ASUS’ G73SW: Now with Sandy Bridge

Last month was a little rough on our laptop reviews team, as we had a whole slew of planned Sandy Bridge notebooks evaporate with Intel’s chipset bug announcement. Even today, we have yet to receive a Sandy Bridge system with the revised B3 stepping chipset, but at least vendors are ready to ship us preview/review hardware again. MSI let us post a preview of their GT680R a couple weeks ago. (Actually, they asked us to send it back but since we had finished benchmarking we wanted to post the numbers; they then agreed to let us tell you it was their notebook.) Now, we’ve got the ASUS G73SW in hand, with very similar hardware specs and the same G73 chassis that wowed us early last year.

Gallery: ASUS G73SW

Unfortunately, things have changed a bit over the past year, and what was new and exciting isn’t quite so likely to catch our eye these days. If you love the G73 “stealth bomber” design, there’s nothing to complain about; however, if you think it looks huge, tacky, boring, [insert your own derogatory adjective], then there’s likewise nothing to praise. What has changed since the G73JW we looked at in November amounts to one thing: Sandy Bridge. Okay, that means a new chipset and CPU, which also necessitates an updated motherboard, but as far as appearances go you won’t be able to tell them apart. You can check out the above gallery of the G73SW if you missed the earlier systems, or if you just need a refresh.

ASUS G73SW-A1 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-2630QM
(4x2.0GHz + HT, 32nm, 6MB L3, Turbo to 2.9GHz, 45W)
Chipset Intel HM65
Memory 4x2GB DDR3-1333 (Max 8GB)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460M 1.5GB GDDR5
192 SPs, 675/1350/625MHz Core/Shader/RAM clocks
(2.5GHz effective RAM clock)
Display 17.3" LED Glossy 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
(HannStar HSD173PUW1)
Hard Drive(s) 2x500GB 7200RPM HDD (non-RAID)
(Seagate Momentus 7200.4 ST9500420AS)
Optical Drive Blu-ray/DVDR Combo (Slimtype BDE DS4E1S)
Networking Gigabit Ethernet (Realtek RTL8168/8111)
802.11n WiFI (Atheros AR9285)
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR (Broadcom BT-270)
Audio EAX Enhanced HD 5.0 Audio (2.1 speakers + subwoofer)
Microphone and headphone jacks
Capable of 5.1 digital output (HDMI)
Battery 8-Cell, 14.6V, 5.2Ah, 75Wh
Front Side Power/Battery/HDD/WiFi indicator lights
Left Side Headphone Jack
Microphone Jack
2 x USB 2.0
Optical Drive (BD-ROM/DVDRW)
Right Side Memory Card Reader
1 x USB 2.0
1 x USB 3.0
AC Power Connection
Back Side 2 x Exhaust vent
Kensington Lock
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 16.54" x 12.20" x 0.74-2.24" (WxDxH)
Weight 8.47 lbs (with 8-cell battery)
Extras Gaming (Laser) Mouse
ASUS Backpack
2MP Webcam
102-Key keyboard with 10-key
Flash reader (SD, MMC, MS-Duo, Smart Media, xD)
Warranty 2-year limited global warranty
1-year accidental damage and battery warranty
Pricing Online starting at $1745

The good things about the design remain: the wedge shape gives plenty of room for cooling the CPU and GPU, and compared to similarly specced laptops (i.e. the MSI GT680R) it runs pretty quiet. That’s impressive considering the quad-core CPU and 460M GPU, and for good measure ASUS includes 8GB (4x2GB) RAM. ASUS continues to use a pair of 500GB hard drives, without RAID 0, but we wish they would offer a moderate SSD as the OS/app drive as an alternative (maybe an X2 variant can go that route?). All told, performance is quite good.

Matte surfaces abound, with a rubberized coating that feels nice, though it tends to show greasy spots if your hands secrete a lot of oils. There’s keyboard backlighting and the LCD is a high-contrast model (though it’s sadly still limited to a maximum brightness of around 160 nits). The standard connection options are here: three USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, HDMI 1.4, VGA, and a flash memory reader. You also get a Blu-ray combo drive, gigabit Ethernet port, 802.11n networking (150Mbps capable), and Bluetooth.

On the not so great side of the fence, there’s no FireWire, eSATA, ExpressCard, or DisplayPort, and this is a very large 17.3”-screen chassis—it almost feels like an 18.4”-screen chassis at first contact, and the LCD bezels are large enough that you could come very close to fitting in such a panel. The GTX 460M is also feeling a little bit like yesterday’s news—we’d love to see a faster 470M or even the shiny new 485M, though it appears ASUS hasn’t qualified the G73 chassis for such chips. And speaking of the chassis, while it may be good for cooling, the wedge shape isn’t going to please everyone. Perhaps the biggest complain, however, is that pricing has gone up yet again.

The G73JH-A1 came with a blow-out starting price of just $1500 at launch (though some retailers marked it up closer to $1575). The G73JW-A1 added USB 3.0 and switched to a GTX 460M GPU, with an updated i7-740QM to replace the i7-720QM, and the starting price moved to $1600. Now we’re looking at the same GPU with a Sandy Bridge i7-2630QM (which ostensibly should be priced the same as the outgoing i7-740QM), and the MSRP is up to $1700 (possibly more). So I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but: You’re going the wrong way, ASUS! Other gaming notebooks like the MSI GT680R (going for $1475 online) offer nearly identical specs, so unless you want the larger display/chassis, backpack, and mouse or prefer some of the other ASUS elements (like a higher contrast LCD and keyboard backlighting), this is no longer the bargain gaming system that the G73JH was.

Other Points of Interest

Besides the core hardware, readers will occasionally want to know about other areas like sound quality. Dell’s XPS 15/17 are still the high-water mark in my book, with clear highs, mids, and lows. The G73 chassis can put out a decent amount of sound, but it’s a lot more boomy than the XPS 15. Some sort of equalizer would be of great service for tweaking sound levels, as the built-in subwoofer just feels mushy and overpowering.

Battery life, as we’ll show later, has gone up a bit relative to the G73JW. This is expected, as quad-core Sandy Bridge should use far less power than the old quad-core Clarksfield. With the same 75Wh battery, the G73SW can now reach over 3.5 hours of battery life in our best-case testing, and in general should last close to three hours for light use. For other comments on the design and build quality, we’ll defer to our previous G73JW and G73JH reviews, as nothing else has changed that I can see.

In short, this is a very evolutionary design. It’s still good, still fast, and still reasonably priced relative to other gaming notebooks. You can get about 60% of the gaming performance of the GTX 485M-equipped Clevo P170HM and (with similar components) you’re paying about 70% of the price. Or if you prefer, the Clevo P170HM with the same i7-2630QM, GTX 460M, 2x500GB HDD, 8GB RAM, and Blu-ray combo drive will cost about $1950 (at AVADirect). But that means that if performance is your primary consideration, you’ll be better off opting for a laptop with a GTX 485M (or an HD 6970M). Personally, I’m more interested in testing the slightly smaller G53SW… but then I’ve already got a Clevo P150HM (with HD 6970M) in hand, and outside of the pricing that could very well be the 15.6” laptop to beat. You’ll have to wait until next week to get the P150HM review; for now, let’s look at the performance of the G73SW compared to our other high-end gaming notebooks.

Application Performance: Plenty Fast
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  • parthgh - Friday, March 4, 2011 - link

    " So far, no one has been willing to try NVIDIA’s Optimus Technology with any mobile GPU faster than the GT 435M, although we hear there’s a GT 555M Optimus notebook coming some time in 1H’11."

    I guess XPS 17 has already launched and has Optimus enabled (apart from the 3D version).
    Also the XPS 17 before SB revision had GT 445M with optimus enabled.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, March 4, 2011 - link

    Still not faster than 460M... I didn't realize Dell upped the XPS 17 to the GT 555M, though. Interesting, and something I'll try to get them to send me now. Thank goodness they're now doing Optimus on all GPUs!

    Someone above asked about how they compare in performance, though. 460M has 192 cores at 675MHz with 2500MHz (effective) RAM. 555M has 144 cores at 590MHz with 1800MHz (effective) RAM. Note that 460M uses GDDR5 by default where the 555M goes with DDR3 by default. So the net result is 460M has 52.5% more computational power and 38.9% more memory bandwidth. I'd say GT 555M will be good for medium detail at 1080p, or high detail at 900p (give or take).
  • Drooosh - Saturday, March 5, 2011 - link

    FYI - They won't allow you to get the good 1080P screen with Optimus. For some reason if you get the 1080P screen they force you to have it configured for 3D/120Hz which requires the 555M be enabled full time and thus no Optimus.

    I would bet that most customers are like me and would prefer Optimus over 3D. If they gave me FHD, 555M, and Optimus, I would by now.

    Jarred, do you know of anyone that will have 555M or better switchable graphics, 1080P, and a backlit keyboard in a 15 or 17"? Lenovo or MSI may have thiese soon it appears?
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, March 5, 2011 - link

    Right now, I'm not aware of anything like that. I don't know why Dell insists on doing weird things like killing Optimus support with certain upgrades. Perhaps Optimus doesn't work quite right with 3D at present? Heck, I'd just as soon skip all the 3D notebooks--the 120Hz panel is fine, but 3D just doesn't do anything for me.

    I've asked my NVIDIA contacts if there are any current/upcoming laptops with your above feature list. I've also asked them why no one appears to be willing to use Optimus with 460M or better. We'll see if they respond with any useful information. :-)
  • bennyg - Monday, March 7, 2011 - link

    I heard rumours it's the way Optimus works sending the data from GPU to onboard gfx, the sheer amount of data pushed from high-end GPU to iGPU saturates that link, so midrange is OK but high-end suffers bigtime performance issues

    It does seem ridiculous that every SB laptop has the hardware to run ridiculous battery life (sans GPU of course) but not the drivers to allow it.

    I don't care about Optimus and profiles. Give me a switch or a combo box and that will be better since I'll be in control not some numbskill algorithm. Just give me switching already!!!
  • strikeback03 - Friday, March 4, 2011 - link

    In the Futuremark 3DMark Vantage Performance Score table on page 2 you have the wrong MSI laptop highlighted red.

    In the previous reviews I somehow missed how massive this laptop is, this time I noticed what a small portion of the chassis the 75WHr battery takes.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, March 4, 2011 - link

    Thanks - the 3DMark Vantage chart is now correct. Also, I've added two more pictures to the gallery, this time with a tape measure in place. You can see the diagonal of the G73 chassis is about 20 inches (in a 17.3"-screen chassis...), and the Compal SNB unit we looked at in December also has a 17.3" LCD but the chassis is almost an inch smaller on the diagonal (and it's still got a lot of extra room for the large hinge). I'd like to see a 17.3" LCD in a chassis that's no more than 18.5", but I doubt that will happen.
  • NaterGator - Friday, March 4, 2011 - link

    As a G73SW owner I can absolutely 100% promise you this thing does not have an eSATA port anywhere to be found.

    Look over the unit they sent you again, but in the production unit I got from Amazon over a month ago there is most assuredly no eSATA. It is the only thing that frustrates me about this laptop, but the USB3.0 port makes up for it.
  • NaterGator - Friday, March 4, 2011 - link

    Also, the screen flickering issue is a known bug with the nVidia drivers.

    Downgrade them to a 265 version and the flickering will stop.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, March 4, 2011 - link

    I don't have that flickering problem on any other NVIDIA based laptops, though. Maybe it's localized to the G73SW for some reason? Anyway, you're correct about eSATA. Sorry for the error.

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