Asus G74SX-A2 - Core i7-2630QM 2GHz - 17.3-inch TFT
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.
Big gaming laptops are, if not rare, then at least not terribly common these days. Most of the 2011 models use one of Intel's quad-core Core i7 CPUs--in this case it's the 2GHz Core i7-2630QM. More than enough for gaming, HD video, multitasking, or whatever else you want to throw at it, this is undoubtedly more laptop power than most people will need.
The system performed very well in our benchmark tests, falling behind an overclocked (and much more expensive) Origin system, and landing in the same ballpark as other 2011 quad-core gaming laptops from Toshiba and Dell.
The Nvidia GeForce 560M GPU is part of the top tier of that company's current line of mobile parts, but the newer 570 and 580 GPUs are more powerful. In our very challenging Metro 2033 test, at full 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, the game ran at 20.3 frames per second. Street Fighter IV, a more mainstream test, ran at 59.7fps. Anecdotally, playing Skyrim at the same resolution, with all graphics settings at either high or ultra, the game was usually smooth and playable (and obviously looked a lot better than the console version).
|Asus G74SX-A2||Avg watts/hour|
|Raw kWh number||128.95|
|Annual power consumption cost||$14.64|
A big desktop replacement laptop isn't designed to spend a lot of time on the road, so it would be unfair to judge its battery life too harshly. That said, the G74SX did reasonably well in our video playback battery drain test, lasting 2 hours and 27 minutes. The Origin EON17 ran for 2 hours, 19 minutes in the same test, while the Dell XPS 17 3D ran for 3 hours and 6 minutes.
Asus gives its higher-end systems better-than-average coverage: a two-year parts-and-labor warranty that includes one year of Asus' accidental damage coverage, which protects you against damage from fire, electrical surges, drops, and spills. You'll find the typical online help--FAQ and troubleshooting pages, driver downloads, and user forums--on the Asus support Web site, but it's not nearly as easy to navigate and search as the support sites of more mainstream PC makers.
The $2,000 configuration of the Asus G74SX feels a bit too expensive to us, but the less-pricey $1,500 version could be a solid gaming choice, especially as Asus has a good rep for gaming laptops. True high-end gamers will want something a bit more boutique, and showoffs may gravitate toward Alienware's glowing alien-head logos and blinking lights.
|1,366x768, High, DX11, AAA, 4X AF||1,920x1,080, High, DX11, 4X AA, 16X AF|
Find out more about how we test laptops.
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2GHz Intel Core i7-2630QM; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 3GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560M; HDD No. 1: 160GB Intel SSD + HDD No. 2: 750GB Seagate 7,200rpm
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-2920XM; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 580M; HDD No. 1: 500GB Seagate 7,200rpm + HDD No. 2: C300-CTFDDAC128MAG 128GB SSD
Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G-9600
Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit); 2GHz Intel Core i7-2630QM; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce 555M; 750GB Seagate 5,400rpm
Toshiba Qosmio X775-3DV78
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2GHz Intel Core i7-2630QM; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560M; HDD No. 1: 500GB Seagate 7,200rpm + HDD No. 2: 750GB Toshiba 5,400rpm
Dell XPS 17 3D
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2GHz Intel Core i7-2630QM; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 3GB Nvidia GeForce GT 555M; 500GB Seagate 7,200rpm