Sleek looks, top-notch performance, and very good battery life--all for less than $749. The Asus K53-B1 is ready to go toe-to-toe with the best multimedia notebooks you can buy for under a grand. Equipped with a second-generation Core i5 processor, 6GB of RAM, 640GB of storage, and the latest Intel HD graphics, this machine has a lot to offer. Should the ASUS K53E be at the top of your shopping list? Read our review to find out.
The ASUS K53E looks very good inside and out. The scover is finely textured plastic with a dark bronze finish and a chrome ASUS logo front and center. No matter if you're a student in class or a professional in a board meeting, the subtle pinstripe look will blend in pretty well with either surrounding. The finish holds up well to fingerprints, with the etched grooves breaking up any smudges before they become readily visible.
On the inside of the K53 ASUS uses brushed metal for the palmrest and keyboard trim, keeping the same color scheme, albeit a lighter shade of bronze. The palmrest wasn't as smudge-resistant as the lid, collecting plenty of finger prints after a heavy day of typing. That said, it was easy to wipe clean with a cloth without much trouble.
At 15.2 x 10.2 x 1.4 inches, this 15.6-inch laptop is easy to carry in a backpack, but its weight--5.8 pounds--makes it somewhat hefty for this class of notebook. The Toshiba Satellite L655 weighs 5.4 pounds, but the XPS 15 we reveiwed weighed 6.6 pounds with its extended battery.
The ASUS K53E kept temperatures in check after playing a Hulu video full-screen for 15 minutes. After this test the touchpad measured 82 degrees, with the center of the keyboard between the G and H keys measuring 82 degrees and the underside measuring 84 degrees. By all accounts these readings were well within our comfort zone for notebooks.
Click to enlargeCooling fan noise was minimal under stress, kicking on only when needed and staying out of normal audible ranges during normal use.
Keyboard and Touchpad
If you enjoy chiclet-style keyboards, the ASUS K53E provides a mostly pleasant typing experience. The keyboard exhibited some flex under pressure, but the layout is well spaced. While cramped, the included number pad is handy if you like having those dedicated buttons. Outside of some secondary functions on the keyboard, ASUS didn't provide any direct-access multimedia notebooks on the K53E. That means you'll have to use function key combos to do things like adjust the volume and brightness.
Measuring 3.25 x 2 inches, the ELAN touchpad of the K53E is big enough to easily handle multi-finger input without feeling cramped. We found it easy to whip the cursor around on the smooth surface, as well as to execute gestures like pinch to zoom and rotate. The touchpad also supports three-finger flicks for paging through photos and documents, and the ability to launch My Computer and switch windows with a three-finger swipe up or down. However, you have to first press all three fingers on the touchpad simultaneously, and it was a little tricky to execute.
Located within the recessed touchpad tray, the two touchpad buttons provide solid feedback when pressed but click a little too loudly.
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Display and Audio
Click to enlargeThe K53E offers a widescreen 15.6-inch display with the standard-issue resolution of 1366 x 768. Its glossy surface has a tendency to easily pick up reflections in a brightly lit room. While watching the trailer for Captain America, color reproduction and contrast were average, with black levels seeming muted. The LCD does have some minor screen-door effect when viewing at close range, with lines between pixels being most visible when browsing the web or typing documents. Brightness levels are more than adequate for viewing indoors, although not bright enough to remain visible outside in anything more than an overcast sky.
The Altec Lansing speakers on the K53 are located on the bottom of the notebook, even though the faux-mesh speaker grill above the keyboard suggests otherwise. When streaming Yellowcards' Ocean Avenue on Slacker, the volume was fairly strong but the audio wasn't as riched or balanced as the XPS 15, which also has a subwoofer. However, the K53 did a better job rendering Florence + The Machine's "Dog Days are Over;" the notebook easily filled a small room without sounding too tinny. Dialog and songs came through loud and clear when watching an episode of Glee on Fox.com.
Ports and Webcam
The ASUS K53E features a standard assortment of ports for a 15.6-inch notebook, but newer high-speed connections are lacking. The system includes three USB 2.0 ports, VGA and HDMI-out for video, and gigabit Ethernet. Given the notebook's upper mid-range pricing, a USB 3.0 or eSATA port would have been nice for faster backups to a compatible external drive. A spring-loaded SDHC-card reader is also included underneath the palmrest, which kept the card neatly ticked away once inserted.
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To handle all of your video chatting needs, the K53E comes equipped with a 0.3-MP webcam, which worked well under most conditions. With bright lighting the video was very fluid without any stuttering. In a dark room the picture became slightly pixilated.
This ASUS K53E includes a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-2410M dual-core processor, 6GB of DDR3 memory, and Intel GMA HD graphics, making this laptop a strong performance. We measured a score of 5,729 in PCMark Vantage, which was higher than the current mainstream category average of 5,154, and just edged out the Toshiba Satellite A665-S5176 (5,614). However, the Acer Aspire TimelineX 4820TG's 2.66-GHz Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM managed 6,348 on the same test.
The 640GB 5,400-rpm hard drive needed 70 seconds to launch Windows 7 Home Premium, which is about 3 seconds slower than the current average. Using the LAPTOP internal file transfer test, the K53E needed only 2 minutes and 53 seconds to copy 5GB of mixed media, working out to an average speed of 29.4 MBps. That's nearly 5 MBps faster than average, as well as the Toshiba A665 (25.6 Mbps)
The second-generation Intel Core i5-2410M processor plowed through our video conversion tests, needing only 46 seconds to transcode a 114MB MP4 file to AVI using Oxelon Media Encoder, well under the current average of 1:02. To convert a 5-minute 1080p file to iPod touch format using Cyberlink MediaShow Espresso, the K53E took 1:19, compared to 47 seconds for the Acer 4820TG.
Graphics and Gaming
The newer Intel GMA HD graphics performance was adequately strong, scoring 4,260 in 3DMark06, which surpassed the current category average of 3,625 by a fair margin. The Toshiba A665, which has the same graphics, had almost the same score (4,242), but the discrete AMD GPU in the Acer 4820TG notched an even higher 7,844.
Given the impressive synthetic gaming score, we had high expectations for the ASUS K53E going into our gaming tests. We weren't disappointed. In World of Warcraft with the recommended ‘good' settings, the K53E averaged 40 frames per second at a resolution of 1366 x 768. While that trounces systems such as the $499 Acer Aspire AS5253 (26 fps), it's well below the Acer 4820TG (74 fps) as well as the mainstream average (75 fps). With the settings maxed, the K53E's frame rates dropped to an unsatisfying 20 fps.
Far Cry 2 proved to be too much for this machine, with the K53E notching 22 fps with settings on autodetect at a low resolution of 1024 x 768.
Battery Life and Wireless
Click to enlargeThe ASUS K53E comes standard with a six-cell battery that provides more than enough runtime to get most users through their day. Using the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi), the notebook lasted for an impressive 5 hours and 43 minutes, far surpassing the average of 4:02. By comparison, the Toshiba A665 mustered 4:26. Even the 4820TG, which has switchable graphics, could only manage 5:11.
The Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6230 delivered a data rate of 30.5 Mbps at 15 feet, falling below the average of 34.8 Mbps for notebooks in this category. As the distance increased to 50 feet throughput dropped down to 14 Mbps, well under the average of 22 Mbps for notebooks at that distance.
Our configuration, the K53E-B1 ($749) features a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-2410M CPU, 6GB of RAM, and a 640GB hard drive. The K53E-A1, which lists for $679, comes with a 2.1-GHz Intel Core i3-2310M processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and Intel HD graphics.
ASUS stands this notebook with both a 2-year standard global warranty and a 30-day stuck hot pixel guarantee. During this warranty period ASUS includes free 2-way overnight shipping if something should go wrong. To see how ASUS fared on the annual LAPTOP Tech Support Showdown, click here. You can also see how the company stacked up in our Best & Worst Brands report.
For $749, the ASUS K53E-B1 gives buyers a stylish design and top-notch overall performance. We just wish the keyboard felt a little more solid and that the Wi-Fi performance was stronger from longer distances. For $50 more, you can get a Blu-ray player and better audio in the Toshiba A665, or spend the same extra 50 bucks to get a better sounding Dell XPS 15 with Nvidia graphics (albeit with less RAM and hard drive space). However, we really like the K53E because it lasts an hour longer on a charge than either of those systems and looks better doing it.