Other than netbooks, ASUS isn't known for producing budget-friendly laptops, so the $599 ASUS A53TA-XN1 comes a bit out of left field. But at least on paper, this 15-inch mainstream notebook is quite the catch. It offers a large, vibrant display and an AMD Quad-Core AMD A6-3400M APU. With enough performance for everyday computing and graphical power for playing the latest games, the A53T has the right combination of affordability and features. But is that enough to compete with other notebooks in this crowded category?
Featuring a similar design as the ASUS K53SV-B1, The ASUS A53T's lid is a dark matte brown plastic with a subtle pinstripe pattern, making for a handsome, elegant machine. The textured lid minimized the number of fingerprints, but it still picked up some smudges. Adding to the A53T's understated style is the chrome ASUS logo in the lid's center.
The laptop's interior reveals a black matte keyboard deck with a slightly textured finish. Unlike the K53, which has a brushed-metal deck, the plastic palm rest on the A53T has a pattern and color identical to the lid, and it surrounds a large, smooth touchpad. A large, thin Altec Lansing speaker bar rests above the keyboard, as well as a silver power button on the right that mimics the speaker grating.
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At 14.9 x 10 x 1-1.3 inches, the ASUS A53T is slightly smaller than the Gateway NV55S05u (15 x 9.9 x 1 inches) and the Toshiba Satellite L755D-S5204 (15 x 9.8 1.1-1.5 inches). Weighing 5.4 pounds, the A53T falls between the Gateway (5.6 pounds) and the Toshiba (5.2 pounds) in terms of heft.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The A53T keyboard provided strong tactile feedback on our tests. Where the K53T has an island-style keyboard, the A53's keys butt up against one another. The large keys and generous palm rest made for a comfortable typing experience. We were able to score 49 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, slightly below what we score on a desktop keyboard. We also logged a higher than normal three-percent error rate, thanks in part to a slightly undersized right Shift key. The number pad's keys are also on the small side, too. The keyboard exhibited just a minimal amount of flex.
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Our fingers danced across the smooth surface of the 3.3 x 2-inch Elan touchpad. Multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, two-finger scroll and rotation, and three-finger press and flick were fast, responsive, and accurate. We were able to highlight text with ease, and we enjoyed using three-finger flicks to navigate between photos.
Display and Audio
The 15.6-inch display on the A53T offered luscious color with wide viewing angles. We were blown away by the desolate expansiveness of a bone-white desert set against a crystal-blue sky in the John Carter full-screen 1080p YouTube trailer. The princess' blood-red tribal paint glowed in the orange campfire under a rich obsidian sky. During darker scenes, however, we could see our reflection in the extra-glossy display.
Dialog from the Altec Lansing speaker bar sounded a bit muted until we made some adjustments using the ASUS SonicFocus control panel. Afterwards, dialog and music was much richer and louder, easily filling a small room. Miguel's sensual tenor and slinky synthesized instrumentals oozed the appropriate ambiance on the track "Quickie," while Sting's plaintive vocals blended perfectly with the jazz clarinet and bass on "Englishman in New York."
The A53T can get a little hot under the collar. After we streamed a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the notebook's touchpad measured a warm 93 degrees Fahrenheit, while the space between the G and H keys registered 90 degrees. The laptop's underside measured a cool 88 degrees, which allowed us to use it in our laps for more than an hour. The left side vent measured 97 degrees, two degrees above what we consider comfortable.
Ports and Webcam
The right side of the A53T features a USB 2.0 port, a DVD burner, mic and headphone jacks, and a Kensington lock slot. Another USB 2.0 port sits on the left side with a USB 3.0 port, HDMI, VGA, Gigabit Ethernet, and a power jack. A 5-in-1 card reader resides on the front lip of the notebook.
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The 0.3-megapixel webcam on this notebook can capture stills up to 640 x 480p using the ASUS Life-Frame software. Images in our office were slightly dark, but we could make out the insignia on our jacket. The picture quality improved drastically when we tested in natural lighting. The caller on our Skype session reported loud, clear audio along with a sharp image, with only a small amount of motion blur.
Powered by a 1.4-GHz Quad-Core AMD A6-3400M APU with 4GB of RAM, the ASUS A53T scored 3,154 on PCMark Vantage. That's about 2,650 points below the 5,833 mainstream average and below all of its competition. The 2.3-GHz AMD A6-3400M-powered Toshiba Satellite L755D posted a score of 4,079, the Dell Inspiron 15 (M5030)'s 2.3-GHz AMD Athlon II P360 APU scored 3,318, and the Gateway NV55S05u's 1.5-GHz AMD A8-3500M APU scored 4,377. Still, this notebook can handle everyday tasks well. We streamed a full-screen Hulu video with eight tabs open in Internet Explorer and 11 in Google Chrome without a noticeable slowdown.
We also ran our OpenOffice test, a spreadsheet macro test that measures the time it takes to perform a VLOOKUP operation matching 10,000 names in one worksheet with addresses in another. The A53T took 10 minutes and 6 seconds. That's about 3 minutes longer than the mainstream average (7:13), but nearly 40 seconds faster than the Gateway NV55 (10:48). The Toshiba L755D took 9 minutes and 18 seconds to complete the task.
The A53T's 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive booted the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium in 70 seconds, 6 seconds longer than the category average. The NV55S05u and the Satellite L755D, both equipped with 640GB, 5,400-rpm hard drives, posted times of 0:48 and 0:60 respectively.
On our file transfer tests, the ASUS A53T duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 2 minutes and 35 seconds for an impressive transfer rate of 32.8 MBps. That well above the 28 MBps mainstream average.
The A53T's switchable graphics allow it to toggle on between the integrated AMD Radeon HD 6520G GPU and the performance-enhancing Radeon HD 6650M GPU with 1GB of VRAM. However, we first had to assign GPU usage to specific software, files, and websites using the AMD VISION Engine control panel. This quickly became annoying, as we encountered a dialog box prompting us to configure the graphics setting for nearly every video, web page, and application we opened. We prefer Nvidia Optimus technology, which seamlessly switches between integrated and discrete GPUs without any human assistance.
On 3DMark06, the notebook scored an impressive 6,715--2,308 points higher than the 4,504 mainstream average. The Gateway NV55S05u's AMD Radeon HD 6620G graphics card was the closest competitor, with a score of 5,686. The L755D's AMD Radeon HD 6520G posted 5,220.
When it came time to go questing in World of Warcraft, the ASUS A53T did not disappoint. With effects set to Good at 1366 x 768p, the notebook notched a strong 97 fps. That's 28 fps higher than the 69 fps mainstream average. The Gateway NV55S05u notched 67 fps, while the Satellite L755D posted 54 fps. When we switched to maximum, the A53T managed a still-smooth 46 fps, solidly beating the 28 fps average.
The ASUS A53T maintained solid numbers on the graphically taxing Far Cry 2, too. At 1024 x 768p, the A53T posted 56 fps, besting the 42 fps average. On maximum, the notebook scored more than twice the 20 fps average, with 43 fps.
During the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing via Wi-Fi), the A53T lasted 4 hours and 37 minutes, on a par with the 4:35 mainstream average. The Toshiba L755D and the Gateway NV55S05u scored 4:09 and 4:26 respectively.
Our $599 ASUS A53TA-XN1 review unit came equipped with a 1.4-GHz AMD A6-3400 APU with 4GB of RAM, a 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, and switchable graphics (AMD Radeon HD 6520G, Radeon HD 6650M GPU with 1GB of VRAM). An additional $50 will net the ASUS K53TA-A1, which has identical specs to the A53T but 6GB of RAM instead of 4GB. Shoppers can also splurge for an $886 version that includes a 2-GHz Intel Core 17-2630M CPU, 6GB of RAM with a 640GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive, and a Nvidia GT540 GPU.
Software and Warranty
ASUS keeps things simple with a modest suite of apps and utilities. The ASUS Smart Logon Manager uses facial recognition to secure your system; while it only took about five minutes to set up, it was a little slow to log us into the notebook. We had to reposition our face repeatedly in order for the A53T to recognize our mug.
ASUS WebStorage enables users to upload up to 2GB of files, folders, and applications to the cloud free. ASUS offers additional storage starting at $8.99 per three months for the Gold package, which offers unlimited storage space for files up to 1GB backed up to one computer. The $14.99 Gold Plus package offers unlimited storage for 4GB files that can be shared between 2 to 5 machines.
Our favorite feature was the mobile app that allowed us to sync our content between the A53T and our Android smartphone. (An iOS app is available as well.)
Like other ASUS notebooks, the A53T has the ASUS Vibe Center, a multimedia portal where we sank more than a few minutes downloading games, music, and books.
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Third-party applications include Adobe Reader 9, Microsoft Office Starter, Nuance PDF Reader, and a 30-day free trial of Trend Micro Titanium Internet Security.
The ASUS A53T comes with a one-year parts and labor warranty, one-year Accidental Damage, 30-day Zero Bright Dot Guarantee, two-way free shipping, and 24/7 tech support. See how ASUS fared in this year's Tech Support Showdown and our Best and Worst Brands report.
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The $599 ASUS A53T will appeal to the budget notebook shopper looking for graphics oomph. Its attractive design, smooth touchpad, and Altec Lansing speakers are other pluses. While the AMD quad-core processor inside this machine isn't as fast as second-generation Intel CPUs, this notebook makes up for it in graphics prowess, with enough muscle to play demanding titles. For about the same price, consumers can pick up the Gateway NV55S05u, which offers a faster processor and a head-turning silver-and-white design but weaker 3D performance. Overall, though, the ASUS A53T is a good choice for the money.