01 May 2009

Asus F50SV-A2

Excellent graphics performance for the price; ExpressGate preboot application; lots of extra features; reasonable price

Limited screen resolution; speakers lack bass; lackluster design; no USB ports on right side

Editors' Take
While the F50SV-A2 lacks some of the sex appeal of other entertainment notebooks, it offers a nice balance of features and performance for the price.

Asus F50Sv-A2

Key Specs
Processor: 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600
Memory: 4GB RAM
Storage: 320GB hard drive
Optical Drive: Blu-ray/multiformat DVD
Screen: 16 inches (1,366x768)
Graphics: Nvidia GT 120M (1GB)
Weight: 6.3 pounds
Dimensions (HWD): 1.6x15x10.4 inches
Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium

Reviewed by: Sarah E. Anderson
Review Date: April 2009

Asus’s latest entertainment notebook is both affordable and effective. It offers everything you’d need for gaming, movie watching, and video editing for a very reasonable price of $1,149. It’s not the fastest performer on the market, but it’s far from slow and delivers enough power to serve your media needs.

The 1.6x15x10.4-inch, 6.3-pound F50SV-A2 won’t turn any heads, but it’s not bad-looking, either. The gray, pin-striped top is conservative-looking, and the pin stripes carry through to the charcoal keyboard deck. Once you open the system, the large 16-inch, 16-to-9 HD display looks gorgeous, though we’re a little disappointed in the limited resolution. The only viable option is 1,366x768; the other three options (1,280x720, 1,024x768, and 800x600) don't match the screen's aspect ratio. For this size of screen, a 1,920x1,080 resolution, like the Dell Studio XPS 16 offers, would be nice.

Just in front of the hinge is a shiny silver strip that looks like jewelry; it actually looks a little out of place, since there’s no other shiny silver on the laptop's case to match it. (Even the mouse button is a dark chrome, for a nickel-plated look.) The silver strip contains four indicator lights (hard drive, Num Lock, Caps Lock, and Scroll Lock) and four shortcut buttons (Media Center, battery-saving mode, Web, and touch-pad enable/disable), plus the power button.

The keyboard is very roomy; in fact, it felt almost too roomy, but we have to think that’s just our imagination. The number pad on the right, however, is tight horizontally, cramping your ability to make fast calculations on it. Also, three of the arrow keys are positioned within the regular keyboard area, with the right arrow wedged into the number-pad region. It’s an odd arrangement and not one that’s easy to locate by touch. The touch pad is comfortable and plenty big in proportion to the 16-inch wide-screen LCD. The single mouse button, however, is a little stiff for our taste.

Above the screen is a 1.3-megapixel Webcam, which handled video chats merely okay. Images were clear and looked decent even in low light, but they froze a few times in our tests, and motion blur was prevalent. As for the screen proper, it kept up with fast action scenes in The Matrix, though the sound was a little thin. Overall, however, we noted good viewing angles and wouldn’t mind watching movies on it.

You’ll find plenty of connectivity options around the chassis, although we were surprised to see a USB port along with power, VGA, and HDMI ports in the back. Those who never plan to use the notebook on the road may appreciate having these ports (and their corresponding cords) placed out of the way, but they’re not so conveniently located otherwise. On the left edge, you’ll find a 54mm ExpressCard slot, audio-in and -out jacks, a Wi-Fi on/off switch, three USB ports, and an Ethernet jack. Oddly, next to the Ethernet jack is a phone jack filled in with rubber, as though Asus put it there and then changed its mind. The four-format memory-card reader is in front, and a Blu-ray drive is all that adorns the right side. We wish Asus had located one of the USB ports on the right edge, which would make attaching a mouse a little easier for right-handed users.

Performance on the F50SV-A2 is right where it should be for its size and price. Its 16-inch screen puts the unit in the mainstream-notebook category, which also comprises 15.4-inch notebooks, many of which are priced below $800. Even so, when compared with the 16-inch Lenovo IdeaPad Y650 (selling for $1,249 at the time this was written), it falls a little short in CPU performance. On our PCMark Vantage test, for example, the 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 processor in the F50SV-A2 managed just 3,090, versus the IdeaPad Y650’s 3,928. The IdeaPad Y650 also edged out the Asus system on our Windows Media Encoder (WME) test with its score of 6 minutes and 6 seconds, beating the Asus by just 30 seconds. (That said, we should mention that both scores are much better than the 7-minute-and-55-second average for this class of laptop.)

Asus managed a strong 3 minutes and 50 seconds on our iTunes encoding test, beating both the category average (by 52 seconds) and the IdeaPad Y650 (by 8 seconds). But the IdeaPad Y650 took the lead again on Cinebench 10, scoring 5,150, nearly 400 points higher than the F50SV-A2’s score of 4,769. The Asus notebook proved itself an able-enough multitasker; our WME test took just 19 seconds longer when we reran it with a virus scan running in the background.

What the F50SV-A2 lacks in processor performance, however, it makes up for in graphics power and battery life. The unit uses Nvidia's GT 120M graphics chipset with 1GB of VRAM. At the time of this writing, this series of laptops was the only one using this chipset, which features Nvidia's CUDA technology, as well as support for DirectX 10 and 1080p video. It pummeled the competition on our 3DMark06 test, with scores of 5,543 (at 1,024x768) and 5,216 (at its native resolution), both nearly double the average score for both its class and the IdeaPad Y650. The Asus laptop managed a decent 45.5 frames per second (fps) on our Company of Heroes gaming test at its native resolution and a highly playable 69.5fps at 1,024x768. Battery life was also impressive, at a solid 3 hours on our demanding DVD-rundown test, beating the average by about 45 minutes and the IdeaPad Y650 by nearly 30 minutes.

We were pleasantly surprised to find an accessories bag included with the laptop, along with a notebook mouse. Asus includes Windows Vista Home Premium on the 7,200rpm 320GB hard drive, along with trial versions of Norton Internet Security and Microsoft Office 2007. Other software came bundled, too: Asus FancyStart, which lets you pick a fun splash screen when you boot up your system; SmartLogon, for facial recognition; Asus’s ExpressGate, which grants you access to e-mail and the like without booting into Windows; and Picasa 2. You get Asus’s standard two-year warranty with this system, covering one year of accidental damage, 30 days of Zero Bright Dot protection (for stuck pixels), two-way standard overnight shipping for repairs, and 24/7 tech support. Few laptops cover broken notebooks as comprehensively.

In an era of stripped-down $800 mainstream notebooks, the $1,149 F50SV-A2 is a pleasant surprise. It doesn’t offer the blazing processor speed you might find in more expensive systems, but its graphics prowess is unique for both the category and the price. It’s plenty capable for everyday computing and multitasking activities; plus, you can play real games on it and even perform some mild video editing. We’re thrilled with its battery life, feature set, and overall value. Our biggest complaint would be the lack of suitable screen-resolution choices, but we wouldn’t consider that a deal-breaker. If you’re in the market for an entertainment notebook on a budget, the Asus F50SV-A2 should be on your short list.
Price (at time of review): $1,149



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