If there are two words that I would definitely like to see in the same sentence more often, they would be “gaming” and “notebook”. Seeing as we are not flying cars George Jetson-style or living in biodomes yet, I think the least we should be demanding from 21st century technology is the ability to play Crysis whilst on the bus (or in the lecture theatre, or even on the toilet for that matter).

This is the mindset I had as I welcomed the Asus G51J-A1 into my life. Gaming notebooks have been a bit of a flop in the past - with few exceptions, most have been either too underpowered, too big, too heavy, too hot, too expensive, or all of the above. Does the G51J follow suit? Let’s find out.

Under the hood

The G51J comes from a long line of gaming notebooks from Asus, but it is the first to include a processor from Intel’s Core i7 range of CPUs, in this case the 1.6GHz 720QM.

Other specs include a 1GB nVidia GeForce GTX 260M graphics chipset, two 320GB Seagate 7200RPM hard drives, 4GB DDR3-1066 memory, 15” 1920x1080 LED-backlit screen, DVD multi-drive and Windows 7 Home Premium pre-installed.

Style

The unit is quite appealing in the looks department, with a glossy black and blue casing interrupted only by a rubberised grip and wrist-rest.

An Asus “Republic of Gamers” insignia adorns the top of the notebook inside some shredded-metal graphics, but other than that the unit as a whole is quite subdued and minimal, for a gaming notebook at least.

Usability

At 3kg it’s not exactly an ultraportable, but it is about half the weight of Alienware’s thigh-crushing 6kg M17x gaming laptop. It feels like a good sturdy weight at least.

One inspired design feature of the G51J is having the motherboard mounted to the bottom of the keyboard-tray, rather than the bottom of the case itself, meaning the bottom of the laptop doesn’t get hot during usage.

Backlit keys also provide ease-of-use during low light situations, and there’s even a fully featured numpad if you need to pretend to be studying or working.

Connectivity is not lacking either, with 4 USB ports, eSATA, FireWire, VGA, HDMI, headphone jack, microphone jack, line in/out, ExpressCard 54, multi flash-card reader, Ethernet and 802.11b/g/n wireless adaptor.

Performance

I threw a few mildly taxing games at the G51J, and while I can’t say I was blown away, I can finally say that I’ve played Crysis on a laptop with a satisfactory frame rate – even if it did require cranking the graphics down to “mainstream” (the other three games were tested at “high” quality settings, and the two racing games even let me turn 4xAA on).

The CPU sounds slow at 1.6GHz, but it has four HyperThreaded cores and there’s an auto-overclocking mode that bumps it up to over 2GHz when it can, and combined with the 7200RPM hard drives there was no issue multitasking or playing back HD movies (pity there is no Blu-Ray drive though).

The Altec Lansing speakers provide crisp and clear EAX Advanced HD 4.0 sound, but they lack depth and bass due to the absence of a subwoofer. Ideally you’d want to be playing games or watching movies with a decent set of headphones.

The monitor is good, bright and crisp with a stunningly high resolution for such a small screen, however vertical viewing angles are a bit poor so I found myself tilting the screen often to find the best picture.

Battery life/heat/noise

The 6-cell battery lasted for just under 2 hours of DVD playback for me, and for about an hour during heavy gaming.

The cooling system is quite well designed with one large air intake surrounded by half a dozen smaller intake slots on the underside of the unit, and a single exhaust vent on the side of the case next to the ESC button. I found that this area was where my left hand naturally rested when not typing, and the heat that comes out of this vent can get searing, so look out for that.

As for noise, the unit is almost inaudible under normal desktop usage, but really shrieks after a few minutes of heavy usage (another good reason to wear headphones).

Conclusion

The Asus G51J-A1 fits the bill as far as gaming notebooks go, but at an RRP of $3799 NZD it’s not winning any value awards (particularly when you can get a similar Alienware unit for less – shocking, I know).

If it were a bit cheaper and packed a Blu-Ray drive and perhaps an accessory bundle (e.g. backpack, mouse, headphones) it could be worth singing and dancing about, but for now I’d say it’s merely a satisfactory addition to the growing mobile gaming market.

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Our thanks to Mighty Ape for providing the review sample.