Look at the Asus N53SN's spec sheet and its price tag, and your first thought will probably be 'what's the catch?' Tying together a second-generation Intel Core i7 processor, a meaty graphics card, 8GB of RAM, a Blu-ray player and a 1,920x1,080-pixel display for under £900, our version of this 15.6-inch laptop certainly made us mighty suspicious. But did it break our hearts, or is this indeed a great-value multimedia machine?
In terms of design, there's not much to write home about. The lid looks rather slick, with a silvery brushed-aluminium effect surrounding a chrome 'Asus' logo. But, on the inside, the machine looks more ordinary, with grey plastic the order of the day. A large, rounded speaker grille beneath the display looks quite unique, and the chassis curves toward the screen hinge, but these features, while interesting, will hardly set your heart aflame.
The trackpad is comfortable and really sensitive, so you probably won't find your thumb cramping up during intense Web browsing sessions. Alas, the keyboard is less impressive. We're getting more and more used to seeing MacBook Pro-style isolated keyboards on new laptops, but the N53SN's keyboard design harks back to machines of yesteryear.
The layout of the keyboard is sensible, but the keys don't feel too solid. We noticed some flex when we applied pressure to the centre of the keyboard, and there's not much travel to the keys either. If you're typing at speed, you might find yourself making a few mistakes.
This laptop is a bulky monster too. Weighing 2.7kg and measuring 391 by 41 by 266mm, it's most certainly a desktop-replacement machine. It's crammed full of ports and hardware, and the huge power brick is about as portable as an Easter Island statue.
The machine is substantially more impressive once you reach the Windows desktop and realise the display is rather gorgeous. There's a version with a 1,366x768-pixel resolution, but our review sample boasted a whopping 1,920x1,080 pixels, which makes for an extremely crisp display.
More impressive is that this 15.6-inch panel is very bright and colourful, so games, photos and videos should look their best. Admittedly, the screen is very glossy, so there are some annoying reflections bouncing around but, for the most part, the display is bright enough to cancel those out. Using the N53SN in direct sunlight won't be much fun, but we didn't find the reflections too irritating.
Those meaty components we mentioned before certainly seemed to pull their weight in our benchmark tests. The CPU is a quad-core Intel Core i7-2630QM clocked at 2GHz, and there's a monster 8GB of RAM too. With an Nvidia GeForce GT 550M graphics card also nestling inside, the N53SN scored a mighty 8,280 in the PCMark05 test, and a similarly impressive 8,815 in 3DMark06, which rates a laptop's graphics performance.
With scores like these, you can expect this laptop to run most games without breaking a sweat, unless you're playing especially cutting-edge titles with the settings turned up high. HD video playback is a no-brainer for a computer of this stature and, indeed, it has a Blu-ray player to meet your visual needs. If you want to slice some cash off the final price, there's a version with a DVD rewritable drive instead.
The N53SN's connectivity is decent, but we'd expect no less given the size of the chassis. VGA and HDMI outputs are present, along with a multi-format card reader, 3.5mm sockets for headphones and a mic, three USB ports (one of which supports USB 3.0), and a 2-megapixel webcam lurking above the display. This laptop runs the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 Home Premium, and packs in a 750GB, 7,200rpm hard drive for good measure.
The laptop's battery life is pretty good. We weren't expecting much from a machine that's not built to be particularly portable but, when we ran the N53SN's CPU at a constant 100 per cent, the battery held out for 2 hours and 33 minutes before conking out. You can expect longer battery life with more responsible use.
The Asus N53SN's design leaves something to be desired, but it's a very capable multimedia machine that'll churn through loads of processor-intensive tasks. We've seen sturdier, classier machines, but, in terms of pure performance, this is a solid machine that offers good value for money.
Edited by Charles Kloet