- Review Date: 09/07/11
- Bottom line:
The Asus G74SX-A2 holds its own against top gaming laptops with its quad-core processor and Nvidia graphics, and its stealthy cooling system kicks in when those components get hot.
Quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU and Nvidia GTX 560M GPU makes for a powerful component combination. Wide-set, backlit keyboard is one of the best available to gamers. Asus' cooling system keeps temperatures low without being noisy. 1080p display and Blu-ray drive are a match made in heaven. External mouse included.
Mild speaker hiss. Slightly outgunned by other quad and hex-core systems.
The newest entry in the Asus Republic of Gamers line-up, the G74SX-A2 ($2,000 street), offers plenty of productive features and fun entertainment options, but it's a gaming rig first and foremost. And if its chassis' imposing form factor doesn't do it for you, then its backlit keyboard, 1080p screen, stealthy cooling system, and dual hard drives will. Its Core i7 CPU and Nvidia GTX GPU is a deadly combination to any who may oppose you on the gaming grid, holding its own against some of the best gaming laptops around. However, its parts weren't enough to best our Editors' Choice the Alienware M17X (Sandy Bridge) ($2,254 direct, 4.5 stars), which churned out playable frame rates on even the highest game settings, whereas the G74SX-A2 could not.
There's nothing small about the Asus G74SX-A2, from its big 17-inch screen (2.4 by 16.5 by 12.8-inches, HWD) to its over-sized keyboard. Its 9.7 pound weight is on par with other gaming laptops like the 9.8-pound Alienware M17X (Sandy Bridge), but nowhere near the backbreaking 13.3 pounds of the AVADirect Clevo X7200 ($4,957.64 direct, 3.5 stars). Still, the G74SX-A2 isn't built for portability outside of changing its resting location within your house. More portable gaming laptops can be found with Alienware's M11x series. There's a solid hinge that runs along the back edge of the G74SX-A2, which provides a more stable base than most laptops.
The Asus has a thick wedge-shaped profile that puts the keyboard and palm rest at a 5-degree slope—far more comfortable than the flatter designs seen on the Alienware M17X (Sandy Bridge) and AVADirect Clevo X7200. The keyboard is extra wide with large chiclet-style keys and over an inch of separation between the keyboard and full-sized numeric keypad, with the four arrow button nestled in between. The keyboard also has over-sized shift and control keys, making it dead simple to use a macro or keyboard shortcut without accidentally hitting a wrong button. The keys are framed by brushed aluminum, which is cool to the touch, and combines with the soft-touch rubberized coating of the palm rest for a comfortable experience, even during long gaming sessions. Asus packaged a gaming mouse with our review unit, which has a button switching between different DPI settings (mouse sensitivity), and integrated forward/back thumb buttons. The wired USB mouse has the same soft-touch rubberized coating that the lid and palm rest of the G74SX-A2 have, and faint blue accent lights glow from within the mouse. If the mouse isn't available, the extra large multitouch trackpad is also good, letting you scroll, zoom, and rotate with two fingers. The right and left mouse buttons are quiet and soft, with the same soft-touch coating as the rest of the palm rest.
The 17.3-inch screen is gorgeous, displaying in a 1920 by 1080 resolution. This high definition widescreen is ideal for movies, and thanks to the Nvidia GeForce GTX 560M graphics card you'll be able to crank up the eye-candy on any game you play without missing a pixel. A Blu-ray (Blu-ray player/ DVD +/- RW) drive also means that you'll be able to enjoy your hard disk movies in full 1080p as well. A combination of THX TruStudio and EAX Advanced HD 5.0 sound creates one of the best audio set-ups you'll find on a laptop, offering particularly rich bass. The only problem we ran into while testing the laptop was some very soft speaker hiss, which was most noticeable at high volumes—an issue we found in another recently tested model from Asus' gaming line, the G74SX-BBK7 ($1,199 list, 3.5 stars).
Whenever you find a laptop uses powerful components like this, things get hot. Asus has addressed this problem with a combination of strategies to keep the system cool. Two large vents run along the back of the laptop, providing plenty of airflow in and out, and pointing the blowing air (and its accompanying noise) away from the user. Two large fans cool the processor and the graphics card, and each is independently operated so that the fans are only used when cooling is needed. They are also whisper quiet, and even while running gaming tests that make other systems hum and vibrate from fans in overdrive, the G74SX-A2 stayed quiet and cool.
On the bottom of the unit, you'll find that Asus has gone out of its way to make upgrades simple, with their Easy Upgrade Panel providing access to RAM and drive slots. You won't need a jeweler's screwdriver set to open this panel, as it is secured with a convenient single screw latch that can be opened with a coin.
Gaming laptops are built for intimidation as much as for performance, and the feature set on the Asus G74SX-A2 certainly does that. The G74SX-A2 packs two hard drives: a speedy 160GB solid-state drive (SSD) and a larger 750GB 7,200rpm spinning hard disk. This dual drive set-up provides faster performance in programs stored on the SSD, but retains the large storage space offered by a traditional hard drive; the AVADirect Clevo X7200 used a similar dual hard drive. However, the combined storage capacity of 910GB isn't enough to top the 1.5TB drive found in the Alienware M17X, but it's larger than the drive found in the Asus G73SW-BST6 ($1,299.99 list, 3.5 stars), which features a 750GB hard drive alone.
The Asus G74SX-A2 offers a variety of ports and connectors, located on either side of the laptop. On the right, you'll find a Gigabit Ethernet port, HDMI and VGA video outputs, and a card reader supporting several memory formats (SD, MMC, MS/Pro). A USB 3.0 port offers high speed data transfer, and a USB 2.0 port is also available for connecting other peripherals that don't require 3.0 speeds. On the left hand side, there are another two USB 2.0 ports, as well as a slot for a Kensington Lock and jacks for headphones and a microphone. Internally, the Asus G74SX-A2 is equipped with 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0 (for wireless peripherals).
The G74SX-A2 comes with its share of bloatware, and it doesn't stop with common programs like Microsoft Office Starter 2010 or a 30-day trial of Trend Micro Titanium Internet Security. The system also comes preloaded with Google's Chrome web browser, Google and Bing toolbars for Internet Explorer, and Nuance PDF Reader. Additionally, Asus has included several programs and utilities bearing the Asus name, like Asus Web Storage, and the Asus Vibe Fun Center, which offers a music player, several simple games, and even some language lessons.
The Asus G74SX-A2 comes equipped with a 2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-2630QM processor. It's the same CPU Asus has used in other Republic of Gamers systems, like the Asus G73SW-BST6 and G74SX-BBK7, but combined with 16GB of RAM and a super fast hybrid SSD/ 7,200rpm spinning drive for even faster performance. In our PCMark 7 benchmark test, it scored 3,941 points—a huge jump past the 2,569 scored by the G74SX-BBK7.
In our Cinebench R11.5 rendering test, which serves as our benchmark for processor speed, the Asus scored 5.04 points, equaling every competing gaming laptop except for the Alienware M17X, which scored .36 points higher, because of its slightly faster 2.2GHz CPU. It also held its own in media creation test like Handbrake (1:38) and Photoshop CS5 (3:58). Users wanting to expand beyond pure gaming will find that the Asus G74SX-A2 is equipped to tackle anything you throw at it.
The real draw of the G74SX-A2, however, is gaming and it doesn't disappoint. Equipped with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 560M GPU (3GB), the G74SX-A2 has plenty of muscle to flex. In our general graphics benchmark, 3DMark 2006, it scored 16,970 points at medium resolution and detail settings, and 12,135 at full 1080p and anti-aliasing settings. It topped both previous Asus gaming rigs, but fell behind the Editors' Choice Alienware M17X (20,097 medium, 15,845 high) and the dual-GPU hex-core AVADirect Clevo X7200 (22,559 medium, 19,421 high). Applied to actual games, the Asus G74SX-A2 tore through our tests with ease. In Crysis (DirectX 10), it pumped out 81.9 frames per second (fps) at medium settings and 13.2 fps with the settings dialed up to 1080p. In Lost Planet 2 (DirectX 9), the Asus G74SX-A2 produced frame rates of 82.5fps at medium settings and 30.6 at native resolution. With scores like these, you should be set regardless of what game you want to play—so long as you keep the higher-end games at medium settings.
While most high-performance gaming rigs will stay tethered to an electrical outlet whenever they are used, the Asus G74SX-A2 still provides decent battery life. In our MobileMark 2007 battery-life benchmark test, the G74SX-A2's 8-cell 74Wh battery lasted 2 hours 59 minutes. The only other system to approach or pass the 3-hour mark was last spring's Asus G73SW-BST6, which managed 3:31 with a 75Wh battery. The Alienware M17X only lasted 2:24 with an enormous 90Wh battery, and the AVADirect Clevo X7200 didn't even last a full hour (38 minutes) with its 78Wh battery. The Asus G74SX-A2 may not take you through a cross-country flight, but it will outlast most other gaming rigs if your LAN party gets hit with a minor blackout.
The Asus G74SX-A2 brings plenty of gamer-friendly goods to the table, like a speedy and spacious dual-hard drive set-up, a made-for-gamers keyboard, and a processor and graphics card that will handle any game you want to play. While it may not come with a hex-core processor like the one found in the AVADirect Clevo X7200, the Asus G74SX-A2 should still satisfy most gamers and go a little easier on your wallet. If you have an extra $254 on hand, the Editors' Choice Alienware M17X (Sandy Bridge) will provide the best performance for the price. If not, the Asus G74SX-BBK7 costs $700 less and offers up similar gaming performance, but you'll be sacrificing some future-proof components.
Compare the Asus G74SX-A2 with several other laptops side by side.