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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  • Kaboose - Wednesday, December 29, 2010 - link

    i sure hope that is why there isn't a single dell laptop offering a 1080p screen at the moment. (including alienware taxed items)
  • chemist1 - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    Hi Jarred,

    Thanks for the review. A friend of mine recently priced out a Sony Vaio F series laptop: 16.4" 1080p screen, Blu-Ray R/W drive, NVIDIA GeForce GT 425M GPU, and an Intel Quad Core i7-840QM Processor (1.86GHz, turbo up to 3.20GHz) ---he said it was about $1300. Perhaps that is worth a review.....
  • cgeorgescu - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    Very nice laptop... Check out the "premium" screens on all Vaio models, really nice, not led-backlight or any fancy stuff but perfect angles, 100% adobe RGB, perfect. And matte.

    I've got not the F but the EC because of 17.3 instead of 16.4 and two drive bays.
  • chemist1 - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    correction: just checked it myself, and it's $1300 (on the Sony site) with a Core Quad i7-740QM processor (1.73GHz with turbo up to 2.93GHz).

    The EC series cgeorgescu mentioned might be an even better buy. With a 1080p 17.3" screen (a bit more suitable for 1080p than the F's 16.4) , Blu-Ray R/W, ATI HD 5650 (don't know how that compares with the 425M on the F series), and Core i5-580M processor (2.66GHz, with turbo to 3.33GHz ) (Core i7 not offered on the EC series), it prices out to $1200.

    And, as with the F series, if you downgrade from a Blu-Ray RW to a CV/DVD RW, you can subtract $150.
  • chemist1 - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    Further, if we downgrade the EC series to make it comparable to the Asus reviewed here (Blu Ray read only + CD/DVD RW, Core i5 460, 1080p), the Sony site has it at $1020 --- nearly the same as the $1030 Asus but with what I understand is a much better screen (plus the extra drive bay that cgeorgescu mentioned, and the free Adobe Acrobat/Photoshop bundle).
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    Don't forget that quad-core Clarksfield CPUs are horribly power inefficient, so you'd sacrifice quite a bit of battery life. Given that Sandy Bridge will address this, there's basically no point in looking at any more Core 2010 or Clarksfield laptops.
  • chemist1 - Wednesday, December 29, 2010 - link

    Understood, thanks for your reply. But that leaves unanswered the obvious follow-up question, which is that of why, given that these Vaios have been out for a while, and given that they may represent the best value available in ~$1K laptops (say, the dual-core EC series), you folks didn't include them among your recent looks at mid-range laptops (e.g., the Vaios weren't mentioned in your 11/15/10 "Holiday Buyer's Guide: Notebooks"). Did you consider them and discount them for some reason, or was it something else? Since choosing what to review from amongst a large universe of products is a significant part of what a tech journalist must do, I was just wondering what goes into these sorts of decisions.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, December 29, 2010 - link

    The biggest issue is that Sony basically has no interest in seeding reviewers with hardware. While you could try to buy/review/eBay laptops, I don't have enough time/money to go that route, and we've been busy with other items. We did mention the VAIO Z in the guide, but most of the time I have difficulty justifying the Sony Tax. And not all Sony laptops have good displays either -- I've looked at more than a few at Best Buy, etc. Without hands-on time or input from someone I trust, I'm not willing to recommend a laptop as having a good LCD. :-\

    I'll see if I can get Sony to be a little more forthcoming at CES, but I've gone down that road before to no avail.
  • chemist1 - Wednesday, December 29, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the explanation! Why there had been no review of this particular (and seemingly high-value) part of the Vaio line was something I'd been curious about for a while, so it's nice to understand the manufacturer's role in this (a factor I had not considered).
  • Hrel - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    You guys and ur glossy bezel on the screen. Put ur thumb on the edge of the screen to open the laptop, there, problem solved. lol. wow.

    Other than that nit-picky sillyness I was REALLY saddened to see those low scores on that Asus. I read it had to same display as the Dell used to and got all excited then those scores... I guess they had to save money somewhere to hit 1000 bucks AND have a blu ray drive. Honestly, I almost never use disks at all anymore and have never even touched a blu ray disc. Don't include any CD drive at all, put in a bigger battery and better screen and non-name-brand speakers that don't suck and I'd be good. If the marketing guys insist on a cd drive use the cheapest one you can find.

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