[REVIEW] ASUS N73S, your perfect back-to-school buddy
It’s that time of year again, back to school for many students! For some its back to the desks in a couple of days, for others it is only a matter of an extra month. Since you rather spend your valuable time on some last minute fun, we decided to dig into the massive laptop offers around and select what we thought adequate for getting you through your studies.
For students there are only 2 things really important when it comes to picking a good laptop:
- Easy on the wallet, since most of them aren’t raised like Paris Hilton
- Powerful, because you don’t want to waste time on calculations when you can go out
We got these 2 covered, but more on that later!
A third point could be “looks”, since looks can be important we decided this ASUS N73S with its sleek brushed steel top cover and chrome ASUS logo brings the “bling bling” to your desk.
On the side the notebooks features a very elegant curve, the distinction between top grey and bottom black give this notebook a certain appeal of luxury whether it be expensive or in regard of affinity on design looks.
Open up the notebook, and the first thing that strikes you is the 17.3″ HD+(1600×900)/Full HD(1920×1080)/16:9 LED backlight ColorShine screen (Asus Splendid Video Intelligence Technology). Personally I’m not a fan of glossy screens, but this 17.3” ‘looker’ will certainly dazzle many of you. At 1920*1080 this screen looks particularly good! This FULL HD resolution brings that extra bit of ‘screen estate’ to your desktop experience, and admittedly, a bit more desktop space never hurt anybody.
Furthermore there is a very sleek trackpad, consisting of 1 large formal glossy button (left/right side click). The trackpad itself consists of a patterned “brushed metal” look, to blend in with the sleekly trimmed brushed metal appearance of the front area where your hands rest on.
Last but certainly not least: the audio system! Probably the second thing when you open the screen your eyes will get drawn to, is the incredibly sexy sound bar. With its 37 cm perforated steel Home Cinema speaker looks, this sound bar is bound to get many second regards. This notebook also has a built in microphone and 2MP camera above the LED screen to satisfy all your chat & Skype fun.
Outside ports & drives
Front facing, this laptop has no ports, all input/output is located on the back and sides. On your right side you’ll find your S/PDIF headphone out and microphone in. Next to them is a multiformat cardreader (MMC, SD & MS Pro). Further we got your wireless on/off switch, an antenna in, HDMI ouput, USB 3 port, USB 2 port, VGA out, Kensington lock & power input. Notice that your model might slightly differ from this one, depending on the configuration you chose/bought.
Turning it to the back, you’ll have your gigabit RJ45 jack and 2 additional USB 2 ports. The battery is removable as well, so if you’d feel the urge to upgrade to more cells or take a spare battery with you, this is all perfectly possible.
Moving to the left side of the laptop, we have the multi DVD recorder (no Bluray) and last we have quite a big fan exhaust grill. Since this is an i7 model, we welcome the wide area of the grill; more space means less noise when cooling. This notebook is particularly silent whilst actively cooling, even when rendering heavy chunks of data or during gameplay when temperatures tend to test the adequacy of the internal cooling parts.
Stripping her down…
They say true beauty is on the inside, unless you are a playmate. Nothing more true when it comes to computers really. So let’s have a little peek down the blouse of ASUS’s N73S:
- - Intel i7 260QM (2Ghz Sandy Bridge quadcore CPU with hyperthreading) with Intel HD 3000 graphics.
- - Asus N73SV motherboard dual DDR3 128-bit bus, 1333mhz, 100Mhz QPI
- - 6Gb DDRIII @1333Mhz (1x 4Gb Samsung + 1x 2Gb Elpida) both at 8-8-8-22 CAS (space for 3 SODIMM slots!)
- - Seagate Momentus 5400rpm 500Gb hard drive
- - Atheros PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet
- - Atheros wireless network adapter & Bluetooth
- - RealTek HD Audio connected to Bang & Olufsen ICEpower speakers
- - Intel Cougar Point HM65 South Bridge
- - Intel Sandy Bridge MB IMC North Bridge
- - Nvidia GeForce GT 540M CUDA 1GB Graphics
- - Dual SATA II slot (space for 2x 2.5” hard drives)
Looking at the specifications, you can clearly see that this notebook is a serious ‘dash’ (player). With this buff potential under the bonnet, I’m looking forward to see how the N73S will perform in our tests. The potential for home upgrades is very nice too. We will cover custom upgrades later in this review.
Performance & results
The specifications on this laptop sure look impressive. First of all let me fire up the test everyone can run at home: Windows Performance Information. This is possibly one of the most basic test/benchmarks out there, yet it has its charm because everybody on Vista or 7 has it (installed as a part of the operating system).
This notebook gets a 5.6 on global performance. It being the lowest score of all tests, we can see the 5.6 is caused by the desktop performance graphics. Do note that this the performance of the graphics core from the Sandy Bridge CPU, NOT from the Nvidia GeForce GT 540M. The latter is the one responsible for the 6.6 in 3D business & game graphics performance, which isn’t bad at all. The general rule is: when the desktop is active, the Sandy Bridge graphics are active. Once you load up a game, Photoshop or any other graphically intensive application, the Nvidia graphics and CUDA cores kick in or take over. A couple of years back it was too expensive for midrange notebooks to integrate 2 graphics chips to extend battery longevity, luckily Intel came up with the Sandy Bridge platform, where a low powered graphics core gets integrated in the CPU die. Thus, much lower power consumption when there is no need for killer graphics.
Crysis II showdown
So, everybody knows Crysis II is currently still one of the most demanding games in regards to raw computational power and graphics. It has become a true standard for (mainly gamers) to see how far their system is capable of playing the latest and greatest games. Obviously as you all will be studying very hard, this particular test will be pointless to read….
No issues loading up the game, everything went smooth without any rough edges. When finally loading up the first campaign, I was greeted by a graphical performance I had never seen coming from a laptop before. This GT 540M with 1Gb DDR III RAM, Full DirectX 11 and CUDA support, really shines here.
After testing a couple of different setting, I can recommend increasing the default picks from the EA loader a bit. First you can push up the resolution to 1360*768 which gives you enough FPS power to get everything filled up smoothly without having nasty black bars on both left and right of the 16:9 widescreen.
I would not recommend pushing the “gamer” (low) setting any higher, since any higher will only cause a lack of frames causing the unenjoyably (same thing happens when you keep the settings to “gamer” and try to push the resolution to full HD 1920*1080).
On “gamer” and 1360*768 you’ll still get a proper framerate with the visual bliss of what the Nvidia 5xx series has to deliver. And let’s face it, when push comes to shove, this card will immerse and impress you! Shader effects, lighting effects, foliage renders, terrain variation & detail.. it all looks phenomenal.
But what does this mean for other games? Crysis II is notorious when it comes to pushing the envelope, so currently speaking I dare say if your PC can play Crysis II on lowest setting at a medium resolution, your chances are high that most current games will play on medium settings in full HD or high settings on a slightly lower resolution (with all smoke and extra visual effect enabled). Thus… this laptop can live up to the expectation. Photoshop and AutoCad rendering of large intensive files is done in a jiffy.
FutureMark 3DMark 2011 result
I tested the laptop with FutureMark’s 3DMark 2011. Mainly because this is somewhat the golden standard in PC benchmarking to see how they rank up one another. This combination raked in 1755 points in the E test (Essential). Giving it another spin on P (Performance) resulted in a score of 1010 points.
Tests with 3DMark 2011 clearly show that this Laptop from Asus delivered proper results in regards to the specifications list of this particular N73S model.
Now now… this is a part where the Asus N73S didn’t live up to the expectation as much as I hoped it would. Battery life isn’t particularly a screamer. Results on balanced settings will give you about 4h of work time. Dimming the screen to lowest settings and activating the power savings plan, will get you somewhere between 1h up to 1h and a half of additional work done.
Just for reference: Firing up Crysis II on a balanced power plan and fully lit LED screen, and the Li-ion A32-K72 5200mAh battery pack will be drained in about 1h and 40 minutes.
Conclusion: work on power saving settings at school, once you get home/dorm plug in the juice and play.
And now the bill please…
The dudes having Public Relations at Asus told us the recommended price of this fine piece of machinery is rated at 899€ (about the same in USD when tax is deducted). Recommended usually means you can get it at least 10% cheaper when you spend some time at comparing store prices.
From a price/performance point of view we can see that Asus likes to invest in a powerful interior. Design-wise they are pretty, but the bottom part and keyboard show the areas where the budget was cut to be able to provide for a higher CPU/GPU combination. Absolutely nothing wrong with this strategy.
DIY: Steroid modifications
Now you already have a killer quadcore processor with hyperthreading, you have your blazing GeForce GT540 mobile graphics… but you aren’t particularly happy with the 56 seconds it takes for the machine to boot, extending this to 1 minute and 20 seconds before the desktop processes are fully loaded.
What could we do if we spend about 200€/$ on enhancement ‘props’?
This notebook supports SATA II, so there is no need to throw your hard earned bucks to expensive 3rd generation SSD’s, instead you can get great deals on 2nd generation SSD’s. For this purpose I bought a 2nd Generation 120 Gb SSD (rated 285Mb/Sec read, 275Mb/Sec write) and inserted this in the notebook. Installing a clean edition of Windows with only the essential drivers active, reduced the desktop load from 100 active processes, to only 50. Boot speeds on the SSD: 19 seconds till the Windows desktop pops up, 24 seconds flat until all active processes are loaded. This is almost a 300% speed gain!
So, default our model came with a 4Gb Samsung and 2Gb Elpidia 1333Mhz DDRIII module. But unlike most main boards, this one features 3 SODIMM slots. You can get an extra 4Gb module for cheap, this increases the total amount of RAM to a walloping 10Gb and you can go much higher if you got the dough to spend!
Now what if you’re not exactly interested in high speeds or high amounts of memory, but you just want a lot of storage space on the go? Well, this laptop has 2 SATA II bays, you can remove the original hard drive and insert 2 new hard drives with a capacity of 1Tb inside and you’ve got some serious storage capacity in the bag.
Pro & Con-clusion
If this laptop would have been priced well above the 1000 €/$ marker, I could have started saying the keyboard feels a bit cheap, the HannSpree LED screen requires color recalibration for DTP artwork and the sleek brushed metal cover versus the black plastic bottom plate looks like coming from a fancy champagne party into an abandoned pub.
But it isn’t! This laptop is priced too well for what you get in return that it would be plain rude to say “this could have been better”. Except for Samsung and Lenovo, there are virtually no competitors who dedicate their working budget on premium raw power instead of trying to shove it in an ebony case with gold plated inscriptions from the Peruvian calendar on the bonnet and then realizing your MSRP is above 2000€/$. Yes, there is Acer, DELL and HP, but we picked ASUS because their sales to RMA ratio are much lower compared to some of the more popular brands.
We can clearly say that ASUS with their high profile expertise in the mainboard and graphics card manufacturing industry, knows very well how they have to make a quality logic board that will last you through your studies and beyond, at a very competitive price. Recommended!