A well-rounded entertainment notebook needs to deliver plenty of eye candy and back it up with stellar sound. And that's exactly what the ASUS N53JF-XE1 does. This 15.6-inch laptop ($1,094 as configured) pairs a full HD display with booming Bang & Olufsen speakers. What about performance? The N53JF has you covered there, too, with a Core i5 processor and Nvidia GeForce GT 425M graphics. We have a couple of complaints, but overall this machine kicks ass and looks good doing it.
The ASUS N53JF is one of the few notebooks that utilizes a very limited palette (did you know there were this many shades of gray?) yet manages to look stylish. The fine lines of the brushed metal lid lead gracefully to the slick little curve at the hinge, which adds a bit of a wave to the deck. The palm rest is also made of metal, which gives the laptop a sturdy feel.
The multimedia DNA in the N53JF becomes apparent the minute you see the huge speaker bar dominating the deck. A strip of chrome above the keyboard houses buttons for multimedia, power, and more.
At 15.6 x 10.6 x 1.6 inches and 6.4 pounds, the N53JF is heavier than competing notebooks such as the Dell XPS 15 (6.1 pounds) and Lenovo IdeaPad Y560d (6.2 pounds), but comes off as sleek because of its design. Just don't plan on traveling with this laptop.
After playing a Hulu clip at full screen for 15 minutes we measured temperatures on the N53JF's touchpad (83 degrees), keyboard between the G&H keys (86 degrees), and the middle of the underside (88 degrees). All of these temperatures are comfortably below the category average.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The N53JF features a new "wave" keyboard with large keys, along with a numberpad on the right. The latter's small size is fine for crunching numbers but might turn off gamers. While typing, the key feel was bouncy but slightly mushy, and we noticed some flex.
The 3.25 x 2.1-inch touchpad is a nice size (it could be bigger, given how much space there is on the deck), and has just the right amount of matte texture on the surface for smooth navigation. The single mouse bar beneath is not only a finger smudge magnet, but also marginally stiff.
Display and Audio
Click to enlargeThe N53JF sports a 15.6-inch, full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) glossy display that provides a gorgeous canvas for Blu-ray movies and other 1080p content. When watching a Blu-ray of Iron Man we noted bright, popping colors and smooth action sequences. We noted no pixelation or artifacts when transferring from light to dark scenes, and we appreciated the wide viewing angles. Glossy screens mean reflections, though, and ours proved somewhat distracting when watching flicks.
The real star of the multimedia experience are the huge Bang & Olfson speakers. They're backed by ASUS' SonicMaster technology, which allows users to customize audio output both on the speakers and when listening via headphones. The result is rich audio with a wide range that's well above the average notebook.
We compared N53JF with the Dell XPS 15, which delivered the best notebook audio quality of all the notebooks we tested this year. When playing tracks with driving bass, such as "Pick U Up" by Adam Lambert or "Beautiful Dangerous" by Slash and Fergie, the XPS 15 was the clear winner. However, with tracks that soar upwards or rely heavily on acoustics, such as "Dryad's Promise" by Tricky Pixie or "Legions (War)" by Zoe Keating, the N53JF fared better. Overall, the XPS 15 has the best sound system, but the N53JF is a close second.
Ports and Webcam
Never one to skimp on ports, ASUS packs in a few designed with the media maven in mind. The HDMI 1.4 port is ready for the next generation of HD connectivity. And the USB 3.0 port next to it ensures you'll be able to take advantage of super speedy external drives and other enhanced peripherals down the line. You'll also find a USB/eSATA port, plus two more USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet, VGA, a 5-in-1 memory card slot, headphone, mic, and a Blu-ray drive.
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The 2-megapixel webcam above the display is just okay. The images it produced weren't the sharpest, but while chatting on Skype our friend noted that the camera continually adjusted for different lighting as we moved around and didn't see much blur.
Click to enlargeThe N53JF pairs a brawny 2.53-GHz Intel Core i5 CPU with 4GB of RAM. This notebook's score of 5,895 on PCMark Vantage--a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance--is well above the average mainstream system (4,756). Still, this notebook trails the Samsung RF510 (6,257), Dell XPS 15 (6,112), and HP Envy 14 Beats Edition (6,119).
The 500GB, 7,200-rpm drive completed the LAPTOP File Transfer Test in 2 minutes and 30 seconds for a rate of 33.9 MBps. That's almost 10MBps faster than the average (24.3 MBps). As for the competition, the XPS 15 comes closest (28.6 MBps). Not surprisingly, the notebook boots into Windows 7 Home Premium (64 bit) in 56 seconds, 8 seconds faster than average.
Users who occasionally engage in video editing will be pleased to see that the N53JF was able to transcode a 114MB MPEG-4 video to AVI in just 46 seconds. In this test, the ASUS beat the category average of just over a minute and beat the RF510 (56 seconds), XPS 15 (49 seconds), and Envy 14 (51 seconds).
Thanks to Nvidia's GeForce GT 425M GPU and 1GB of dedicated video memory, the N53JF has considerable graphics oomph. The notebook's score of 6,823 on 3DMark06 is almost twice the category average and on a par with the XPS 15 (6,875) and Envy 14 (6,906). However, the RF510 beats this notebook with a score of 7,526.
Casual games ran smooth and fast on the N53JF. We had lots of fun achieving a new high score in Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook. But what about more demanding stuff? The laptop notched a nice 70 fps on World of Warcraft at full resolution (1920 x 1080) with the default settings, and dropped down to 44 fps on maximum quality at the same resolution. On the more intense Far Cry 2, the laptop managed a playable 50 fps at the default resolution (1024 x 768) but when we upped the res to maximum, the rate plummeted to an unplayable 18 fps.
None of the other comparable notebooks we've tested recently have full HD resolution, but looking at their highest scores on the maximum resolution (1366 x 768 for the RF510 and XPS 15; 1600 x 900 for the Envy 14), the N53JF comes out ahead on some tests. At maximum resolution, World of Warcraft moved at 46 fps on the Envy 14, more than 20fps slower than the ASUS at a higher resolution, but with less intense graphics. The RF510 and XPS 15 moved at 68 and 65 fps at maximum resolution, just under the N53JF. However, on Far Cry 2, all three systems scored higher than the ASUS on autodetect (1024 x 768 resolution): RF510 (67.5fps); XPS 15 (64fps); Envy 14 (71fps). Though the N53JF has a higher resolution, it's not the best at resource-hungry games.
Battery and Wi-Fi
Despite the battery-saving prowess of Optimus technology (which switches between Intel's integrated graphics and Nvidia's discrete GPU on the fly), the N53JF lasted only 3 hours in the LAPTOP Battery Test. The average mainstream notebook lasts an hour longer, but the ASUS is in good company. The Samsung RF510 is right behind it at 2:49, and the Dell XPS 15 only gets an extra 6 minutes. The HP Envy 14 can last up to 4:20 running on integrated graphics, but it beats the N53JF by 14 minutes in discrete mode.
At 15 feet from the router the Atheros AR9285 b/g/n radio inside the N53JF delivered a data rate of 32.4 Mbps (above average); at 50 feet we measured 15.4 Mbps (below average).
Click to enlargeAside from our review unit, the $1,049 N53JF-XE1, there are four other configurations available in this line. The N53JF-A1 costs $999 and lacks a Blu-Ray drive (DVD-RW only) and the full HD resolution--the max is 1366 x 768. There's also the N53JQ series, which comes in three configurations. All N53JQ laptops come with a 1.73-GHz Core i7 processor, 4 RAM slots for a maximum of 16GB, maximum 1366 x 768 resolution, and no Blu-ray option, only DVD. Otherwise, the specs are the same as the N53JF. The N53JQ-A1 ($1,199) and the N53JQ-XV1 ($1,099) both have the same configuration even though their prices are $100 apart. The $1,199 N53JQ-XT1 has a larger hard drive: 640GB, but only 5,400 rpm.
Click to enlargeAs always, ASUS pre-loaded several of its branded utilities and programs, many of which are quite useful. We're big fans of the FastBoot utility, which allows users to choose which programs and services load first when Windows 7 starts. Additionally, ASUS includes tools and utilities for watching and burning DVDs, webcam control, screen graphics adjustment, backup protection, login via facial recognition, and a customizable start-up sequence. ASUS Live Update keeps all this up to date.
ASUS' Video Magic program's front face is a feeder program that pulls together all your DVD and Blu-ray tasks into one portal. Behind the scenes, the utility is supposed to optimize color and brightness settings for better video watching. ASUS also claims that this software can upscale DVDs from around 740p to 1080p. When we watched a DVD of Aeon Flux on the N53JF and then on the Dell XPS 15, we didn't note much of a difference.
Also included is the familiar ExpressGate. This Linux-powered, instant-on environment launches when you press the small lightning bolt key above the keyboard when the system is off or hibernating. ExpressGate allows you to do the basics, such as chatting, surfing the web, listening to music, and making Skype calls.
Warranty and Support
ASUS generously covers the N53JF with a two-year limited global hardware warranty, a one-year accidental damage warranty, and a 30-day zero Bright Dot guarantee on the LCD with free 2-way shipping. In addition, users can get tech support 24/7 via phone, web, or e-mail. To see how the company fared in our latest Tech Support Showdown, click here.
The ASUS N53JF-XE1 offers quite a bit of muscle and multimedia satisfaction. For around a grand, you get a full HD display, a premium design, impressive audio quality, and enough graphics power to play popular games. Some may prefer the Dell XPS 15 because it delivers slightly better performance, an HD webcam, and better bass for less dough. However, that machine has a 1366 x 768 display, compared to 1920 x 1080 for the N53JF, and we prefer the overall design of the ASUS. So if you want a bigger canvas for work and play, the ASUS N53JF is worth every penny.