So after the fiasco of the last laptop purchase, I took a little more time and finally made a new purchase. Actually, I bought this one from a trusted ebayer who had owned it for a month. After receiving it, and transferring the warranty into my name, all is perfect!
This review is mostly written for the Linux community as this is a native, Linux installed laptop.
As with the last one (MSI G60), this one also came with Windows 8 installed on it. I actually gave it a pretty good work out with the latest offering from Microsoft before throwing my hands up in despair, and shouting at the heavens, “Oh the humanity”! Or something similar. I actually spent most of a day ‘playing’ around with Windows 8 before doing a complete wipe of the drive it was installed on. I did this with the full knowledge that I had no back-up media or install disks for this laptop. It came with none, and this was agreed to by me with the seller beforehand. I totally wiped the GPT partition, including the 200Mb Fat32 partition that the EFI information is installed to. Readers of my blog will know that I’m a Linux guy, so I did this basically as a “protest” delete of Microsoft! And hey, it felt good too!
Once this was done, I quickly reset BIOS to use Legacy Mode, setup the drive as an msdos formatted drive, partitioned it to my liking and got on with Linux life!
The design of the laptop itself retains Asus’s stealth bomber look with the large vented ducts on the rear of the machine. Of all the laptops I’ve ever used this is indeed the ‘coolest’ running one of them all. However this comes at the price of weight and bulk. The laptop is as heavy, or heavier even, than some of it’s 17″ competitors. Asus made this a design choice, and in my opinion they made the right call. Not only is it much cooler than similarly spec’d laptops, it is much quieter. This from a 15.6″ model. The trade-off in weight, to me, is an easy one because of the efficiency of the cooling itself. This can truly be a complete desktop replacement system even for an avid gamer. (of which I am not) That said, I’ve been able to comfortably sit with the laptop resting on my lap, with no discomfort from heat build up for several hours. It just doesn’t get hot. More on that in a little while, and why I expected it to!
This particular laptop comes with the quad-core, 22nm Intel processor from the latest Ivy Bridge generation, the Core i7-3630QM processor. It is blazing fast!
One factor of vast importance to me was that the graphics did not take advantage of the newer technology on the Ivy Bridge processor. This may surprise some of you. However, if your familiar with Linux then you know of the current dissatisfaction of the Linux community with Nvidia regarding the Optimus technology shipping on fully 90% of all new laptops sold. Asus made the decision to go with a “TRULY DEDICATED” graphics solution in this particular laptop. The Nvidia GTX 660M. This card is based on the new Kepler technology rather than the older Fermi tech. While probably faster than the GT 650M, it will not outdo the Fermi-based GTX 670M (the renamed GTX 650M). While it is an entry level graphics card in their high end graphics card series, it still packs a lot of punch. Especially on Linux. Because Linux runs everything, on any computer, much more efficiently than any other OS out there, this graphics card is outstanding. It has far surpassed all of my expectations running everything from Gimp, to Blender, to multiple Virtual Machines running intensive applications. With no observable heat build up. None!
The case is in my opinion a great looking case for a laptop. I just returned an MSI, and it had the glossy black plastic finish that was a fingerprint nightmare. The Asus on the other hand has a nice rubber like material for the palm-rest, and a very nice keyboard that has a nice metallic finish that runs along the sides of the laptop. It is, as far as I can tell, a full size keyboard featuring a separate numeric keypad, as well as some nice function keys that are programmable as well. The arrow keys are of a little different design, in that they are a different shape than the rest of the keys on the keyboard, being more rectangular in nature. Perhaps the gamers among you will appreciate this in some way. For me it was just an oddity that took very little time to get used too. The keyboard also has a backlight. It is a very sturdy and strong feeling case! The cooling system is located towards the back of the case and can make for some difficulty in cleaning the fans. This also means the lid does not fully open as far as some laptops do. I think I read it has an opening distance of 12o degrees. Not a problem for me as I use it on my lap! The way it was designed to be used!
The guy who originally purchased this laptop had an upgrade performed on it that is “out of this world” wonderful! He had a Mushkin Enhanced Atlas mSATA SSD 240Gb drive installed. If you do some reading you’ll find the the Mushkin is considered one of the top of the line SSD’s out there. It is unbelievably fast! On the plus side, Asus has made the regular hdd and 2 of the RAM slots very easy to get to and upgrade by removing one panel off the bottom of the laptop. The one caveat to this being that in order to install this drive, the laptop has to basically be completely disassembled. The motherboard, and the keyboard has to be removed in order to access it. After reading, and then watching a youtube video of it being done, I’m very glad he chose to have it done by the company he purchased it from. This also means the warranty is still intact! There is also the fact that half of the RAM is also inconveniently placed as well. While 2 of the slots are easily accessible via the bottom panel, the other 2 slots require a little more of the aforementioned disassembly. While some models are shipping with 8Gb of DDR3 RAM, this one was upgraded to what Asus says is the maximum of 16Gb. I know for a fact that this is indeed NOT the case, and it will accept and ‘see’ a full 32Gb’s of RAM! It will just require a little extra work on your part to get to those other 2 of the 4 slots. My personal laptop, on top of having the mSATA SSD drive also has a 500Gb 7200RPM hdd. Unlike previous models, this one does NOT have the ability for a second regular size hdd.
They also did not hold back when adding ports to the laptop. Though the cooling system is so large it takes almost the entire back of the laptop which means there are no ports on the rear of the machine. All of the ports are located on the sides, except the SD card slot. All 4 of the USB ports are 3.0 capable along with one Thunderbolt port. There is also a Mini DisplayPort, an HDMI, a VGA port, and an Ethernet port as well. As is typical on almost any laptop there are also Mic and Headphone jacks as well. A Kensington lock slot is also there. The front of the laptop has an SD card slot and in the middle front of the laptop are several led lights that let you know things like the state of the Num and Caps lock, as well as a WiFi indicator light, a disk activity indicator light, and the current state of the battery.
Speaking of the battery, I mentioned above the wondrous lack of the Optimus technology for graphics. Optimus was created with laptops in mind for power savings on your battery. While perhaps a great feature if your a Microsoft fan, the Linux world hates Optimus! This does impact the battery life, though I’m finding I easily get 2 1/2 to 3 hours of battery life with average use of the laptop.
The screen is an anti-glare technology LG Philips TN screen that in my opinion is the best screen I’ve ever had on a laptop. It is a 1920×1080 pixel resolution screen with the typical 16:9 ratio.
All in all, I’d have to say that to date, this is the best laptop I’ve ever owned. As I mentioned above, the heating/cooling and the quietness of the laptop are spectacular. I’ve had up to 5 VM’s running at the same time, and have never once heard the fans kick in. The same holds true for the surface area of the keyboard when typing. It just never gets hot! I’ve put this thing through some pretty rigorous exercises and am quite pleased by it’s performance. The only thing I would say to consider, is the added weight of the laptop but in my opinion this is a very small trade off for what your getting in hardware and cooling technology. Asus did not compromise when it came to hardware in this laptop. I would have no problem recommending this particular laptop to any of my family or friends!
It’ll be sitting on Jeds Desk for a long time to come! I have found this to definitely be a laptop for any Linux power user! It is a totally Linux compatible laptop out of the box!
If your wondering, all the pc’s I run are using a distro of Linux called VSIDO. If your interested in switching to Linux, this is the distro for you! It installs in less than 10 minutes, it is lean and mean, and is ready for productivity immediately! If your interested to take a look, it can be found at http://www.vsido.org.