ASUS N61Jv-X2: Optimus GT325M Meets Arrandaleby Jarred Walton on March 13, 2010 10:00 PM EST
ASUS N61Jv-X2: An Excellent All-Around Notebook
It's clear that ASUS did their homework in putting together a competitive midrange notebook. The $900 price point was probably set by Amazon from the start, and ASUS has done everything they can to provide a quality mobile solution while stretching the available budget as far as possible. There are laptops that are smaller with better battery life, but they're also slower. Other laptops provide similar performance and better battery life, but they cost more. The one thing that nearly every other option is currently missing is NVIDIA's Optimus Technology, and that gives the ASUS and the N61Jv a clear leg up over the competition. It looks like Optimus is able to improve battery life by around 20% compared to similar performance notebooks that lack the technology (and lack switchable graphics in general), which is a far bigger jump than we've seen from other platform updates in the past.
In terms of competition, the N61Jv runs into a variety of offerings from all the major brands. There's the Dell Inspiron 15, for example, and we've also got the Acer Aspire 5740G. We can state unequivocally that the N51Jv-X2 bests the Inspiron 15 in every important metric. With the same i5-430M CPU, the Dell 1564 costs $799 (with a current $95 instant rebate). $100 less gets you about half the graphics performance, no USB 3.0, and a 5400RPM hard drive; you also lose Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11n, instead getting 100Mbit and 802.11g. We like the appearance and build quality of the N61Jv more than the Inspiron 15 as well, making such a match a no brainer.
The more difficult match is the Acer Aspire 5740. If you don't care about graphics/gaming, you can pick up the 5740 with Blu-ray for $685. In that case, you get a 320GB 5400RPM drive and an i3-330M CPU, but the overall package is quite good. For the performance oriented crowd, the Aspire 5740G skips Blu-ray but adds an HD 5650 GPU for a total cost of $750. We can confirm that the HD 5650 is faster than the GT325M in the N61J, but the 5740G also ends up getting about 25% less battery life. The HDD is also a 5400RPM model and it doesn't include USB 3.0 or an ExpressCard slot, and the ASUS warranty is better as well. Build quality seems quite good, and we do like the keyboard layout a bit more on the 5740G, but the N61Jv looks better in our opinion and we like the "rubberized paint" coating on the palm rest. All told, the 5740G definitely offers some stiff competition and the DX11 support may be enough to sway some buyers.
Ultimately, while there is plenty of competition, ASUS has done a lot to stand out from the crowd. Features like USB 3.0 support and Optimus make our "must have" list for any new laptop purchase. We can't point to any single area on the N61Jv and say, "wow… they messed up there!" The worst aspect is the mediocre LCD panel, but when everyone uses lousy LCD panels (at least in sub-$1000 laptops and notebooks), we can only complain so much. The LCD panel and somewhat small battery capacity prevent us from giving the N61Jv our top Gold award, and we'd like the same matte black coating on the cover and LCD bezel and not just the palm rest. Those are minor complaints at best, however, and we are presenting the N61Jv with our Silver Editors' Choice award for providing a superbly balanced package.
Like the recently ended Olympics, the difference between Gold and Silver often comes down to splitting hairs; unlike in the Olympics, though, we can have multiple winners and we don't actually have a competing laptop that we'd currently rate as the Gold standard. By that token, the N61Jv is the best midrange ($800 to $1000) notebook currently available. It's possible to match or surpass it with competing products, but not without sacrificing in other areas. What we want to see now are laptops that can match ASUS in all the good areas, and then add some other extras to sweeten the deal.