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ASUS G51J 3D 15.6″ Gaming Notebook

Date: March 1, 2010
Author(s): Rob Williams

The term “3D” has been used quite a bit over the past couple of months, and as it stands today, there’s a fair bit of content available to those with capable hardware. But on the mobile side of things, support is just beginning to creep in. The first available option was from ASUS, with its G51J 3D, and we’re taking a look at it here.



Introduction

This past fall, I spent quite a bit of time with ASUS’ G51Vx 15.6" notebook, one that came in at just $999, but delivered a sweet gaming experience. In the end, there was almost nothing I disliked about the notebook, and as a result, I heartily awarded it one of our Editor’s Choice awards. Even today, I still have a couple of friends who mention that model from time to time, as they had some hands-on experience with it. When a notebook leaves an impression like that, it must be one heck of a good notebook.

A mere month after we reviewed the G51Vx, ASUS came out of nowhere with the G51J 3D. Like all of the other G51 models I’ve seen so far, the G51J 3D has near-identical design cues to previous models, and the same could be said for the layout. Compared directly to the model we looked at a couple of months ago, the G51J 3D at first glance looks like the exact same notebook.

But under the hood, the same can’t be said. Compared to the G51Vx, the G51J 3D has an improved processor, upgraded chipset, twice the number of hard drives, an upgraded wireless adapter and of course, one of the more unique displays on the market. The reason? The “3D” in the title, of course. In order for a display of any sort to deliver proper 3D, it must be at least 120Hz, which this one is. There are only two notebooks that I know of to have a 120Hz screen, the other being a model from Acer (which also touts 3D).

Adding “3D” to a notebook, or desktop, isn’t that easy. You need the support to have anything work. Since one company already has a foot in the 3D scheme, NVIDIA, ASUS has partnered up with the company in order to deliver the full 3D experience here. What that essentially means is that the G51J 3D comes bundled with NVIDIA’s 3D Vision kit (IR receiver and glasses), and various demos/applications to help put it all to good use.

Closer Look at ASUS’ G51J 3D

We’ll touch up a bit more on the 3D feature on the last two pages, but for now we’ll take a quick tour around the notebook and see all of what it offers. As you can see from the stock image above, and photo below, the G51J 3D has one huge difference compared to the G51Vx… the color. Blue is my favorite color, so it’s not too hard for me to prefer the color scheme here. Whether or not you like it obviously comes down to opinion.

Compared to the G51Vx, nothing at all is different here. The same chiclet keyboard has returned, and so has the trackpad (which is great, because it’s one of the best I’ve ever used). Altec Lansing’s audio system has again returned, and you can see two of the front speakers up nearer to the display.

There’s never much to really say about a trackpad, but the one used on the G51 is, to me, almost perfect. I almost wish the two “mouse” buttons extruded just a bit, but it’s not a deal-breaker. The pad itself is matte, and doesn’t bother the fingers after long periods of use. Nor does it get too hot, due to the creative internal design of the notebook. Like most other notebook trackpads, this one includes a “scroll wheel”, but I’ve never found one that was truly simple to use, and this one is no exception.

Here you can see the keyboard up-close, and begin to fully understand its design. This chiclet style, I admit, is pretty neat. I didn’t think I’d ever like it, but it’s grown on me, and in some regards, I prefer it. Nothing will quite beat the tactile feedback of an actual desktop keyboard, but for a notebook, this is great. For the record, the dust seen in the picture isn’t included.

Above the right-hand side of the keyboard is a variety of buttons, some touch. Not counting the keyboard status keys to the absolute left, the Republic of Gamers logo controls whether or not 3D Vision is enabled, while the button in the middle controls the power scheme. Finally, the touchpad button naturally allows you to enable and disable the touchpad, which is ideal if you are planning to use a mouse.

Most ASUS notebooks today support Splashtop Linux, and the G51J 3D is no exception. If you just want to get something done fast, you can quickly boot up into this environment by pushing the power button with a thunderbolt in it. The other power button boots you as normal.

With its $1,699 price tag, I was hoping that the G51J 3D featured a Blu-ray drive, but no cigar. The model does officially feature it as an option, but I haven’t found that configuration available online. Nevertheless, the model we tested including a fast DVD-RW drive, full audio ports and two USB ports on the right-hand side.

On the opposite end we can find two more USB ports, HDMI, eSATA, FireWire, and way at the top, VGA.

With this final photo, you can see the rather hefty hinge, along with the LAN port and AC power adapter port.

Overall, I have nothing truly bad to say about the G51, but I could have told you that before I even received this particular model. After all, in overall design, it’s nearly identical to the G51Vx which I spent about two months with this past fall. The G51J 3D is again a very well-built notebook, and “flimsy” is a word you must drop from your vocabulary when you pick one up.

Specifications, Software

For a gaming notebook, the G51J 3D lacks very little. One of the more important components, the graphics card, is a mainstream GeForce GTX 260 from NVIDIA. Like its desktop variant, it can handle all of today’s games at this notebook’s native resolution of 1366×768. You may have to occasionally compromise and lower the detail setting in order to enjoy smooth gameplay, but even with today’s games, you won’t have to do too much of that.

Of course, a graphics card isn’t much without a capable CPU to back it up, and fortunately, the one ASUS has packed in here isn’t a slouch. It’s of Intel’s latest Lynnfield mobile line-up. Of the three currently available mobile Core i7’s, ASUS went with the i7-720QM, a 1.60GHz offering. That might seem a bit slow in this day and age, but it isn’t. Thanks to Intel’s Turbo feature, this meager 1.60GHz chip can be boosted to 2.80GHz when it’s pushed hard enough.

CPU and GPU aside, the G51J 3D includes ample RAM and storage, at 4GB and 640GB, respectively. In order to achieve that 640GB, two 320GB’s drives are used. While 640GB’s drives are available, ASUS chose this route in case you wanted to go with a RAID configuration, either for speed or data redundancy. The RAM is of the DDR3 nature, which when combined with Lynnfield’s integrated memory controller equals huge bandwidth, as we’ll see on the following page.

One other interesting component is Intel’s WiFi Link 1000 BGN wireless chip. This recently replaced the WiFi Link 5000 AGN chips that we’ve come to know all so well. I’m not entirely sure of the immediate benefits between the old and the new, but upgrades are rarely something to be rejected. It is a bit strange that the numbering scheme has seemingly backtracked, though…

Component
Model
Model
ASUS G51J 3D
Processor
Intel Core i7-720QM Quad-Core 1.60GHz
Chipset
Intel Ibex Peak PM55
Graphics
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260M 1GB
Display
Unknown Monitor 15.4"
Memory
4GB (2x2GB) DDR3-1066 7-7-7-20
Samsung M471B5673EH1-CF8
Hard Drive
Seagate Momentus ST9320423AS
320GB, 7200 RPM, 16MB Cache, S-ATA 3Gb/s
ODD
LG GT30N (Drive Info)
Audio
Realtek ALC663 @ Intel Ibex Peak
Network
Intel WiFi Link 1000 BGN
Realtek RTL8168C(P)/8111C(P) NIC
Et cetera
Weight: 7.3 lbs (3.3 kg)
Dimensions: 37.5 " (W) x 26.5 " (D) x 3.43-4.06 " (H)
Battery: 6-Cell Lithium Ion (~2 – 3 hours)
2.0 Megapixel Webcam
4x USB, 1x Memory Card (SD/MMC/MS/MS-Pro/xD/
Smart Media/mini SD (with adapter) /MS-Duo)
VGA Output, HDMI Output, LAN
eSATA, FireWire
2 Year Limited Global Hardware Warranty
1 Year Battery Pack Warranty
OS
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

After the first boot, we’re greeted with a wallpaper showing off a similar model (strangely not the G51J 3D), and numerous icons on the desktop. ASUS includes some trialware here, but also a fleet of its own tools.

To get an idea of the “bloat” that comes included on this notebook, you can check out the Add/Remove screen in the screenshot below. Overall, about half of the software bundled is either free, free commercial or is ASUS’ own. If you’re like me, you’ll likely uninstall a lot of this very quickly, although the ASUS software itself is generally useful.

Two unique applications to the G51J 3D that I haven’t stumbled on while testing an ASUS notebook before is “ASUS Data Security” and “ASUS Fancy Start”. If you guessed that Data Security allowed you to store files of any sort via a password-protected means, you’re certainly correct. I found the software to be a little clunky, but it worked well in my tests.

Fancy Start is arguably the more interesting of the two. If you’ve ever wanted to customize the graphics during the POST process, you’re able to here. You can add your own images, or sequence of images, along with audio.

There’s a lot of what I’d consider to be bloatware included here, but given that it’s all so common nowadays, it’s no surprise to see. It took me about a half-hour to remove whatever I personally didn’t want to keep, with the longest program to uninstall being Microsoft Office (which comes as a 60-day trial).

We’ve taken a look at the notebook itself, and its software, so how about some performance and gaming information?

Performance, Gaming

Before we tackle the results, let’s quickly review our basic notebook testing methodology. The first step in preparing the notebook is to completely wipe the factory OS and install our own (Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit). This is to prevent pre-installed applications from skewing our performance results. We then use the included DVD-ROM to install all of the necessary drivers. Also, Windows Search Indexing and a few other Windows services are manually disabled, to further help with producing accurate and repeatable results.

Once the machine is prepared for benchmarking, it’s shut down and set on a flat surface with plenty of room for airflow until it’s completely cooled down. Once benchmarking gets underway, the machine is boot and left to sit idle at the Windows desktop for five minutes, at which point testing begins. Each test is run through twice, with a reboot taking place in between each run.

To test notebooks out through some common usage scenarios, we use PCMark Vantage to do a full run through our machine to see where it excels, and also a couple of real-world applications, such as Adobe Lightroom, TMPGEnc Xpress, dBpoweramp and 3ds Max 2009. Each benchmark we use is run twice over (with a reboot in between) to assure that what we saw the first time is accurate. Our temperature tests are captured with the help of a temperature gun.

Test
ASUS W90
ASUS G51Vx
ASUS G51J 3D
PCMark Vantage
PCMark
Memories
TV and Movies
Gaming
Music
Communication
Productivity
Hard Drive

4647
3884
3886
4067
4275
3844
4172
4088

3686
2903
2673
3762
3087
3663
3812
4019

6254
4078
4556
6340
5920
4425
5281
3958
HD Tune Pro 3.5
Minimum
Average
Maximum
Burst
CPU Usage
42.5 MB/s
65.7 MB/s
82.0 MB/s
72.2 MB/s
1.4
%
42.6 MB/s
67.5 MB/s
84.9 MB/s
72.3 MB/s
2.7
%
43.1 MB/s
67.8 MB/s
85.2 MB/s
72.3 MB/s
1.8
%
Adobe Lightroom 2
100 10MP RAW to JPEG
211.57 s 290.43 s 168.39 s
TMPGEnc Xpress 4.6
720p Recode
385 s 525 s 197 s
dBpoweramp
Convert 100 FLAC to MP3
354 s 674 s 389 s
3DS Max 2009
Dog Render
420 s 478 s 288 s
Sandra 2009
Bandwidth Int
Bandwidth Float
Memory Latency
4657 MB/s
4652 MB/s
106 ns
5309 MB/s
5309 MB/s
108 ns
13654 MB/s
13665 MB/s
81 ns
Temperatures
Main Exhaust Before Boot
Main Exhaust 5 Minutes Idle
Main Exhaust 30 Minutes Stress
30 Minutes Touchpad Center
30 Minutes Center of Keyboard
Bottom of LCD
24.9 °C (76.8 °F)
30.1 °C (86.2 °F)
67.3 °C (153.14 °F)
30.9 °C (87.6 °F)
36.4 °C (97.5 °F)
42.2 °C (108.0 °F)
26.4 °C (79.5 °F)
34.1 °C (93.4 °F)
40.6 °C (105.1 °F)
27.3 °C (81.1 °F)
30.3 °C (86.5 °F)
26.3 °C (79.34 °F)
28.1 °C (82.6 °F)
37.8 °C (100.04 °F)
42.5 °C (108.5 °F)
28.3 °C (82.94 °F)
30.7 °C (87.26 °F)
26.4 °C (79.34 °F)

While the G51J 3D is so similar in design to the G51Vx, the best comparison above is to the W90, as both feature quad-cores. That said, the differences that Intel’s latest architecture is rather stark. The default clock for the W90 was 2.0GHz, so Lynnfield’s Turbo truly shines here. Where memory is concerned, there’s just no comparison. The bandwidth can be argued to mean little, but even the latency shows a great improvement.

From a temperatures standpoint, the G51J 3D manages to get a bit hotter than the G51Vx, likely due to the more robust processor. Even during regular use I noticed the notebook to get hotter than the previous model we looked at. The heat is primarily exported through the left side, and is rarely noticed unless you happen to set a glass there, or rest your hand during regular use.

Gaming Performance

Of course, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Below are screenshots from various games we loaded up on the notebook, with the basic setting configuration listed below each one. Rather than deliver Min/Avg/Max FPS reports, for our notebook reviews we instead just take a screenshot of the game with FRAPS. Unfortunately, I foolishly forgot to enable the FPS counter when grabbing screenshots, but you can be rest assured, what you see below is with very playable framerates.


Batman Arkham Asylum – 1366×768, Max Detail, 4xAA

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 – 1366×768, Max Detail, 4xAA

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood – 1366×768, Max Detail, 4xAA

Crysis Warhead – 1366×768, Mainstream Detail, 0xAA

Dirt 2 – 1366×768, Max Detail, 4xAA

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin – 1366×768, Max Detail, 4xAA

Left 4 Dead 2 – 1366×768, Max Detail, 4xAA

GRID – 1366×768, Max Detail, 4xAA

For the most part, I was quite happy with the gaming performance that the GTX 260M delivered, and it was about on par with what I expected to see. The vast majority of today’s games will run at max detail settings just fine, and some can even use anti-aliasing. The exception is of course Crysis Warhead (which as far as games are concerned, is a total glutton for system resources).

Because the 3D mode essentially renders the same frame twice, you can expect performance to be literally halved when enabled. For most games shown above, this isn’t a problem, simply because they achieve such high frame rates to begin with, but with others, it can be. Crysis, for example, doesn’t run that well even with modest settings, and it’s no surprise given that it’s a totally brutal game on hardware. For what it’s worth, the 3D effect in that title isn’t too good to begin with, so you aren’t missing much by keeping the 3D off.

Two other games that experience notable slowdowns with 3D enabled are Arkham Asylum and Modern Warfare 2. The former can reach very playable framerates simply by disabling anti-aliasing.. that’s it. It’s nothing major, and when in 3D, you won’t really notice the AA missing. For Modern Warfare 2, the 3D effect isn’t superb to begin with, and with it enabled, the game is a bit laggy with 4xAA, so disabling it is the route to go.

I’ll talk a bit more about the 3D aspect on the following page, along with my wrap-up.

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned in the intro, long before I received the G51J 3D, I had a good feeling of what to expect. The main reason simply boils down to the fact that in overall design, the G51J 3D is near-identical to the G51Vx I took a look at this past fall. This is a good thing, though, because ASUS has a great design here.

For one, the G51 series simply looks great, and perfectly suits the traveling gamer. It’s built well, and hardly feels flimsy in any possible way. Even the keyboard is appropriate for hardcore gaming. You wouldn’t imagine it given its chiclet style, but unless you need very tight tactile feedback, you should be fine with the design here. Plus, the keys are completely back-lit, making gaming in the dark a non-issue.

Then there’s the audio, which is rather good for a notebook offering. I’ll admit that I’ve yet to hear a set of speakers on a notebook that sounded good enough for me to set down my headphones, but this is about as close as I could get. Thanks to the woofer underneath, you even get some bass, which adds to the experience. Gaming aside, movies will also sound great here.

Peripheral-wise, the G51is far from limiting. For USB alone there are four ports, and then there’s also support for FireWire, eSATA and of course VGA and HDMI. There’s simply nothing missing here. Overall, the entire notebook is stellar in design, looks and feel. If I were in the market for a gaming notebook, I’d have no qualm choosing this exact design. I’m not totally sure about the style of the hood, but that’s a matter of opinion.

The G51J 3D is a great notebook, that much is clear, but I wanted to focus more on the 3D aspect since that’s what sets this notebook apart from pretty much every other model out there. As I mentioned in the intro, this model demands a price premium given its unique feature-set, and by premium, I mean ~$500. I come to this conclusion based on the fact that ASUS offers an almost identical notebook (G51Jx-X1) which has a slightly better GPU and improved resolution (1080p) that sells for $400 less. Given the upgrades in resolution and GPU, I’d assume the actual premium is $500 (though neither ASUS or NVIDIA would likely agree to my methods of calculating this).

To be completely fair, though, the premium is there for a reason. For one, this is one of only two notebooks out there that can handle 3D. This feature on its own demands a couple necessities. First, there’s the NVIDIA 3D Vision kit, which includes the glasses and IR receiver. On the market, this retails for $150. Then there’s the 120Hz display. Given that these are not common on notebooks, I have no doubt that it alone makes up a good chunk of the premium here. As it stands today, you can’t get 3D on a notebook cheaply.

That all said, you’d really want to have the benefit of 3D in order to pay the premium for it, but the way things are going, it can’t be considered a poor investment. While the officially-supported game selection is a wee bit slim at this point in time (understandably so), it’s growing, with many current games and many more on the way that can take good advantage of the technology. You won’t be without content, that’s for certain.

When NVIDIA began pushing 3D Vision hard last fall, it touted both Resident Evil 5 and Batman: Arkham Asylum as being the two flagship titles, and it’s for a reason. During their development, both of these titles were designed with 3D Vision support in mind, so for the most part, the 3D effect in these games will be better than most others out there. If you see a 3D Vision logo on the game box, you can expect a great experience.

That’s not to say that a 3D Vision denotation is required though, because that’s hardly the case. Although I hate to admit it, I personally can’t see in 3D, so all of the testing done for 3D Vision on this notebook was done with the help of seven friends (oddly, no one in my immediate family can see in 3D, but most of my friends can). During all the time I’ve had the notebook, I’ve received a tremendous amount of feedback from these friends, and can form some solid conclusions.

Strangely enough, every single one of my friends who tested out 3D Vision said that the effect was best seen in Batman: Arkham Asylum. Surprisingly, every-single one of them also said that they’d much rather play the game with 3D on than off, and now that they knew what it was capable of, they’d definitely be considering 120Hz for their next television purchase. All were rather pleased with Resident Evil 5 as well, but most noted that the effect wasn’t quite as good as it was with Batman.

Aside from those two games, I also had them test out various other titles as well, such as Dirt 2, GRID, Crysis, F.E.A.R. 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. While the effect varied from game to game, most agreed that in GRID, the effect wasn’t all too impressive (it wasn’t worthless, though), and the same could be said for most FPS’ games. Crysis Warhead wasn’t that impressive, but F.E.A.R. 2 was quite decent, despite the lack of official support.

Dirt 2 was a perfect example of a game that really benefits from 3D Vision but doesn’t offer official support. The game’s menus were dizzying, so 3D had to be turned off there, but once in the race, the effect was breath-taking (which makes me even more upset that I can’t see in 3D!). So overall, the effect will vary, but there’s definitely a lot of use to be had outside of officially supported games.

The opinions were all mixed with the video and image viewing though. No one was really that impressed with the images, and couldn’t imagine needing or wanting to view photos in 3D, but the included sample videos were a little more worthwhile. It should be noted that the video samples included on the notebook are the same ones that NVIDIA used at CES last year, so it could be assumed that the effect has been improved since then. With Blu-ray 3D coming out this summer, we’re likely to see 3D in movies revolutionized.

It all boils down to this. The G51J 3D as I mentioned carries a price premium, but if you are greatly interested in 3D on a mobile, there’s just an extreme lack of choice right now. If you want 3D as good as it can be today on a notebook, the G51J 3D won’t at all disappoint.

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