What makes a good multimedia notebook? As you get over $800, it should have snappy performance, discrete graphics, and enhanced audio capabilities, plus a design that will turn heads. The Asus K52Dr ($814 on Amazon) delivers only some of these ingredients. While this machine wraps a capable triple-core AMD Phenom processor and a 1GB ATI graphics card in a distinctive brown chassis, it falls flat in other areas.
The glossy dark brown plastic lid of the 15 x 10 x 1.4-inch Asus K52Dr is sleek eye candy. However, with continued use it gets smeared with fingerprints that would delight only the CSI team. On the front panel, visible even with the lid closed, are six pinhead-sized LED lights for AC power, battery charge, Wi-Fi, caps lock, num lock, and hard drive activity.
The black-on-black finish camouflages the touchpad recessed on the palm rest, and only the white keyboard characters (visible only in ambient light) offer any contrast. The high-tech sleekness of the K52Dr's chassis belies its 6-pound weight, though this machine is on an even keel with other notebooks in its size and price range, such as the Dell XPS 15 (6.2 pounds).
After streaming a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the K52Dr's touchpad warmed up to 88 degrees and the left palm rest felt warmer, particularly when the notebook was on AC power. The underside of the unit reached 98 degrees, which is just under our 100-degree threshold of what's considered uncomfortable. Asus boasts that its Power4Gear "automatically adjusts fan speeds for quiet computing and prolonged battery life." In action, this meant an off-putting, varying start and stop vibration when using the touchpad or keyboard.
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Keyboard and Touchpad
The chiclet-style keyboard and number pad on the K52Dr was slightly mushy but not uncomfortably so. The wrist rest area has a ridged, fabric-like plastic surface that spreads across the touchpad. While the layout is mushy, it is also slightly slippery. There are no dedicated programmable special function keys, and the half-size FN keys may be difficult for users with larger fingers.
The left-middle placement of the 2.8 x 1.8-inch touchpad seems more a hindrance than an asset. For any touch typist, the chances are good that in the trackpad's default setting, the cursor will unexpectedly drift to another part of the screen or inadvertently launch an unwanted command. The included Palm Proof technology is supposed to prevent inadvertent cursor movements, but it didn't. Adjustments made with the Elan Smart Pad control panel helped some, but the cursor still bounced around and there was no apparent hardware or software way to turn off the touchpad.
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Display and Audio
Click to enlargeThe 15.6-inch glossy 1366 x 768 screen on the K52Dr displayed not-quite-crisp images for games and DVD videos, and viewing angles at 45 degrees were marred by the glossy screen reflections. Video from Hulu.com played fluidly with no noise, but again the image was slightly gauzy.
The Altec Lansing SRS speakers, located between the notebook's clamshell hinges and just below the screen, consistently produced a tinny, trebly sound you would expect from a netbook. Whether it was the playback of a guitar-heavy rock track or the audio from a DVD video, the sound was surprisingly unexceptional, especially considering the price tag of the Asus K52Dr. Headphones are suggested for better quality audio.
Ports and Webcam
The K52Dr is armed with the typical ports you'd expect to find on notebooks of this size. The right side sports the DVD Super Multi Double Layer drive, SD card reader, one USB 2.0 port, the Ethernet port, and the AC power connector. The left side has two more USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI and VGA port, and a Kensington lock slot.
We were a bit put off by how easily the DVD drive door on the right side would slide open when picking the unit up. The eject button is not recessed and protrudes slightly.
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The 0.3-megapixel webcam above the screen produced a bright image and worked well with Skype. Asus' included LifeFrame camera software allows you to capture video and snap pictures, then edit the content and apply special effects.
Armed with an AMD Phenom N830 Triple-Core 2.1-GHz processor, 7,200-rpm 500GB hard drive, and an 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470 video graphics card, the Asus K52Dr produced mediocre to average performance test scores. The system notched 4,356 on PCMark Vantage, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall speed. This was a bit below the mainstream notebook category average of 4,577 and puny compared to similar notebooks such as the Dell XPS 15 (6,112).
Boot time was a stodgy 1:16, but the system perked up considerably to complete the LAPTOP File Transfer test, in which we copy 4.97GB of mixed media files. It finished the job in 2:35, or 32.8 MBps--breezy compared to the category average of 23.5 MBps and faster than the Dell XPS 15, which clocked in at 2:58.
Video editing was another story, with the K52Dr taking 1:22 to transcode a 114MB MP4 file to AVI using Oxelon Media Encoder. That was 21 seconds longer than the category average and glacial compared to the Dell XPS 15, which whizzed through the same test in 49 seconds.
Graphics and Gaming
The Asus K52Dr's graphics capabilities are a bit above average. On 3DMark06, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall graphics strength, the notebook scored 4,058, a bit higher than the category average of 3,463, but way below the 6,875 score of the Dell XPS 15 and the HP Envy 14 (6,876).
Playing World of Warcraft at the notebook's native resolution of 1366 x 768 (the game's recommended setting), the K52Dr blasted out at 109 frames per second, well above the category average 79 fps. Switching to the maximum 1366 x 748 resolution yielded an unimpressive, but playable, 27 fps.
The more intense Far Cry 2 game caused the K52Dr to drop to 46 fps, 14 fps above average at 1024 x768 resolution. It achieved 16 fps at 1366 x 768, where the category average is 15.6 fps.
Battery and Wi-Fi
Click to enlargeThis is not a notebook you'll want to use unplugged for long. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi), the K52Dr lasted only 2 hours and 10 minutes. Rated against the category average of 3:55, the K52Dr battery has a zombie-like appetite that will have you reaching for the nearest outlet. The XPS 15 lasted 3:06, and the Gateway NV59C09u clocked in at 3:49.
The K52Dr's Atheros Wi-Fi 802.11n radio proved to be a bright spot, with speedy transfer rates of 47.6 and 23.1 Mbps at distances of 15 and 50 feet, respectively. These numbers compare well with the category averages (30.6/21.2 Mbps).
Click to enlargeWe tested the base configuration of the Asus K52Dr, which lists for $849. At that price you get the AMD Phenom N830 Triple-Core 2.1-GHz processor, 7,200-rpm 500GB hard drive, a 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470 video graphics card, and 4GB of RAM. A second memory slot allows expansion to 8GB RAM. Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium is the default operating system but Asus offers the other Windows 7 editions (Home Basic, Professional, and Ultimate).
Software and Warranty
The K52Dr comes with a limited amount of pre-loaded software, including Adobe Acrobat Reader 9, Cyberlink PowerDVD 9 player, Trend Micro Security 2009, and a suite of Asus-branded utilities for screen graphics adjustment, webcam control, and an ASUS Live Update.
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The standard warranty is for two years with a one-year battery pack warranty. Online problem solution through a proprietary web interface and OS install/uninstall consultation is also included.
Although the Asus K52Dr offers pretty decent specs and performance, at $814 it's not as well-rounded a multimedia notebook as its competitors, and it doesn't last long enough on a charge. In this price range, we much prefer the Dell XPS 15 ($864), which offers much better sound quality, an HD webcam, and more speed for just a little more money.