewing would be difficult. In the office I found the comfortable viewing brightness level to be 90-100% and 60-70% in my home. Viewing angles were average for a screen of this resolution but weaker when compared to notebooks of this price range. Vertical viewing angles showed some color distortion in as little as 10 degrees forward or back. Horizontal viewing angles were better as colors stayed accurate even at steep angles.
The onboard speakers were average compared to other 16” notebooks, with good high notes but weak midrange and low-frequency response. Peak volume levels were fine for watching a movie or listening to music in a small room. For watching movies the volume was set to 100%, as any lower would be hard to understand if there was too much background noise. Headphones or listening through a stereo connected over HDMI would really be the best option for this notebook.
Ports and Features
Port selection on the ASUS N61VN was great with three USB-ports, one eSATA/USB combo port, LAN, VGA and HDMI-out, and two audio jacks. Additional features include an ExpressCard/34 slot, a SDHC-card reader, and a quick access wireless on/off switch.
While the system includes a Blu-ray drive it doesn’t include anything to decode Blu-ray movies. ASUS includes a crippled version of PowerDVD 9 that prompts you to upgrade to a better version to play Blu-ray movies when a disc is inserted. The Acer 8940G was another notebook that didn’t include Blu-ray software even though it included the drive. These days it seems like manufacturers are trying to find new and inventive ways to save money, even if it passes unexpected costs onto the consumer.