Asus knows how to do performance. Long before the company’s name because synonymous with the explosion in netbooks, it was building top-quality system boards prized by gamers for their reliability, flexibility, and speed. The G51 merges both ends of the company’s history by uniting high-end performance from the early years with the budget-oriented approach of the later Eee lines, and wraps it all up in an outrageous, over-the-top package.
Features and Design
Like the G50VT before it, the G51VX has been designed to assault the senses. From the light-up LED bars on the lid to the explosion noise it makes on boot up, it’s a notebook that wants to get noticed. The over-the-top Transformers styling from the previous model remains largely intact, but a few changes set it off. Most notably, the exterior lid has gone to a gloss white with traces of a robotic-looking background image, the secondary interior LCD has disappeared, and the keyboard has switched to backlit, Chiclet-style keys. Though the typing experience is excellent, the shoddy backlighting system manages to spill light everywhere in the dark. Every little gap between the keys throws off its own slit of light, making the keyboard look like Los Angeles from the air at night: You can see houses, but good luck pinpointing the one you want. Questionable build quality also shines through on the LCD lid, which flexes quite readily under the lightest touch. It’s clear that Asus invested the R&D dollars on this machine on making it play like a high-end machine, not necessarily polishing enough to make it look and feel like one.
And high-end hardware, it has plenty of. Like most notebooks, the G51 comes in various flavors and can vary about $500 in price based on the way you kit it out. We reviewed the G51VX-RX05, a SKU only available at Best Buy that sells for $1,050. For the price tag, you get a lot of notebook, including an Intel Core 2 Duo clocked at 2GHz, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, and perhaps most importantly, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 260M graphics card with a solid 1GB of dedicated graphics memory, which lies in the top tier of Nvidia’s mobile graphics line. Other specs include a 320GB hard drive, 8-in-1 media card reader, 1.3-megapixel Webcam, and a 15.6-inch WXGA LCD with 1366 x 768 resolution.
Testing and Usage
Right from the press of the first button, the G51VX posted one of the quickest Vista boot times we’ve ever seen: 49 seconds from power to desktop, and only a couple more to open a browser window. Unfortunately, the desktop that greets you on first boot isn’t quite so impressive. We’re used to a pretty clean install from Asus’ notoriously neat netbooks, but the G51VX treads backward on that reputation with a smattering of why-did-they-put-this-here icons all over the desktop. The worst offender: Best Buy’s “Game Center,” which is no more than a link to Best Buy’s Web site. Geek Squad 24hr Support, Asus FancyStart and Splendid Utility also had us reaching for the recycle bin. Our only hope is that the Best Buy icons helped subsidize the purchase price by at least $5, which would make it well worth the 12 seconds it took us to trash them.
Although WXGA resolution makes the G51 an excellent choice for 720p HD video, and means less pixels to drive in games set to the native resolution, we found such a scant amount of pixels stretched across 15.6 inches annoying on the desktop, where it just didn’t look sharp enough. The display offers acceptable brightness and a reasonable viewing angle, but the glossy finish definitely tends to catch reflections outdoors and in areas with bright overhead lighting.
For a rather beefy system that carries the Altec Lansing label, the G51VX produces inadequate sound. It’s not a matter of quality (which we’ve long given up on getting from a notebook), but volume. The G51VX just can’t get loud enough. Despite measuring twice the size of most netbooks, it produces sound roughly on par with the most feeble of them. We weren’t even able to watch Hulu episodes in a quiet lunchroom with the sound it was able to cough up. Granted, MP3s played directly off the PC managed to push the speakers a bit harder, but never quite enough to justify the size or weight of this thing. Our advice: Take some of the money you save by buying a budget box and invest in a nice pair of headphones.
Speaking of size and weight, neither really flatter this portly notebook. Measuring 1.6 inches deep and 7.3 pounds, it puts a nice sag in any type of bag you can manage to fit it in, which isn’t many. We couldn’t cram it into the rather generous pocket designed for 15.4-inch notebooks in a JanSport backpack, and we suspect it won’t fit in many cases designed that universal size, either. You can buy a larger model, of course, but be prepared for it to drift around in all the extra room when you travel.
When a manufacturer breaks battery life down into minute-long increments, you know you’re looking at a desperate attempt to make it look as long as possible. Such is the case with Asus’ rather hilarious estimated battery life of 2 hours and 7 minutes for the G51VX. Yes, you’ll be able to hit it if you go into bomb shelter mode and turn down the screen life and battery settings to their most miserly, but any intense gaming will stomp it to short of one hour. Such is life with a gaming notebook. Grab a wall outlet and deal with it.
Like the dumb-as-rocks athlete who makes up for his deficiencies in the classroom on the field, the G51 overcame some of our niggles in the practicality department when we finally put it to the test with some games. For a $1,000 notebook, this thing screams.
We skipped the older games we subjected its predecessor to and pressed it right into service playing Crysis, where it met and exceeded our initial expectations. Right off the bat, the game’s rather optimistic settings (everything on high) posed no problem to the G51 at full 1366 x 768. Already, it was an improvement over its predecessor, which handled the same settings well but began to slow down during extreme action sequences. Pressing our luck a bit, we we were able to bump antialiasing to 2x while remaining playable, though 4x put the frame rate below our point of comfort. Turning all settings to “very high” with antialiasing off did the same, but just barely, and backing off some of the more intense options like water quality put it back into the realm of playability. That’s damn impressive for a notebook in this price range.
To be fair, the rather low screen resolution helps this notebook excel where similar guts rendering a 1080p display would struggle, so to lend some perspective, we benchmarked the machine with 3DMark06. It turned back a score of 8,781 3DMarks – a respectable score for a machine in this price range. Even Alienware’s much pricier M15x has been known to land in the low 9,000 area, depending on configuration.
As you might expect, this brute runs hot. After leaving a pair of earbuds next to the exhaust fan for a few minutes while away during our Crysis testing, we darn near scorched our ears when we put them back in.
Outrageous style and outrageous speed define the Asus G51VX. Of course, so does outrageous impracticality, but as a gaming notebook, that’s hardly anything to be ashamed of (in fact, it’s pretty much par for the course). Fortunately, for a machine of such extremes, Asus has managed to keep price decidedly down to earth. Considering how far it outperforms last year’s model, $1,050 actually looks like an amazing bargain for this stellar game machine. For gamers seeking maximum frames for the buck, Asus’ G51VX is hard to beat, if you can stomach the rough edges.
- Excellent value
- Outstanding game performance
- Comfortable, full-size, backlit keyboard
- Unique style
- Quick boot times
- Unusually weak speakers
- Low resolution screen
- Short battery life
- Heavy and bulky
- So-so build quality