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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  • visibilityunlimited3 - Wednesday, December 29, 2010 - link

    I had problems with my eyes looking at an 14" XGA. I almost went blind before I got my 15.4" Inspiron 1920x1200 screen many years later. My eyes have fewer problems after looking at that high resolution display for many years now.
    Consider the difference between old dot matrix printers and laser printers. Is reading 1200dpi text uncomfortable? The real problem is Windows being optimized for low res screens. There are a few configuration changes that can help. I actually dual boot with Windows XP and Debian and prefer the Debian for being better equipped to manage the high resolution display. I spent a little extra time fine tuning the X Window System to do exactly what I wanted and I am very comfortable now. I am in no hurry to downgrade to the 1080p display until my old Pentium M gets really tired. The display is that much more important than anything else in my opinion. Thanks Jarred for recognizing the value of the premium displays.
    I would like an ebook reader with 1200dpi resolution to match my laser printer and expect that would be very comfortable to use also.
  • Davelo - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    How many laptops have went bad because of bad BGA solder of Nvidia chips? I've seen so many I would not touch one.
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    Weren't those all the first generation lead-free BGA chips? I didn't think any of the newer ones were having problems.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    Yeah, this is old news. A few anti-NVIDIA sites made a huge deal about the failures, but I never personally had any of those chips fail on me. Of course, I wasn't playing a lot of games on laptops, so maybe that's why. Anyway, anything in the post-8000M era should definitely be fine. Actually, I think it was mostly the old GeForce Go series that had problems.
  • sucram03 - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    Somewhat on & off-topic question: So in all honesty, with such a horrendous screen, where does that leave value-minded users that want a laptop with a nice 1080p screen and a GeForce video card? The application I'm thinking of is CUDA-accelerating H.264/AVC 1080p videos.

    The XPS 15 isn't listing the B+RG LED as an option, as mentioned in the article. Has anyone else heard from Dell about reasons why/if it will come back? The Clevo seems like an OK option but... well.. it now seems like the only option.

    Any thoughts?
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    At this point, I'd say just wait for the CES announcements and see if anything new turns up. :-)
  • Kaboose - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    Could Dell be holding back the 1080p panels for a sandy laptop in the next few weeks?
  • sucram03 - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    All signs point to yes, especially that suspect smiley face from Jared :) Damn you insider knowledge!
  • Kaboose - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    thank goodness i have been saving up for the past two months in anticipation of sandy bridge and my need for a new portable computer. luckily they coincide.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    I've got Sandy Bridge, but I have no idea if Dell is holding back panels. I sure hope so...

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