* Prices may differ from that shown
With so many different laptops available in stores today, it can often be hard to make an informed decision on what laptop is right for you. With talks of different processors, different sized hard-drives, dedicated or shared graphics and a plethora of different laptop brands to trawl through, you can get lost in the jargon associated with a PC purchase. Such was my trouble when looking for a larger laptop than my trusty little Toshiba net-book, but I settled on the 15.6" ASUS X53E-SX399V laptop with an Intel Sandy Bridge Core i5 processor housed within. Was it the right decision?
In design terms, the laptop is incredibly slick. When closed, the glossy black screen exterior is visible, with a slick metallic ASUS logo embedded near the top. On the inside, a glossy black trim surrounds the entire screen and, once again, a metallic Asus logo sits in the centre just underneath the screen, making for a smart finish. Undoubtedly, the most impressive-looking part of the laptop is the keyboard area, where a number of astute design choices have made this laptop a joy to use. A brilliant chiclet-style keyboard (i.e. where each key has a space between it) means that touch-typers like me won't be making many errors when typing at speed while the response of the keys is very impressive indeed; bouncy but not too sensitive or spongy, the keys need a fair bit of pressure to register the keystrokes, which makes it very hard to make silly mistakes. The keyboard also looks very slick, with matt-black keys sitting atop a glossy black base which exudes class. A num-pad is also present to the right and all of the keys are where you'd expect them. As with most laptop keyboards these days, a selection of functions are highlighted in light blue on the F buttons at the top of the keyboard, triggered by holding the respective button and 'Fn' simultaneously. This is a good system, and offers the chance to increase/decrease brightness/volume and other functions at the touch of a button. A power button, illuminated in white light when the laptop is on, can be found to the top right of the laptop interior and rounds off the smart look.
Sitting at the top of the keyboard is the inbuilt Altec Lansing speaker, which, if any faults are to be found with the laptop, is the key concern. Of course, I'm talking about laptop speakers, and, as anyone with any experience with them will agree, the inbuilt speakers they have are almost always inadequate. I found the volume to not rise high enough even on its highest setting and it had a tinny sound which was not good for extended music listening. That said, for watching videos online and for playing the occasional game, the speakers do deliver. Luckily, too, Asus has an in-built program which allows for a series of tweaks to be made to the speaker sound. Its Sonic Focus program is a welcome inclusion on the laptop and has helped me get the best from the inbuilt speakers. Nevertheless, those looking to maximise the sound they hear on the laptop are advised to hook it up to some external speakers as I have.
Framing the keyboard and coating the entire face of the laptop base is a very slick 'Aluminium tough', scratch resistant aluminium casing. Not only does this brushed metal finish look very cool, but it's also literally very cool. Indeed, you won't ever feel your palms get warm typing on this keyboard, as even after hours of sustained use the metal layering will keep your hands nice and cool. What's more, it is indeed scratch resistant; after three months of regular use, it still looks as good as it did on day one.
As for the track-pad, it sits in a perfect position on the laptop interior. Located off-centre and more to the left-hand side of the machine, and placed a sufficient distance from the keyboard, the track-pad is a joy to use. Finished in grey to match the aluminium coating, the pad is more than big enough and there are two separate glossy plastic (but metallic effect) mouse buttons at the bottom of the pad area. What's more, rather than simply being able to do regular mouse movements, this pad supports multi-touch movements; pinch in and you can zoom, rotate your fingers and you can rotate pictures on-screen, scroll up with your fingertips and you can move up and down documents with summary ease. It makes a difference to have such a good track-pad and it's excellent for use on the move, but, even still, I would still recommend getting a USB mouse to make it even easier.
Just underneath the touch-pad, 6 LED process indicators can be found, for which the respective icons are engraved into the metal coating. Here, num-lock, caps-lock and Wi-Fi lights can be found, as well as those which show whether the computer is on or if the battery is low. They are well placed and round off the impressive look of the laptop. To conclude, the fan has been cleverly placed on the left side of the laptop, near to the back, meaning that after extended use your hands won't get warm and, simultaneously, your computer won't overheat as air can freely circulate into and out of the laptop.
The build-quality is, in short, absolutely stunning, and it's easy to see why Asus have a reputation for making stylish, built-to-last machines which look as good as they perform.
As well as looking very stylish, Asus have done well to maximise the amount of inputs you expect from a mid-range laptop, with a few added extras to sweeten the deal. The only real negative to be found is a notable lack of sufficient USB ports. In fact, there are only three in total, all USB 2.0 (whereas now the faster USB 3.0 are becoming standard) one found to the left-hand side and two to the right. This can cause a few problems if you want multiple connections at once but for the most part they do the job.
To the right of the laptop, a microphone and headphone port can be found to the bottom right, sat aside the two USB ports and, to the right of these a slim, tray-loading DVD multi recorder drive is found. To the left, the sole USB port is accompanied by a welcome HDMI port for simple and high quality video output to the latest monitors and televisions, a VGA port for connection to older external screens, a network port and the power input.
To top it all off, hidden on the underside of the laptop's front is an unobtrusive multi-card reader, for simple connection to SD cards and other camera flash cards. Internally, there's a WiFi connection but no Bluetooth. Overall, then, connectivity isn't a problem on this Asus model, though a couple of extra USB ports would've been nice.
The 15.6" screen is very impressive indeed, giving a very crisp image. With a very high resolution of 1366 x 768 and 32-bit colour depth, this screen won't disappoint and makes Windows 7 look very slick indeed, handling the different transitions and graphics options well. The only real thing to be opposed to here is the glossy finish to the screen which means that viewing in the great outdoors can often be a pain. To use the laptop when bathed in sunlight, you'll need to raise brightness to its maximum and even then it can be a bit of a chore. Still, the positives outweigh the negatives.
I was astounded by how quickly the battery charges up. A two-and-a-half hour charge will charge the battery up for up to 5 hours use, if the laptop is used simply and solely for word processing. If you hope to use WiFi, watch movies and play music and games on the battery simultaneously, it can last up to two. But, most regularly, the battery lasts me around three and a half hours, which is an impressive feat for a 15.6" laptop and one which makes it the ideal machine for students who, like me, like to type away in their lectures.
*Start-up and shutdown*
Shut-down is incredibly fast, taking just over a minute to complete, while starting up the computer, signing in and opening a Word Document takes a minute and a half. I found this to be very impressive, and also very useful if you have to leave a lecture/meeting in a rush.
I bought this laptop as it had a second generation 2.3 Ghz Sandy Bridge i5-2410m Core processor in it and, for the £399 I paid at the time, this was a huge bonus compared to similarly priced laptops. Put simply for those who don't understand the chip differences, the latest wave of computer chips are the Intel I series; i3 is the entry level chip, ideal for word-processing and light PC use, i5 is good for casual gaming and impressive but not ultra-demanding performance and the i7 is for serious gamers or those who use demanding applications like professional art software on their laptops. This laptop, with the i5 chip, is therefore a mid-range laptop in processing terms.
Keen to be able to play the latest games on the move when away from my Xbox, I bought this laptop thinking I might be able to play the odd game but not expecting miracles. Yet, after buying FIFA 12 and installing it, I was astounded that the laptop could handle it at the highest settings, even if it wasn't as smooth as on the Xbox. On the lowest settings it worked seamlessly. The same can be said for NBA 2k12, though that works perfectly even on the highest settings. Given the fact that this laptop doesn't even have a dedicated graphics chip (it has an integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 graphics chipset, with a maximum graphics memory of 1361MB) this was an amazing surprise and has given my laptop a performance way above the price I paid.
With 3GB of RAM, the laptop is also speedy when handling multiple applications. Having numerous website windows up at once is no problem and switching between different programs is seamless. To give an idea of how smooth it can be, I can be playing FIFA while listening to music on iTunes only to minimize the game to check out some YouTube videos online and surf the web for a bit. The laptop has been truly impressive at handling various applications at once and I have been impressed with the performance.
In storage terms, the 320GB hard drive which the X53E has is more than large enough for those with expansive music collections who want to install the odd game, but, for those who are avid downloaders of films and music this may not be the laptop for you. For around the same price mark, you can find laptops with 500GB+ of storage; yet, given that external hard-drives have plummeted in price recently, it may pay to do what I did and buy a higher performance PC with a view to by external storage if it ever becomes necessary.
To offer a further indication of the laptop's impressive performance, below I have put the results of the Windows Experience Index test, which assesses key system components on a scale of 1.0 to 7.9 (7.9 being the best):
Memory (RAM): 5.5
Gaming graphics: 6.2
Primary hard disk: 5.9
Base score: 5.5
This is an impressive score for a relatively affordable mid-range laptop, and shows that it has a decent performance which will be more than adequate for those who, like me, want a laptop better than one which is entry-level but without the huge price-tags the very best laptops command.
In short, this Asus laptop not only looks slick, smart and pricier than its price-tag suggests but it has the performance to boot. The design is great, particularly the easy-to-use keyboard, and it handles everything from word processing to light gaming perfectly.
If you're looking for a well-built and sturdy machine from a trusted computer manufacturer, then look no further than the ASUS X53E-SX399V. It won't disappoint.
This model was purchased from Comet for £399 in September 2011.