Monday, April 4, 2011
ASUS G73SW + SNB: Third Time’s the Charm?
A Sandy Bridge system with the revised B3 stepping chipset, but at least vendors are ready to ship us preview/review hardware again. MSI let us post a preview of their GT680R a couple weeks ago. (Actually, they asked us to send it back but since we had finished benchmarking we wanted to post the numbers; they then agreed to let us tell you it was their notebook.) Now, we’ve got the ASUS G73SW in hand, with very similar hardware specs and the same G73 chassis that wowed us early last year.
Unfortunately, things have changed a bit over the past year, and what was new and exciting isn’t quite so likely to catch our eye these days. If you love the G73 “stealth bomber” design, there’s nothing to complain about; however, if you think it looks huge, tacky, boring, [insert your own derogatory adjective], then there’s likewise nothing to praise. What has changed since the G73JW we looked at in November amounts to one thing: Sandy Bridge. Okay, that means a new chipset and CPU, which also necessitates an updated motherboard, but as far as appearances go you won’t be able to tell them apart. You can check out the above gallery of the G73SW if you missed the earlier systems, or if you just need a refresh.
ASUS G73SW-A1 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-2630QM
(4x2.0GHz + HT, 32nm, 6MB L3, Turbo to 2.9GHz, 45W)
Chipset Intel HM65
Memory 4x2GB DDR3-1333 (Max 8GB)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460M 1.5GB GDDR5
192 SPs, 675/1350/625MHz Core/Shader/RAM clocks
(2.5GHz effective RAM clock)
Display 17.3" LED Glossy 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
Hard Drive(s) 2x500GB 7200RPM HDD (non-RAID)
(Seagate Momentus 7200.4 ST9500420AS)
Optical Drive Blu-ray/DVDR Combo (Slimtype BDE DS4E1S)
Networking Gigabit Ethernet (Realtek RTL8168/8111)
802.11n WiFI (Atheros AR9285)
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR (Broadcom BT-270)
Audio EAX Enhanced HD 5.0 Audio (2.1 speakers + subwoofer)
Microphone and headphone jacks
Capable of 5.1 digital output (HDMI)
Battery 8-Cell, 14.6V, 5.2Ah, 75Wh
Front Side Power/Battery/HDD/WiFi indicator lights
Left Side Headphone Jack
2 x USB 2.0
Optical Drive (BD-ROM/DVDRW)
Right Side Memory Card Reader
1 x USB 2.0
1 x USB 3.0
AC Power Connection
Back Side 2 x Exhaust vent
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 16.54" x 12.20" x 0.74-2.24" (WxDxH)
Weight 8.47 lbs (with 8-cell battery)
Extras Gaming (Laser) Mouse
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 $1745
The good things about the design remain: the wedge shape gives plenty of room for cooling the CPU and GPU, and compared to similarly specced laptops (i.e. the MSI GT680R) it runs pretty quiet. That’s impressive considering the quad-core CPU and 460M GPU, and for good measure ASUS includes 8GB (4x2GB) RAM. ASUS continues to use a pair of 500GB hard drives, without RAID 0, but we wish they would offer a moderate SSD as the OS/app drive as an alternative (maybe an X2 variant can go that route?). All told, performance is quite good.
Matte surfaces abound, with a rubberized coating that feels nice, though it tends to show greasy spots if your hands secrete a lot of oils. There’s keyboard backlighting and the LCD is a high-contrast model (though it’s sadly still limited to a maximum brightness of around 160 nits). The standard connection options are here: three USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, HDMI 1.4, VGA, and a flash memory reader. You also get a Blu-ray combo drive, gigabit Ethernet port, 802.11n networking (150Mbps capable), and Bluetooth.
On the not so great side of the fence, there’s no FireWire, eSATA, ExpressCard, or DisplayPort, and this is a very large 17.3”-screen chassis—it almost feels like an 18.4”-screen chassis at first contact, and the LCD bezels are large enough that you could come very close to fitting in such a panel. The GTX 460M is also feeling a little bit like yesterday’s news—we’d love to see a faster 470M or even the shiny new 485M, though it appears ASUS hasn’t qualified the G73 chassis for such chips. And speaking of the chassis, while it may be good for cooling, the wedge shape isn’t going to please everyone. Perhaps the biggest complain, however, is that pricing has gone up yet again.
The G73JH-A1 came with a blow-out starting price of just $1500 at launch (though some retailers marked it up closer to $1575). The G73JW-A1 added USB 3.0 and switched to a GTX 460M GPU, with an updated i7-740QM to replace the i7-720QM, and the starting price moved to $1600. Now we’re looking at the same GPU with a Sandy Bridge i7-2630QM (which ostensibly should be priced the same as the outgoing i7-740QM), and the MSRP is up to $1700 (possibly more). So I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but: You’re going the wrong way, ASUS! Other gaming notebooks like the MSI GT680R (going for $1475 online) offer nearly identical specs, so unless you want the larger display/chassis, backpack, and mouse or prefer some of the other ASUS elements (like a higher contrast LCD and keyboard backlighting), this is no longer the bargain gaming system that the G73JH was.
Other Points of Interest
Besides the core hardware, readers will occasionally want to know about other areas like sound quality. Dell’s XPS 15/17 are still the high-water mark in my book, with clear highs, mids, and lows. The G73 chassis can put out a decent amount of sound, but it’s a lot more boomy than the XPS 15. Some sort of equalizer would be of great service for tweaking sound levels, as the built-in subwoofer just feels mushy and overpowering.
Battery life, as we’ll show later, has gone up a bit relative to the G73JW. This is expected, as quad-core Sandy Bridge should use far less power than the old quad-core Clarksfield. With the same 75Wh battery, the G73SW can now reach over 3.5 hours of battery life in our best-case testing, and in general should last close to three hours for light use. For other comments on the design and build quality, we’ll defer to our previous G73JW and G73JH reviews, as nothing else has changed that I can see.
In short, this is a very evolutionary design. It’s still good, still fast, and still reasonably priced relative to other gaming notebooks. You can get about 60% of the gaming performance of the GTX 485M-equipped Clevo P170HM and (with similar components) you’re paying about 70% of the price. Or if you prefer, the Clevo P170HM with the same i7-2630QM, GTX 460M, 2x500GB HDD, 8GB RAM, and Blu-ray combo drive will cost about $1950 (at AVADirect). But that means that if performance is your primary consideration, you’ll be better off opting for a laptop with a GTX 485M (or an HD 6970M). Personally, I’m more interested in testing the slightly smaller G53SW… but then I’ve already got a Clevo P150HM (with HD 6970M) in hand, and outside of the pricing that could very well be the 15.6” laptop to beat. You’ll have to wait until next week to get the P150HM review; for now, let’s look at the performance of the G73SW compared to our other high-end gaming notebooks.