The G71 comes screaming out of the box "I AM A GAMING LAPTOP", which currently means racing car red and flashing lights according to most manufacturers. Thankfully, the G71 does it more tastefully than most, and the more annoying bits can, of course, be switched off.
The all-black lid features the requisite manufacturer logo, a blue-lit "Republic of Gamers" logo, a thin strip of blue light beneath this, and two blue LED bars on either side.
The side light behaviour is customisable through Asus' included DirectConsole software, allowing you to either turn the side lights off, have them always on, tell them to react to CPU activity or by fan speed. If you want to pretend you're at a very dull dance party, you can also have them flash twice every two seconds, a quick path to annoying everyone around you. Interestingly, although the sub-menu is provided for the thin strip under the logo, the software doesn't allow you to turn the darn thing off, and you're stuck with the glowing Republic of Gamers logo, unless you get creative with black tape.
There's also two front firing LEDs that can be changed to one of 16 different colours, which can either always be on or off, and flash twice every second so you can emulate a plane taking off. There are two light activation modes — either permanently on, or reacting to the speaker. If the latter is set, the lights cycle through available colours when flashing. In practice, this didn't work — at least when playing off a CD player.
Incidentally the sound is quite good — one of the first times we've been happy with laptop speakers as a whole. Asus' solution follows the typical configuration for a 17-inch laptop: two speakers just below the monitor, two front firing speakers on the lip, and a speaker on the bottom to give more bass. The sound separation is actually rather effective, and tonally for a laptop is reasonably impressive.
Opening the lid reveals more LED goodies, with the trackpad surrounded by a blue LED. We like this, as it helps us find the trackpad in dark lit situations. Sadly despite all these lights, Asus hasn't managed to put them behind the keyboard; backlit keys being one of the most useful features in a laptop.
The LED overload continues with capacitive buttons for trackpad disabling, speed modes, Splashtop and DirectConsole below the monitor. To the left of this is a screen which most handily displays real-time battery capacity — something we wish was a permanent feature on all laptops. It can also display a customised message, CPU and Memory usage, MSN and Outlook mail and meeting notifications, the latter handled by a tray icon called CheckMail.
Speaking of tray icons, we've never seen so many, including LightScribe, Logitech mouse and keyboard, Checkmail, DirectConsole, Google Desktop, Realtek HD Audio Manager, Synaptics Pointing Device, Asus Live Update, a wireless/Bluetooth indicator, Norton Protection Center and the usual Windows icons. It's a fearsome collection we'd like to see either reduced or collated.
Of course, this all comes from the bundled applications. Google Desktop has been thrown in, and the toolbar integration in Internet Explorer has managed to get more annoying. On first load you're greeted by a pop-up asking you if it's OK if it's there. While this does give the option to uninstall it, it's just one more annoyance in the mess of crapware that plagues laptops these days.
Symantec's Norton Internet Security 2009 is installed, but interestingly, the configuration screen that regularly pops up on a lot of laptops at boot time can't actually be closed. The red X has been disabled essentially hijacking user control. Bad mojo there, Symantec.
The laptop otherwise comes with an easy to defeat face recognition "security" software, and Asus' "Splendid" video presets. While we usually tear apart Splendid for its horrific colour mashing, Asus has included a custom configuration tool which at least allows colour temperature adjustments, a rarity on laptop screens. Custom colour settings aren't magnificent though, only allowing increased saturation across RGB, meaning any alteration will simply lead to colour blow outs. Thankfully at its default setting the screen looks great, at an impressive 1920x1200, so you can be sure the bundled Blu-ray drive won't go to waste.
It's in the specs where Asus stuns us, both in a good and bad way. A rather meaty quad-core Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9300 CPU is included at 2.53GHz, drool-worthy and expensive, and an Nvidia GeForce 9700M GT.
While we have no doubt there are some who will love to have a quad-core laptop in their hands, its usefulness is limited to highly multithreaded environments, like 3D rendering packages such as 3DSMax.
However, gamers for the most part currently extract the most benefit out of dual-core, and would be better served with such a CPU and a higher grade GPU, like the GeForce 9800M GTX.
Asus has also fallen prey to the depressingly common mistake of including 4GB RAM with a 32-bit edition of Vista, meaning it can't actually access all of that memory. The inclusion of Vista Ultimate also drives up the price needlessly when Home Premium would do just fine.
An option to drop the Blu-ray drive to DVD would also be appreciated, and the TV tuner is an additional luxury most gamers could do without. Similarly, there are two 500GB 5400rpm drives included, when a single 7200rpm drive would probably be better appreciated.
This is the Australian unit — it seems that there are other configurations available overseas that address most of our woes and would bring the price down considerably, including a Core 2 Duo T9600, Vista Home Premium, dual 400GB 7200rpm drives, DVD+-RW drive and the TV tuner dropped to optional.
The usual bells and whistles are lined up along the sides, including an SD card reader, two USB ports and an IEEE1394 port on the left; gigabit Ethernet, VGA, eSATA and HDMI on the rear, and ExpressCard 54, two more USB ports and audio in/out jacks on the right.
Extras include an Asus backpack of remarkably rugged quality, the excellent Razer Copperhead mouse and a set of SteelSeries headphones branded with the Republic of Gamers logo. They feature a rubberised, detachable cord, in-built volume control and a clip on mic. They sit on the head well enough, although the velvet-lined earpieces themselves are a bit shallow. Bass and lower-mid response is amplified and muddied at the sacrifice of upper-end brilliance or lower-end clarity, resulting in a dull sound. For bundled headphones they're passable, but there's better options out there. They're also open, so be aware that anything you listen to, everyone around you can likely hear it too.
Being a gaming laptop, there are overclocking options as well, offering Normal (266MHz FSB), Turbo (280MHz, giving a 2.66GHz CPU clock speed) and Turbo extreme (293.5MHz FSB for 2.78GHz) modes through DirectConsole. You'll need to plug the laptop into the wall to access these modes, although this can be overridden if you're keen to destroy your battery life.
Performance was expectedly good with a quad-core CPU and a decent level GPU behind it, grabbing 6079 from 3DMark06, and 7353 in PCMark05. Pushing up to Turbo mode netted 6124 and 8084 respectively, while Turbo extreme pushed even further to 6168 and 8482 respectively.
Crysis Warhead performance was excellent for a laptop, with playable frame rates coming out at 1920x1200 and objects quality set to "gamer"; shadows, shaders and volumetric effects quality set to "mainstream", water quality set to "enthusiast" and everything else set to "minimum".
Things weren't so great in our battery test, where the G71 lasted one hour, one minute and 13 seconds, with all the power-saving features turned off, screen brightness and volume set to maximum and a DVD played back. We expected this — being a huge gaming laptop, it's not a system you can expect to be away from the wall for long.
The G71 is an excellent system. It's expensive, and there's a few missteps Asus has made with hardware configuration, bling and the inclusion of a 32-bit version of Windows, but by and large with this system you get what you pay for — assuming your pockets are deep enough.