Asus M60J

Core i7 is here in mobile form. Some vendors will be attempting to rush these laptops out as close to the Windows 7 launch as possible. Keep an eye out — looks like the season to upgrade is well and truly upon us.

Craig Simms Special to CNET News
Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.
Craig Simms
4 min read

The first of the Core i7 laptops has crossed our path, and it bears the badge of Asus. Promising more performance, the mobile version of Intel's latest processor inherits the Turbo Boost feature from its desktop brethren, meaning that within a pre-defined thermal envelope individual cores will overclock automatically when more power is required.

As with the desktop version, the memory controller has been brought on-die, eliminating the north bridge from the equation and speeding up transaction times between RAM and CPU. Hyperthreading is also back, presenting two logical cores per physical to the operating system — meaning a quad-core processor appears as an octal, with the CPU trying to make more efficient use of idle execution units.

Eight logical cores are presented to the OS.
On a laptop, this is just freaking cool. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

Codenamed Clarksfield, it's a 45nm, Socket 989 chip. The CPU in our particular unit was a quad-core Core i7 Q820 running at 1.73GHz (with an auto-overclock up to 2.9GHz), with 32KB+32KB data plus instruction L1 cache, 256KB L2 cache and an 8MB L3.

It's been paired up with Intel's PM55 chipset, along with 4GB DDR3-1333MHz RAM, a 320GB Western Digital drive, a 320GB Hitachi drive and an Nvidia GeForce GT 240M with 1GB dedicated memory. The latter runs at 550MHz core, 1210MHz shader clock and 790MHz memory, making this a capable gaming machine. Asus actually has another laptop slated for gaming though, the G60J, with a GTX 260M inside instead, which in combination with Core i7 we suspect it will start bleeding more gamers away from the desktop and onto the laptop. It'll also come with a Blu-ray drive, but we've never seen the added cost as something important to gamers.

It's important to note the unit we're previewing today is an engineering sample — Asus' final spec for the M60J in Australia uses the quad-core Core i7 720QM @ 1.6GHz, and will come with DDR3-1066MHz RAM. It will contain dual-500GB hard drives, presumably from the same manufacturer. It'll ship on either Windows 7 Home Premium or Professional 64-bit at the end of October at AU$2599, while the upgraded G60J will command an AU$2999 price, and come as either a 16-inch 1366x768 laptop, or a 15.6-inch 1920x1200 laptop for those wanting more screen real estate.

The M60J has a 16-inch, LED backlit, 1366x768 display, although we do wish it supported a higher resolution considering the screen size. It has the edge-to-edge glass that's popular on today's laptops, but the screen is quite deeply set, negating the usual effect of extra space.

You can choose either a DVD drive or a Blu-ray drive, and as it's media focused, it has a funky light up touch pad below the screen with media controls that lights up blue when you touch it. While these eventually turn off, the set of blue lights indicating volume level never do, which could be a distraction when watching movies in the dark. Two Altec Lansing speakers flock either side of the panel, although there appears to be no subwoofer.

Apparently funky touch buttons make a multimedia laptop. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

It features a numpad to the right of its keyboard, and a touch pad that feels oddly small compared to the huge wrist rest — our engineering sample was also missing the multi-touch Elantech touch pad that we've come to enjoy in recent Asus laptops, opting for a Synaptics pad instead. The inclusion of a fingerprint scanner, nestled between the left- and right-click buttons, will no doubt please some.

Connectivity-wise, the M60J features a VGA port, FireWire, eSATA, HDMI, two USB ports and an ExpressCard 54 slot on the left, while on the right is the optical drive, another two USB ports and three audio jacks. The front lip plays host to the SD/MMC/MS card reader, while the rear gets the gigabit Ethernet port and interestingly, DisplayPort, which has taken quite a long time to achieve any sort of traction.

Internally it supports 802.11n and Bluetooth, but there's no WWAN, meaning those on mobile broadband are still limited to USB modems. The hot air vent has been placed on the left-hand side, and considering the hardware inside, it pushes quite the volume of heated air out — warming anything in its path, like say, a left-hander using an external mouse.


So the AU$2599 question — how does it perform? Like the wind. For a change, our 3DMark06 score outranks our PCMark05 score, grabbing 7447 versus 6902 — quite a big score for a laptop in both cases, something that the G60J will no doubt trounce. Unfortunately, all this power leads to low battery life, with the included six-cell battery lasting one hour, 17 minutes and 23 seconds in our extreme battery test, where we play back an XviD video with screen brightness and volume turned up to full, and turn off all the power-saving features in Windows. Ordinary use will net you significantly longer — this is a harsh test.

Core i7 is here in mobile form, with 32nm i7 and i5 CPUs to come early next year. While some vendors will be attempting to rush these laptops out as close to the Windows 7 launch as possible, Core 2 will be in the market a little while longer yet. Keep an eye out — looks like the season to upgrade is well and truly upon us.