Asus N56VM review
Great build quality, good performance and refined design push Asus' gorgeous N56VM to the top of the Ivy Bridge heap
With an Asus logo glowing in the centre of a dark brushed-metal lid, and a chassis that feels more solid than any of its plastic peers, this 15.6in laptop feels as if it’s worth every penny of its asking price.
At 2.75kg, it isn’t the lightest 15.6in laptop we've seen, but the payoff comes in the form of bombproof build. The dark metal lid feels robust, and as the keyboard surround is hewn from metal, too, the chassis is second only to the Apple MacBook Pro for sturdiness. It’s even reasonably pretty: concentric circles of dots emanating from the keyboard’s corners add a little pizzazz, and co-ordinate nicely with the plain, elegant design.
Peer above the excellent keyboard, and you’ll notice that Asus has proudly emblazoned the N56VM with Bang & Olufsen ICEpower branding. At default settings, the speakers sound plummy and muffled, but delve into the audio control panel and the Waves MaxxAudio enhancements allow for an amazing improvement, adding treble and bass seemingly from nowhere.
As a further novelty, Asus includes a small subwoofer in the box that’s around the size of a fizzy drinks can. Plug this in, and the extra bass provides a warmer, rounder sound. From an audio perspective, the N56VM is surprisingly well endowed.
The display is a visual treat, too. It’s a 15.6in Full HD panel with impressively wide viewing angles, and the matte finish fends off distracting reflections. Image quality isn’t quite on a par with the finest machines, but it’s only a whisker behind. It’s far brighter than its rivals at a measured 357cd/m2, and the 566:1 contrast ratio complements the solid colour reproduction to make for bold, attractive images.
With the quad-core processor driving the N56VM to a result of 0.95 in our benchmarks, there’s no shortage of power on tap - the Dell XPS 15z scored 0.73. Graphical performance isn’t quite up with the best, though; with Crysis cranked up to Full HD resolution and high detail settings, its GeForce GT 630M GPU achieved an average frame rate of 18fps, a little slower than the best gaming notebooks.
The keyboard is spacious and, with the Scrabble-tile keys resting on the stiff, metal surround, there isn’t a hint of flex or wallow. Asus has also done a good job with the touchpad. Two-fingered right-clicks, pinching and zooming motions all feel natural, and the pad itself depresses with a taut, reassuring click.
There’s little to criticise elsewhere. The Blu-ray reader is welcome at this price, the four USB 3 ports are a boon, and the rare sight of an optical audio output will please those wanting to get bit-perfect sound to an external DAC or amplifier. Considering the power and screen, even battery life is decent, at 5hrs 24mins in light use.
It’s rare that a laptop manages to strike a perfect balance, but Asus’ N56VM comes close. With pitch-perfect sound, a great display and a healthy turn of speed, our new A List champion is an astonishing all-rounder.
|Price ex VAT||£666|
|Price inc VAT||£799|
|Features & Design||5|
|Value for Money||5|
|Warranty||2 yr return to base|
|Dimensions||380 x 255 x 28mm (WDH)|
Processor and memory
|Processor||Intel Core i7-3610QM|
|Motherboard chipset||Intel HM76|
Screen and video
|Resolution screen horizontal||1,920|
|Resolution screen vertical||1,080|
|Resolution||1920 x 1080|
|Graphics chipset||Nvidia GeForce GT 630M|
|VGA (D-SUB) outputs||1|
|Hard disk usable capacity||698GB|
|Internal disk interface||SATA 6Gbit/s|
|Optical disc technology||Blu-ray reader|
|Replacement battery price inc VAT||£0|
|Wired adapter speed||1,000Mbits/sec|
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|
|Integrated 3G adapter||no|
|Wireless hardware on/off switch||no|
|Wireless key-combination switch||yes|
|Optical S/PDIF audio output ports||1|
|3.5mm audio jacks||2|
|SD card reader||yes|
|Memory Stick reader||yes|
|MMC (multimedia card) reader||yes|
|Smart Media reader||no|
|Compact Flash reader||no|
|Pointing device type||Touchpad|
|Hardware volume control?||no|
|Camera megapixel rating||1.3mp|
Battery and performance tests
|Battery life, light use||5hr 24min|
|3D performance (crysis) low settings||18fps|
|3D performance setting||High|
|Overall Real World Benchmark score||0.95|
Operating system and software
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit|
|OS family||Windows 7|
|Recovery method||Burn own recovery discs|