Display and Audio Quality, Cooling, Portability, Software
Display and Audio Quality
As is appropriate for a high-end laptop, the N56 comes equipped with a 1080p display. Like the N55 before it the display is not gloss but rather matte – an unusual choice for a multimedia laptop, but one that ASUS seems to be making more frequently (the ASUS G75 we reviewed also had a 1080p matte display).
Packing this many pixels into a 15.6” display results in excellent perceived sharpness. Text is crisp and high-resolution videos are stunning. We found some issues with the display in test images, such as excessive dithering in black level tests and a gradient test image that had wasn’t smooth. In subjective use, these problems seemed to be overcome by the high pixel count and excellent viewing angles, particularly on the vertical axis. Maximum brightness was also boon – it’s brilliant and more than capable of making the display usable on a sunny day.
What about the Bang and Olufsen ICEpower sound tied in to the design? It’s good, but not great. Music sounds excellent at medium volume – among the best I’ve heard from a laptop – but at that setting it’s only loud enough to fill a small room. Turning it up to eleven is enough to entertain a larger area or overcome significant background noise, but it also reduces sound quality significantly. There’s a lot of distortion and heavy bass can cause the mid-range to drop away, creating strange fluctuations in volume.
As a large system running relatively power-efficient hardware, you’d expect the ASUS N56VM to be quiet. And for the most part, it is. At idle the fan spins along are a leisurely pace, audible in a quiet room but otherwise obscured by ambient noise.
Peg the hardware with stress-testing software and the fan ramps up modestly, reaching a distinct level of noise that rarely wavers. It’s audible, but far from annoying, and most users will find it to be an improvement over any previously-owned mainstream laptop.
Temperatures are kept well in check. Both the top and bottom topped out at 92 degrees Fahrenheit, primarily on the left side of the laptop near the exhaust vent. The metal on the interior of the laptop conducts heat well and causes the keyboard to feel less comfortable than it should at these temperatures, but the overall experience is not bad. If you are not using the laptop at full load the interior barely warms above 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Weighing in at almost six pounds and carrying a 15.6” display, the ASUS N56 isn’t terribly portable. Add a pound and you’re in the territory of 7-pound gaming laptops, though this 15.6” laptop is of course a bit smaller. You can certainly place this laptop into a large bag and carry it with you, but it’s unwieldy for frequent fliers.
The battery is a mid-sized 56 Wh unit that looks larger than it is. So how’s battery life?
As mentioned in the Ivy Bridge for mobile review, the endurance of the ASUS N56VM isn’t notable in either direction. It’s not great, but it’s not bad, either. Since this is a new processor technology, some folks may have expected much better life – which doesn’t appear here.
With that said, it’s possible the reference laptop is at a disadvantage due to the lack of battery life related software on the laptop. ASUS usually uses custom power profiles to achieve excellent endurance, but none of that is available here.
Our ASUS N56VM came as a reference platform, which means it was not loaded with the normal array of software that you’d find on a unit for retail sale.
Given what we’ve seen on other modern ASUS laptops we expect that bloatware will be modest. You’ll find an anti-virus trial and a handful of utilities from ASUS that most people likely will not use or need – and which can be easily for gotten once you delete their shortcuts.
You’ll also probably receive the company’s useful custom power profiles and Turbo Boost monitor. Not the kind of stuff that’ll knock your socks off, but at least they add some value.