It's surprising the sort of quality that you can get on a budget these days. Take Asus' AU$1299 N53SV — while the grey wrist rest with wood-grain pattern may be a matter of taste, the laptop is well constructed and of higher quality than you'd expect for the price bracket.
It still falls into the extremely common trap of providing a 1366x768 screen, though, something that with a screen size of 15.6 inches always seems a little too low. Still, the screen is reasonably bright, and the colour is just fine.
The typing experience is acceptable, although the keyboard base flexes a bit, which is a disconcerting behaviour. Asus has chosen to include Elantech's touch pad, which adds the brilliant ability to tap two or three fingers simultaneously to bring up the right-click menu. More than once, though, it got confused when using two-finger scrolling on web pages, engaging the zoom function instead — something that we recommend you turn off.
The N53SV offers a few things above the norm; a quad-core Core i7 2630QM and 6GB of RAM definitely boosts above the standard fare, while a Blu-ray reader gives the user more to work with. Asus also makes a point of difference in its warranty, offering two years rather than the more common one year.
The rest is reasonably standard for the category: a 640GB hard drive, 2.4GHz 802.11n, Bluetooth, four USB 2.0 ports, headphone and microphone jacks, HDMI and VGA out and an SD card reader.
Asus has bundled in its SonicMaster sound technology as well, which, along with some decent-quality speakers, brings better-than-usual sound. Just be prepared to dial back the "Vocal Clarity", "Surround" and "Bass" sliders in the SonicMaster app to regain high-end clarity.
Handbrake encoding (in seconds)
- 230Asus N53SV (Core i7 2630QM, 6GB RAM, 640GB HDD, GeForce GT 540M)
- 394Toshiba Satellite C665 (Core i5 2430M, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, GeForce 315M)
- 396Asus A53S (Core i5 2430M, 4GB RAM, 750GB HDD, GeForce GT 520MX)
- 405HP Pavilion dv6 (Core i5 2450M, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, Radeon HD 7690M XT)
- 476Acer Aspire 5750 (Core i3 2350M, 2GB RAM, 500GB HDD, Intel HD Graphics)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)