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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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    Look, it's not like we *try* to put fingerprints all over the laptops. Just regular use will put them there, even if you're careful (which I am). If I walked around with white gloves on all the time, it wouldn't be a problem, but I'm not going to do that. Saying "just use your thumb" doesn't entirely fix the problem either, because you WILL overlap into the glossy area every time. A better solution, amazingly enough, is to stop using stupid piano black glossy plastic on laptops. There, problem solved, and it wouldn't cost anything extra.
  • IanWorthington - Wednesday, December 29, 2010 - link

    Got to take issue with this "brighter is better". Maybe for some stuff but for photo editing, where you would care about color gamut, even 100 cd/m2 is likely to be over bright for accurate work.

  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, December 29, 2010 - link

    You can always turn it down if you need to, but if you're outside and can't read the display because it's not bright enough (I've had that happen with numerous laptops over the years), then brighter *is* better. Apple does this with MacBook Pro, where they get up to 350nits or something, but you can always set it to 50% or 100nits or whatever if that's what you need/like.
  • blackrook - Wednesday, December 29, 2010 - link

    Now I'm just getting confused with ASUS's naming schemes. What does the N in N53 mean? The K? U? UL? G?

    It's the same with video cards, what with the GTX460 1GB/768MB/SE or the 5850 > 6850 business. Companies need to differentiate their product lines more intuitively.
  • 86waterpumper - Wednesday, December 29, 2010 - link

    I agree that displays have slipped lately. I am building a new desktop rig currently, and I hate the 16:9 displays enough that I am sticking to a old dell 4:3 17 inch. Pretty sad I would need a 24" or something to even match the height of it. My wife has a 17.3 hp dv7 laptop, and she downloaded the amazon kindle software. I double clicked it to check it out, and opened up a book...It looked hilarious to see the middle 1/4 of the screen being used and nothing on the sides, all of these apps and programs are going to have to start allowing for wrapping and double width viewing if this stupid trend continues. I literally wanted to turn the screen sideways it would have been much better.
    I tell you another problem too with the piano black glossy finishes. Our daughter is 7, and uses the laptop sometimes for schoolwork or to look at disney website etc. A very heavy laptop is a pain even for me to carry with such a slick surface. It is utter stupidity!!! I wonder how many people have dropped their expensive laptops and ruined them due to this. I always make sure my hands are 100 percent dry before carrying the thing, but it's really tough for my daughter which is why I have started to let her use my much lighter netbook more. Anyway a rougher, matte finish would provide tons more grip and look better on the fingerprint front as well. I can imagine the pain in the tail it must be for people doing these reviews to try to get the thing fingerprint free under camera flash.
  • Luke2.0 - Wednesday, December 29, 2010 - link

    Hi Jarred, can the "Blu-ray Combo" do DVD-burning?
    Thank you.
  • chemist1 - Thursday, December 30, 2010 - link

    If you google the drive name listed in the spec table at the beginning of the review ( "Philips/Lite-On DS-4E1S") you can get the full tech specs. But from what I vaguely recall, this drive can burn CD and DVD, but it's read-only for Blu-Ray.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, December 30, 2010 - link

    Correct: this is DVDRW and BD-ROM. I would say "BD-ROM/DVD-ROM" otherwise, but I suppose you have no way of knowing that. :-)
  • Luke2.0 - Thursday, December 30, 2010 - link

    Thank you for answering my previous question.

    Got another question though: The spec table shows only 1 HDD. Does this laptop support dual HDD, or SSD-HDD combo?
    IMO It'd be a shame as a 15-incher not to be capable of it.
    I have checked Asus International and it does not seems to support it, but could you please confirm?

    Thank you again.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, December 31, 2010 - link

    There's no room for a second HDD. If you wanted to get creative, you could try removing the optical drive and installing a second drive there, but ASUS doesn't sell the necessary caddy so you're pretty much on your own. Actually, very few 15.6" or smaller laptops have room for two drives in my experience; that's usually a feature of 17" notebooks, or special laptops that skip out on other items in order to fit two 2.5" drives. Granted, there are exceptions, but I don't think we've reviewed any in the past year at least.

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