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Laptop speakers have always been pretty pants, but that could change if Asus' latest technology lives up to the hype. The company's created a new N-series range of laptops, including this 17.3-inch Asus N73Jn, that do away with the bog-standard audio gubbins you find in most laptops, in favour of speakers and amplifiers from the sound geniuses at Bang & Olufsen. You can buy one, complete with a dual-core Intel Core i5-520M processor, 4GB of RAM and twin 320GB hard drives, for £1,000.
The N73Jn is a beast of a laptop, ostensibly designed to replace whatever desktop PC you're using at home. Its chassis measures a hefty 420 by 287 by 40mm and weighs 3.4kg with its six-cell battery, so only the brave or foolhardy would try to take it on the road.
Unlike many of its peers, Asus has shied away from using glossy plastics and has instead furnished the N73Jn with a gunmetal blue lid, graphite grey keyboard and grey brushed-metal palm rest. It's not especially flashy, but it's a good-looking device that should appeal to many users.
Larger laptops tend to have excellent keyboards, but the N73Jn's is something of a let-down. It is large enough and incorporates a dedicated numerical keypad that makes it easier to enter numbers into spreadsheets, but we can't help thinking it could be a heck of a lot better than it is. We'd have preferred an isolated, island-key design, as
we've seen on some of Asus' other premium laptops and netbooks. We'd also like if it didn't flex as much during typing, as this is sometimes an indication of questionable build quality.
The N73Jn is one of three N-series laptops that use the new SonicMaster audio solution -- a combination of hardware and software co-developed by Asus' own golden-eared audio experts and Bang & Olufsen Icepower. It comprises a discrete digital signal processor, a 3W amplifier, 32mm transducers (speakers) and -- perhaps most importantly -- an 80cc speaker chamber, which Asus says is 400% larger than those you'd find on standard laptops.
Technically, it's all very clever, and during tests, these speakers performed better than the norm. They are loud, clear and effective, provided you're in a small room and don't stray too far from the machine.
The N73Jn is far from perfect though. No amount of fancy branding and technical expertise can get around the fact that these are still laptop speakers. Ultimately, if you want to fill a room with sound, you're much better off using a set of decent external speakers.
The N73Jn's speakers may be slightly underwhelming, but the rest of the laptop is top-notch. Under the proverbial hood, Asus has supplied a dual-core Intel Core i5-520M CPU, 4GB of RAM and twin 320GB hard drives, which is a very good core spec.
The N73Jn also has excellent graphics capability. Its 17.3-inch screen has very wide vertical and horizontal viewing angles and great picture quality. Its 1,680x900-pixel resolution isn't quite high enough to make the most of the Blu-ray player you get round the left of the laptop, but it's possible to output 1080p video to a big-screen TV via the HDMI port on the right.
The screen is driven by not one but two graphics cards -- one fast, power-hungry Nvidia GeForce GT335M that handles visually demanding tasks, and another slower, but more efficient, Intel card designed to help prolong battery life. They work together seamlessly. Run a game, and all graphics are automatically pumped through the Nvidia card. The moment the laptop detects you're running an application that isn't as graphically demanding, it'll switch back to the Intel graphics card to conserve power.
The N73Jn has four USB ports, one of which supports the latest USB3 standard. This promises transfer rates 10 times higher than USB2 -- up to a theoretical maximum of 4.8Gbps if you've got a compatible USB3 device -- though real-world speeds are likely to be considerably lower. In our experience, USB3 tends to be a mere four times quicker than USB2, although that's not to be sniffed at.
The N73Jn offers very respectable performance. Its Intel Core i5-520M processor helped it score a highly presentable 6,654 in the PCMark05 benchmark, which puts it on the same level as laptops such as the Dell Studio 15. Its graphics performance was respectable, too. With the GeForce GT 335M running, it chalked up a 3DMark06 score of 7,120. That's about half what you'd expect from the very best gaming laptops, but it's certainly good enough to run any current game.
Battery life isn't the Asus N73Jn's strong point. Though it has Nvidia Optimus technology, it could only manage a paltry 1 hour and 47 minutes in our intensive Battery Eater classic test, which is designed to identify the laptop's minimum possible battery life. In the less-demanding Battery Eater reader test, used to demonstrate the best-possible battery life, it lasted 3 hours and 7 minutes.
The Asus N73Jn is a great all-round laptop. Its fancy audio system doesn't quite live up to the hype, but it's well designed, offers great performance and looks the part.
Edited by Emma Bayly