The gaming notebook is not a new breed, but over the past two years, it has enjoyed a trickle-down into the mainstream. A province once exclusively occupied by manufacturers like Alienware and Voodoo PC using re-branded Clevo systems whose hulking proportions barely qualified them as portable, gaming notebooks are now produced by every major manufacturer in the market. Dell has become schizophrenic, with a line of specialized XPS gaming machines competing directly with its Alienware subsidiary, while rumors abound of HP swallowing Voodoo PC whole.
Asus, on the other hand, has seldom had much differentiating its gaming hardware from its garden-variety notebooks. While you might need to buy a dedicated gaming notebook full of flashing lights and pretty colors just to get a halfway decent GPU from another manufacturer, Asus will cheerfully sell you a GeForce 9600M in a more traditional shell. If you prefer something a little more exciting, Asus’ new G50V offers a more focused approach to mobile gaming, employing Intel’s exciting new Montevina platform, a GeForce 9 series GPU, and of course, a flashy aesthetic. Keep reading to see if this new system will help Asus push its notebooks into the American mainstream.
The G50V at first glance
The G50V isn’t so much a single notebook as a series of models based on the same chassis. Today we’ll be looking at the G50V-A1, which slots into the market between the G50V-A2 (which sports a Blu-ray drive but less storage capacity) and the G50V-X1 (which has a faster 7,200-RPM hard disk and a more economical 25W Core 2 Duo).
|Processor||Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 2.53GHz|
|Memory||4GB DDR2-800 (2
|North bridge||Intel PM45
|South bridge||Intel ICH9M|
|Graphics||NVIDIA GeForce 9700M GT 512MB GDDR3|
|Display||15.4″ TFT with WSXGA+ (1680×1050) resolution and CCFL backlight|
2 5,400-RPM, 250GB Western Digital Scorpio
|Audio||Realtek ALC663 HD audio|
3 USB 2.0
1 TV antenna input
1 4-pin FireWire
1 analog headphone output
1 analog headphone output/S/PDIF output
1 analog microphone input
1 8-in-1 card reader
1 ExpressCard 34/54 slot
802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi via Intel WiFi Link 5100AGN
Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR
“Full size” keyboard with dedicated number pad
Trackpad with two-finger scrolling
|Camera||2.0 megapixel webcam|
|Dimensions||14.6″ x 10.3″
x 1.6″ (371 mm x 262 mm x 41 mm)
|Battery||6-cell Li-Ion 4800mAh|
Two years, one-year accidental damage
The G50V houses Intel’s new Montevina platform, complete with a Penryn-based Core 2 Duo T9400 cruising at 2.53GHz, an Intel WiFi Link 5100 wireless adapter with draft-n support, and a shiny new PM45 chipset. In addition to supporting the 1066MHz front-side bus used by Intel’s new 45nm Core 2 mobile processors, the PM45 has a dual-channel memory controller capable of handling DDR2 or DDR3 memory (Asus goes with DDR2-800 memory in the G50V) and a PCI Express 2.0 interface for discrete graphics chips. The PM45 is joined by an ICH9M south bridge chip, which notably includes an integrated Gigabit Ethernet MAC. Taken together, these components make up Intel’s Centrino 2 platform, which promises improved performance and higher power efficiency than its predecessor.
Asus dips the G50V into gaming territory by equipping it with an Nvidia GeForce 9700M GT graphics processor backed by 512MB of dedicated GDDR3 memory. The 9700M has 32 DirectX 10-class “compute cores” and a 128-bit memory interface, and it’s largely derived from the G96 GPU that powers desktop graphics cards like the GeForce 9500 GT. Nvidia clocks the 9700M’s core at 625MHz, its shaders at 1550MHz, and the chip’s memory at an effective 1600MHz. The chip also includes support for PureVideo HD, which provides hardware decode acceleration for all current high-definition video formats.
While hard drive technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, capacity in notebooks is still at a premium. The G50V-A1 ships with a spacious 500GB spread between two 250GB, 5,400-RPM drives configured to run as independent disks. More performance-oriented users could easily pop one of these drives out and replace it with a high-end SSD to enjoy the benefits of a high-performance system drive coupled with a higher capacity storage drive, just as enthusiasts have long done in desktops. Dual drive bays aren’t new to the world of gaming notebooks, but in a system of this size, they’re welcome nonetheless.
A closer look
Asus employs a two-tone black and orange color scheme on the G50V and litters the unit with blue LEDs. The lid features two long blue light bars on the sides, a third near the bottom of the back of the lid, and a “Republic of Gamers” logo at its center. Asus includes software that allows users to set how these adornments light up. By default, the lights flicker with CPU and memory usage, but you can set them to remain on or off if you’re disinclined to sponsor your own little light-switch rave. The lid itself is latchless, as is all the rage these days. Lid wobble is one of those little annoyances that is liable to drive most users insane over time, and older Asus notebook models have been particularly guilty of having weak hinges that loosen as they age. This shouldn’t the case with the G50V, whose hinges are firm to start.
The attractive, black-and-orange finish flows from the lid through the rest of the shell, but it comes with its own set of hazards. While certainly beautiful, the G50V’s glossy lid is horribly prone to fingerprints and smudges. Just as purchasing a black car may lead to constant cleaning, this glossy coating will certainly prompt frequent use of the microfiber cloth Asus includes in the box. The shell as a whole, however, is quite firm. Build quality hasn’t been one of Asus’ strong suites, at least with the past notebooks I’ve used, so it’s refreshing to handle something as well constructed as the G50V. The chassis is flex-free and feels very sturdy from top to bottom.
Sturdiness comes at a price, however. At 6.5 pounds, the G50V is heavier than one might expect from a 15.4″ notebook, and that’s before you include the weight of its monstrous 125W AC power adapter. The G50V is a little bigger than your average 15.4″ notebook, too, measuring 14.6 inches wide, 10.3 inches deep, and 1.6 inches thick.
Flipping the G50V over reveals a massive bottom panel retained by a frankly ridiculous number of tiny, tiny screws. Once the panel is removed, however, we have access to both hard drive bays, the wireless adapter, both memory slots, the processor, and the GeForce 9700M GT’s MXM Type II module. The processor, GPU, and north bridge are all cooled via copper heatpipes connected to a single blower that expels heat out of the left side of the notebook. Though the bottom panel is large, unwieldy, and can be difficult to remove, the access it ultimately provides to the notebook’s internals should allow for upgrades that can extend the system’s useful life, particularly when compared with competing solutions that aren’t as open to tinkering.
With the bottom panel securely in place, we can see the bright orange vent over the blower fan. Even on the case’s underside, there’s an attention to detail. This vent could easily be mistaken for a subwoofer, especially given the Altec Lansing branding on the G50V’s speakers. Finally, at the top left (top right when the unit is upright) is the system’s removable six cell battery, rated at 4800mAh.
Interfacing with the G50V
The G50V-A1’s 15.4″ screen is top shelf, sporting excellent viewing angles, a glossy finish, and a generous 1680×1050 SWXGA+ resolution. I fired up PassMark Monitor Test 3.0 to give the screen a workout, and backlight bleed and banding were non-existent. The screen only seemed to have issues with contrast at the highest levels of red, green, and blue. Otherwise, picture quality was stellar.
Of course, the screen isn’t perfect. While picture quality is excellent, a 1680×1050 resolution may prove too high for the GeForce 9700M GT handle in games without dropping to lower, non-native resolutions. A slightly lower resolution like 1440×900 may have been more appropriate given the hardware at hand, given the fact that this is billed as a gaming system. 1680×1050 on a 15.4″ screen also results in a relatively high DPI, which may test the eyesight of some users. My eyesight is fairly poor, and I found myself thinking 1440×900 would be a more suitable compromise for this particular machine.
Below the screen you’ll find the G50V’s keyboard, which features full-sized keys, a dedicated number pad, and red arrow etchings on the traditional “WASD” cluster along with the number pad. The “Fn” key is happily in the right place, sandwiched between the Ctrl and Windows keys.
The inclusion of a number pad is great if you do a lot of data entry or prefer it for gaming, but it does introduce some issues that jeopardize the usability of the G50V’s keyboard. The lack of dedicated Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys became frustrating in short order, and the cramped nature of the number pad affects its usability.
Asus surrounds the G50V’s touchpad with a blue border that lights up, just in case weren’t getting enough of a light show with the system already. The touchpad’s surface is smooth, making navigation easy, and the buttons are sensitive enough with exactly the right amount of click. Synaptics supplies the touchpad and provides a wealth of configuration options in its driver, including the ability to toggle dedicated scrolling zones. There’s also a button above the keyboard that disables the touchpad, should you wish to use a mouse instead.
On either side of the touchpad is a pseudo-rubberized texture that serves as an effective and comfortable palm rest. I didn’t even realize the palm rest was plastic until my second or third week with the G50V, which is a testament to just how comfortable the texturing is; it’s a wonder that similar texturing isn’t included with more laptops. Of course, you’ll have to peel off a large collection of stickers to actually get at the textured palm rest. Asus went a little overboard there.
As has become fairly common in the laptop market, the G50V features a row of touch-sensitive buttons just above its keyboard. However, next to them we find a small OLED display. This readout is one of the G50V’s unique features, and it can be configured to display system statistics like CPU and memory usage. When the system is running on battery power, it displays a helpful battery life meter and percentage.
The display’s configuration options are limited to basic system specifications and real-time messaging, though. Those looking for flexibility on par with Logitech’s G15 keyboard will be disappointed, but everyone else should be satisfied.
Software and bloatware
As has become typical of Asus notebooks, the G50V is for the most part free of bloatware. The system’s startup time is fantastic, and Asus includes both the ExpressGate instant-on Linux distro (installed to the hard drive rather than a flash memory module) and recovery partitions. Happily, Asus elected to ship the G50V with Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit to fully support the 4GB of DDR2-800 installed in the system. The only pockmark on the included software is a free trial of Norton AntiVirus; the vast majority of what would only uncharitably be called “bloat” is custom software Asus includes to manage the computer.
Asus provides its own system management software that offers pop-ups to handle screen brightness, volume, power modes, and so on. Mainstream manufacturers rarely include similar software, and while it’s appreciated here, the interface itself is a bit overdone. The ripples you see in the image above are actually animated, and the whole interface has fade in and fade out effects. Unfortunately, these animated graphics can make the interface feel somewhat sluggish, and they didn’t play well with Call of Duty 4, essentially causing the game to minimize, never to maximize again.
A “Splendid” color management utility is also installed on the system, but it doesn’t appear to expand on the functionality already offered by the digital vibrance section of Nvidia’s graphics driver control panel. Splendid is easier to use, though, and it offers a series of presets if you don’t want to tweak individual values.
While Asus’ software is generally good, we ran into some problems with the Direct Console control panel. This control panel allows users to choose between “Normal,” “Turbo,” and “Turbo Extreme” modes that run the processor at stock speed and overclocked by 100MHz and 200MHz, respectively. Unfortunately, with the control panel enabled, WorldBench consistently spat out an error code during its Office 2007 test. Given the beta nature of this benchmark (version 6.0 beta 2), this could easily be attributed to the WorldBench suite itself. However, disabling the Direct Console did allow WorldBench to run properly.
We also ran into issues with Asus’ Power4Gear software. While it’s ordinarily pleasant to see manufacturers include power management software with laptops, Power4Gear appears to interfere with MobileMark’s scripting, causing the application to error out. We had to wipe the system and start with a clean 32-bit Vista build, without any of Asus’ own software installed, in order to get MobileMark to work properly. Since MobileMark and Power4Gear both interface with the battery, and since the former relies on scripting, we suspect that’s where the problem lies. We didn’t encounter any problems with Power4Gear in normal day-to-day use.
The last software issue we dealt with on the G50V was the limited resolution support found in its graphics drivers. We tried two different driver sets for the GeForce 9700M GT downloaded from Asus’ web site, and apart from the inclusion of a bizarre 1600×1024 resolution, neither supported intermediate widescreen resolutions between 1280×768 and 1680×1050. Support for 1440×900 would have been nice given the G50V’s graphics horsepower, or relative lack thereof. Using Nvidia’s stand-alone graphics drivers isn’t much of a solution, either, since they haven’t yet been updated to support the GeForce 9700M GT.
Beyond these issues, the G50V was a perfectly stable system. The problems we encountered with WorldBench and MobileMark aren’t likely to affect the vast majority of users, although limited support for intermediate widescreen resolutions could be an issue for gamers.
The traditional Asus perks
In keeping with the largely consumer-friendly software package, Asus includes a handful of useful extras with the G50V. Upon opening the laptop’s box, you’ll be greeted by a second, smaller box snuggled up against this:
Asus almost always includes some kind of carrying case with its laptops, and the G50V comes with an olive green backpack fashioned with a “Republic of Gamers” emblem. Of course, that’s not all.
Also included is this mouse, which more astute readers may recognize as a re-branded Logitech MX518 optical gaming mouse. The MX518 is a popular choice among gamers, and it helps make the G50V feel like a complete package. Asus also throws in a copy of Atari’s Alone in the Dark. Two out of three ain’t bad, I guess. It’s nice to get a game bundled with the system, of course, but Alone in the Dark only managed an average score of 53% on GameRankings, so it’s hardly a must-have title.
In addition to Alone in the Dark disc, you’ll also find an Asus applications disc, DVD playback software, and a recovery disc. The recovery disc might seem like a small thing, but not every notebook maker includes one. When you’re splashing out over a grand for a new laptop, the inclusion of recovery media that costs probably pennies to press should be a given.
The last perk associated with the G50V may yet be the most delightful of all: two years of warranty coverage coupled with one year of accidental damage coverage and a zero bright dot policy. Warranty coverage this extensive is unheard of from other manufacturers without paying at least a hundred to two hundred dollars more.
Our testing methods
As mentioned earlier, benchmarking the G50V-A1 proved problematic. We ran our gaming tests with Asus’ Power4Gear software set to “Entertainment” mode, but had to resort to Vista’s own power management scheme, which we set to “Balanced,” to handle MobileMark and WorldBench. We also had to switch to a 32-bit version of Windows Vista in order to get MobileMark to work properlya problem we’ve encountered with the MobileMark test before. Laptops and overclocking generally don’t mix, so we stayed clear of the G50V’s turbo mode settings. A 100-200MHz CPU overclock won’t affect performance that much, anyway.
All benchmarks were run under Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit SP1 except for MobileMark, which was run under Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit SP1. Driver versions were the latest available on Asus’ website.
All tests were run three times and their results were averaged.
|Processor||Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 2.53GHz|
|System bus||1066MHz (266MHz quad-pumped)|
|North bridge||Intel PM45|
|South bridge||Intel ICH9M|
|Chipset drivers||INF update 220.127.116.111|
|Memory size||4GB (2 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||DDR2 SDRAM at 800MHz|
|CAS latency (CL)||6|
|RAS to CAS delay (tRCD)||6|
|RAS precharge (tRP)||6|
|Cycle time (tRAS)||18|
|Audio codec||Realtek ALC663 with 18.104.22.16843 drivers|
|Graphics||GeForce 9700M GT 512MB
with ForceWare 175.80 drivers
|Hard drive||2 Western Digital Scorpio WD2500BEVS 250GB SATA|
|OS||Windows Vista Home Premium x64 with Service Pack 1|
We used the following versions of our test applications:
- WorldBench 6.0 Beta 2
- MobileMark 2007 1.5
3DMark06 Build 1.1.0
- Call of Duty 4 1.7
- Enemy Territory: Quake Wars 1.5
All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.
Gaming should be the G50V’s bread and butter, so that’s where we’ll start. 3DMark06 was tested at 1024×768 resolution only. For Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, we tested the G50V at 1280×720 with high in-game detail levels and also at its native 1680×1050 resolution with whatever in-game detail settings yielded a frame rate average close to 40 frames per second.
3DMark06’s overall score suggests that the G50V does a little clock throttling when running on battery, which is to be expected.
That throttling appears confined to the CPU, because we don’t see a large difference in frame rates between battery and AC power when running games at the display’s native resolution. We didn’t have to resort to custom detail settings with Quake Wars, which had little trouble running with high detail levels at 1680×1050. Call of Duty 4 had no problems handling high detail levels at 1280×720, but we had to turn off specular maps, glow effects, and smoke edge softening to hit our frame rate target with the system’s native resolution.
Call of Duty 4 is about a year old, so it’s disappointing to have to drop in-game detail levels just to hit playable frame rates at the G50V’s native resolution. This isn’t entirely unexpected given that the 9700M is essentially a mobile variant of the GeForce 9500 GT, which is a budget card that sells for around $80. Fortunately, Asus does offer more graphics horsepower in the G50Vt-X1, which sports a more capable GeForce 9800M GS that has three times the shader processors of the 9700M GT and a wider 256-bit memory interface.
We used WorldBench 6.0 beta 2 to get an overall perspective on the G50V’s application performance, and we weren’t disappointed.
With the processors introduced with the Montevina running on a faster bus with higher clock speeds, notebook CPU performance has hit new heights, as evidenced by an impressive overall WorldBench score of 95. The G50V’s Core 2 Duo T9400 runs at a higher clock speed than the venerable desktop E6600, but with a much lower TDP, which is impressive. I suspect the G50V’s scores in some of these tests are limited by the system’s use of a 5,400-RPM hard drive rather than a faster 7,200-RPM model.
Keep in mind that we used a clean 32-bit Vista install devoid of Asus software for our MobileMark testing. We tested with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled, and with the screen brightness set to 50%the lowest level that was still comfortable to my eyes.
While Asus is a class leader when it comes to battery life in netbooks, its notebooks have historically been less impressive. The G50V is a nice exception given the hardware inside. Though it managed only 100 minutes in MobileMark’s DVD playback test, the battery lasted for two and a half hours in the productivity test. The productivity test simulates real-world usage with basic desktop tasks, and based on these results, we suspect the G50V’s battery could last up to three hours if used frugally.
Given that the G50V-A1 sports two hard drives, a discrete GPU, and 2.53GHz dual-core processor, I expected the system to throw off heat like crazy. The drive bays in particular seemed ripe for heat issues, with only small vents above them. The fan ran quietly, too, suggesting that the unit might have been running a little toasty. To find out, I first let the system idle on the desktop for 10 minutes before taking some temperature measurements with my IR thermometer.
As you can see, the cooling solution Asus employs in the G50V is more than capable of keeping the system cool at idle. To see how it dealt with a heavier load, I ran wPrime and the rthdribl HDR lighting demo for another 10 minutes before measuring temperatures once more.
The G50V’s fan spins up audibly under load, but it makes more of a hollow sound as opposed to a high-pitched whine. And it does an outstanding job transferring heat out of the chassis. I measured an air temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit at the exhaust vent and 115 degrees a few inches away from it, suggesting that heat dissipates rapidly as soon as it hits the outside air. Asus’ engineers should be commended for the job they’ve done cooling this machine, potentially preserving the fertility of male users in the process.
Asus has engineered a remarkable piece of kit in the G50V-A1, and everything about the presentation and design is the company at its best. The screen is top notch, performance is as solid as can be expected, and the unit is loaded with features. To top it all off, Asus throws in a nice backpack and a quality gaming mouse. Asus includes very respectable warranty coverage, too, covering the G50V for two years, with one year of accidental damage coverage, at a time when most consumer notebooks only get one year of warranty coverage, period.
Unfortunately, not everything is rosy in G50V town. Asus’ power management and overclocking software didn’t get along with a few of our heavily-scripted benchmark tests, notably WorldBench and MobileMark. While we didn’t encounter any problems with real-world usage, that’s still not an encouraging result. More serious is the lack of driver support for a useful intermediate widescreen resolution like 1440×900, which would be useful given the GeForce 9700M GT’s middling game performance. We had to drop in-game detail levels to get Call of Duty 4 running at the G50V’s native 1680×1050 resolution, and it would have been nice to have at least one reasonable widescreen step down the resolution ladder without dropping to 1280×768, particularly as newer, more demanding games hit this holiday season.
Notebook design is a difficult balancing act, and Asus is close to hitting the mark here. With some proper software updates, the G50V comes perilously close to being easy to recommend, but there’s still one nagging issue: price. Our price search engine has the A1 configuration we listed just south of $1,600not cheap given what you can get within the G50V’s ranks. Best Buy carries a new G50Vt-X1 model that sells for $1,250, yet still features a Core 2 Duo P8400 2.26GHz processor, a 15.6″ 1366×768 display, and a much beefier GeForce 9800M GS graphics chip. That’s a more sensible spec for mobile gaming, which is supposed to be what the G50V is all about.
The G50V-A1 is certainly a competent gaming platform, and we quite like the system’s wealth of features and overall design. However, the combination of a relatively high resolution display with a somewhat underpowered graphics chip doesn’t strike the best balance for serious gamers, who would be better served by other configurations within the G50V lineup.