ASUS proves that you don't have to spend two grand to own a powerful notebook. Featuring fast Nvidia graphics and Intel's Next Generation Centrino Duo Technology, this system has more than enough muscle for Vista and even for 3D gaming. It's not the sleekest machine on the block, but you get a lot for your money.
The 14.2 x 10.8 x 1.5-inch ASUS F3SV-B1 features a subdued black and silver color scheme and weighs 6.5 pounds (view photo gallery). That's significantly more than the 5.8-pound Sony VAIO FZ, but that notebook costs about $400 more when similarly configured, and it comes with the less powerful Nvidia GeForce 8400M GT graphics card. This system rocks Nvidia's more powerful 8600M GS card.
We liked the keyboard; the keys are well spaced and responsive, which makes them conducive to both gaming and typing. Above the keyboard are several launch buttons that let users open a Web browser, quickly dive into multimedia content, and tweak system settings. The touchpad is large and roomy, but we found the touch buttons' loud clicks annoying. Nestled between them is a fingerprint reader that keeps intruders out. In addition, the ASUS F3SV-B1 offers plenty of expandability options, including an ExpressCard, an 8-in-1 memory card reader, DVI, FireWire, S-Video, and four USB 2.0 ports.
ASUS crams in some pretty good specs for the price. You get Bluetooth, an 8X DVD+/-R DL drive for burning content to disc, and a 160GB hard drive that runs at 5,400 rpm. The 2GB of RAM means you'll have more than enough memory to run Vista smoothly, especially with that high-powered GPU under the hood.
The 15.4-inch display features a sharp 1680 x 1050-pixel resolution, which looked great while reading documents, watching a DVD, or surfing the Web. Unfortunately, the system's audio doesn't match the stellar visuals; music and game sounds were tinny, and the volume could have used a boost. A pair of quality headphones is a must if you want to fully immerse yourself in a game. Above the display rests a 1.3-megapixel webcam that shoots decent stills and records video in ASF, AVI, and WMV formats.
The ASUS F3SV-B1 is powered by Intel's new 2.2-GHz Core 2 Duo processor (800-MHz FSB) and 2GB of RAM (upgradable to 4GB). These components produced a very good score of 3,635 on our PCMark05 test, which means that this machine will handle productivity tasks quickly and painlessly. We also saw impressive Wi-Fi data-throughput rates, courtesy of Intel's 802.11n connection (Santa Rosa): 15.4 Mbps at 15 feet from our access point, and 16.4 Mbps at 50 feet.
With a strong 3DMark03 score of 6,331, this notebook is a good match for all but the most competitive gamers. Our F.E.A.R. tests saw a smooth 44 frames per second while on autodetect settings, which dropped to a still-playable 26 fps with the settings maxed out. We'd prefer the autodetect scores to be above 60 fps, which the $1,899 ASUS G1S delivered, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a machine with similar performance for the money.
The six-cell battery lasted 1 hour and 47 minutes on our DVD rundown test. This is a solid number for a machine with discrete graphics. Although most users won't stray too far from an electrical outlet, those looking for additional battery life can purchase a replacement six-cell battery for $140.
Our test unit was configured with Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium, as well as a handful of ASUS' programs for managing various system settings. ASUS covers the system with a two-year parts-and-labor warranty, as well as toll-free 24/7 technical support.
If frame rates are the be all, end all, you may wish to pass up this model for a higher-end rig like the ASUS G1. Power users on a budget, however, should be satisfied with the ASUS F3SV-B1's rich display and performance.
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