ASUS G74SX: Meaningful Updates, Sans Optimus

The last time we took ASUS’ G7 series out for a spin was just after the Sandy Bridge launch, and as one of the first such laptops it wasn’t too surprising to find most of the specs largely unchanged from the previous generation. This time around, ASUS has had an extra four months to work out the kinks, resulting in an updated system that sports improved components specs as well as a few updates to the core design.

We’ll cut straight to the chase and point out the biggest change, at least from an external perspective: the keyboard layout fixes one of the few (minor) complaints we had with the G73 series, giving us full-size cursor keys and a larger numerical keypad. In fact, the palm rest and keyboard have been tweaked, with aluminum around the keys now instead of plastic, the removal of a few quick-access keys, and a slight change in some of the angles. The result is nearly notebook keyboard perfection as far as I’m concerned—at least if you have a 17.3”-screen chassis to work with. The one blemish is the half-size zero key on the 10-key.

Gallery: ASUS G74SX-A2

The keyboard and palm rest may be the major change in terms of appearance, but looking at the back and bottom of the chassis reveals a few other modifications. The two vents on the side corners are now a single larger vent in the middle, the battery is in the back-left corner now, and there’s a single large access panel secured by a single screw that lets you get to the storage and memory. The components have also received a few upgrades, but let’s post the obligatory features table and then we’ll discuss the finer points.

ASUS G74SX-A2 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-2630QM
(4x2.0GHz + HT, 32nm, 6MB L3, Turbo to 2.9GHz, 45W)
Chipset Intel HM65
Memory 4x4GB DDR3-1333 (Max 16GB)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560M 1.5GB GDDR5
192 SPs, 775/1550/625MHz Core/Shader/RAM clocks
(2.5GHz effective RAM clock)

Drivers: 285.27 Beta/280.26 WHQL
Display 17.3" LED Glossy 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
(Chimei Innolux N173HGE-L21)
Hard Drive(s) Intel 160GB 320 Series SSD (SSDSA2CW160G3) 750GB 7200RPM HDD
(Seagate Momentus ST9750420AS)
Optical Drive Blu-ray/DVDR Combo (Slimtype BDE DS4E1S)
Networking Gigabit Ethernet (Realtek RTL8168/8111)
802.11n WiFi 150Mbps (Atheros AR9002WB-1NG)
Bluetooth 3.0+HS (Atheros)
Audio Realtek ALC269 HD Audio (2.1 speakers + subwoofer)
Microphone and headphone jacks
Capable of 5.1 digital output (HDMI)
Battery 8-Cell, 14.4V, 5.2Ah, 74Wh
Front Side N/A
Left Side Headphone Jack
Microphone Jack
Optical Drive (BD-ROM/DVDRW)
2 x USB 2.0
Kensington Lock
Right Side Memory Card Reader
1 x USB 3.0
1 x USB 2.0
VGA
HDMI
Ethernet
AC Power Connection
Back Side Large exhaust vent
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 16.54" x 12.80" x 0.82-2.44" (WxDxH)
420 x 325 x 20.9-62 mm (WxDxH)
Weight 9.42 lbs (with 8-cell battery)
4.28 kg
Extras Gaming (Laser) Mouse
ASUS Backpack
2MP Webcam
102-Key keyboard with 10-key
Flash reader (SD, MMC, MS-Duo, Smart Media, xD)
Warranty 2-year limited global warranty
1-year accidental damage and battery warranty
Pricing Online starting at $1948
Other G74SX models starting at $1200

Nearly all of the changes make good sense, but the net result is a $200 jump in price from when the G74SW-A1 launched to the G74SX-A2 we’re reviewing. The lion’s share of the price increase can be traced back to the Intel 320 Series 160GB SSD, of course: that will set you back $285 all by itself. We’d still prefer something like an Intel 510 Series or a SandForce 2200 equipped SSD for the added performance, but the 320 Series strikes a reasonable blend of performance, capacity, and price—and it’s still far faster than any hard drive! The hard drive meanwhile gets a bump to 750GB, and ASUS keeps the same Blu-ray combo drive.

Moving on to the other elements, the same CPU remains but the memory gets a bump from 4x2GB to 4x4GB. The GPU also gets an upgrade to the GTX 560M, which improves clock speeds by 15% but keeps memory bandwidth the same. NVIDIA made a point of telling us that all of their 500M GPUs are now Optimus enabled, but of course the same was true of their 400M parts. As before, it’s up to the notebook manufacturers to decide whether or not to utilize Optimus, and ASUS continues to eschew the technology on their gaming notebooks. Whether you feel that’s a good or bad thing is up to personal opinion, but in general we’d prefer to have Optimus on any notebook with a discrete GPU.

We know Optimus can create issues for Linux users (basically, you lose access to the discrete GPU), but that’s a very small market and ASUS certainly isn’t catering to them with their gaming notebooks. At least one reader said he had experienced sluggishness using the latest GPU-accelerated browsers with CSS3 content, but we have been unable to corroborate his claims as no links to offending websites were provided. We tested with Dell’s XPS 15 and the ASUS G74SX on a variety of CSS3 sites and didn’t experience any severe problems in Chrome 14 or Firefox 7. We did notice that resizing the Firefox 7 window while viewing some websites was choppy, but if that’s the extent of the problem I’d still prefer Optimus. If anyone can provide a better list of sites and/or problems with Optimus, we’ll be happy to look into it, but otherwise I can’t see any problems severe enough with the latest Sandy Bridge Optimus notebooks to make discrete-only solutions preferable.

The remainder of the notebook is generally the same, and as with its predecessors, the G74SX runs remarkably cool and quiet even under extended gaming sessions. Why they don’t stuff in a faster GPU than the GTX 560M—at least in certain models—remains a bit of a mystery. The Alienware M17x isn’t all that different and supports the GTX 580M, and outside of potential power adapter constraints (hello 100W dGPU), the GTX 580M seems like it would work in the G74S chassis. That’s the real competition for ASUS here: Alienware’s more expensive but potentially better equipped M17x R3 gaming notebook.

We really liked the M17x R3, enough that we gave it our Bronze Editors’ Choice award. The G74SX runs quieter and doesn’t get as hot, and in my opinion it has a perfect keyboard layout with no discernible flex. Alienware counters with zoned colored backlighting and higher spec GPU and CPU options, but they’ll cost you. The M17x with GTX 560M and upgraded to 1080p and 16GB RAM is already at $2050, and that doesn’t include Intel’s 160GB SSD, so you’re basically looking at $375 for a straight-across upgrade to an M17x R3 with the same specs (but with extra lighting). Kick the M17x to a GTX 580M and you add another $500, which is probably more than most people are willing to pay—for that matter, the $1950 starting price of the G74SX-A2 is already dangerously high, though models without the SSD, with less memory, and with a 1600x900 LCD can be had for $1300 (or there's the $1200 Best Buy model linked above) if that’s what you’re after.

From a design standpoint, the G74SX has really addressed all of our complaints with the previous G73 series—not that we had any severe concerns, as we even awarded the G73Jh a Gold Award when it first launched. The chassis feels more refined, and with an SSD for the OS and applications (and maybe even a few games), the overall experience is definitely improved. There are faster gaming notebooks, or less expensive gaming notebooks, but it’s hard to find fault with the overall balance of options used in the G74SX-A2. Let’s hit the benchmarks for a few pages before coming to a final conclusion.

Application Performance: Add an SSD for Improved Performance
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  • Siorus - Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - link

    Unfortunately it doesn't look like I'm going to have time to play around with either system at work anytime soon, so all I can do is relay the information I found when I was trying to deal with it a few months ago.

    GTA4, GRID, Starcraft 2, WoW and Left 4 Dead 2 are all affected, according to this thread on notebookreview: http://forum.notebookreview.com/asus-gaming-notebo...

    And I understand your position on Furmark; there's no arguing that it's a "power virus" so to speak. That said, my personal opinion is that the power supply and cooling systems on these graphics cards should be designed with the absolute worst-case scenario in mind. Limiting board power to keep the card from smoking itself is ridiculous; it's taking the cheap way out rather than beefing up the power supply and the heatsink.

    At the risk of going off on a rant (I'll try to keep it short), I see it as symptomatic of a cultural shift; it's evident in plenty of other consumer devices. For instance, I've got a Pioneer SX-1980 stereo receiver. Made in 1978. Linear power supply; the transformer is a toroid around the size of a 50 pack of DVDs; the filter caps are the size of beer cans. It weighs almost 100lbs, and it's rated for 275 watts per channel into 8 ohms. That's continuous power, with both channels driven. The most powerful stereo receiver Pioneer ever made. It will happily put out its rated 550w, 24hrs a day, 7 days a week, from now until the caps dry out or whatever. Almost all modern multichannel receivers will not do that; they are often rated with only 1 channel driven, and "continuous" power quite frequently means for a duration of a handful of seconds or less. A lot of people would consider the SX-1980 to be "overbuilt"; it's not-it's just built to do what the box says it will do, which has become something of an alien concept.

    But nobody cares because they don't want to spend any money. People would rather pay $200 for a receiver-or a graphics card-than $300 or $400 for one that's built properly. *shrug*
    Reply
  • chinedooo - Saturday, October 08, 2011 - link

    ATI does graphics switching so much better than Nvidia. With my dv6t i have the option of using dynamic switching like optimus which switches automatically based on the application, or fixed switching which i switch manually, and it also switches when the laptop is running off battery. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 08, 2011 - link

    And the flickering on manual switching is awesome, plus the regular driver updates from AMD... wait, you don't those, do you? I did a whole article on comparing Optimus and AMD Dynamic Switchable; it's not even a close competition:
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4839/
    Reply
  • darklu - Sunday, October 09, 2011 - link

    where is the excellent gt780r by msi in your test?
    the msi is better than g74 because he had an 570m ^^
    Reply

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