I’ll be reviewing the Asus N56VM laptop.
The time for a new laptop had come and I had a goal. A high quality laptop, aluminum body, backlight keyboard with a 9 pad, Nvidia GPU, and at least a 1080 monitor. Let me say that that isn’t the easiest search criteria out there if you’re not looking for an Apple product. After some forum trolling and intense Googling, I was able to pick out a few different models from around the web to sift through from there. I decided on the Asus N56VM and am quite pleased.
Opening the clam shell cardboard box is pretty straightforward, no bells or whistles. The laptop was first thing to be taken out. Underneath that came a separate Asus SonicMaster sub woofer for that extra “umph” in your tunes and flicks. An assortment of reading material and warranty documents bundled with a velcro cable strap and a decent quality cleaning cloth and a two part charger emptied the box. Everything was wrapped in the usual styrofoam bags inside tight fit cardboard slots.
This laptop has some weight to it. With the feel of a larger ultra book, it still has a thin body, right around an inch and a quarter when closed which fits comfortably into my backpack on the way to class.
The top of the laptop has a nice finished black brush. It’s not aluminum, but it does have the feel of nice metal. There is a nice Asus logo that is silver while the device isn’t active and lights up a bright white when it’s running. The screen is nice and crisp with around a half inch of bezel. There’s an included webcam on top and an “Asus” logo that matches the front of the cover centered at the bottom. With the resolution at 1920×1080, everything fits comfortably on screen without straining. The viewing angles for the screen aren’t much to brag about when standing up but any views from the side are right on the mark. The backlight for the screen is strong enough to see in direct sunlight on full settings and a very even level backlighting in the dark.
The underside is pretty typical plastic for a laptop, a few vents along the bottom but the majority of airflow being taken up by the left rear 2/3’s of the device’s body. An SD slot and 5 status LED’s make up the front of the body. The left hand side has 2 USB 3.0 ports (one powered, one not), a spring loaded door for the ethernet jack, HDMI out and and VGA output. There is also the port for the included sub woofer way in the back. The right hand side has 2 USB 3.0, a DVD-RW, S/PDIF out, mic out, a Kensington lock, and the charge port.
The inside of the machine has a nice smooth metal feel with spaced out keys that rise out of the flat metal base. A large track pad takes up a decent real estate almost underneath the space bar. There are two buttons that take up the top corners of the tray. The top right one functions as the power button while the other functions as a general purpose shortcut key you can set within the Asus driver software. An aesthetic decision on Asus’s part was to paint on dots that radiate from either of the top buttons that fade as they get to the center. This is persistent even through the keyboard. The don’t add a lot to the look of it but they do disguise the speakers almost perfectly that light next to the buttons. Along with the dots, in the top center, is the speaker branding for this model, “Audio by Bang & Olufsen ICE power”. The keyboard has a very stiff response but relatively soft keys. They’re spaced apart well enough for my long fingers to enjoy the room. The number pad on the right feels a little tight but that’s the price to pay for fitting it into a 15.6″ body. When typing, I had to adjust the track pad software to ignore my terrible typing posture but I haven’t had an accidental click since then. The backlight sheds quite a lot of light and I haven’t had a need to move it past it’s lowest setting (adjusted from through the fn key and F# keys).
Internals on the machine are about mid-ranged for a laptop but I wasn’t looking to replace a desktop system. A 2.30 GHz tops off the device which is more than enough bang for my mobile buck. A higher investment in RAM wouldn’t be out of place from the included 6GB. The storage on the device is a 750 GB drive that comes partitioned to two drives, one for the OS, one for data. Not my most favorite idea in the world but until I decide to put Linux and a fresh install of windows on there, it’ll do the job just fine. The battery claims around a 3.5 hour life but I’ve lost faith in laptop batteries over the years and take them with a grain of salt. After all, I don’t plan on doing anything without an outlet too far away.
My job as a web designer is almost completely cloud based which means the most strenuous things I run are 50 tabs of Google Chrome or 3 whole instances of Internet Explorer. The gestures for the track pad almost mimic those of a Mac exactly which makes navigating multiple windows smooth and drama free once I got the hang of the multiple finger actions. The device also features a very Chromebook “instant on” which is handy assuming you don’t boot your computer down every time you finish using it. The on board Intel display driver handles most of the graphic needs.
Audio quality is nice and crisp, and plugging in the provided sub woofer adds a little bit of a kick to the audio but nothing to make any audiophiles out there get excited over. The volume gets loud enough that I can watch a Netflix movie while doing the dishes but doesn’t get to party rock levels. The built in microphone has a pretty impressive pick up when using Ventrilo enough so that I had to lower my inbound a tad. Both audio in and out left me quite satisfied with their delivery as I typically switch over to a nicer set of headphone anyway.
As a college student, I also have need for the usual stress relief for which I turn to my Steam library. I primarily prefer desktops for gaming and have a decent enough rig to accomplish that when I’m at home. For gaming on the go though, this device has passed the bar to play the majority of my games comfortably. The display driver will let you pick to switch between the Intel display device or the Nvidia GeForce GT 630 M 2GB. Obviously I switch over to the GPU card when it’s game time. League of Legends pulls a solid 30 – 45 frames on full settings. Bigger games such as Borderlands 2 or Skryim need a little bit more of a break down to medium or low to keep the frame rates ramped up. That big ole track pad doesn’t do too much for the gaming and found myself toggling it off to prevent random screen jumps when I needed to traverse the keyboard to open a map or inventory. I didn’t notice too terrible a heat expenditure when playing games, the hottest part being warm enough to notice under my left wrist but nothing harsh enough to make me uncomfortable.
Overall I’m quite impressed with this laptop as a cheaper metal bodied machine that will still play games when I need to set up shop with some friends. I do wish it was a little bit lighter as I would gladly go completely to Bluetooth keyboard, mouse, and my Nexus 7 tablet if I could. The body feels needlessly marred by the paint job on the inside panel which seems to contrast the smooth metal look it has going for it. There are a lot of similarities with a MacBook but overall it has enough going for it to set it itself apart.
- Backlight keyboard
- Almost full metal body
- Big trackpad with gesture support
- Relatively heavy
- 3 prong power plug (wall end)
- Needless paint job