Asus G74SX

The Asus G74SX is designed for gamers. Though its simple appearance might not tip you off, its size certainly will. In spite of a few flaws — such as a noisy keyboard and not-noisy-enough speakers — the Asus G74SX packs excellent performance into an attractive chassis. It’s worth checking out if you’re looking for a “mobile” gaming powerhouse.

Our review model, priced at US$1979 (as of August 17 2011), sports a second-generation Intel Core i7 processor (the i7-2630QM) and offers 16GB of RAM plus 910GB of storage space spread over a 750GB hard drive and a 160GB solid-state drive. The G74SX is also one of the first laptops to come preloaded with Nvidia’s new GeForce GTX 560M graphics card. Additional features include built-in Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth connectivity, and a Blu-ray Disc player. The G74SX runs the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium.

In PCWorld‘s WorldBench 6 benchmark tests, the Asus G74SX earned an impressive score of 150, which is quite good even for the desktop replacement laptops category. That result is just one point behind the mark of the Dell XPS 17 3D. The G74SX also did well in our graphics tests, with frame rates of 48.8 frames per second and 46.3 fps on our Dirt 2 and Far Cry 2 tests, respectively (both at high quality settings and 1920 by 1080 resolution). Those numbers surpass the XPS 17 3D’s frame rates, which were 32.5 fps (Dirt 2) and 30.8 fps (Far Cry 2).

At nearly 10 pounds, with a 2-pound power brick, the G74SX isn’t really portable, unless you define that as merely meaning “possible to move.” This whopper measures 16.5 inches wide by 12.7 inches long, and is 2.4 inches at its thickest (the computer tapers off near the front).

The G74SX may be gigantic, but its design is elegantly simple. The laptop’s lid is plain and black save for a silver Asus logo, and it has a soft, slightly rubbery feel. Inside, the wrist rest features the same rubbery black material, while the Chiclet-style keyboard is backed with slate-gray brushed aluminum. The interior is thankfully free of bright, flashing lights–it sports just the power button and a few tiny notifiers, plus the optionally backlit keyboard. You’ll find just one dedicated button beside the power button, for switching between battery-saving and performance modes.

The wedge-shaped computer is thicker at the back, which is where the fan vents are located. The G74SX’s cooling system pulls air from under the laptop and pushes it out the rear. This arrangement is useful, according to Asus, for “keeping hot air away from the user and reducing ambient noise for prolonged gaming.”

Despite being enormous, the G74SX is a bit skimpy on ports. On the left side, the computer has only two USB 2.0 ports, as well as a Kensington lock slot, the Blu-ray drive, and headphone and microphone jacks. On the right side are two more USB ports (one 2.0 and the other 3.0), along with HDMI and VGA-out ports, a gigabit ethernet port, and a multiformat card reader.

The G74SX’s keyboard is full-size and backlit, and it features big keys. Asus has also put the keyboard at a 5-degree incline for better ergonomics. The keyboard is generally comfortable to type on, and the keys give good tactile feedback. I have only a couple of complaints: The keys are a little slippery for fast typists, and the keyboard is quite loud. (The latter issue is unfortunate, because the machine itself is otherwise very quiet.) The laptop has a number pad, too, and the machine’s generous width leaves enough room for that number pad to sit about 1.5 inches away from the keyboard.

Below the keyboard, and slightly off-center, is the roomy touchpad. The touchpad’s smooth black surface is very responsive and supports multitouch gestures. Below the touchpad sit two rubbery soft-touch mouse buttons, which are large, easy to press, and quiet. If you’re not a touchpad kind of person, Asus also supplies an ergonomic Republic of Gamers gaming mouse; the USB-wired optical mouse uses the same soft rubbery material as the laptops’ cover does, and it has six buttons, including the scrollwheel.

The G74SX sports a glossy 17.3” screen with a native full HD resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. This is one of the best laptop screens I’ve seen in a while: It’s bright but not too much so, it has good off-axis viewing angles (both vertical and horizontal), and its images look extremely crisp. However, on our test machine, in certain power-saving modes (Quiet Office, for example) a bit of shimmering appeared in the lower half of the screen–it looked like a faulty LED backlight. This is regrettable, because aside from that shimmering the screen is fantastic.

Video playback looks good on the G74SX’s full HD screen, but audio playback is a little disappointing. Don’t get me wrong–the built-in stereo speakers located above the keyboard produce clear, crisp sound. But remember how Asus claimed that it specifically engineered the G74SX’s cooling system to keep noise away from the user? Well, the speakers may be located just a little too close to the cooling system, because audio is much louder from behind the screen than from in front of it. Sure, it’s a little troubling, unless you plan on using the laptop to broadcast music or audio to people sitting in front of you.

The G74SX comes with a bunch of preinstalled software, but most of it is useful; among other items, you get Asus’s 122-page eManual, Live Update, and Splendid Utility, as well as CyberLink’s Blu-ray disc suite and Nvidia’s 3D Vision.

This “mobile” gaming machine really does have everything you need for on-the-go power-computing, even though it weighs almost as much as a lightweight desktop. Asus packs a lot of power into the G74SX, and the system has a fairly svelte body to boot. Now, if only we can get a review model that doesn’t have a faulty LED backlight.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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