Asus Makes A Good Laptop
Asus wants to sell more notebooks, and we think their product line is definitely able to compete with better know names. Here are our four favourites, each representing a different laptop category. One reason Asus buyers tend to become fans are the goodies they include with their hardware products. They don’t skimp on their notebooks either.
Everything we are looking at today (except the G50, which only has the latter 3) comes with a carry bag, optical mouse, and dust cloth, as well as ABGN WLAN, Bluetooth, and built in webcam. While webcams are pretty common, Asus includes a SmartLogon feature for facial recognition enhanced security. They also include Norton Internet Security 2008, Nero Essentials, and Vista Home Premium, or, for the U6, Vista Business. All Asus notebooks (except from some retailers and for barebones notebooks) carry a 2 year parts and labour warranty and a one year accidental damage warranty that covers drops, spills, and fire. You even get 30 days to swap it with Asus if you discover any bright dots (pixels that stay lit all the time) on the screen.
A Lot of Laptop for a Thousand Dollars
The Asus N50Vn-A1B, at $949.99 barely squeezes into this category, but it is absolutely loaded at that price. A 2 Ghz Core 2 Duo processor, 4 GB of Ram, and dedicated 9650M GT graphics, with a whole gig of memory just for the graphics, are a lot to jam into a 1000 dollar notebook.
And you get more than parts that perform well. The N50 line includes features like a fingerprint reader and Asus ExpressGate. ExpressGate is a tiny Linux implementation with a few critical apps (IM tools, web browser, so on) that live in solid state storage on the motherboard. It can boot up in as little as 8 seconds. This allows you to rent a car online with the laptop balanced in one hand riding an airport conveyor belt, while your colleague is still waiting for Windows to finish loading. He’s also used up way more battery power firing up his whole laptop; your drives didn’t even turn on.
The N50 also has a great complement of ports on it. You’ve got all the basics: express card, 8-1 card reader, audio in/out, VGA, 3 USB ports, and an Ethernet port. But DVI is replaced with HDMI, the audio out is S/PDIF, there’s an IEEE 1394 and even an eSATA port. That eSATA point might be a big plus, since this machine is stuck with a 250GB hard drive.
Other than the smallish hard drive, another problem is the bloatware. Unfortunately, to keep the price down, manufactures accept money from software publishers to put trial versions of all kinds of software on their products. The problem is: the trial versions are so limited in functionality, and aggressive in pushing you to upgrade, that it amounts to having a system full of adware. Plan on spending an hour getting this stuff of your new system.
That, and the less than big hard drive, can be overlooked given everything else this system includes for under a grand. And while this price point doesn’t get you leather or brushed aluminum, the N50s are sharp enough lookers. The vertical grain in the plastic is reminiscent of brushed metal, but without looking like it is a cheap attempt at faking it.
If you would rather save on weight and size, this 14.1 inch N80 is a pound lighter. It drops the eSATA port, but you get an extra 2 USB ports and a CIR for a remote control.
Working on the Road
While we spent more on a smaller laptop for our best business notebook from Asus selection, we’re still getting a lot for our $1605.99. The Asus U6V A1 is indeed saucy (pun intented) in performance and appearance. The 4 GB of RAM and 2.26Ghz CPU are nice, and the 9400M graphics are an outright rarity for ultraportables. The speed this little fella’ can keep up is really impressive.
You get the almost the same port setup as the N50, but the U6 drops IEEE 1934 for a fourth USB port. That might be inconvenient if you already have FireWire drives, but if you are buying a new drive, eSATA is a much better bet anyhow. The U6 also upgrades your included mouse to Bluetooth.
And you get some features that make this look like a more expensive notebook. The leather palm rest is usually seen only on very pricey kit. The Mocha brown with sparkle and blue flecks may not be for everyone, but it certainly stands out from everything else around the meeting table.
If you like the U6 except for its looks, check out the Bamboo U6V in this article.
Gaming on a Laptop Is Never Perfect
But it can be pretty good. People shopping for a gaming laptop usually fall into one of two groups. They either love gaming on their desktop so much that they don’t want to go without when they can’t be at home, or they need a laptop for portability but want to be able to game on it, since they can’t budget for a desktop as well. Since both of these groups are looking not to spend through the nose, we found a good gaming notebook from Asus for 1300 bucks: the G50VT-X6.
Like our other choices, the money goes a long way. We get a quick 2.53 Ghz CPU, 4GB of RAM, and dedicated 9800M GS graphics with 512MB of memory. That gets your 15.4” screen a WSXGA+ resolution of 1680×1050. The hard drive is a somewhat modest 320GB, but it spins at the 7.2k RPM usually seen on desktop drives. This is really a nice stack of hardware for the price.
The G50’s black and orange colour scheme may be out of place in the boardroom or even the coffee shop, but it does strike an obvious gaming chord. It’s hard not to feel at least a little excited by the mesh grill on the lid. It would look at home on the front end of an Aston Martin.
The G50 has the same port setup as the U6, but is obviously larger. Actually, at over 6lbs, it’s a even a little hefty by 15.4” standards, and a tight fit in a laptop bag meant for a normal 15.4 incher. Another weakness is that the G50’s speakers don’t do a good job, as though someone felt they could skimp here since many gamers will opt for headsets anyways. Battery life is poor, but there is only so much you can hope for given the graphics, CPU, and 7.2k drive. You can track down a 9-cell battery that will do some good, but that will run you another $150.
The battery life, size, speakers are easy to overlook when you remember how much hardware you are getting for $1300. Get a decent headset and the bigger battery and off you go for about $1500. If you need Blu-ray, you can go with the $1550 version of the G50VT, which also gets you a more efficient and slightly faster T9400 CPU.
If you are going to get a notebook with a 17 inch screen: face it, you have already given up a lot of portability. You might as well get something that fills that size with some nice kit and can run some demanding software. The G70Sg-A3, at $2400, isn’t cheap, but replacing a desktop with something portable (somewhat) is no small feat. The main problem for some might not be the price or size, but the aggressive appearance.
The G- prefix denotes a gaming product, and while not as wild as the G50, the G70 does have some pretty blatant gamer lighting cues. Turn that off in the BIOS, and the brushed aluminum looks all-business, though the business might involve assassination. You’ll probably want to leave the included backpack at home as well – if you are on your way to the board meeting.
However, it’s what’s inside that counts, and the G70 delivers, which is why we made it our choice for Desktop Replacement despite the gaming pedigree. The T9500 CPU is one of the best out there. You start with 4GB of RAM, but you can toss those and drop in 4 GB modules if you want, for a workstationlike 8GB of RAM. The graphics here are really something else; the 9800M GTS with 1GB of RAM is pretty sharp even by gaming desktop standards. On a laptop, it’s an absolute beast, and will keep most of the newest games running smoothly at the 17.1 inch screen’s whopping 1920 x 1200 resolution. You get not one, but two 320GB, 7200 RPM drives, and Blu-Ray.
The ports are the same as the G50’s. It’s big and pricey, but has the performance to make most desktops run for their money. If you really don’t plan on going anywhere with your theoretically portable computer, and want a big screen to watch movies, Asus has a W90 line with 18.4” screens and 5.1 Dolby Audio. At over 11 lbs, one wonders whether they can be considered notebooks or portable home theatres.