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New USB 3.0 Laptop and Storage—Tested!

If the N61 series from ASUS rings a bell, it is because we reviewed the N61Vn for our Laptop Holiday Gift Guide a few months ago. However, this latest entry in the series comes with several upgrades.

The N61Jq-X1 gets a CPU upgrade in the form of a Core i7 720QM and a brand new Mobility Radeon 5730 GPU from ATI. While you lose the Blu-ray drive (it’s a DVD-RW instead), the 4 GB of DDR3-1066 RAM, 320 GB 7200rpm hard drive, 16" 1366x768 resolution LED-backlit LCD, and Windows 7 Home Premium stay the same.

Asus N61Jq-X1
Intel Core i7 720QM (1.6 GHz, 6 MB Cache)
ATI Radeon Mobility 5730 (1 GB DDR3 VRAM)
4 GB DDR3-1066
320 GB 7,200 rpm
16" 1366x768 LED-backlit
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
6.5 lbs.

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The N61Jq-X1 provides you with three USB ports, HDMI, VGA, eSATA, Ethernet, audio/mic ports, and SD and Express Card slots. USB 3.0 is a great addition, but it would be nice if all three USB ports were 3.0-capable instead of only one, which is located on the left side next to the Express Card slot.

While the boost to a new Core i7 chip is expected and welcomed, you probably won’t notice the difference between the 720QM and the Core 2 Quad Q9000 in the previous N61. Most of the differences come in power consumption and the 720’s Turbo Mode, which boosts the clock speed from 1.6 GHz on four cores to 2.8 GHz when only one core is in use. Since most applications aren’t coded to fully utilize a quad-core, or even a dual-core CPU, this boost will give you an edge in most day-to-day tasks

The 5730 graphics from ATI comes with 1 GB of DDR3 VRAM, which is the same as the Nvidia GT240 in the last N61 laptop. The big difference here is that the 5730 can accommodate DirectX 11, while the GT240 is limited to DX10. In the short term, this means very little because there are only a handful of DX11-capable PC games out there. However, this will change over the course of 2010, so having a capable GPU is certainly handy. DirectX 11 is a boon for gamers because of its enhanced multi-threading support, which means game programmers can better utilize dual- and quad-core processors in computers.

The frame rates produced by the N61Jq-X1 are admirable for a notebook in the multimedia category. Whether you’re playing Team Fortress 2, Modern Warfare 2, Left 4 Dead 2, or Quake Live, you can expect frames per second (FPS) in the 40s and 50s with high settings and anti-aliasing, and vertical sync enabled at the native 1366x768 resolution. If you want to hit that 60 FPS sweet spot, turning off vertical sync and dialing down the resolution a notch to 1280x720 should do the job. Other benchmarks we ran generated scores of 5912 in 3DMark06 and 4349 in PCMark05. Unfortunately, there isn't much to compare this to on the Futuremark Website. The hardware in the N61Jq-X1 is so new (especially the 5730) that no other systems with the same hardware are up on the site. However, the N61Jq-X1's numbers hold up against most of the mobile hardware available, except the 17 or 18" desktop replacements.

Overall, the N61Jq-X1 is a good value at $1099.99. Its predecessor was the same price only two months ago and it came with an inferior CPU and DX10 graphics (not to mention no USB 3.0). Our one major gripe about the N61Jq is the lack of a Blu-ray reader. If an older model comes equipped for BD, why take it away in a new, more powerful version? If you’re a gamer looking for a capable laptop that won’t cost you $1,500, $2,000 or more, the N61Jq-X1 is worth a look.

Read product reviews of the ASUS N61Jq-X1

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