Sporting solid graphics chops, an attractive design, and an even more attractive price, the ASUS G51Vx-RX05 ($1,049) is a good desktop replacement for gamers on a budget. Its screen resolution is a bit low, and the speakers won't blow you away, but those who want to frag it up at home or LAN parties will find much to like in this Best Buy-exclusive system.
The notebook weighs 7.2 pounds on it's own, but the travel weight increases to a hefty 8.8lbs when you add the bulky power brick. The G51Vx's design screams gaming machine, but not obnoxiously so. In lieu of fire-red color schemes and Alien-inspired aesthetics, the G51Vx sports a more subdued look--but it's not boring. Inspired by Japanese mecha programs, the notebook's white lid is highlighted by a glowing Republic of Gamers logo, which is centered between mechanical artwork that makes it look like you're peering into the guts of the machine. There is a separate glowing strip further down the lid, as well as two more on the left and right sides. Along the edge near the hinge is a black, textured honeycomb pattern.
When we lifted the lid of the 14.3 x 10.3 x 1.3-inch system, our eyes were treated to a highly attractive interior. The bezel surrounding the 15.6-inch display and the keyboard are glossy and reflective, making the system an immediate attention-grabber, though highly susceptible to fingerprints and smudges. A rubberized slip-proof (and smudge-resistant) palm rest inhabits the space below the keyboard, and has a great feel.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The premium look extends to the keyboard, where a white backlight gives each key a soft halo that can be raised or lowered through the use of the Fn and F3/F4 keys. Keyboards, of course, are made for typing, and the G51Vx's doesn't disappoint; the island style keys are springy, which made for a solid typing experience. Because the layout doesn't extend to the edges, some keys are undersized, such as the right Shift key and the numbers on the dedicated number pad.
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As the G51Vx is designed for gamers, there are a number of gaming-specific icons scattered across the keyboard: Arrows highlight the WASD keys (which are typically used for movement), and the 1 and 6 keys are highlighted with white circles, as they help you see where the first and second halves of the number row begins, so you can quickly tap whatever number you need to switch weapons.
Click to enlargeAbove the keyboard is a grill that houses Altec Lansing stereo speakers, and buttons that let you cycle through visual modes (Normal, Gamma Correction, Vivid, Theater, Soft), and power settings (Office, High Performance, Battery Saving, Entertainment). To the right of those are two buttons: Power and Express Gate (ASUS' brand of the Splashtop instant-on operating system).
A nontextured touchpad allowed us to navigate the desktop with ease. The brushed-metal mouse buttons look cool, but felt a little stiff.
Pressing the Express Gate button allowed us to boot into the instant-on Linux operating system in 15 seconds, and connect to the Web in another 18 seconds. The combined 33 seconds was 19 seconds shorter than the time it took the G51Vx to boot into the Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit) operating system. We were also able to chat with friends over AIM and Skype, view photos, and listen to music while within Express Gate.
Display and Audio
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Considering this is a 15.6-inch gaming machine, we would have preferred a higher screen resolution than 1366 x 768 pixels to enjoy all the details of the latest titles. To get more eye candy, you'll want to step up to the G51Vx-A1, which offers a 1920 x 1080 display and other upgrades for a steeper $1,699 price tag. (See Configurations section below.)
Nevertheless, we enjoyed bright colors and deep blacks while surfing the Web. On the humor site Cracked.com, the red logo was bright, and the greys and blacks in the background were rich. When we streamed the premiere episode of Lost from Hulu, we noticed that the viewing angles were best when we were positioned directly in front of the display; moving to the left or right of center kicked back serious reflections, especially during dark scenes.
The Altec Lansing speakers delivered excellent highs when we listened to music streamed from Slacker, but bass-heavy songs (such as James Brown's "Funky President") didn't have their normal thump, and sounded a bit muddy in the middle. Volume was satisfying for the most part, but when we really wanted to crank the music, we found that the speakers didn't produce very loud sound. On the bottom of the system is a circular, grilled area that one may initially mistake for a subwoofer, but it only serves to add visual flair.
Ports and Webcam
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Numerous ports and slots are available for connecting accessories and peripherals. The right side of the G51Vx houses the 8X DVDRW drive, two USB 2.0 ports, dual headphone jacks, and a microphone jack. The left side of the system has a single USB port, FireWire 400, eSATA, HDMI, VGA, ExpressCard/54, and an 8-in-1 memory card reader. On the back of the G51Vx is a fourth USB port and Ethernet port. The front contains a Wi-Fi on/off switch.
Above the display is a 1.3-megapixel webcam that we used to chat with friends in Meebo. Skin tones were muted, and we saw motion blur when a buddy moved too quickly, but overall the experience was decent for basic Web chatting.
A speedy 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 CPU and 4GB of RAM (non-expandable) powered the G51Vx to a score of 3,807 on PCMark Vantage (a test that measures Vista performance). That was higher than the desktop replacement average (3,789) and the ASUS N90 (3,568), a system with a 2.66-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9550 processor and 4GB of RAM, and one that is nearly $600 more expensive. Menus and windows opened quickly, and we were able to stream Hulu content, check e-mail within a browser, and have several tabs open without seeing a performance hit.
A fast 7,200-rpm, 320GB hard drive aced our LAPTOP Transfer Test with a 28.1 MBps transfer rate--nearly 6 MBps better than the 22.6 MBps category average. A second drive bay is available for additional storage.
The Nvidia GeForce GTX 260M graphics card with 1GB of dedicated memory powered the G51Vx to a 3DMark06 score of 8,786, which was more than 2,600 points higher than the 6,164 desktop replacement average, but about 1,000 points below that of theSager NP8662, which has the same graphics chip and memory but a much higher price (owing partly to its faster 2.4-GHz processor and higher-res 1680 x 1050 LCD). Still, we saw smooth gameplay when we booted up Mirror's Edge. Leaping from rooftop to rooftop was effortless, and we didn't experience any polygonal clipping in the heat of battle. With Fraps installed, we saw 50 frames per second at the native 1366 x 768 resolution.
In Far Cry 2, the G51Vx averaged 58 fps in autodetect mode (1024 x 768), which dipped to a still-enjoyable 37 fps when we bumped the pixels up to native resolution (1366 x 768). These were in the same ballpark as the 68 and 35 fps desktop replacement averages.
We also tested the G51Vx's performance by transcoding a 114MB, 640 x 480-pixel resolution video using Handbrake. Converting the file with no other open applications running in the background took 7 minutes and 32 seconds, which was 2:30 slower than the desktop replacement average.
The GeForce GTX 260M GPU inside the G51Vx dramatically shortened the transcode time to 1 minute and 49 seconds when we converted the clip to a 95.7MB iPhone-compatible MPEG-4 using Badaboom, an application designed to use Nvidia's CUDA technology (which uses the GPU to assist in processing tasks).
Wi-Fi and Battery Life
The 802.11a/g/n radio pushed data along at a rate of 19.4 Mbps when the notebook was 15 feet away from our access point, and 13.7 Mbps at 50 feet away. The former was on a par with the category average (19.7 Mbps), while the latter placed a few notches below it (16.3 Mbps).
When using the G51Vx, you'll want to remain close to an outlet. On our LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous surfing over Wi-Fi), the notebook lasted 2 hours and 27 minutes on a charge, which was 11 minutes shorter than the desktop replacement average. The included six-cell battery, unfortunately, is the only battery option.
As one might expect, the G51Vx is not the most eco-friendly system. The six-cell battery took 2 hours and 22 minutes to fully charge; during that time, it used an average of 58.6 watts. When divided by the battery life (the LAPTOP Efficiency Index), the G51Vx used 56.6 watts per minute of battery life, which was second in power consumption only to theDell Studio XPS 16, which gobbled power at a 65.1-watts-per-minute clip. The G51Vx has yet to be rated by EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool).
Software and Warranty
Besides Express Gate and Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit), the G51Vx comes pre-installed with Adobe Acrobat Reader 8, Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition 2007 (60-day trial), Microsoft Works 9, and a number of ASUS' own programs such as ASUS Life Frame 3 (webcam utility) and ASUS Splendid (video enhancement). The system is covered with a one-year Best Buy warranty.
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ASUS sells one other version of the G51Vx, which isn't exclusive to Best Buy. The $1,699G51Vx-A1packs a 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Q9000 Quad-Core CPU, a full HD display (1920 x 1080), dual 7,200-rpm, 320GB hard drives, and ASUS' 360 warranty (two-year global, one-year accidental, 30-day pixel guarantee, and free overnight shipping). On its Web site, ASUS also lists the G51Vx as being available with a number of Intel Core 2 Duo Processors (T9600/T9550/T9400/P8800/P8700/P8600/P8400/P7450/P7350/T6600), with clock speeds ranging from 2.2-GHz to 2.8-GHz; up to 1TB of storage, and a Blu-ray drive.
For $1,049, the ASUS G51Vx-RX05 is a very good laptop for gamers who don't want to sell their blood in order to spill some blowing away zombies. Its frame rates may not be as high as those produced by the Gateway P-7807u FX, but the G51Vx costs about $350 less, and its premium design is more appealing. While we prefer the Gateway for its greater horsepower, ASUS' budget-friendly rig will leave you with more cash to spend on the latest titles.