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ASUS G74-SX-A1 Gaming Notebook Review
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Date: Sep 02, 2011
Section:Mobile
Author: Seth Colaner
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Introduction & Specifications
The Asus line of G73 Stealth notebooks proved to be all-around solid desktop replacements, equally ideal for gaming, multimedia, and productivity. In fact, the Asus G53 and G73 line, from Asus' Repulic of Gamers (ROG) family, has been very successful in the market, praised by press and end users alike. We took a look at the previous generation 17-inch G73SW not long ago and it earned high marks with team HH as well. This class of machine is definitely bulky however, though not that many gamers would mind. Now, the G73 is being phased out in favor of the Asus G74 series, the next step forward for the company’s family of desktop replacement notebooks.

We took a long hard look at the Asus ROG G74SX-A1, which features a second-generation Intel Core i7-2360QM CPU, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560M for graphics firepower, and 12GB of DDR3-1333 RAM.  The G74's 17.3-inch Full HD display (1920x1080) in concert with a Blu-ray combo drive and THX TruStudio + EAX 5.0 3D gaming audio should help make gaming and movie-watching an immersive experience.

The G74SX-A1 also sports a USB 3.0 port (in addition to three USB 2.0) and HDMI-out for connectivity. Storage is not a problem--the notebook boasts two 750GB 7200RPM hard drives in a RAID 0 configuration for a total of 1.5TB of space.

Like a lot of systems, the G74SX-A1 comes bundled with a pile of pre-installed software, including (take a deep breath) Asus Tools, Asus Vibe Fun Center, eManual, GameFast, Asus WebStorage, Asus Virtual Camera, Power4Gear Hybrid, Rotation Desktop For G Series, Asus Splendid Utility, a Trend Micro Titanium Internet Security trial, and more.

Asus G74SX-A1 
Specifications & Features



Join us as we put the Asus G74SX-A1 through the paces to see if it picks up where the G73 series left off.
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Design & Layout
The design of the Asus G74SX-A1 was inspired by the Sea Shadow, a U.S. Navy stealth ship, as well as modern-day aircraft, and the comparison is apt. This notebook isn’t flashy at all, eschewing blingy decor in favor of a silent-but-deadly allure. Instead of hot red racing stripes, it has matte black rubber; instead of bright lights, it has brushed black metal. Its lines really do evoke the subtly intimidating profile of a stealth warship.

The only design feature meant to “pop” is the backlit keyboard--and that’s strictly for the user’s pleasure and accessibility under low-light conditions.



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On the left side of the G74SX-A1, you’ll find the disc drive, headphone and microphone jacks, two of the four USB ports, and the lock. Around back are the two vents. The AC adapter jack, LAN port, HDMI port, VGA port, the other two USB ports (including the lone USB 3.0), and the 5-in-1 card reader are on the right side of the notebook.

Unlike on the G73, the G74's numpad is separated from the main keyboard. The solution to the space issue, compared to the G73, was apparently to move the keys closer to the edge of the notebook, thus creating the extra room. We like the change, as it feels more like a spacious desktop keyboard than a typical notebook's cramped keys. Additionally, the keys themselves are sufficiently large and are labeled with big letters, uncluttered by markings for secondary and tertiary functions.

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Ergonomics is the name of the game here. The G74SX-A1’s keyboard (which features a full numpad) is designed with a 5-degree incline, and the entire palm rest is wrapped in a rubberized finish for better comfort. After a long session at the computer, the rubber finish is definitely easier on the palms and wrists than plastic.

Further, Asus built this notebook to eliminate heat as much as possible by getting creative with the vents. The intake fans are located just under the LCD and draw in air from the front of the machine; meanwhile, the back vents push all the air from inside out the back. 

The result is impressive; not only did my lap stay cool after a couple of hours of gaming (yes, it’s a sacrifice we reviewers all have to make), but the fans maintained a low hum throughout, never once kicking into high gear and interfering with the game’s audio experience.

Another welcome design idea is evident when you flip the G74SX-A1 over to access the internals. One large panel pops off with one large screw to reveal the HDD bays and RAM slots. This makes it easy to swap out one of the drives for an SSD or add another 4GB SODIMM to bump up the total system memory. 


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Accessory-wise, the G74SX-A1 includes the Asus ROG Laser Gaming Mouse, which nicely matches the overall look and design of the notebook itself, and a ROG backpack for toting the machine around.


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PCMark & 3DMark Tests
We'll start our benchmark testing with Futuremark's system performance benchmark, PCMark Vantage. This synthetic benchmark suite simulates a range of real-world scenarios and workloads, stressing various system subsets in the process. Everything you'd want to do with your PC -- watching HD movies, music compression, image editing, gaming, and so forth -- is represented here, and most of the tests are multi-threaded, making this a good indicator of all-around performance.

Futuremark PCMark Vantage
Simulated Application Performance



The G74SX-A1 gave a middling score in PCMark. Although it was ahead of two systems with lesser CPUs, it lagged just behind two other systems with slightly older but more powerful GPUs. The score is particularly disappointing as it fell just short of the Asus G73SW; though they’re in the same lineage, the G74SX-A1 represents the newer notebooks in the series.

Next, we'll take a look at Futuremark's 3DMark Vantage benchmark, which focuses on gaming performance. Unlike previous versions, 3DMark Vantage puts a bit more emphasis on the CPU rather than just focusing almost entirely on the GPU(s).

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
Simluated Gaming Performance



In this test, the G74SX-A1 fared much better, easily outpacing most of the pack and nearly matching the MSI GT683R. In a benchmark that emphasizes more current graphics rendering effects, we’d expect the G74SX-A1’s newer GeForce GTX 560M GPU to show its muscle.

The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark11, is specifically bound to Windows Vista and 7-based systems because it uses the advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 11, which isn't available on previous versions of Windows. 3DMark11 isn't simply a port of 3DMark Vantage to DirectX 11, though. With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated four new graphics tests, a physics tests, and a new combined test. We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark11's Extreme preset option, which uses a resolution of 1920x1080 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.

Futuremark 3DMark11
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

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Because 3DMark11 is so new, we're still building our reference bank to use in comparing systems. Here, you can see that the G74SX-A1 achieved a very respectable score with the Extreme preset option.



The G74SX-A1 bested all the other reference systems in 3DMark11 on the Performance Preset. Because this benchmark includes a physics test, graphics tests, and a combined test, this score really shows the one-two punch of this notebook’s CPU and GPU.
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SiSoft SANDRA & Cinebench
We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2011, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic and Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks).

SiSoft SANDRA Benchmarks
Synthetic Benchmarks 

 
Processor Arithmetic

Multimedia
 
Memory Bandwidth
 
Physical Disks
There are no big surprises in these tests; the G74SX-A1 pretty much aligns exactly with comparable hardware. However, in the Physical Disks test, you can see how an SSD would help elevate this system’s performance.

Maxon's Cinebench R11.5 benchmark is based on the company’s Cinema 4D software used for 3D content creation and tests both the CPU and GPU in separate benchmark runs. On the CPU side, Cinebench renders a photorealistic 3D scene by tapping into up to 64 processing threads (CPU) to process more than 300,000 total polygons, while the GPU benchmark measures graphics performance by manipulating nearly 1 million polygons and huge amounts of textures.

Cinebench R11.5 64bit
Content Creation Performance



Again faltering somewhat and failing to beat out the older G73SW, the G74SX-A1 hit moderate scores in Cinebench R11.5. Although this notebook was lower on the depth chart, the degree of separation for the top four systems is quite small. In other words, the G74SX-A1 mostly kept pace with the competition.
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Game Tests: Lost Planet 2, Just Cause 2
Lost Planet 2
DirectX11 Gaming Performance

Lost Planet 2
Lost Planet 2 is a third person shooter developed by Capcom. It is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, and takes place ten years after the events of the first game. The plot begins with Mercenaries fighting against Jungle Pirates, while featuring major boss battles, extreme terrain, and the ability to pilot mechanized armor suits. We tested the game engine using the stand alone benchmark tool.
 

Continuing its tango with the MSI GT683R, the G74SX-A1 nearly tied its dance partner in the Lost Planet 2 test. Together, the two systems are a step above the nearest competition, which is likely due to the GeForce GTX 560M GPU and Intel quad-core CPUs they have in common.

Just Cause 2
DirectX Gaming Performance

Just Cause 2
Just Cause 2 was released in March 2010, from developers Avalanche Studios and Eidos Interactive. The game makes use of the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the similarly named original. It is set on the fictional island of Panau in southeast Asia, and you play the role of Rico Rodriquez. We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article using one of the built-in demo runs called Desert Sunrise. The test results shown here were run at various resolutions and settings. This game also supports a few CUDA-enabled features, but they were left disabled to keep the playing field level.
 

The Just Cause 2 benchmark shows that this test is no match for the G74SX-A1 and its GeForce GTX 560M, as the notebook easily posted playable frame rates at all resolutions tested, even at 1920X1080 native res for its LCD.
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Game Tests: Metro 2033, Far Cry 2
Metro 2033
DirectX11 Gaming Performance

Metro 2033 



Metro 2033 is your basic post-apocalyptic first person shooter game with a few rather unconventional twists. Unlike most FPS titles, there is no health meter to measure your level of ailment, but rather you’re left to deal with life, or lack there-of more akin to the real world with blood spatter on your visor and your heart rate and respiration level as indicators. The game is loosely based on a novel by Russian Author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Metro 2003 boasts some of the best 3D visuals on the PC platform currently including a DX11 rendering mode that makes use of advanced depth of field effects and character model tessellation for increased realism. We tested the game engine using the Metro 2033 benchmark tool.


The G74SX-A1, though surpassed by the Eurocom notebook, landed about where we’d expect compared to the other systems. However, the two MSI systems boasted better framerates in the higher-res test.

FarCry 2
DirectX Gaming Performance

FarCry2 

Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date. Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations. We benchmarked the test systems in this article with the FarCry 2 benchmark tool using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the "Ranch" map. 

It’s a bit odd that the G74SX-A1 is all over the map in terms of benchmark rankings; in one test it doesn't quite measure up, and on the next one--such as this FarCry 2 test--it handily beats out the competition, by a fairly substantial margin.  At this point we're suspect of NVIDIA driver variances rather than anything directly attributed to the hardware.

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Battery Life Performance
Battery life is a compromise you make with desktop replacement notebooks in exchange for superb power and performance, and the G74SX-A1 is no exception, but it definitely tested near the head of the pack.

Battery Life
Power Performance


If it takes BatteryEater Pro more than an hour and a half to kill this battery, you can bet that you could easily finish an HD movie or spend several hours conducting more pedestrian computing tasks before needing to plug in the G74SX-A1.

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Conclusion
Performance Analysis:  On Asus’ Web site, the company claims that this notebook can hit P2008 in 3DMark11 and P9180 in 3DMark Vantage--but we hit P2222 and P10012, respectively. It’s not often that lab-tested scores actually surpass what’s advertised.  In terms of performance, we were a little surprised at how inconsistent the G74SX-A1 scored; sometimes it rocked the competition and other times it fell short. However, in no test did it demonstrate an inability to perform the task at hand, so take the up-and-down with a grain of salt.

One issue we noticed was that although in terms of gaming audio the G74SX-A1 definitely delivered, just playing music through the built-in speakers was disappointing. Most tracks sounded like they were coming out of a radio; only highly compressed audio (i.e., pop music) sounded very good.

The volume itself left something to be desired, too--even with all the settings at the proverbial “11”, ambient noise really cut into the sound. We’d also like to hear and feel more low end, but in that regard you take what you can get with notebook audio solutions.


The upside to this machine, in addition to the solid performance, is in the details--the smart cooling system, the comfortable palm rest, the well-laid out keyboard, and the styling that looks cool at a LAN party but doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb at the coffee shop.

At $1,749 MSRP, the G74SX-A1 is reasonably priced, and the street prices you'll find for this unit are significantly lower. You can also easily add some juice to this particular configuration via an SSD.  Asus did a lot of things right with the G74SX-A1, and it's every bit a worthy successor to the G73 series.


       
  • Solid CPU & GPU combination
  • Excellent overall design
  • Plenty of storage
  • Beautiful display
  • Relatively strong battery life

 

  • Mediocre speakers
  • Some performance inconsistency
  • An SSD would be nice (although it is an option in other configurations)


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