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ASUS N56VJ-S4168H review

I've been meaning to write this for a while now, considering I bought my ASUS N56VJ-S4168H back in April 2013, but I guess better late than never.

The ASUS N56VJ is a rather high-end laptop, and it cost about 1,000€ when I purchased it. However, tech is generally rather expensive in Finland, so I suppose that 1,000€ would be roughly converted to $1,000 in the US or the UK. I was replacing my old eMachines G640G, which was a steaming pile of shit during its entire life, and I decided to put quite a lot of money into this new laptop, as it was going to be my main computer for the following years. After extensive research, my choice landed on the ASUS, having also considered similar-specced laptops from Lenovo and Acer, amongst others.

While the ASUS didn't necessarily have the best possible specs amongst my candidates, it nicely covered all my requirements and looked good, to top it. Having used it for almost a year now, I can say that it was definitely worth the investment. Then again, any new laptop would have defeated the old eMachines laptop.

The ASUS comes with a third-generation Intel Core i7-3630QM quad-core processor clocked at 2.4 GHz (with turbo boost to 3.4 GHz). This is a powerful processor with hyperthreading, which means there are eight logical cores. Its performance is rather stellar, comparing to desktop-class components. I've never seen the CPU being the bottleneck, although a powerful processor always comes with the cost of increased power usage. Indeed, the i5 model of the ASUS has a max power draw of 90W, whereas my model can use up to 120W. On the other hand, the processor downclocks to 1.2 GHz when not needed, and in my experience, further underclocking has never been needed. The CPU doesn't really use a lot of power when idling.

Among the candidates I mentioned above, the HDD options varied. My laptop comes with a standard 7200rpm 750GB hard disk drive, whereas the other options included 5400rpm HDDs ranging from 500GB to 1TB. However, I decided a faster but a bit smaller HDD would be the best choice. Sure, some of the Lenovo laptops I looked at came with 16GB mSATA SSDs, which probably would've added some performance, but considering their size, and the fact that they probably would've been used for the Windows installation, I opted for the 750GB HDD. That said, it's apparently very easy to replace the HDD with an SSD, though I haven't done that, at least not yet, considering the lack of large and affordable 2.5" SSDs (I'm talking about 512GB and larger) on the market. I ran a few command-line disk speed tests to try out the speed:

ecks@laptop ~ $ dd if=/dev/zero of=test bs=1048576 count=6144
6144+0 records in
6144+0 records out
6442450944 bytes (6.4 GB) copied, 53.6956 s, 120 MB/s

Essentially I was writing 6144 megabytes of zeroes to the disk; the HDD averaged a write speed of 120 MB/s, which is quite decent, but not nearly as good as consumer SSDs, which are usually around 600-700 MB/s.

The ASUS came installed with 2x4 GB of DDR3 SDRAM 1600 MHz. While this was good enough for most things, I decided to invest in more memory and bought 2x8 GB sticks. These were really easy to install; open the lid, plug out old RAM, insert new RAM, done. The laptop only has two slots, meaning it's now maxed out at 16 GB. This is of course more than any normal user needs, and I can't say I've ever used more than 10GB or so.

One of the benefits of choosing a "proper laptop" over an ultrabook is that they come with dedicated graphics cards. While the Intel processor comes with built-in Intel HD 4000 graphics, the ASUS also features a nVIDIA GT635M graphics card for more demanding tasks. While the integrated graphics perform rather well for everyday tasks such as browsing, it's nice to have a discrete card for tasks such as gaming. Indeed, while the 635M is a low-end mobile card, it performs quite good, averaging about 60 fps in Minecraft with high settings. Which means good enough for me. On the other hand, the graphics card is probably the bottleneck in most cases, and some of the Lenovo alternatives I looked at had cards such as one or even two 650M cards. Getting dual graphics to work on Linux is quite a challenge, too.

One of the greatest things about this ASUS is that it comes with a 15.6" 1920x1080 screen. Not only that, but the screen is matte. This means it reflects far less than conventional screens and makes the screen far cleaner and crisper than glossy screens. The FullHD screen has a pixel density of 19,941 pixels per square inch (about 141 PPI), which, in my opinion is perfect for a 15.6" laptop. I don't really see a point in higher-than-1080p resolutions for 15.6" and smaller screens. 3200x1800 seems like ridiculous overkill for a 13" laptop and nothing but a battery drainer.

The ASUS features a blu-ray drive, which is a nice addition, although I haven't really used it more than like... once? It also comes with plenty of ports, including four USB 3.0 ports and an ethernet port. It also comes with HDMI and the standard audio ports, as well as a Kensington lock port. Speaking of sound, the ASUS comes with "ICEpower" by Bang & Olufsen, and the built-in speakers are actually quite good, though I usually just use my speakers or headphones. The ASUS also came with a small can-like thing, which is apparently subwoofer. It doesn't work on Linux, though.

The keyboard is a positive surprise. It comes with a numpad, which can be useful for some people, but personally I haven't needed it. The layout is conventional; no keys are in placed in weird locations. Typing on it is a pleasure; the keys are sufficiently deep and have a comfortable clicking sound. I've always liked chiclet-type keyboards, and after the eMachines laptop I used, the ASUS laptop definitely ranks as one of the best keyboards I've used. To my surprise, the same solid keyboard also exists on lower-end ASUS laptops, which I got to experience first-hand, when I helped my uncle buy a laptop. The keyboard is definitely one of the highlights of the laptop, especially when comparing to, say, Acer and HP laptops, whose keyboards tend to be a disaster. To my surprise, the keyboard also features backlight, which is a nice addition when working in dark conditions. It also adds to the premium feel of the laptop.

The touchpad is quite big and has two buttons, and also supports the normal finger combos, such as triple-click for middle-click etc.

Overall, the laptop feels quite sturdy and well-built. The backside of the screen has a nice finish that contributes to the premium feel.

However, the ASUS is in no way a very portable laptop. It weighs more than 3kg and is over 3cm thick, which means that while it'll fit in your backpack, it is quite an effort to carry with you at all times. However, for my usage, it's perfect. The laptop is mostly located on my desk at home, but occasionally I need to take it to school or similar. And it's nice to be able to take it to bed and carry around the house — something you can't do with a desktop.

The ASUS has an ok battery, but you can't expect to get through the day with one charge. It lasts about four to five hours in light usage and significantly less when performing more demanding tasks. It's good enough for me, though. And even after a year of usage, its battery life is still quite good, and I haven't had the need to replace the battery. For what it's worth, the laptop uses about 10-15W when idling.

Pros

Cons

Conclusion

The ASUS N56VJ-S4168H is a great laptop for those who require better performance than the average user, but don't need their machine to be too portable. Users who have no need for portability should probably choose a desktop.