The first thing that strikes you upon picking up the 15.4-inch M51Va is that it is deceptively light. We were surprised to discover that it was actually heavier than we thought at 2.95 kilograms.
Cosmetically, the exterior of the laptop is mostly black, with a half tone-style pattern across a faded wave design. It's attractive but also highly glossy, so expect fingerprints to be left behind.
Opening up the lid via the push button on the lip reveals a straightforward design, which is a joy to use; from the good response with the keys, to the full-sized keypad on the right, to the large mousepad and responsive buttons.
The webcam as usual is built into the top of the 1,440x900-pixel gloss screen, and can be rotated manually to better focus on your target of choice. When we passed the laptop around the office, many people actually confused this for the laptop opening latch — perhaps something for the Asus design team to watch out for next time around.
In an appreciated design touch, the M51Va has slightly higher legs than usual, allowing for greater airflow under the laptop to promote cooler operation.
Aside from the usual shortcut buttons at the top right, the left side of the M51Va features the DVD+-RW drive, the right an eSATA port, USB port, FireWire, HDMI and VGA out, as well as a gigabit Ethernet and modem port, while the rear features another two USB ports. Finally, the front lip features another USB port, an SD card reader and the Wi-Fi switch.
Hardware-wise, Asus has packed in well performing equipment — a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9400, ATI Mobility Radeon HD3650, 320GB hard drive, Bluetooth, wireless N and 4GB of DDR2-800MHz RAM mean the M51Va is quite flexible. If you're after a little more grunt, an extra AU$600 will get you a 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo T9600 and Blu-ray drive on top of the usual spec.
Annoyingly, despite the 4GB RAM included, Asus has opted for the 32-bit edition of Vista Ultimate. Because of software limitations, the operating system is only able to make use of 3,072MB, so around a gigabyte goes to waste.
One notable feature is the use of an ambient light detector to automatically adjust the brightness of the screen, so it shines brighter in high light, and dims the screen in low light. This could be a handy way to save your battery without having to fiddle with power settings.
In terms of extras, the M51Va sparkles, including a full carry bag, mouse, and surprisingly, a 250GB external USB 2.0 hard drive on top of the usual extras.
Asus' Centrino 2 certified laptop pulled 3,710 in 3DMark06, indicating that it's decent for older games like Half-Life 2, while PCMark 05's score of 5,612 is an impressive result, showing that it should handle most productivity apps with ease.
Turning off all the power saving features and setting the screen brightness and volume to maximum, we played back a DVD to test the battery life under the most extreme conditions. The M51Va survived one hour, 30 minutes and 14 seconds, around average for the hardware and battery size involved.
Asus' M51Va passes muster as one of the better laptops out there, and the Centrino 2 certification means you'll be up to date with the latest spec. If you're in the market for a mid-weight laptop, make sure to give this one a try.