Well, what’s this? Another 14-inch notebook with discrete Nvidia graphics? TR regulars may recall that we reviewed a very similar system just over a month ago. Try as we might, however, we can’t find that product for sale in the Statesat least, not in the configuration we reviewed, which has proper, game-worthy graphics.
Asus’ N82Jv, by contrast, is available stateside right now. Amazon sells it for just under $1,000, which is a pretty reasonable asking price for a system with a mobile Core i5 processor, switchable GeForce GT 335M discrete graphics, and a feature we’re just now starting to see in notebooks: USB 3.0 connectivity. The 14-inch display size means this system is relatively compact. However, this machine definitely has more in common with entry-level gaming desktops than road warrior-courting ultraportables.
Over the next few pages, we’re going to probe and poke at the Asus N82Jv to see just how much it distances itself from more portable alternatives. We’re also going to see what kind of battery life we can squeeze out of the system. Our previous 14″ contender didn’t have switchable graphics, but this one does, courtesy of Nvidia’s Optimus technology. At least in theory, that should translate into longer battery run times with tasks that don’t stress the GPU.
One last thing before we get our hands dirty: this is the first of a new series of TR laptop reviews built upon an all-new benchmarking suite. We’ve got new performance tests, new games, and more hoops for systems like this one to jump through, which should all come together to paint a more detailed picture of the N82Jv.
For a more detailed look at Intel’s Core 2010 mobile platform and Nvidia’s Optimus switchable graphics technology, you’ll want to check out our past mobile coverage. The Asus N82Jv doesn’t really bring anything new to the table on the platform front, aside perhaps from quicker components. Rather than re-hash what we know about the parts inside, we’ll let this handy little chart do the talking:
|Processor||Intel Core i5-450M 2.4GHz|
|Memory||4GB DDR3-1066 (2 DIMMs)|
Nvidia GeForce GT 335M with 1GB DDR3
Intel HD Graphics
|Display||14.0″ TFT with WXGA (1366×768) resolution and LED backlight|
|Storage||Seagate Momentus 7200.4 500GB 2.5″ 7,200 RPM hard drive
Toshiba-Samsung TS-L633C dual-layer DVD drive
|Audio||Stereo HD audio via Realtek codec|
|Ports||1 USB 3.0 via NEC controller
1 USB 2.0
1 eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port
1 RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet via Atheros AR8131
1 analog headphone output
1 analog microphone input
|Communications||802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi via Atheros AR9285|
|Input devices||Chiclet keyboard
Elan capacitive touchpad
|Dimensions||13.6″ x 9.6″ x 1.3-1.4″ (345 x 243 x 33-35 mm)|
|Weight||5.1 lbs (2.3 kg) with 8-cell battery|
|Battery||6-cell Li-ion 4400 mAh, 47 Wh|
See? We told you; the N82Jv doesn’t really break new ground from a platform standpoint. This laptop does, however, have an unusually fast graphics processor for an Optimus system. Nvidia’s GeForce GT 335M, which is based on the 40-nm GT215 GPU, packs 72 stream processors alongside a gig of DDR3 RAM, and it pushes bits through a 128-bit memory interface. You might have seen the GT215 in its other role as the GeForce GT 240, which spars with AMD’s Radeon HD 5670 in entry-level desktops. (The GT 240 has more SPs and much quicker memory than the GT 335M, though.)
The N82Jv is also blessed with a 2.4GHz Core i5-450M processor, which incorporates both Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading functionality. The i5-450M has a top Turbo frequency of 2.66GHz, although when not particularly busy, you might see it hover well below the 2GHz mark. Two full-featured Westmere cores running at full tilt are something to be reckoned with, though, especially in a mobile system.
Let’s not forget the USB 3.0 port, which is backed by an NEC controller. We didn’t take the laptop apart to look at the markings on that NEC chip, but we’d wager it’s the same UPD720200 silicon we’re seeing on virtually all USB 3.0 motherboards lately. It’s a little surprising to see Asus go the extra mile to offer USB 3.0 and then turn around and neglect to provide Bluetooth connectivity, however.
Externally, the N82Jv is a somewhat bulky affair, but Asus hasn’t forgone refinement. The machine sports a textured metallic lid with an interesting bronze finish, while the palm rest is mercifully matte. Too bad about all those palm rest stickers, though. I gave Toshiba a hard time for littering its Satellite T235D ultraportable with stickers last month, and the N82Jv actually has more.
I’ve got to give Asus props for making the N82Jv feel solid, sturdy, and not needlessly large. Part of that impression has to do with the metallic lid, no doubt about it, but the build quality seems top notch all around. The thing doesn’t look half bad, either, even if it’s not my personal cup of tea. (Regulars might know I have a thing for brushed aluminum.)
The display and the controls
Right now, whether you’re looking at an 11.6″ notebook display or a 16″ one, you’re almost always forced to make do with a 1366×768 resolution. Asus’ N82Jv is no exception, plastering 1366 by 768 pixels across its 14 inches of panel area.
Color reproduction seems average for a TN panel like this one, while luminosity is appropriately high considering the glossy finish. Oddly, this panel seems to have the same “weaved” look as that of the Toshiba T235D we reviewed a few weeks ago. From what I can tell, the dot pitch is just enough to cause visibly dark lines to run down the length of the display. The effect is a little weird and somewhat bothersome, though you’ll probably stop noticing after a few minutes of use. Ah, if only Asus had included a higher-resolution display…
Looking down, we have rather typical chiclet keyboard, with its paging block squished across the top right corner in a single line of keys. Here’s how that keyboard’s dimensions compare to those of our reference (which, we should mention, is an old-fashioned design from the pre-chiclet era):
|Total keyboard area||Alpha keys|
|Size||296 mm||105 mm||31,080 mm²||168 mm||53 mm||8,904 mm²|
|Versus full size||103%||95%||98%||98%||93%||91%|
In this age of cramped, often ill-designed keyboards, it’s nice to see a chiclet model with big keys, large gaps between those keys, and a respectable overall surface area. Asus doesn’t get full marks for tactile feedback, though. The N82Jv’s keyboard feels decent enough to use, but the keys could stand to be springier, and the middle part of the keyboard flexes a fair bit.
Finally, we have the touchpad. I’m normally not a huge fan of textured touchpads, but this one won me over. Sort of. It has a large surface area, and although the textured surface feels a little rough under one’s fingertips, the coefficient of friction seems to be about right.
Asus has selected an ElanTech touchpad design with multi-touch functionality, and for the most part, the multi-touch input works just great. Right out of the box, I could scroll with two fingers, tap with two fingers to middle-click, and tap with three fingers to right-click. Scrolling was neither too slow nor too fast (over-eager scrolling seems to be a problem with some touchpad designs). My only problem was with dragging-and-dropping, which felt a little temperamental in tap-to-click mode. More often than not, tapping twice, holding the second tap, and moving the cursor had no effect on the item I was expecting to move.
Those uncomfortable with tap-to-click can always fall back on the N82Jv’s rocker button. Too bad this one isn’t a particularly, er, shining example of how a good touchpad button should look. Not only is it recessed from the front edge of the notebook, but it also doesn’t protrude much verticallyand it has a glossy finish. Clicking involves an excessive downward thumb motion, and it immediately leaves a smudge on the button surface. I know I keep complaining about this, but come on. Glossy touchpad buttons? Really? I can only hope that, one day, laptop makers will see reason and stop making things shiny when they’re supposed to accommodate users’ greasy palms and fingers.
Connectivity and expansion
A good display, keyboard, and touchpad are all things to be proud of, but connectivity and expansion also matter quite a bit. What if you need to plug in a mouse, an external hard drive, or an auxiliary display? The N82Jv pretty much has you covered there.
The left side of the notebook is where most of the magic happens. You’ve got the power connector, the exhaust vent, and VGA, HDMI, USB 3.0, and 3.5-mm audio ports. We should note that the USB 3.0 port is backward-compatible with USB 2.0 devices, as it should be, so you’ll have no trouble plugging in an iPod or whatever else.
The right side has a little less magic: a DVD burner, an unlabeled hatch, and a Kensington lock slot. When open, the hatch reveals USB 2.0, Ethernet, and powered external Serial ATA ports,
along with a nervous Scottish man entering numbers into an Apple II. That powered eSATA port doubles as a USB port, by the way, so don’t go thinking Asus is robbing you of USB connectivity just to double up on fast external storage options.
If you ask me, that hatch really isn’t necessary. I wouldn’t mind if it opened completely, but even after you pull the door outward, the springy hinge keeps it in the way, as pictured above. To make matters worse, the ports are recessed pretty deep into the chassis. Because of that design, simple things like pressing the release tab of an Ethernet plug can be a pain.
With the N82Jv on its back like a helpless tortoise, we get a good look at its underbellywhich is surprisingly devoid of vents, I should add. Asus provides a couple of latches to free the battery, as well as two doors each held in place by a pair of screws. One of the doors conceals the SO-DIMM slots (both occupied), while the other leads to the hard drive (which Asus places in an easily removable cage). There are also a handful of screws to unfasten the optical drive. Nothing terribly exciting, although Asus deserves credit for making it relatively painless to throw a solid-state drive into this bad boy.
One thing to note about that battery: it’s a six-cell, 48Wh model, which is a little bit on the light side for a 14″ laptop with a 2.4GHz Core i5 and discrete GeForce graphics. Asus’ bamboo-plated U33Jc, which costs about the same as the N82Jv and includes slower components, ships with an eight-cell, 84Wh battery… and its run time is by no means exceptional. Evidently, Asus didn’t anticipate folks spending too long away from wall outlets when designing the N82Jv.
Laptops that come pre-loaded with oodles of useful and not-so-useful software are, unfortunately, a fact of life these days. As part of our refreshed laptop test suite, we’re taking a closer look at just how much bloatware comes with each system. The boot time measurements later in this review will help highlight the performance impact of some of that bloat, too, but for now, let’s see what the N82Jv comes with fresh out of the box:
Yes, the default desktop background advertises the notebook you’ve already purchased. (If you can’t read that text at the bottom, by the way, it says “splendid ‘super-sonic’ multimedia enjoyment.”) Asus piles on the application shortcuts, most of which point to its own software. Sharp-eyed readers will also have noticed the two gadgets at the top right: Intel’s Turbo Boost Technology Monitor and Asus’ Super Hybrid Engine gadget, which lets you switch between regular and polar-bear-saving modes. For more details about Super Hybrid Engine, check out our review of the U33Jc.
Poking around Windows’ “Uninstall a program” control panel reveals the full extent of the N82Jv’s software bloat:
Oh, the humanity! I see no fewer than 16 entries for Asus software, and I’m afraid even to start counting the bundled third-party apps, which includes Skype, Trend Micro Internet Security, Microsoft Office 2010 (in trial form), CyberLink PowerDVD 9, Times Reader, and… Smileyville.
To be fair, the N82Jv ships with a fast processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB 7,200-RPM hard drive, so this infestation has less of a performance impact than it would on, say, a cheap little ultraportable (or a netbook, heaven forbid). Bundling some of that software presumably allows Asus to keep its margins from getting too tight, as well, which ought to translate into cheaper laptops for consumers. That said, I think this is the longest list of pre-loaded software I’ve ever seen on a notebook.
Our testing methods
As we mentioned earlier, this is the first of a new breed of TR notebook reviews built upon a fresh benchmarking suite. This new test suite includes more performance-intensive applications and some proper game benchmarks. Unfortunately, because laptop makers don’t allow us to stockpile review units, we couldn’t include results from many of the systems we’ve tested in recent months. We have, however, managed to squeeze in data for the Asus U33Jc, a 13.3″ Optimus notebook not too different from the N82Jv, as well as two ultraportables: the Acer Aspire 1810TZ and Toshiba T235D.
The N82Jv, U33Jc, and T235D all have special “battery-saving” modes, results for which we’ve included in our battery life comparisons. With the N82Jv, we recorded our “battery-saving” results with Asus’ Super Hybrid Engine on. That mode drops the CPU clock speed from 2.4GHz to between 0.9 and 1GHz depending on the load. The U33Jc also has a Super Hybrid Engine mode, but we didn’t enable it for testing.
To complement the “battery-saving” results, we also tested the N82Jv and U33Jc using their “high-performance” power profiles. On the U33Jc, the high-performance profile included by Asus raises the maximum CPU clock speed from 2.4 to 2.57GHz. On the N82Jv, the same profile leaves the CPU running at default speeds, i.e. up to 2.66GHz when Turbo Boost kicks in.
With the exception of battery life, all tests were run at least three times, and we reported the median of those runs.
|System||Acer Aspire 1810TZ||Asus N82Jv||Asus U33Jc||Toshiba T235D-S1435|
|Processor||Intel Pentium SU4100 1.2GHz||Intel Core i5-450M 2.4GHz||Intel Core i3-370M 2.4GHz||AMD Turion II Neo K625 1.5GHz|
|North bridge||Intel GS45 Express||Intel HM55 Express||Intel HM55 Express||AMD M880G|
|South bridge||Intel ICH9||AMD SB820|
|Memory size||3GB (2 DIMMs)||4GB (2 DIMMs)||4GB (2 DIMMs)||4GB (2 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz|
|Audio||Realtek codec with 184.108.40.2069 drivers||Realtek codec with 220.127.116.1124 drivers||Realtek codec with 18.104.22.16829 drivers||Realtek codec with 22.214.171.12472 drivers|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD with 126.96.36.1992 drivers||Intel HD Graphics with 188.8.131.529 drivers
Nvidia GeForce 335M with 184.108.40.20696 drivers
|Intel HD Graphics with 220.127.116.119 drivers
Nvidia GeForce 310M with 18.104.22.16821 drivers
|AMD Mobility Radeon HD 4225 with 8.723.2.1000 drivers|
|Hard drive||Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB 5,400-RPM||Seagate Momentus 7200.4 500GB 7,200-RPM||Seagate Momentus 5400.6 500GB 5,400-RPM||Toshiba MK3265GSX 320GB 5,400 RPM|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium x64||Windows 7 Home Premium x64||Windows 7 Home Premium x64||Windows 7 Home Premium x64|
We used the following versions of our test applications:
- Firefox 3.6.9
- Adobe Flash 10.1.82.76
- x264 HD Benchmark 3.19
- 7-Zip 4.65 x64
- TrueCrypt 7.0a
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 1.7
- Far Cry 2 1.03
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.
That’s a mighty big gap between the Core 2010-based Asus notebooks and the ultraportables. Interestingly, running the N82Jv unplugged and with all its power-saving features enabled drops it down to the very bottom of the standings.
Odds are, anyone with a computer will need to compress or decompress some files every one in a while. To see how our four laptops handle that task, we ran 7-Zip’s built-in benchmark and jotted down the results for both compression and decompression.
Again, we see a considerable gap between the full-sized notebooks and the ultraportables running at full tilt. But switch on the N82Jv’s power-saving options, and its performance falls into ultraportable territory.
Next up: file encryption. Because who wants any two-bit thief to have access to his sensitive data? We ran TrueCrypt’s built-in benchmark and averaged the results for all of the different encryption schemes.
x264 video encoding
Last, but not least, we took our notebooks through the x264 high-definition video encoding benchmark.
Yep. We’re seeing the same picture throughout, pretty much. Before we move on, do note the relatively small gap between the U33Jc and N82Jv when both are running in high performance mode. The U33Jc has a 2.4GHz Core i3 processor without Turbo Boost (running at 2.57GHz in high-performance mode), while the N82Jv sports an i5-450M with the same base clock and a top Turbo speed of 2.66GHz.
Startup and wake times
Fresh from our application performance comparisons, we busted out a stopwatch and timed how long our notebooks took to boot up and wake from hibernation. For the startup test, we started timing as soon as the power button was hit and stopped when the Windows 7 hourglass cursor went away. For the wake-up test, we measured the time it took to bring up the log-in screen after hitting the power button.
The N82Jv actually boots slower than Toshiba’s also-bloatware-laden T235D, which has a much slower CPU and only a 5,400-RPM hard drive (the N82Jv’s internal storage spins at 7,200 RPM). If you’re wondering why the Aspire 1810TZ does so well in this test, that’s probably because it belongs to one of our editorsand as such, it was blessed with a clean installation of Windows 7.
We tested video decoding performance by playing the Iron Man 2 trailer in a variety of formats. Windows Media Player was used in full-screen mode for the H.264 QuickTime clips, while Firefox was used for the windowed YouTube test. In each case, we used Windows 7’s Performance Monitor to record minimum and maximum CPU utilization for the duration of the trailer.
|Iron Man 2 H.264 480p||0-10.7%||Perfect|
|Iron Man 2 H.264 720p||0-12.7%||Perfect|
|Iron Man 2 H.264 1080p||0-12.6%||Perfect|
|Iron Man 2 YouTube 720p windowed||6.8-27.1%||Perfect|
A Core i5- and GeForce-powered notebook with impeccable video playback performance? You don’t say!
As we saw on the previous page, Asus’ extreme battery-saving mode makes the N82Jv perform like an ultraportable. Does it give the N82Jv ultraportable-class battery life, as well?
To answer that question, we took our notebooks through two battery life testsbut not before taking care to condition the battery by cycling it two times. For the web browsing test, we used TR Browserbench 1.0, which consists of a static version of the TR home page that cycles through different content, Flash ads, and images, all the while refreshing every 45 seconds. Then, we tested video playback in Windows Media Player by looping an episode of CSI: New York encoded with H.264 at 480p resolution (straight from Geoff’s HTPC). We attempted to keep the display brightness consistent across all four systems; we set the brightness on the Acer 1810TZ, Toshiba T235D, and Asus N82Jv to 40%, with the U33Jc set to 50%. Those levels correspond to a readable brightness in indoor lighting.
The answer to our earlier question is clearly no. The N82Jv barely reaches the three-hour mark in our web browsing test with all the battery-saving options on, while the Aspire 1810TZ has no trouble breaking the seven-hour threshold. Battery life with video playback was also abysmal with the N82Jv in high-performance mode, although to be fair, the GeForce GPU is probably to blame. We dropped into the Nvidia control panel and switched Windows Media Player to run off the Intel integrated graphics (which can handle HD video playback just fine) for testing in battery-saving mode, and were treated to more than an hour of additional run time. Even so, 2.5 hours of video playback time isn’t anything to write home about.
We’ve made a habit of studying gaming performance in our laptop reviews, but we generally haven’t included scientific benchmarksif only because the notebooks we reviewed had such wildly varying levels of graphics performance. For our revamped suite, though, we’ve decided to include two scientific tests, each run at two different settings.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Infinity Ward’s first Modern Warfare title is growing somewhat long in the tooth, but it still has a strong following in multiplayer circles. More importantly, it’s a good representative of the type of game you might want to play on a notebook that lacks limitless GPU horsepower: not too old, but not too new, either. We tested Call of Duty 4 by running a custom timedemo, first at 800×600 with the lowest detail options, then again at 1366×768 with everything cranked up except for v-sync, antialiasing, and anisotropic filtering, which were all left disabled.
The N82Jv’s GeForce GT 335M gets off to a great start in CoD4, spitting out a silky-smooth 53 FPS at the highest detail setting. Switching on the battery-saving Super Hybrid Engine induces a frame rate hit, although to be honest, I don’t really see the point in using that mode to begin with. As we saw earlier, this notebook has meager battery life even when browsing the web. Gaming off the battery doesn’t seem like a sensible pursuit.
Far Cry 2
Ubisoft’s safari-themed shooter has much more demanding graphics than CoD4, so it should really make our notebooks sweat. We selected the “Action” scene from the game’s built-in benchmark and ran it in two configurations; first at 1366×768 in DirectX 10 mode with detail cranked up, then at that same resolution in DX9 mode with the lowest detail preset. Vsync and antialiasing were left disabled in both cases.
The N82Jv does well enough at the lowest detail setting, but none of these notebooks produce truly playable frame rates with the highest detail preset. Far Cry 2 still looks quite good even with the lowest detail options, though. (If you’re wondering why the N82Jv has a null score in battery-saving mode, that’s because the benchmark simply refused to run.)
Off the beaten path
Scientific benchmarks or not, we like to install different games on our notebooks and manually tweak the options to see how well they run. A little subjective testing never hurt anybody, right?
With a modified version of Unreal Engine 3 and fast-paced gameplay, Borderlands is both a fun shooter and a good way to stress even today’s high-end graphics cards. The Asus N82Jv running in high-performance mode was able to hit a solid 20-40 FPS at 1366×768 with everything maxed out and no antialiasing or anisotropic filtering. Combat was a little smoother once we disabled ambient occlusion, though.
The N82Jv required a little more coaxing to hit acceptable frame rates in the Just Cause 2 demo. We were able to stay at 1366×768 and use high-detail textures, but we had to make do with medium objects and shadows, no ambient occlusion, and no antialiasing. Frame rates hovered between 25 and 50 FPS.
The Mafia II demo rounds out our subjective gaming tests. In this title, hitting a stable 20-30 FPS at 1366×768 required stepping down to low geometry, low shadows, and disabling antialiasing and ambient occlusion altogether. The resulting graphics aren’t photorealistic, but as you can see above, they’re not an eyesore.
After all that poking and prodding, I think we have a pretty good grasp of the Asus N82Jv. This system has many things in common with the Samsung R480 we looked at last month: a 14″ display, fast hardware with relatively quick discrete graphics, and a good touchpad marred by a recessed rocker button. Unfortunately, the N82Jv also shares the R480’s regrettable battery life.
In a way, I’m a little surprised Asus would bother to implement Optimus switchable graphics tech only to outfit this machine with a 47Wh battery. The battery kept the system up for a measily three hours in our web browsing test, and that was with the CPU heavily underclocked and Windows 7’s Aero theme disabled (per the battery-saving profile’s defaults). A few extra battery cells could have given the N82Jv the best of both worlds: meaty performance and solid mobility. As it is, though, the N82Jv can’t go too long without needing an outlet.
Aside from that particular flaw, the N82Jv gets many things right. The discrete GeForce GT 335M graphics processor produces playable frame rates in recent games, and the Core i5 CPU offers performance in spades. The inclusion of both USB 3.0 and external Serial ATA connectivity should please folks with external hard drives, too, although the N82Jv’s 7,200-RPM, 500GB drive already delivers plenty of relatively quick storage. Asus definitely deserves praise for the system’s build quality, too. The N82Jv feels much less plasticky than the R480, and most of its surfaces are mercifully devoid of gloss (the touchpad button being a notable exception).
I’d be tempted to recommend the N82Jv to those who want a powerful notebook with decent gaming performance, yet don’t want to blow too much money on something the size of a small truck. Those folks probably won’t mind the poor battery life, but they may be displeased by some of the N82Jv’s more minor shortcomings. Keep in mind that this notebook lacks Bluetooth connectivity, doesn’t include an Express Card slot, and comes packed to the gills with trialware and miscellaneous Asus utilities. Of course, the N82Jv sells for just $982.74 at Amazon right now. That’s really not bad at all for a system of this caliberand it may warrant forgiving some of the N82Jv’s transgressions.