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After a season of wafer-thin ultrabooks and pocket-sized ultraportables, there's nothing quite like a giant desktop-replacement gaming rig. Despite making a name for itself with the original Eee PC Netbook and the new Zenbook, Asus has always had a solid line of gaming laptops (sometimes marketed under the "Republic of Gamers" subbrand), the latest of which is the G74SX-A2.
While that jumble of letters and numbers may not be very illuminating, the system it refers to is a strong performer that has the added benefit of not looking like the typical ugly gaming laptop. The $1,949 G74SX is an angular black box, and its muted matte finish helps it from feeling as massive as it actually is.
These days, two grand is really an astronomical amount to pay for a laptop, and generally only Apple gets away with charging that much. In this case, you do get some serious hardware for the money, including a quad-core 2.0GHz Intel Core i7-2630QM CPU, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 560M GPU, a 160GB solid-state drive (SSD) coupled with a 750GB hard-disk drive (HDD), and a whopping 16GB of RAM.
All that makes it good for mid- to high-level gaming, though not on the same level as our current gaming laptop leaders, the Origin EON17, which is an overclocked $3,500 monster built into a hideously generic Clevo chassis, and the $5,000 configuration of Dell's Alienware M18x that we tested earlier this year. But even serious gamers are unlikely to notice a difference except on the highest details settings of the latest PC games such as Skyrim and Battlefield 3.
If you're only a casual (or semiserious) gamer, this system may be overkill, but the possibilities of the large dual hard-drive setup and 16GB of RAM may be appealing to video editors and other multimedia types. If you want gamer-oriented power, without the over-the-top designs and blinking lights of an Alienware PC, the G74SX could be your wolf in sheep's clothing.
|Price as reviewed||$1,949|
|Processor||2GHz Intel Core i7-2630QM|
|Memory||16GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||160GB SSD + 750GB 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GTX 560M|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||16.5x12.8 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||17.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||9.9 pounds / 11.9 pounds|
As mentioned above, the look and feel of the Asus G74SX falls somewhere between the dorm-room-chic glitz and lights of an Alienware gaming laptop and the generic, ugly black-box look of hand-assembled specialty systems, typically built around an off-the-shelf Clevo body. The entire outer shell is matte black plastic, and the system tapers slightly toward the front, with the sides of the lid angling down for a winglike look. The rear edge has a giant fan vent, also sharply angled, and reminiscent of the front grille on a classic muscle car--it's one of the few high-design touches on the laptop, so it's too bad it's facing away from the user most of the time.
The trend toward thinner, lighter laptops, at all screen sizes, makes the over 9-pound weight of this laptop even more jarring, although it weighs nearly 3 pounds less than Alienware's massive 18-inch M18x. For a more sophisticated take on what a big-screen laptop can look like, check out HP's Envy line, which does high power and high style equally well.
The feature-free interior has only a keyboard, a large touch pad, a few status indicator lights (HDD access, Wi-Fi, and so on), and power/quick-launch buttons. You're unlikely to ever deliberately use the quick-launch pre-Windows operating system, especially as this laptop is designed to stay tethered to your desk full-time, but as the two buttons sit right next to each other, it's easy to accidentally hit the wrong one. When the system is already running Windows, that second button activates a quiet mode to reduce fan noise.
That aside, the keyboard is a basic, no-frills affair, except for a handy backlight. The flat-topped, widely spaced keys are of the same island style found on most laptops these days, but the bigger footprint could have supported a deeper keystroke. The keys themselves are a decent size, but they wiggle slightly under even light typing, which isn't the kind of premium feel you expect from a $2,000 laptop. There's a full-size separate number pad to the right, and the four arrow keys sit somewhat awkwardly between the QWERTY keyboard and number pad.
The large touch pad is a plus, and unlike some bigger pads that incorporate the left and right mouse button functions directly into the pad (the clickpad approach--Apple does it well, others, not so much), in this case you get physical left and right mouse buttons. The buttons are big enough to hit comfortably, with a solid-feeling, but thankfully silent, click.
Asus packs in several custom software applications, some of which you may find useful, but most are so proprietary that you're unlikely to invest the time needed to learn them. The Rotation Desktop app lets you swap between different customized desktops (much like a Mac does), and the Smart Logon Manager handles facial recognition for passwords. One of the apps, the dreadful Asus Vibe Fun Center (yes, that's really the name), is just an ugly front end for selling you game and music content.
The display is arguably the most important part of a gaming or desktop-replacement laptop. In this case, it's a 17.3-inch, 1,920x1,080-pixel-resolution screen, which is exactly what we'd expect from any 17-inch notebook outside of the occasional $500 bargain-basement special. The screen is clear and colors pop, but it doesn't get particularly bright. An overly glossy topcoat reflects light easily, which is a shame, as the off-axis viewing is actually pretty good aside from that. Unlike some high-end laptops that have thin bezels or edge-to-edge glass, this screen is surrounded by thick plastic and (not to harp on the point, but...) doesn't look or feel like a $2,000 system.
The audio is meaty enough to play games without headphones, and only a big, big laptop such as this can pack in speakers large enough to move the air necessary for decent sound. Unfortunately, the volume controls are secondary functions of the F9, F10, and F11 keys, so you'll need to fumble around a bit to adjust volume on the fly.
|Asus G74SX-A2||Average for category [desktop replacement]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0; 1 USB 3.0; SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray player/DVD burner||DVD burner, optional Blu-ray player|
While you get Blu-ray and a single USB 3.0, there's something to be said for a big desktop replacement laptop having an eSATA port, which for now is still a more common way to connect a large external drive than USB 3.0. Bluetooth is handy for connecting a wireless mouse without using up a USB port, but don't expect too many frills beyond that.
While the specific configuration reviewed here runs $1,949, there is a less-expensive $1,500 version that drops the RAM from 16GB to 12GB, and ditches the 160GB SSD for a single 1,5TB, 7200rpm hard drive.