Flying straight out of the US military's stealth hanger, the matte black, 17.3-inch Asus G73Jh pulls no punches in performance.
The G73Jh is part of the Republic of Gamers (ROG) line, where it pulls none in size and looks either, with its angular design and huge rear-facing air vents polarising the CNET office into camps of love and hate. After a quick survey, we discovered those who hated it weren't gamers, those who loved it were. In other words, Asus has perfectly hit its target market. At 3.85kg, it's also deceptively light for what's in it — still, this isn't a laptop you'll be buying for the ultimate in portability.
In the G73Jh Asus is calling out Alienware. While its configuration may not be as ridiculously overpowered as some of Alienware's machines, neither is it as expensive. A quad-core Intel Core i7 Q720 @ 1.6GHz sits as the CPU, although thanks to Turbo Boost it can hit 2.8GHz on a single thread if need be. Being an i7, this means hyperthreading is along for the ride too, offering eight threads on this beastly laptop.
The centrepiece of the G73Jh though has to be the graphics card — ATI's stonkingly fast Radeon HD 5870. Backed up with 8GB RAM, dual 500GB 7200rpm hard drives, Blu-ray/DVD+-RW combo drive, Windows 7 Professional 64-bit and a 1920x1080 screen, it almost gets the combo right. Sadly, Asus has opted for a glossy screen over a matte one, spoiling its perfect run, and the monitor doesn't tilt back very far, which may annoy some.
It also supposedly has an Audigy inside for EAX 4.0 support, but this must be in software, as the laptop itself claimed it was nothing more than a Realtek card. This isn't necessarily a downside — CPUs long ago had more than enough spare cycles to emulate a sound card, and Creative's software actually makes a difference to audio quality.
This is paired with some of the best speakers we've heard on a laptop, with decent mid and bass, and good clarity at the high end.
Connectivity includes 802.11n, Bluetooth, gigabit Ethernet, four USB ports, headphone and microphone ports, HDMI, VGA and an MMC/SD/MS card reader. Conspicuously absent is eSATA, usually present in Asus' bigger laptops. If anything, perhaps this is the sign that USB 3.0 is on the way.
Asus has opted to put its status indicators on the lip of the laptop, effectively making them useless for quick-glance diagnosis. But this does do one other thing, and that's minimise distraction during gaming. We'd just prefer they were somewhere more visible, and that you could turn them off if you wanted to.
And this is exactly what Asus has done with the three lit buttons on the top left and the unearthly glowing blue LED under the monitor. Of these three buttons, one turns the lights on and off, one gives access to TwinTurbo mode (pushing the bus up to 143.3MHz from 133MHz for more CPU and memory grunt) and one cycles through Asus' "Splendid" image presets for the monitor (which as usual, should be avoided). Sadly, the power button light stays on.
Despite the extra wide touch pad, Asus hasn't included multi-touch scrolling, instead opting for circular scrolling. There is pinch to zoom, but its effectiveness in Windows is limited and a little erratic.
Asus has also chosen to squish the number pad and arrow keys to a smaller size, an odd choice considering how much space there is to play with. Thankfully though the keyboard is backlit, making it perfect for those late-night gaming sessions.
We're not sure we've seen this much crapware installed on a PC before. Trend Micro is the trial antivirus of choice, while Asus has shoehorned not one, but two toolbars into Internet Explorer in the form of the Google Toolbar and Windows Live toolbar. There's an eBay icon on the desktop, another icon that's an awful attempt to sell software, even more onsell, Asus' trial web storage and a Wi-Fi app installer from Boingo. It also gives Minority Report's advertising a good name.
Luckily there's something useful amongst the mess in the form of CyberLink's PowerDVD 9 to handle Blu-ray playback and a few of Asus' own tools have their uses, but it's mostly cruft.
Interestingly, the machine supports UEFI, which can be turned on or off in the BIOS. The machine looks no different while booting, but perhaps this might make it an interesting hackintosh target.
It's not a gaming laptop without accessories, and Asus' bundle goes far above the average. A mouse is included which supports DPI switching, has a racing blue light running up the middle and a glowing Asus logo. It feels a bit light at first, but is comfortable and held up admirably in a game of Counter Strike: Source. Unfortunately, it is right handed though — so lefties will still need to invest.
Also in the pack is, well, a pack. While not featuring as many pockets as previous ROG backpacks, and the zips are perhaps not as heavy duty as they could be, it still feels quality made and should protect your laptop well.
The mouse and backpack that come with the G73Jh are quite decent. (Credit: Asus)
Finally is the set of headphones, the re-branded SteelSeries Siberia. While comfortable, these open-backed headphones are the weak point of the bundle — they're overly bass heavy, have a claustrophobic sound stage, and almost criminally possess only a one-metre long cable. Karnivool's Simple Boy became a mess of heavy bass and mid tones, while the highs sounded compressed like they had come from an iPod despite the CD source. Impedance is incredibly low too, so you definitely won't need an amp for these. They're fine for a throw around set on the move, but quality they're not.
Firing up 3DMark06, the G73Jh ate it for breakfast, the HD5870 inside delivering a massive 12,595 in normal mode. Oddly, this went down to 12,403 once we enabled TwinTurbo mode, but this is still one of the very rare times that the 3DMark score of a laptop has been higher than the PCMark one.
PCMark05 didn't benefit as much from the graphics fire-power, but still impressed at an excellent 7699 in normal mode, once again dipping when TwinTurbo mode was enabled to 7245. Further investigation with CPU-Z while running wPrime on both one and eight threads turned up no easily discernible clues as to what was going on — we could only assume that TwinTurbo was somehow clashing with TurboBoost.
All the same it still packs a wallop — but with great power comes great responsibility, this time in regards to battery life. With all power-saving options turned off, screen brightness and volume set to maximum and an XviD file played back, the G73Jh lasted one hour and 14 minutes before its eight-cell battery gave up the ghost. You won't want to be travelling far with this one.
Asus' G73Jh is the closest thing we've seen to the perfect gaming laptop. It stumbles in a few areas, but for the price, that likely won't matter. If you're serious about laptop gaming and don't care about the size, the G73Jh is the one to get.