This is a written review on this versatile entertainment laptop. This laptop features NVidia's Optimus Technology, a battery saving feature. See what the fuss is about in the notebook community. Equipped with a Core i5 430m processor, Automatic GPU switches between the NVidia Geforce GT 325 GPU and the battery-friendly Intel HD graphics solution, a crisp 16" widescreen display, 4GB DDR3 ram, and a spacious 500GB hard drive, this is one of the best entertainment laptop for $899.
On the initial setup, the laptop played a pretty cool Asus video that showed many "on" buttons forming various images. It made the purchase seem even more personal. Nice touch Asus. Here's a link "ASUS Laptop Startup Video (2009 ASUS)(HD)" on Youtube. Watch in HD fullscreen to get the same feel. Yes simple things amaze me x_o.
My first impression of this laptop is its big size. I'm used to running a netbook, in terms of mobile pc. Examining the layout closely, the screen isn't the perpetrator here- the speaker adds roughly 2 inches to the width. Although this is easily forgiven once I heard the sound quality, which is similar to an HDTV's. This may make the laptop slightly bigger than regular 16in notebooks, but for an "entertainment"-advertised laptop, it was necessary.
I'm happy it has an eSATA port because this allowed me to couple my internal hard drives with a hard drive docking station (Thermaltake BlacX). Really helpful for storage and backups. The USB3.0 is a great addition as well. Makes it a bit more future-proof. As for the touchpad, my netbook had the same exact touchpad and I always turned it off because I was not a fan of it. Nothing beats a mouse!
Battery life depends on 4 settings through a power-managing software called Power4Gear. At "High Performance" setting, no power saving option is on and the battery life drains within 2 hours. The more balanced "Entertainment" setting, lasts 3 hours. With the power option set to "Quiet Office", the battery life lasts 4 hours. Lastly, the"Battery Saving" mode increases the battery life even longer. What it does is it disables your wallpaper, gadgets, autohides the taskbar, lowers brightness to 20% and sets every setting to maximum power savings. Of course the realtime battery life will be ultimately affected by what task you are doing.
In terms of performance, this thing packs a wallop! It will not beat a same-priced desktop, but what's important is portability. It's a great purchase for the performance. Although keep reading to learn about the current GPU driver as a caveat emptor. Another warning: I believe this was first advertised as having bluetooth. I can confirm that it does not. While this is not a deal breaker, I feel it should have been included being an entertainment laptop. Some of the pre-installed softwares are helpful, like the Power4Gear battery managing software and the Splendid Utility which enhances the screen's color/contrast/brightness settings with preset modes. The Cyberlink TrueTheater HD software is amazing. I popped in my "LotR: Fellowship of the Ring" DVD and with the smoothest playback settings (60FPS) and sharpest modes, it seemed like a whole new movie. I do not own a bluray player so I'm not used to this type of quality, but yes, it is better than any YouTube 1080p HD trailers or any HD channels I've seen.
Graphic Card Tests (Gaming):
All games were tested on the Geforce GT325m (Optimus driver version 189.07), running at 1366x768 native resolution, full screen, and with FRAPS frame counter benchmark. I wanted to keep it at native resolution to show the highest resolution capability of this GPU. Lowering resolution and some graphical settings will unquestionably increase the frame rates, but playing graphically-lush games is always a delight.
Batman Arkham Asylum: (Fight sequence VS 5 inmates at start of game)
Settings: VSync Off, Hardware PhysX Off, Detail level: Very High, 2xAnti-aliasing
Min FPS: 25, Avg FPS: 33 Max FPS : 50
Verdict: Smooth gameplay, lag-free.
Call of Duty 4 - Modern Warfare 2 : (Single Player: Heavy gun fight on "Act II: Hornet's Nest" level)
Settings: VSync On, All Graphic Settings On, All Textures set to Extra, 4xAnti-aliasing
Min FPS 30, Avg FPS 35, Max FPS 60 (Remember VSync caps this at screen's refresh rate, which is 60 in this case)
Verdict: Very playable considering it's at max in-game settings. Will experience some tiny lag spikes, which I also experienced on my desktop PC which has better specs than this laptop, so it must be the game.
Mass Effect 2: (Gun fights on mission to recruit Prof. Mordin)
Settings: VSync On, All graphic settings on except for Film Grain, 4xAnti-aliasing, 8xAnisotropic Filtering
Min FPS 24, Avg FPS 38, Max FPS 49
Verdict : Smooth gameplay. Some random lags but does not ruin the experience.
Crysis: (From game start all the way to "First Light" gun fights)
Test 1: VSync Off, Everything to Medium, No AA
Min FPS 19, Avg FPS 26, Max FPS 34
Verdict : Smooth gameplay, lag free even if the FPS results seem low. Graphic texture pop-ins on some of the vegetation, especially when using "maximum speed" boost.
Test 2: VSync Off, All graphic settings to medium, except for Texture and Shader at High. 2xAnti-Aliasing .
Min FPS 13, Avg FPS 16, Max FPS 20
Verdict : Clunky gameplay. With these settings, the texture looked sharper and much easier on the eyes, and while there are no dramatic lag spikes that will get you killed easily (it's a steady 15-16 frames on gun fights), the slow gameplay is quite noticeable.
Test 3: VSync Off, Everything to High except Shader to Medium, No AA
Min FPS 14, Avg FPS 22, Max FPS 29
Verdict : Smooth gameplay, but sometimes has that laggy feel to it. No jittering lag. Pretty impressive for the High setting- I guess Shader is what really stresses the framerates.
World of Warcraft: VSync off, Effects at Medium-High, Window Mode + Maximized option to properly scale the resolution
Test 1: Riding mount around Dalaran's North Bank steps with ~30 toons around me.
Min FPS 22, Avg FPS 33, Max FPS 39
Verdict: No lag
Test 2: Outside Dalaran, flying epic flight
Min 50, Avg 85, Max 150
Verdict: No lag
In instances, the gameplay is very smooth. Depending on the instance, some will be over 100FPS whereas the newer ones + raids, will be in the low 50s.
6008 pts in 3DMark06
10594 pts in 3DMark05
Note: This part of the review will only be valid until Nvidia releases the proper Forceware drivers for the laptop's GPU. The GT 325m series is relatively new; NVidia has one official release for it on their website: Optimus Driver 189.07. This driver is not bad. As shown by the benchmarks, 3D gaming works well. But here's where things tend to get annoying: the Nvidia GPU, with its current drivers, rely on the Intel integrated graphics to handle screen scaling. Meaning if you connect this to a larger monitor, in my case an Acer 21.5" 1080P native res widescreen LCD, scaling works well when the GPU running is the Intel IGP, but when you switch to games, you are forced to use the 1080p resolution through the in-game settings, which will be taxing on the framerates. I know the native resolution of the laptop does not match the monitor's, but with the "normal" geforce drivers, scaling to fit the screen works well and allows the laptop's native res to stretch the image onto the monitor. My ASUS 1201n netbook does this easily through it's Nvidia Control Panel, with the same native res as this laptop. I hope NVidia releases this capability with the next driver update.
I still do not trust the current Nvidia driver for this GPU just yet. Once it is properly optimized and up to date, the fps will increase. I'll update this entry if the graphic drivers are updated through NVidia or some modding website.
NVidia Optimus: This technology sounds great but I'm having a little problem with it. See, when my laptop is plugged in, the Optimus technology works just fine: the intel switches to the nvidia GPU when loading a 3D game. But when I load a 3D game while this laptop is unplugged (regardless whether battery is full or low charge), the GPU does NOT switch. It stays on the Intel GPU and I get low framerates. This problem occurs even if I use "High Performance" mode on the power settings, even if my preferred GPU is NVidia, even if I assign the game profile to load with Nvidia GPU, even if I right click and "run with graphics processor: High performance Nvidia processor". I do notice that if I suddenly plug the laptop to the outlet, the frames will go up fast again (as if the Nvidia GPU was suddenly turned on). There needs to be a better software-based of forcing the GPU on since the NV Control Panel is faulty at this point. Isn't the whole point of Optimus to provide performance when necessary and lengthen battery life, when available? Here is NVidia's claim: "Watch a HD movie, surf the web or play top 3D games knowing that you'll get the long battery life you need and the performance you expect from NVIDIA." This technology should work even on battery, as stated there. I would like to know if this is just my laptop doing this- comment if you can help.
Update 1: there is a fix that works. Make sure your HDMI is in digital mode and not analog. This allows your monitor to do the scaling. Although, if you only have analog mode for HDMI, you can try using a DVI to HDMI cable. Or just wait for Nvidia to update the driver and you won't have to go through all this.
Update 2: March 15, 2010. Well it seems that Nvidia actually listened. I opened a technical ticket on their website and though I can't take credit for them actually solving this, I can tell you that they have put up a solution. New Optimus drivers are out on their website: version 189.42. The highlights of this release is eerily accurate to the issues I was having with my N61JV. It fixes the incompatibilities with the Intel IGP driver and corrects the Optimus Profile system. The sad news is I have already returned my N61JV almost 2 weeks before the release of this driver so I cannot personally test its reliability. I have since gotten a replacement laptop (Gateway NV5925u) or I would have loved to test this out.
Update 3: April 29, 2010. Another GPU driver is released on the Nvidia website: Driver 189.79. Although the main highlight is, "This is an Optimus driver update that fixes an issue with the beta release of StarCraft II."
Hope this review helped those who may be thinking of buying this notebook!