Asus N53SV

Asus's good-looking N53 series laptops have proven to be some of the faster all-purpose notebooks on the market. The latest N53SV model is as well, only more so thanks to its new state of the art CPU. Our test configuration, which sells for $1,219 , sports the high-end 2.0 GHz Core i7-2630M that pushed the unit to an excellent 126 score. However, you can save some money at the expense of performance by ordering it with an i5-2410M or i3-2310M.

All configurations ship with an GT-540M GPU, which makes for good gaming. A game like Unreal Tournament 3 tops 100 frames per second in all the resolutions supported by the 15.6-inch, 1366 by 769 display. With more strenuous games, of course, you can expect lower frame rates. The other, less glamorous main components include 4GB of DDR3-1066 memory, a 750GB 7200 RPM hard drive (less capacious and slower 5400 RPM drives are available in some models), and an 8X DVD burner.

At 15.6 inches by 10.6 inches by 1.6 inches thick and 6.4 pounds, the slate-gray N35SV is on the large side for an all-purpose laptop, bordering on the desktop replacement category. However, besides accommodating the large screen, it also allows for a spacious keyboard deck. The keyboard and touchpad are indeed roomy, and have a nice if somewhat soft feel.

Sadly, the keyboard pesters you with odd layout choices: The placement of the cursor keys shortens the length of the right shift key, and several oft-used editing keys such as Delete are stuck in non-standard locations. There's also no separation between the main alphabetical keys, said cursor keys, and numeric the keypad. This causes visual and tactile confusion at times. The left button was defective on our unit and occasionally required a good whack before it would respond.

One other minor issue is that the built-in Atheros AR9285 Wi-Fi adapter is single-band, 2.4 GHz-only. You won't be able to connect to the 5 GHz networks that are rapidly gaining popularity. On the other hand, the unit has Bluetooth, gigabit Ethernet, and one of the three USB ports is the sublimely fast new USB 3.0. Other ports include a headphone jack, microphone input, and a SD/MMC/MS/xD card reader.

Asus touts the Bang & Olufsen audio on the N53SV and as far as it goes, it sounds good--loud, spacious (with software aid), clear, and punchy. But "as far as it goes" is only down to the lower mid-range. No matter what audio company's logo is on a notebook--it needs a largish speaker and some air to provide bass response. As you'd expect with as much processing horsepower as the N35SV has onboard, video played super smoothly.