ASUS N53JF: Four Times Lucky?

We’ve had a decent run of midrange laptop reviews of late; our favorite for overall features remains the Dell XPS 15 L501x, but there’s a catch: you really want the upgraded 1080p LCD, which it just so happens is now missing from Dell’s online configurator. We saw the RGB LED backlit panel on the old Studio XPS 16 come and go over time, so hopefully the LCD upgrade will make a return to the XPS 15, but without that panel the view of the 15.6” laptop market changes. The Dell XPS 15 remains the best sounding laptop that we’ve tested, but the standard 768p display is nothing to write home about. When you’ve got options like the Clevo B5130M, Compal NBLB2, and now the ASUS N53JF all offering 1080p displays, there are plenty of alternatives.

Build quality is standard ASUS, which means it’s good but not necessarily great. Like Dell XPS (Waves Maxx) and HP (Beats Audio), ASUS is now sporting speakers from a well-known brand, in this case Bang & Olufsen. I’ve heard some really good home theater setups with B&O speakers, so my expectations were high. Could this notebook finally be ASUS’ breakout midrange offering that would address most of my previous complaints? I won’t spoil the review just yet, so let’s start by looking at the components and specifications. The list will be strikingly familiar if you read the XPS or B5310M reviews.

ASUS N53JF-XE1 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5-460M
(2x2.53GHz, 32nm, 3MB L3, Turbo to 2.80GHz, 35W)
Chipset Intel HM57
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1333 (Max 8GB)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 425M 1GB GDDR3
96 SPs, 560/1120/1600MHz Core/Shader/RAM clocks
Display 15.6" WLED Glossy 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
(AU Optronics B156HW1)
Hard Drive(s) 500GB 7200RPM HDD
(Seagate Momentus 7200.4 ST9500420AS)
Optical Drive Blu-ray Combo (Philips/Lite-On DS-4E1S)
Networking Gigabit Ethernet (Atheros AR8131)
802.11n (Atheros AR9285, 150Mb)
Audio Realtek ALC269
2.0 Bang & Olufsen ICEpower Speakers
ASUS SonicMaster Technology
Microphone and two headphone jacks
Capable of 5.1 digital output (HDMI/SPDIF)
Battery 6-Cell, 10.8V, 4.4Ah, 48Wh
Front Side None
Left Side 1 x USB 3.0
1 x eSATA/USB 2.0 Combo
Flash Reader
HDMI 1.4
TV Input (Optional)
Exhaust vent
Right Side Headphone and Microphone Jacks
2 x USB 2.0
Optical Drive
WiFi On/Off Switch
Back Side AC Power Connection
Kensington Lock
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 15.6” x 10.6” x 1.2-1.6”(WxDxH)
Weight 6.4 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Extras 2MP Webcam
102-Key Keyboard with 10-Key
Flash Reader (SD, MS/Pro, MMC, xD)
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
Pricing Online Starting at $1030
Note: N53JF-A1 starts at $930 (with a 768p LCD)

If you compare the above table with the Dell XPS 15 and Clevo B5130M, there’s a ton of overlap. The LCD is reported as the same model Dell shipped us in the XPS 15, though the performance characteristics are actually quite different. ASUS uses the GT 425M as opposed to the 420M in the XPS, which means 12% higher core/shader clocks but the same memory bandwidth; the i5-460M is also clocked 5% higher than the i5-450M. The N53JF is actually slightly heavier, wider, thicker, and deeper than the XPS 15, which in turn is slightly larger than the Clevo B5130M. Pricing is competitive with the other options, and without the 1080p LCD we can almost eliminate Dell from the running. ASUS also takes a multimedia slant by including a Blu-ray combo drive, which pairs up nicely with the display. A single USB 3.0 port and an eSATA combo port round out the connectivity options, again maintaining the status quo with the other laptops.

Everything else we’ve covered before, so let’s look at the design aspects and our subjective evaluation of the N53JF.

Subjective Overview of the N53JF
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  • DanNeely - Wednesday, December 29, 2010 - link

    I wouldn't hold my breath. The theater's originally went widescreen (1.85 in the US, 1.6 in the EU) to differentiate themselves from the 1.33 aspect ratio of TV and offer something more than a giant screen to compensate tor the extremely expensive food and obnoxious idiots you had to share the theater with.

    1.85 isn't much more than 1.77 and with 3D poised to invade the living room as well it won't serve well as a differentiator. Unless the studios decide to throw the theaters under a bus I expect something wider to go mainstream even if they stop short of 2.39.
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, January 4, 2011 - link

    The end has begun, Vizio just launched a pair of 2.33:1 TVs at 2560x1080. I hope everyone is looking forward to their 2013 laptop running at 1400x600. It won't be deep enough to have a touchpad, so your lousy low contrast ultra-superglare LCD will be covered in fingrerprints from the touchscreen layer.
  • therealnickdanger - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    The 1080 resolution was a standard HD resolution in the 80s and 90s, long before flat-screen, fixed-pixel displays were even being sold.

    While you may argue that 1080p is a step backward in resolution from the 1600x1200 CRTs of yesteryear - not even my beloved (and perfectly calibrated) Sony FW900 24" CRT can hold a candle to the clarity of my 1080p LCDs. Not to mention the LCDs are thinner, lighter, and much cheaper. Plus, having a true 1:1 pixel ratio for HD content is so much better. My wife is a professional video effects editor and can attest to the benefit of 1080p displays for her own reasons as well.

    That's progress.

    The only regress I can think of with modern displays is the loss of refresh rates over 60Hz. That's the only reason I keep the FW900 - for gaming w/VSYNC @85Hz and up. Analog FTW in that case. More and more 120Hz and 240Hz LCDs are coming out, but without proper mainstream connectivity, what's the point? Meh to that.
  • ET - Wednesday, December 29, 2010 - link

    I agree that in some respects current displays are better than what we had ten years ago, but some things took a step back, and even if everything else was equal, it's not such significant progress. If I want a monitor that's better than 1920x1200 I need to pay a lot more than I did for the 1600x1200 19" monitor I bought 8 years ago, and it'd be a lot larger.

    One would have thought that by now it'd be possible to display high quality text and images on a PC monitor, but somehow we've degenerated into believing video is the only application that matters.

    I agree that for standard users, who do just web and content surfing, current monitors are a step up from what they had in past years (1024x768, 1280x1024), but anyone more demanding could ten years ago get something that was a step up yet took about the same space and didn't cost 5 times more.
  • chemist1 - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    Yup, what DanNeely said is right. Even with Blu-Ray, which represents the highest data rate currently available for consumer 1080p video (roughly twice what you get with terrestrial HD broadcasts, which in turn have higher data rates than cable, satellite, hulu, and netflix), the signal has to be compressed an amazing ~100:1 vs. a raw video feed! Only the cleverness of the compression algorithms, combined with the fact that large parts of a typical picture don't change much from frame to frame, allow this compression to still look good ---though it is still perceptually lossy on a high-end system (I understand Joe Kane did some studies to determine what data rate you would need to avoid all perceivable compression losses, but the results were for a private client and thus not published).

    Plus don' t forget that the current bandwidth limitations force compromises not just in spatial resolution, but also chromatic and temporal resolution. Blu-Ray movies today have 8-bit color (allowing for only 2^8=256 gradations). The standard does allow for higher color depth (up to 16 bit), but that means more data and, with the current bandwidth limit, that in turn would necessitate more compression. Likewise, at 60 fps we'd get more temporal resolution than we do at 24 or 30 fps, which would result in less blurring during fast action scenes. But if you go to 60 fps, you've got to give something else up.

    I.e., with the current bandwidth limitations, we're at about the limit of how much spatial resolution the system can offer, unless we want to increase compression artifacts or give up further on the already-compromised chromatic or temporal resolution.

    Don't get me wrong -- I have a 100" screen (JVC RS1 projector), and would love to see a consumer 4K format. But I'd also like to see at least a 12-bit 4:4:4 color space, and fewer compression artifacts---which is not going to happen until they can offer a bandwidth about an order of magnitude higher than what Blu-Ray currently offers.

    And unfortunately, a lot of video seems to be moving in the same direction as music -- less resolution for more convenience. So I think it may be a while before we see market pressure for a higher-resolution video format.
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    We also appear to be reaching the limits in what compression can offer. Over the summer I read that the team working on the H.265 algorithm were concerned that they'd only be able to reduce bitrates to 70% of current levels while maintaining quality levels vs the 50% target that they'd set when beginning the design process.
  • torgal - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    Well, and now Dell XPS 15 no longer have the 1080p upgrade ( Or have I got the wrong XPS 15?
  • jigglywiggly - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    hai guise my name is asus we make a good laptop and then ruin it by putting a POS LCD on it.
  • Kaboose - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    I think with sandy bridge on the horizon the majority of the people this laptop seems to be targeted at would be better off waiting a month or so for something more substantial for their ~$1000.
  • jabber - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    Surely it doesnt take 1 minute to wipe a product down before taking pics of it?

    Just makes it seem a little more pro.

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