A multimedia machine with flair, the F50Sv-A2 marks ASUS' entrance into the emerging category of 16-inch notebooks. Thanks to its fast Core 2 Duo processor and Nvidia graphics, this $1,149 system provides stellar performance and graphics punch. Add in a compelling design and included Blu-ray optical drive and you have a serious contender. The sub-2-hour battery life is a definite turn-off, but this desktop replacement offers a lot of bang for your buck.
Design and Ports
Sporting a gray and white pinstripe infusion styling on its scratch-resistant lid, the F50Sv-A2 has an attractive look. The pattern extends under the hood to the palm rest and touchpad where a swirl-like pattern, reminiscent of HP's Imprint finish, stretches across the deck. Surrounding the display is a glossy black bezel; both it and the palm rest pick up their fair share of fingerprints and smudges. We recommend keeping the included polishing cloth handy.
At 15.0 x 10.4 x 1.7 inches and 6.3 pounds, the system isn't as svelte or thin as theLenovo IdeaPad Y650or theSamsung R610-64G, but we were still able to fit it in an average size laptop bag and take it with us to Starbucks for the day. The extra girth accommodates a number of ports: its left side has three USB 2.0 connections, ExpressCard/54, microphone, headphone, Ethernet and modem ports. The back has one more USB 2.0 port (bringing the grand total to four), HDMI, VGA and the right side a Blu-ray drive.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The full-size keyboard on the F50Sv-A2, like that on theASUS N81Vp-C1, isn't the best we've encountered, but it gets the job done. The individual keys offered decent feedback, but the overall feel was a bit too soft and mushy. We also would've liked the keys to have a glossy coating to match the other areas of the machine, like that on theAcer Aspire 6930Gor HP Pavilion notebooks.
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Below the keyboard resides a spacious touchpad that allowed us to navigate the desktop smoothly. However, its single, fairly stiff mouse button took some getting used to; we prefer two dedicated buttons. Above the keyboard is strip of silver shortcut keys for turning on the power, switching power settings, and dedicated buttons for launching Windows Media Center, Internet Explorer, and turning off the touchpad.
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Updated Express Gate
The leftmost button above the keyboard activates ASUS' Express Gate instant-on environment. After pressing the button--a lightning bolt-emblazoned circle--the home screen appeared in just 10 seconds. ASUS has updated the look of Express Gate; the icons that launch the various applications (Chat, Music Player, Online Gaming, Photo Manager, Skype, and Splashtop Browser) cycle horizontally around a virtual axis; the icon in the center is the largest.
Overall, Express Gate looks a lot more polished than the previous version. The six icons also appear in a dock along the bottom of the screen, along with icons for configuring system settings. Tapping the touchpad while the cursor is hovering over an open app's icon, the program's window will either minimize or maximize. It's a nice feature to keep the desktop from becoming cluttered.
Unfortunately, Express Gate doesn't remember settings that have already been entered in the Windows environment, such as Wi-Fi passwords. Configuring this software to connect to access points in our office was difficult and much less intuitive than in Vista. Once we were up and running, the Splashtop Browser (which is based on Mozilla) loaded in 20 seconds; the Music Player took 5 seconds to launch. So, from a cold boot you can start surfing the Web in 30 seconds, or you can wait for Windows to load, which takes 30 seconds more.
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A speedy 2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 processor and 4GB of RAM helped the F50Sv-A2 achieve a strong PCMark Vantage score of 3,253, which is more than 114 points higher than the average mainstream notebook, and only 150 points lower than the average desktop replacement (which includes a number of gaming rigs) but 494 points lower than the similarly configuredDell XPS 16. This snappy performance showed during our hands-on time with the machine; we saw folders and windows open swiftly, even when playing a 1080p movie, Web surfing, and chatting with friends through Skype.
The Nvidia GeForce GT120M GPU transcoded a 2-minute-and-16-second 720 x 480-pixel resolution video from MPEG4 to AVI in 6 minutes and 46 seconds. That's not much worse than theSager NP8662--a gaming system--which took 6:24 to accomplish the same task. When we transcoded the same file while simultaneously compressing a 4.97GB folder of mixed media, it took 13:56 to finish.
The spacious 7,200-rpm, 320GB hard drive not only provides plenty of real estate for storing documents, photos, music, and video, but it's also fairly speedy; it notched a data-transfer rate of 24.4 MBps on the LAPTOP Transfer Test (duplicating 4.97GB of multimedia files), which is 6.4 MBps faster than the class average; in fact, it was the second fastest in the entire category, right behind theMSI GT627's rate of 26.1 MBps. The F50Sv-A2 booted into the Windows Vista Home Premium operating system in 1 minute and 6 seconds, which is typical.
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The F50Sv-A2's Nvidia GeForce GT120M graphics card (with 1GB of memory) gives the system solid gaming muscle; this GPU comes with CUDA technology, 32 cores of processing power, and full HD playback. It scored 5,207 in 3DMark06, which is 2,238 points above average. By comparison, the Acer Aspire 6930G scored 4,275 on 3DMark06.
One of the benefits of the new Nvidia GPU is that it more efficiently decodes 1080p video; indeed, when we output the Blu-ray of Sweeney Todd via HDMI to a 32-inch high-definition Samsung TV, the movie played back smoothly, without any audio or video hiccups.
Gamers will be happy to know that the powerful graphics performance also translates to blistering frame rates. Far Cry 2 moved at 45.1 fps (1024 x 768) in autodetect, dropping to a still-playable 25.7 fps with all of the visual effects activated at 1366 x 768. With the resolution set to 1024 x 768, Far Cry 2 moved at 45.1 fps in autodetect, and dropped to 25.7 fps with the resolution at max (1366 x 768) all of the visual effects activated. While decent, these scores are a bit below the desktop replacement averages (75.1/39.1 fps), and the MSI GT627, a similarly priced gaming rig, notched 63.3 fps (at 1024 x 768) and 42.9 fps (at 1280 x 800), respectively.
Click to enlargeWi-Fi and Battery Life
The F50Sv-A2's 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi radio pushed data along at a rate of 19.2 Mbps at 15 feet away from our access point, and 17.7 Mbps at 50 feet; these scores both topped the category averages of 18.4 Mbps and 15.7 Mbps. Web pages loaded quickly, and buffering was minimal when streaming content from Hulu or Slacker.
However, the F50Sv-A2 sacrifices endurance in the name of graphics. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi) the F50Sv-A2's six-cell battery lasted just 1 hours and 44 minutes, which is half the mainstream average (3 hours and 21 minutes), and doesn't compare favorably to desktop replacements either. The $999 Acer Aspire 6930G, which is equipped with Nvidia's GeForce 96000M GS graphics, can run for 3 hours and 33 minutes on a charge. We wish that ASUS made a nine-cell battery option available for this notebook.
Software and Warranty
Preinstalled on the F50Sv-A2 is Adobe Acrobat Reader 8.0, CyberLink Power2Go Express, Microsoft Office 2007, WinDVD, Norton Internet Security 2008, and a number of ASUS' own homegrown utilities, including SmartLogon, which let us log into the PC using with a quick face scan. Similar to other ASUS notebooks, after registering the webcam, the software recognized our face in less than 4 seconds and logged us into the system without having to type our password.
The notebook is covered with one of the most thorough protection plans (ASUS 360), which includes a two-year global warranty, one-year accidental damage protection (covering drops, spills, fire, and electricity), a 30-day dead-pixel policy, free two-way overnight shipping, and 24/7 phone tech support.
ASUS offers one more configuration of the F50, the $1,099 F50Sv-A1, which has all the same specs at the F50Sv-A1 but lacks a Blu-ray drive. The company also thoughtfully packages the F50Sv-A2 with a messenger-style laptop case and small travel mouse.
ASUS F50Sv-A2 Verdict
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ASUS provides consumers with a strong 16-inch notebook with solid graphics, speedy performance, and the latest in high-definition playback for $1,149. While we don't expect this machine to stray too far from an outlet, its battery life is rather limited compared to other 16-inch systems. If you're considering purchasing this machine, it's worth taking a look at the Acer Aspire 6930G-6723, which while heavier and not as powerful, gets double the runtime and has a Blu-ray drive for $150 less. Still, those looking for a 16-inch notebook with strong performance and stunning Blu-ray playback should consider the ASUS F50Sv-A2.