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ASUS N56VM Notebook Review: The Do-It-All Ivy Bridge Laptop

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Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction, Design, User Interface

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When Ivy Bridge was released Ryan did a deep-dive and desktop review while I worked on a review of the mobile processor. My mobile review was based on a reference laptop known as the ASUS N56VM. Although considered a “reference platform,” the laptop is really a production product and successor to the outgoing ASUS N55. We held off on a full review to provide coverage of the new G75, but now it’s time to revisit the N56.

This is an important product for ASUS. The 15.6” laptop remains a sales leader and the N56 will likely be the company’s flagship in this arena for the coming year. This means it won’t be a high-volume model, but it serve as a “halo product” – an example of what ASUS is capable of. If the company follows its usually modus operandi we’ll see this same chassis used as the basis for a number of variations at different price points with different hardware.

As you may remember from our Ivy Bridge for mobile review, the model we received is equipped with a Core i7-3720QM processor.  It’s hard to say if this is a mid-range quad given the limited number of Ivy Bridge products available so far, but it probably will end up in that role. What about the rest of the system? Well, take a look.

Continue reading our review of the ASUS N56VM Ivy Bridge Notebook!!

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This is a well-rounded configuration offering an excellent processor, a decent GPU and plenty of storage, both short and long-term. This configuration will be priced around $1099 when it hits store shelves.

According to ASUS, the first North American versions of this product will not have this exact configuration. Instead the N56 will be introduced via the N56VZ, which has the same chassis but uses the less powerful Core i7-3610QM processor and a more powerful Kepler-based Nvidia GT 650M graphics processor. Pricing on this model will be higher, coming in at around $1299.

The hardware is the only way these laptops will be different, however – otherwise, they’ll offer the same chassis, display, speakers, battery, connectivity and more. So let’s dig and in see how the N56 competes with other high-end mainstream laptops.

Design

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In my market research of the N56 I ran across a review from PC Magazine that called this laptop “chunky.” This is statement seems to sum up where laptops are going and how the N56 stacks up when looked at through the lens of current trends. By my measure the new chassis is only 1.25 inches (about 30mm) at its thickest point – hardly a bruiser. Yet it does feel a bit larger than most other laptops I’ve recently tested. 

ASUS has not wasted the mass of the N56 on cheap materials. This is a solid tank of a laptop. Metal covers the display lid and the interior. Look underneath and you’ll find a plastic base, but this is no dollar-store action figure reject. It’s dense stuff that remains free of creaks or moans no matter how the laptop is treated. Though the company has used metallic design many times in the past, this is their best effort yet, surpassing my previous favorite – the N53.

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Although simple brushed metal is the order of the day, there are a few extras that spice up the exterior. On the back is an ASUS logo that lights up, Apple-style, when the system is on. Yes, it’s a rip-off, but at least it’s a well-executed one – the lighting is even and bright without being excessive. Inside the laptop you’ll find that a starburst of dots emanating from two buttons, one on each side of the laptop. This is a particularly fancy way of telegraphing the Bangs & Olufsen ICEpower audio inside the N56.

Around the perimeter of the laptop you’ll find plenty of connectivity. On the left there’s two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, VGA and an Ethernet jack. On the right you’ll find two more USB 3.0 ports as well as the headphone and microphone jacks. 

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Most of the connections are near the front of the laptop, which I generally do not prefer (the plugs tend to get in the way of peripherals, such as an external mouse) but the headphone/microphone jacks are far forward, which is a perfect position. The inclusion of four USB 3.0 ports is a notable advantage over previous competitors – but also one that’s sure to be replicated by other manufactures, as four USB 3.0 ports are standard on all but one of the new Ivy Bridge mobile chipsets.

User Interface

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The keyboard of the N56 is interesting because it’s seamlessly integrated into the chassis. There’s no trim surrounding it, no depression in the chassis, nothing. The inside is a solid, flat piece of metal with some keys placed inside it. 

Choosing this design does wonders for keyboard flex, an issue on some older ASUS laptops. There’s literally none to be found in normal typing, and even pressing hard on the center of the keyboard produces only a slight bend. This, combined with keys that provide good travel and a large palmrest area, provides a robust typing experience.

While the keyboard is good, it’s not perfect. The island-style keys have plenty of room between them but at entirely flat, and many of them are a bit smaller than could be. This is most obvious in the numpad, which squeezes itself in only through the use of small keys. Most laptops do this, but not all – I recently handle a Toshiba P755, for example, that made much better use of available space and could offer full-sized numpad keys as a result.

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The touchpad is excellent for a Windows laptop. My preference leans towards surfaces with texture, so the overly-smooth touchpad found here isn’t my style. It makes up for this by being large and responsive. Another plus is multi-touch support. Scrolling exhibits none of the jerkiness that often plagues Windows laptops and even pinch-to-zoom works well in the web browsers I typically use (Firefox and Chrome).

 

May 22, 2012 | 07:48 PM - Posted by Veer Maharaj (not verified)

I would buy this damn asus for the 1080p screen alone :D

May 23, 2012 | 06:22 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

No thunderbolt and are the graphics drivers on the Intel HD side genaric Intel HD graphics drivers? What about Opencl, will I be able to use opencl to utilize the the intel GPU for general purpose compute, while using the GT630M for graphics? Any opencl Benchmarks for the computer would be helpful. Ask ASUS these questions if you can not answers any of the questions yourself. Ask the gaming engine people if they plan to take advantage of opencl to increase the performence of games in laptop computers that have an Intel GPU pared with a descrete GPU, by utilizing both GPUs at the same time?

May 23, 2012 | 11:56 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Great review :]

May 26, 2012 | 08:39 AM - Posted by LiHa (not verified)

if it can just pull the price down below $999, it will be a really good piece to buy. by the way Great review.

May 29, 2012 | 01:04 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Is there an estimate for release date (North American) ?

May 31, 2012 | 10:49 PM - Posted by Starkie24

What is the battery life like for normal day to day use? gaming? watching movies?

June 1, 2012 | 10:53 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

It has no WebCam?

Otherwise looks like a good candidate to replace my current older ASUS X5DIN

June 3, 2012 | 08:02 AM - Posted by shardul (not verified)

when will i get these n series laptops in India at cheaper rate and DOS based also

June 22, 2012 | 08:32 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

got mine. the screen is NOT 1080p
It's max resolution is 1366x768
it does have a webcam and is pretty good but I swapped my SSD into it soon after I bought it (literally 2 hours or so later)
keyboard is quiet and comfortable.
The touchpad is similar size to that of a MBP and about double the size of my ASUS f3gs which takes some getting used to.
Comes with the general ASUS BLOATWARE but its a great laptop after a quick clean install of win7.

July 28, 2012 | 06:44 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

it's not the same fullhd model.

August 20, 2012 | 07:58 AM - Posted by Jack (not verified)

I like your review. I just have a quick question. I just got this laptopn and ai have a 120 GB SSD. I was planning to install the SSD as a boot drive and keep the HDD for data. Can I do what I am describing? Is there an additional bay on the laptop for the SSD keeping the HDD?

June 28, 2012 | 11:36 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Just bought one of these (here branded as R501VM) in Australia for A$1,200. Full HD Version. I have swapped the crappy HDD with a SSD, upped the RAM, installed Windows 8 release preview and threw the disk full of ASUS's usual crapware in the bin.

In my view the machine is excellent value. I love the form factor and keyboard. I hate the touchpad but this is not a big issue for me: I use a mouse and disable it. The two year warranty is a bonus and having owned ASUS laptops (including the predecessor N53SV) for the last few years I am looking forward to their great after-sales service should I need it.

July 5, 2012 | 07:56 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Sam's has a US version of the N56VZ with the 3610 i7 processor for $899 - no blu ray and lower res screen but a 7200 rpm 750GB hard drive. Anybody know where else to purchase (preferably in US or Canada) with a high res screen and blu ray?

July 15, 2012 | 06:14 PM - Posted by Q3gun (not verified)

Good review, i went to buy one for me =)
Just want to overclock the only bottleneck: Graphics. Dayym dat 630m (really 540m) has some gpu clock Lock :/ cant get over 810mhz . could even undervolt it to allow higher locks while lovering temerature w lower volt. but dont know how get over dat lock..

July 20, 2012 | 08:27 PM - Posted by Matt (not verified)

Purchased this model recently (here branded as R501VM also (New Zealand))
http://www.elive.co.nz/asus-r501vm-s4142x-i7-laptop-SY04931.php
Packaging was excellent
All items in box - check
Remove laptop from sleeve and open and notice keyboard is a foriegn version (European? - unsure)
Packaging clearly stated for New Zealand but US/English keyboard was not installed....Asus quality control??
Went ahead and powered on, no issues, standard setup went well. Screen is 1920-1080 FHD - awesome and bright!
The software preinstalled was excessive (as others note)
Worse than my 3 year old HP (current laptop about to die) running at about 113 processes..... amazing.
Retailer is issuing refund as their supplier only has the foriegn keyboard version.
This is the exact version of a laptop am after (prefer 8gb ram and better HDD - would get a SSD - fresh OS install) - for general web surfing/ light gaming so will try another retailer (online as no brick and mortar store sells these in NZ).
Felt like an excellent laptop for the 15 minutes of use, the additon of backlit keys is a boon as well as Bluray drive... very hard to find in one unit (in NZ anyway).

July 30, 2012 | 09:28 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Really good review, very in depth and covered all the important points and thanks to this review I have now purchased this laptop =D Thanks!

August 27, 2012 | 08:17 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I found the N56vm on Amazon for $899. I ordered it to replace my VAIO F series 16inch model from about 4 years ago. Hope at $899 it's a good value. My VAIO was no slouch and still runs great. But it's running Vista (you heard me right Vista) and a Centrino processor. Hope I gain something in the switch to the N56.

June 7, 2013 | 11:36 PM - Posted by tyler (not verified)

I bought it last week for 999 euros from Germany. Everything is beyond my expactations - very nice. However, there is one issue, it makes noise while working. It is not the fan noise. It is like as if I have just inserted a CD and it tries to read the CD. Or it is like the noise you hear while waiting after you just power the laptop on. Do you also have this problem? Or is it a problem?

July 19, 2013 | 09:53 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I have no noise after startup. I do have times where my startup will take 3 minutes. Usually it is around a minute or so. Putting in a Samsung 840 pro next week. Hopefully that will fix it. Otherwise, extremely cool laptop. Easily a desktop replacement.

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