Jockeying for position in the desktop replacement category with killer machines like theAcer Aspire 8920Gis ASUS' latest multimedia wonder, the M70SA-C1. This notebook packs tons of features that media hounds will adore: a blazing fast dual-core processor, discrete graphics, a crisp display, and a Blu-ray drive for watching high-definition content. What makes the Asus M70SA-C1 stand out from its rivals is the inclusion of a whopping 1TB storage capacity that lets audio/video buffs horde content.
The first thing that jumps out at you when you lift the M70SA-C1's eye-catching, black pinstriped lid is the gorgeous 17-inch (1920 x 1080 resolution) widescreen display, which delivers true 1080p videos. When we popped a Blu-ray version of There Will Be Blood into the 2X Blu-ray drive, we were pleased with the fine detail, rich blacks, and vibrant colors of the on-screen images. Above the display resides a 1.3-megapixel webcam that provides bright and fairly sharp video. The webcam also works in tandem with Asus' SmartLogon facial recognition software, which allowed us to login to the M70SA-C1 simply by facing the camera.
Comfortable Keyboard, Handy Multimedia Keys
A spacious keyboard (with a full number pad) features firm, responsive keys that are conducive to a pleasurable typing experience. Above the keyboard are dedicated buttons for launching Windows Media Center, enabling/disabling the touch pad, activating the "Splendid Video Intelligent Technology" (which lets you tweak color saturation and brightness), and the Power4Gear eXtreme software (which lets you adjust power usage settings).
The touch pad features innovative built-in media controls. When viewing a photo, for example, swiping a finger along the touch strip let us zoom in or zoom out of an image; when listening to music, the same touch strip let us raise or lower the volume. We even assigned one of the two programmable buttons to launch Firefox.
Overall, the controls were fine, but occasionally they would not pick up a tap from our fingers. You can switch between the standard touch pad controls and the multimedia controls by tapping the Mode button located in the upper-right portion of the touch pad. Below the touch pad area are a pair of comfortably sized mouse buttons and a fingerprint reader.
Around the perimeter of the 8.8-pound Asus M70SA-C1 you'll find four USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, VGA, S-Video, e-SATA, FireWire, Ethernet, dual headphone jacks, a microphone jack, an 8-in-1 memory card slot, ExpressCard/54, a TV antenna port, and a Wi-Fi switch for toggling the 802.11a/b/g/n wireless radio on and off.
Audio Quality and HDTV
Audio is superbly handled by two Altec Lansing speakers located above the keyboard, another pair embedded into the front bezel, and a sub-woofer on the bottom of the Asus M70SA-C1. When we cranked MP3s of The Posies' "I Guess You're Right" and Brick's "Dazz," we were impressed by the Dolby Surround Sound and solid bass. Bundled with the system is an antenna for picking up over-the-air HD channels using the built-in TV tuner; many of the available channels were filled with snow, although the audio was quite good. ASUS blesses gamers, graphic artists, and multimedia junkies with an incredible 1TB of storage for housing seemingly limitless amounts of data via twin 5,400-rpm 500GB hard drives.
Performance and Battery Life
A speedy 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 processor and a maximum of 4GB of RAM produced an excellent PCMark Vantage score of 3,482, which is more than 600 points better than the average desktop replacement and second only to the Gateway P-171XL FX. It should be noted that although the system includes 4GB of physical memory, the 32-bit version of Vista can only read 3GB of memory, but the 64-bit version of Vista can read the entire amount. ASUS attributes this to a flaw in the OS.
The Asus M70SA-C1 showcased excellent wireless strength. The system pushed data along at a rate of 18.7 Mbps at 15 feet away from our access point, and 13.4 Mbps at 50 feet, which is right on target for desktop replacements. As with most notebooks in this category, you won't see lengthy battery life: The M70SA-C1 lasted 2 hours and 11 minutes with the Wi-Fi connection turned on, which rose slightly to 2:13 with the signal turned off. Still, this is far less than the 3:04 average.
Not for Gamers
The discrete ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650 graphics card on the Asus M70SA-C1 (with a chunky 1GB of video RAM) performed pretty well on our 3DMark03 test with a score of 9,094. That's more than 2,000 points lower than other notebooks in its category (owing to the gaming rigs included in this class), but is more powerful than the Acer Aspire 8920G's mark of 7,403. The notebook's graphics card muscled out a 3DMark06 score of 3,308, which is almost 2,000 points below average, but more than 1,000 points better than the Acer 8920G with an Nvidia GeForce 9650M GS graphics card and a price tag of $200 more. Although these numbers won't impress the hard-core gaming set, they're good enough for many 3D titles: The Asus M70SA-C1 ran F.E.A.R. at a decent 24 frames per second (at a resolution of 1024 x 768), which dipped slightly to 21 fps with the setting maxed out (same resolution, but with added effects).
Software and Warranty
The Asus M70SA-C1 comes preinstalled with Adobe Acrobat Reader, a number of ASUS' own homegrown utilities (including the useful ASUS NB Probe+ for monitoring vital system information, such as CPU temperature), LightScribe for burning images onto special optical media, Nero 7 Essentials, and Windows Vista Home Premium. ASUS insures the system with a two-year limited global warranty and 24/7 tech support.
Priced at $2,399, the ASUS M70SA-C1 isn't cheap. While it lacks the design flair of the Acer 8920G, it's a stellar multimedia notebook that can act as an all-in-one entertainment hub. It's not a gaming rig by any stretch, but the stunning display, Blu-ray drive, and absolutely insane storage capacity make it one of the best multifaceted machines around.